Horsin' Around In The Rim Country

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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Some people just don't seem to understand why anybody would bother with a horse in this day of horseless carriages, jet airplanes and ATVs -- especially somebody like me who lives alone and works at least full-time and often then some.

Why, they ask, would you spend the two hours a day it takes to feed, groom and pick up a horse's eight to 12 daily poops when you could be doing something that is actually enjoyable. (Pin them down, and what they have in mind is watching TV.)

My normal answer is, "I dunno, I just love this guy." Their normal response is to shake their heads sadly and turn back to a rerun of "Mayberry RFD."

That's why I got pretty excited about a new book by Michael Korda called "Horse People: Scenes from the Riding Life" (Harper Collins, $25.95, although amazon.com is selling it for $18.17).

The author, who is editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, has been riding since he was 6. In a review that appeared in the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, Frances Ingraham Heins explains the book's premise:

"The author writes that his new book is about people who love horses, who know horses, who make their living from horses or who just can't imagine being without horses."

Perfect, I thought. A copy or two placed in the hands of the right people might bring me a little peace and quiet. I especially liked Korda's explanation of the horse's role in modern society:

"The horse occupies a peculiar and privileged position -- not quite a pet, no longer a working animal, rooted in the past but flourishing in the present, admired even by people who don't ride and apt not only to survive but thrive almost anywhere."

I will memorize this, I thought, and recite it every time I'm asked why I don't get a life and watch a little more TV. Korda then sets out to analyze this bond between horses and humans who don't watch enough TV:

"Whence," he asks, "comes our fascination for this creature, which is at once fragile and immensely strong, docile yet amazingly swift, friendly but still at heart wild?"

The answer, if you think about it, is largely contained in the question itself. Horses are at once fragile and strong, docile and swift, friendly but free-spirited. Name me another creature -- let alone one as physically magnificent as the horse -- who combines all these contradictory attributes.

I know, guys, women are the ultimate in contradictions -- maybe as contradictory even as the horse. Believe me, I know.

But you can't leave a woman outside at night so you can be alone. And while horses are pricey to maintain, they don't wear diamonds, and carrots are a lot cheaper than roses. But don't get me started.

Korda's first horse was named Fabab, which sounds more like a laundry detergent than a noble steed, so he changed it to Malplaquet after one of the Duke of Marlborough's victories over the French in 1709.

I can understand why he did this, because it is very important that your horse have a cool name. Too often, horses have plain workday names like Bill or Bud, or chick names like Precious or Cherish.

Fortunately, my horse came complete with a cool name -- The Son Also Rises -- a variation on the Hemingway novel.

Korda does admit that horses can sometimes be incredibly intractable. In fact, Malplaquet had some interesting phobias and foibles:

"He retained a pronounced dislike for manhole covers, open umbrellas, sirens, buses, exhaust-belching trucks, mufflerless hot rods, large groups of children shouting at him or throwing things and street fairs of any kind."

Son doesn't have a problem with any of these things because I keep him away from civilization. Instead, he goes ballistic over a T-shirt hanging in a tree, a pile of brush where there was none before, an approaching ATV, or a jackrabbit darting across the trail.

This may seem like a downside to you non-horse people, but you have to admit it keeps things interesting. Besides, as Korda puts it, it's what horses represent rather than what they do that makes them endearing to us horse people:

"The horse symbolizes something -- not just an attachment to the past, although that's certainly part of it, but also the relationship between human beings and animals, which is very different from the relatively new one between humans and machines."

Machines like TVs, I could add. But really we are all brothers, so let us close by finding some common ground between horse people and TV people.

When you think of it, shoveling horse poop is not all that different from watching TV.

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