The Racking Horse

The Racking Horse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

The Racking Horse

The first time Bart told me about his horse, Dude, I knew their bond had been something special. But I never suspected Dude would deliver a wonderful gift to me.

Growing up on a one-hundred-year-old family farm in Tennessee, Bart loved all animals. But Dude, the chestnut-colored quarter horse Bart received when he turned nine, became his favorite. Years later when Bart’s father sold Dude, Bart grieved in secret.

Even before I met and married Bart, I knew all about grieving in secret, too. Because of my dad’s job, our family relocated every year. Deep inside, I wished we could stay in one place, where I could have deep, lasting friendships. But I never said anything to my parents. I didn’t want to hurt them. Yet sometimes I wondered if even God could keep track of us.

One summer evening in 1987, as Bart and I glided on our front porch swing, my husband suddenly blurted out, “Did I ever tell you that Dude won the World Racking Horse Championship?”

“Rocking horse championship?” I asked.

“Racking,” Bart corrected, smiling gently. “It’s a kind of dancing horses do. Takes lots of training. You use four reins. It’s pretty hard.” Bart gazed at the pasture. “Dude was the greatest racking horse ever.”

“Then why’d you let your dad sell him?” I probed.

“I didn’t know he was even thinking about it,” Bart explained. “When I was seventeen, I’d started a short construction job down in Florida. I guess Dad figured I wouldn’t be riding anymore, so he sold Dude without even asking me. Running a horse farm means you buy and sell horses all the time.

“I’ve always wondered if that horse missed me as much as I’ve missed him. I’ve never had the heart to try to find him. I couldn’t stand knowing if something bad....”

Bart’s voice trailed off.

After that, few nights passed without Bart mentioning Dude. My heart ached for him. I didn’t know what to do. Then one afternoon, while I walked through the pasture, a strange thought came to me. In my heart, a quiet voice said, “Lori, find Dude for Bart.”

How absurd! I knew nothing about horses, certainly not how to find and buy one. That was Bart’s department.

The harder I tried to dismiss the thought, the stronger it grew. I did not dare mention it to anyone except God. Each day I asked him to guide me.

On a Saturday morning, three weeks after that first “find Dude” notion, a new meter reader, Mr. Parker, stopped by while I was working in the garden. We struck up a friendly conversation. When he mentioned he’d once bought a horse from Bart’s dad, I interrupted.

“You remember the horse’s name?” I asked.

“Sure do,” Mr. Parker said. “Dude. Paid twenty-five hundred dollars for him.”

I wiped the dirt from my hands and jumped up, barely catching my breath.

“Do you know what happened to him?” I asked.

“Yep. I sold him for a good profit.”

“Where’s Dude now?” I asked. “I need to find him.”

“That’d be impossible,” Mr. Parker explained. “I sold that horse years ago. He might even be dead by now.”

“But could you... would you be willing to try to help me find him?” After I explained the situation, Mr. Parker stared at me for several seconds. Finally, he agreed to join the search for Dude, promising not to say anything to Bart.

Each Friday for almost a year, I phoned Mr. Parker to see if his sleuthing had turned up anything. Each week his answer was the same. “Sorry, nothing yet.”

One Friday I called Mr. Parker with another idea. “Could you at least find one of Dude’s babies for me?”

“Don’t think so,” he said, laughing. “Dude was a gelding.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “I’ll take a gelding baby.”

“You really do need help.” Mr. Parker explained that geldings are unable to sire. He seemed to double his efforts to help. Several weeks later, he phoned me on a Monday.

“I found him,” he shouted. “I found Dude.”

“Where?” I wanted to jump through the phone.

“On a farm in Georgia,” Mr. Parker said. “A family bought Dude for their teenage son. But they can’t do anything with the horse. In fact, they think Dude’s crazy. Maybe dangerous. Bet you could get him back real easy.”

Mr. Parker was right. I called the family in Rising Fawn, Georgia, and made arrangements to buy Dude back for three hundred dollars. I struggled to keep my secret until the weekend. On Friday, I met Bart at the front door after work.

“Will you go for a ride with me?” I asked in my most persuasive voice. “I have a surprise for you.”

“Honey,” Bart protested, “I’m tired.”

“Please, Bart, I’ve packed a picnic supper. It’ll be worth the ride. I promise.”

Bart got into the Jeep. As I drove, my heart thumped so fast I thought it’d burst as I chatted about family matters.

“Where are we going?” Bart asked after thirty minutes. “Just a bit farther,” I said.

Bart sighed. “Honey, I love you. But I can’t believe I let you drag me off.”

I didn’t defend myself. I’d waited too long to ruin things now. However, by the time I steered off the main highway and onto a gravel road, Bart was so aggravated that he wasn’t speaking to me. When I turned from the gravel road to a dirt trail, Bart glared.

“We’re here,” I said, stopping in front of the third fence post.

“Here where? Lori, have you lost your mind?” Bart barked.

“Stop yelling,” I said. “Whistle.”

“What?” Bart shouted.

“Whistle,” I repeated. “Like you used to... for Dude... just whistle. You’ll understand in a minute.”

“Well... I... this is crazy,” Bart sputtered as he got out of the Jeep. Bart whistled. Nothing happened.

“Oh, God,” I whispered, “don’t let this be a mistake.”

“Do it again,” I prodded.

Bart whistled once more, and we heard a sound in the distance. What was it? I could barely breathe.

Bart whistled again. Suddenly, over the horizon, a horse came at a gallop. Before I could speak, Bart leapt over the fence.

“Dude!” he yelled, running towards his beloved friend. I watched the blur of horse and husband meet like one of those slow-motion reunion scenes on television. Bart hopped up on his pal, stroking his mane and patting his neck.

Immediately, a sandy-haired, tobacco-chewing teenage boy and his huffing parents crested the hill.

“Mister,” the boy yelled. “What are you doing? That horse is crazy. Can’t nobody do nothing with ‘im.”

“No,” Bart boomed. “He’s not crazy. He’s Dude.”

To the amazement of everyone, at Bart’s soft command to the unbridled horse, Dude threw his head high and began racking. As the horse pranced through the pasture, no one spoke. When Dude finished dancing for joy, Bart slid off of him.

“I want Dude home,” he said.

“I know,” I said with tears in my eyes. “All the arrangements have been made. We can come back and get him.”

“Nope,” Bart insisted. “He’s coming home tonight.”

I phoned my in-laws, and they arrived with a horse trailer. We paid for Dude and headed home.

Bart spent the night in the barn. I knew he and Dude had a lot of catching up to do. As I looked out the bedroom window, the moon cast a warm glow over the farm. I smiled, knowing my husband and I now had a wonderful story to tell our future children and grandchildren.

“Thank you, Lord,” I whispered. Then the truth hit me. I’d searched longer for Dude than I’d ever lived in one place. God had used the process of finding my husband’s beloved horse to renew my trust in the friend who sticks closer than a brother.

“Thank you, Lord,” I whispered again as I fell asleep. “Thank you for never losing track of Dude—or me.”

~Lori Bledsoe

Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul

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