From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The Good Deed

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land amongst the stars.

Jill McLemore

“Oskar is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful and brave.” Was the breeder talking about a three-year-old stallion or a Boy Scout? I originally called Connie, owner of Carrousel Farm, to inquire about Oskar’s brother Hank, who was listed for sale on the farm Web site. Connie politely—and a little too cheerfully— informed me that Hank was no longer for sale. After he became the highest scoring horse at the biannual Lipizzan evaluation, the decision was made that he was simply too good to be sold. He was destined to become a Carrousel Farm breeding stallion and Connie’s personal riding horse. No wonder Connie sounded cheerful.

For me, the news was shattering. I had been fantasizing about this horse for over a year. The majestic image of young Hank kept me going through one of the darkest and most difficult periods of my life. In 2001, my husband and I were living in Saudi Arabia. The Middle East region was destabilizing and knowing we needed to be light on our feet and prepared to move home on short notice, I sadly found new homes for my beloved horses. They could not be shipped to the United States because of a blood parasite that was common in the region but not permitted in horses imported to North America.

I continued to ride, but I felt emptiness in my heart. As a horsewoman, I knew the empty space could only be filled by a special horse—not my friend’s horse, not a leased horse, but “The One” horse that was all my own. Because I had no idea when we would actually leave the Middle East, I thought it would be much easier to survive if a real live horse played the starring role in my horse fantasy. It had to be one that I could actually buy when we returned home. Among other things, it had to be incredibly smart and calm and kind. After months of painstaking research, I decided it also had to be a Lipizzan. We were fortunate to be allowed Internet access during our final year in Saudi and while surfing the Web, I found my “leading man.” He was a Lipizzan, he was almost perfect and he was named Hank.

The words “Hank is no longer for sale” hit me like a wellplaced kick to the chest. Choking back profound disappointment, I asked, “So, who’s your second best horse?” From the description Connie gave, it sounded like Oskar was also too good to be sold. Why would anyone want to sell an excellent physical specimen of a horse whose list of personal attributes sounded like a page right out of the Boy Scout Handbook? It was post 9/11, the economy was sluggish, the horse market was down and Connie had forty-six Lipizzans to feed and more on the way. Some of them had to be sold.

My husband and I had just relocated back to the States. Our household shipment had not yet arrived, I didn’t have so much as a lead rope in my possession, but something told me not to put off looking at this remarkable horse. I lost the opportunity to buy Hank, I was not about to pass up the chance to buy his brother Oskar. What if this Boy Scout actually turned out to be “The One” that would finally fill the ever-expanding emptiness of my aching horsewoman’s heart?

Early April is not exactly the best time of year to go horse shopping in Oregon. We packed our rubber boots and rain ponchos and headed up from sunny California to the soggy northwest. As if to bless the occasion, the California sunshine followed us. Our journey was charmed from beginning to end.

Anyone who has had firsthand experience with Lipizzans knows that they choose their riders as much as their riders choose them. Once a Lipizzan bonds to its human, the bond is intense and it is for life. Like most Lipizzans, Oskar has an almost dog-like desire to please. His favorite sound is the snapping of carrots. But his second favorite sound is undoubtedly laughter. Oskar has figured out that cleverness leads to laughter, laughter leads to treats; the more the laughter is heard, the more treats will be forthcoming.

Early training of my beloved Boy Scout went smoothly. He proved to be a rapid and enthusiastic learner. The merit badges stacked up quickly. Like many young horses, Oskar enjoyed exploring the world with his mouth. When I was tacking him up, I noticed Oskar would pick up and hold his protective leg boots and gently put them down again. Giving a young stallion a job to do is a great way to keep him occupied and out of trouble. I decided to teach Oskar to hand me the leg boots as I needed them. Not only did Oskar willingly hand me the boots, he seemed to know the order in which to present them; bell boots first, front boots next, hind boots last. It was eerie, but convenient. Oskar was happy to participate and I was happy to decrease the frequency with which I bent over and put my head down near the hooves of a young horse.

As I was tacking up one day, a friend watched and marveled at mommy’s little helper. She said, “I’ll bet you could teach him to fetch a ball!” After my ride, I decided to see if my friend was right. I challenged myself to accomplish the task in three days. It took five minutes. Word of the amazing stupid pet trick spread rapidly through the barn. Oskar gave command performances frequently and with vigor. On days when the children’s program was in session, the students relentlessly hurled the ball. Oskar fetched it. The children laughed and cheered him on. When the parents came to take the children home, Oskar would stand in his paddock with the ball in his mouth watching the last car go down the dusty drive and out the gate. It seemed like the horse could never get enough.

About a week after Oskar mastered the art of retrieving, the full scope of his amazing intellect was revealed. We were almost finished with our daily schooling session in the arena when I carelessly dropped my whip on the ground. I was confident in Oskar’s ability to pick up the whip and hand it to me. I was not so confident in my ability to communicate to Oskar what I wanted while I was sitting on his back. I decided to try.

I rode toward the whip. Oskar’s ears went forward letting me know he saw it on the approach. We halted over the whip. It was in reach, but out of his field of vision because it was directly under his chin. I let out the reins and like a good citizen, Oskar stood patiently waiting for me to dismount. I didn’t. By the twirling movement of his ears, I could see that his brain wheels were turning. The reins are long. She’s not getting off. She’s saying something I’ve heard before. What does she want? Oskar dropped his head in thought.

“Good boy!” I cooed. Then, as if to exclaim, “Well, why didn’t ya’ say so!” Oskar reached down, picked up the whip, bent around and handed it to me where I was sitting. It sure was good to be home.

Amelia Gagliano

More stories from our partners