Gary, hoping that that was the lot, revved up the big yellow machine in eager anticipation but once again I called a halt and disappeared in the direction of the house. When I reappeared at the graveside holding a dead cat by the tail Gary shut the machine down completely, remained totally silent for what seemed like a long time, and then leaned out of the cab and with a look of mock concern on his face said in his dry manner, “Where did you say the wife and kids are?”
In 1976, after reading the memoirs of a much-lauded veterinarian/author from Yorkshire England, I got it into my head that I would make a good DVM myself. It was a rather bold aspiration inasmuch as I was a thirty-three year old high school dropout with few credentials and no visible means of support. It was a shot in dark: I hadn’t been in a classroom for fifteen years, but I made my way back to Guelph, Ontario, where the only veterinarian school in Canada was located.
I was having an afternoon nap in our bedroom and enjoying a wonderful dream when I felt someone nibbling my ear and blowing warm moist air on my check. I rolled over, expecting to see Andrea, and almost had a heart attack when I opened my eyes to a little brown creature with a flat snout peering at me. My Daughter Zoe was draping a small pig by the hind legs over me and laughing. “Look what Jack gave me,” she said, as she scooped the piglet back up and cradled the little bundle in her arms. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to Jack to make him pull such a dirty trick on me.
I was seventeen years old when I got my first copy of Magner’s Standard Horse and Stock Book. I found it hidden at the bottom of a box of old books at a farm auction and as I dusted it off and started leafing through the pages I realized that I had struck gold. Every other page seemed to be adorned with beautiful woodcut prints of horses and other livestock: over two thousand illustrations in all. More importantly I could see at a glance that the text was addressing many of the problems that horsemen and farmers encountered when handling and raising various classes of livestock.
A couple of years ago I broke the harness horseman’s first rule of common sense. It was incredibly stupid and impetuous of me but I did it anyway. I hooked two young half broke fillies together before they were really ready. As a result I almost got my wife Andrea and me killed, destroyed a wagon and ended up with two spoiled runaway horses. If I’d addressed the problem immediately, as I would have in the old days, I’m sure I could have corrected and reassured the horses fairly quickly but I didn’t. I let considerable time go by; I had lost my nerve; post-traumatic stress syndrome had me in its clutches. A little while after the disastrous event, knowing what needed to be done, I hooked each of the fillies, independently, beside the old Clydesdale mare I had started them with again, but on both occasions I simply left them tied to the hitching rail. I couldn’t find the courage to pick up the reins and put myself in harm’s way again. I was an emotional wreck.
I pulled back gently and whispered, “Back, back,” and she responded immediately. When we were in the middle of the pen I moved her around, neck reining her in both directions, she turned without hesitation. Then I gave her the final test – halting her and restricting her forward motion. I applied my right leg to her flank – she did a perfect side passage to the left sweeping the other horses out of her way as she went. “Well shoot, it is you, Peggy old girl!” I said as I slid down off her back rubbing her eyes and making much of her.
One day when I had him in the ring performing, I unknowingly gave him a signal that initiated his best previously undisclosed trick. I was standing directly in front of him and for some reason I raised both of my arms at the same time, sort of “Moses parting the waters” style. Tricksy, as we now called him, reared up on his hind legs and shuffled stiff legged towards me. I was a little shocked and took a couple of steps backwards but when I did he followed, still walking on his hind legs. He seemed to expect me to stay still so that’s what I did. He moved in on me until my nose was touching his breastbone and his legs were draped over my shoulders. One of the kids shouted, “He looks like he wants to dance!” and as it turned out that’s exactly what he had in mind. As he hung almost weightless over my shoulders he let me spin him around in a weird waltz.