He wondered how he could ever be man enough to do it like the trainer, covered in dust, whispering in that damn foal’s ear I’m gonna take ya down, after the third time biting fingers through the fence acting like the old cowboy he was and bulldogging that foal to the ground so that when it grew up, instead of being hard-broke at two, it wouldn’t know it couldn’t still get taken down the same way it’d been taken down by the flat of its neck as a foal and watched that man come up like a cowboy in a cloud of dust with his hip hurt, and the foal coming up, too, bounding up like an uncoiled spring the second that man’s full weight was off him, ’cause being down like that is broken pride to a horse, the same thing that kept those horses calm that blue evening when the lightning storm came, when there was no way he could know that horses don’t get low like that unless there’s a gunshot, not having seen it before, the question then in his mind of how could he be man enough, assuming that being man enough is a matter of knowledge, as if there were any other way to define the word, as if the hurt hip and the dust and the way of talking into a horse’s ear were anything but manhood, which is know-how, and nothing more than the passage of a year, a time he was painfully aware of, as if that lightning bolt could rip reality in two and put tomorrow and today side by side in that field so all he had to do was step over, lift his boots one-at-a-time over the line that bolt made across the sky, and report it back, shout it back through the pelting rain, yell it out over thunderclaps to his same self standing on the other side but just two yard but over a year away in the field under pouring rain, under thunder and lightning and everything, shouting a warning back to himself: this ain’t it, this ain’t it, screaming it, this ain’t it god-damn-it, you gotta stay there, you gotta hold on as tight as you can, but him knowing, standing on the other side, no such thing was possible, because the time passed just like weather, which didn’t affect him a damn anyway, except to get him good and cold and drenched, with that godless sky like a gray lid which delivered nothing but weather anyway, as if in an apocalyptic storm he would do a damn thing different from what the trainer did, which was keep his mouth shut in a quiet line, walk up onto the end of the porch and scan the field, trying to locate that gunshot through the noise of the storm, keeping his nerve hard, letting his heart pound and just letting it do that and meanwhile asking himself as if he knew where the hell it was now, and saying nothing to the boy even though it was less than an acre off from the sound of it, knowing that it was no crack of lightning, the one thing experience told him, which told him, too, that horses don’t get low like that unless there’s a gunshot, that maybe there was enough time for some gruff comment, comfort carried not in words but tone itself, in what had passed before, like the relation between horse and man, which is a wisdom, which is a sound and not a word and a thing which would let the boy keep his part, and not make him, or ask him, even, to try to know a thing he didn’t know already, and let him duck back through the door the man opened not a minute ago and get dry inside the house, and not try to stand out and watch as if he could know how to watch, or know where to look, or how to stand, as if it was bravery that man had, and not know-how, which was his secret anyway.
He called out to the horses, “Chance, Jack Frost, Ed-Mo, Misty…Get in here by the house!”
There was another gunshot. One of the horses reared, and crumpled to the ground.
“Chance, Jack Frost, Ed-Mo…Get in here by the house! God damn you all of you get in here!”
(A Footnote: I was born and raised in Walla Walla, Washington. Although Washington State is not commonly considered the rural West, it is. The Southeastern part of it is still rodeo country. One thing I learned in my childhood was that a trainer will bull-dog a foal in order to assert dominance. An adult horse does not understand that its trainer cannot do the same thing to a full-grown animal. [The trainer I saw at work was G. Sanders, who trained Arab racehorses.] Much later, I learned that horses will get lower to the ground after hearing a gunshot. They will do this before running, before moving in any direction.)