Betty J. Slade
An excerpt from "George's New Home."
When the horse named George and his owner, Mickey, left the circus for the last time, George hung his head low. First, he had to leave his friend Lenny, the huge draft horse, whose awkwardness and funny talk kept George's spirits up no matter what. Though he loved short, feisty Mickey, life wouldn't be the same without reckless Lenny.
Now, all his high leaps and jumping on his hind legs were a thing of the past, nothing more than memories. His swayback had been a novelty to all, but now the insistent pain made even the smallest of tricks impossible. All hope in the future had flown away.
"I realize you don't like change," Mickey said as he loaded George into the trailer, but this is our only choice. And it's time." The ex-jockey smoothed the hide under George's mane and along his flank.
With a final pat, he jumped out and stood outside the trailer still talking to George's hindside. "You won't be so blue when we arrive home. I call my place Morning Star Ranch. Have I told you about it, George? There are rolling fields of green grass with massive oak trees to give you shade. A huge red barn with fresh hay underfoot where you can rest. You'll find lots of other animals who'll be your friends. You'll especially enjoy the other horses. Nancy is a snippy miniature, all white, George, she isn't half your height, more the size of a dog. The others are more like you. Stormy is a dapple-gray, Rusty a true red roan, and lovely Morgan, our broodmare. Her foals finance the property."
George liked to listen to Mickey talk, talk, talk. When quiet descended, he pawed the floor, and waited.
The slosh of the water bucket alerted him to his friend's return.
"Then there are ducks on the pasture's pond. Turkeys roam the area. There's even a border collie who herds the few sheep and cattle. She loves horses. Her name is Daisy."
Metal creaking signaled that Mickey was closing the door.
With a swish of his brown tail over his spotted swayback, George glanced over his shoulder to confirm his suspicion. Before the lock clicked, he received one last pat. "I admit, there's no crowd to give you applause, which I realize you enjoy. And there are no boys and girls to make a fuss over you. But you'll adjust. Trust me."
Circus life had included a lot of traveling, George dozed off and on as the tires whooshed along paved roads. Hours later, the turn didn't faze him, but the sudden bumps did.
His eyes shot open. His ears laid back.
It was a good thing he learned tricks over his years under the big top. He danced to keep from scraping his shoulders against the trailer as it bounced from side to side.
The brakes squealed when they finally came to a stop. George blew a long breath between his lips.
The door creaked open with the sound of Mickey's words. "Sorry, old fellow. My hired hand hasn’t been keeping the driveway groomed. This is unforgivable. I need to talk to him about that. I hope he hasn't neglected the animals and the barn. He probably left the bunkhouse and slept in my bed."
The echo of anger mixed in with Mickey's words caused George to stumble as he backed down the short ramp.
Mickey laced a couple of fingers in George's headstall and led him toward the barn. "Come on, old man. I'm going to show you around."
The late afternoon's clear air and gentle breeze refreshed George. But his monetary sense of well-being left when the acrid reek of ammonia reached him as they stepped over the threshold into the barn.
Mickey dropped his hold on George and both hands landed on his hips. "Awful. Altogether awful. This barn hasn't been mucked out in over a week and probably a lot longer. You can't come in here, fella."
The forceful hand against George's chest backed him away from the awful smell. "I'll take you to the pasture."
George almost stepped on a kitten who scampered under his feet. At the same time, he gained his first glimpse of the rolling green Mickey described earlier, and he smelled the sweet grass as well. He hadn't seen a sign like this in a long, long time.
His insides settled down.
Horses dotted the pasture. No sheep or cattle were in sight, but this didn't matter. The majestic oak tree in the center of the space caught his attention. It quite took his breath away. Similar trees stood guard on the south end of the fencing. He couldn't locate the pond or ducks.
Mickey led him through a simple rope-latched gate, unbuckled the headstall, and set George free. "Go on. Make friends with the others. I need to find out what's been happening here during my absence. I'm certain-sure I'll be awhile." Off he marched on his stubby bowed legs.
George lost no time. The others sharing pasture didn't mean anything to him. All he thought of was meeting the giant oak tree. The land took him up, then down, until he reached his goal.
Hidden under the branches he found, much to his dismay, a tiny white mare. She wore the most ridiculous pink hat that bounced with her every move, reminding him of his clown friends. No doubt this was the one Mickey described. The yellowing streaks on her coat spoke of waning years, much like his.
He stopped short of the shade.
She glanced up as he approached. "Well, hi there, big fella. We don't see Appaloosas in these parts often. Do you know Mickey from the circus?" She didn't stop talking long enough for him to answer. "Of course, you do. Rumor among the other horses is Mickey's coming home for good. So.. he must've brought you along with him. You must be the amazing trick horse."
He didn't want to talk. His head dropped so far down that he nibbled on a few blades of grass without tasting them.