I said, “I don’t know.”
“Is that why you put the blanket under it? Does she like it better with the blanket?”
I said, “Yeah, she does.”
“Does she like people sitting on her? I wouldn’t want people sitting on me.”
I said, “You might if you were a horse.”
He thought about that for a moment and said, “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would even if I were a horse.”
I said, “They don’t seem to mind most of the time. Sometimes they even like it.”
He said, “I bet she doesn’t like that thing in her mouth.”
I said, “The bit. No. No, not at first.”
He said, “Have you ever fell off a horse?”
I said, “Oh yeah, I’ve been thrown more times than I care to remember.”
And then he said, “Is that what happened to your eye?”
I wanted to tell him a lot of things, things that would be lost on a ten year-old boy, things he couldn’t possibly understand, and unless his life went bad, he didn’t seem to me like he’d be one of the ones to worry about. But I didn’t tell him anything.
I turned back to him and said, “No, a mule threw his head and I didn’t get mine out of the way in time.”
His mother looked away into the woods.
He said, “That must have hurt.”
And I said, “You get used to it.” And I don’t know why I said that.
He said, “I got a black eye playing soccer. Me and another kid cracked heads.”
I said, “Yeah, it was kind of like that.”
We were just crossing the service road down below the campground when Arnett caught up to us. Sprite was pitching forward and when Arnett tried the rein him in, he would rear and throw his head from side to side. Then he would rush ahead until Arnett reined him in again.
Arnett yelled, “If he’s been halter broke and trail rid, I’m a colored rap star.”
When Arnett had dropped back again, the husband called quietly to his wife and said, “There’s a word you don’t hear much any more.”
The wife just said, “Shhh.”
The boy behind me looked worried and said, “What’s wrong with that horse?”
“Oh, he’s just new and he ain’t got the hang of things yet,” I said.
He said, “It’s a boy?”
And I said, “Pretty much. His name’s Sprite.”
Arnett yelled, “He ain’t never tasted steel before and he sure as heck don’t like it.”
The trail made a sharp left, going a little uphill. Sprite must’ve been waiting for his chance, and when he felt Arnett shift his weight a little to take the corner, he reared up and to the left and threw him into a pile of fallen timber at the trail’s edge. Arnett sprang up from the broken branches like a copperhead and grabbed the halter in an iron fist. He pulled the horse’s head down onto his shoulder.
He said, “You think you’re funny? I’ll cut your goddamn tongue out of your head.”
I yelled, “Are you alright?”
He waved me off without taking his eyes off the horse and said, “You go on. We’ll be along directly.”
The little boy behind me said, “Is he going to be okay?”
I said, “Yeah, he’ll be okay.” But I didn’t know if he was asking about Arnett or the horse.
He kept turning around in his saddle to look.
Finally the father motioned for me to keep going, and said, “I don’t think he wants any witnesses.”