Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

The Education

Though my parents were non-horse people who couldn’t understand where their daughter got her fascination with horses, they didn’t try to discourage it. Mom allowed me to choose books from the Scholastic book club, whenever the order sheets came around. I could buy any horse story I wanted, as long as it fit my budget, and I did. From The Blind Pony to Misty of Chincoteague and The Black Stallion, I bought as many as my few dollars would buy. I cut pictures of horses out of the newspapers and magazines and filled up scrapbooks with them.
The family home took a few acre chunk out of a rather fancy, private farm, and I loved to watch their horses in the fields, especially when there were foals. It was a wonderful thing, to see the long-legged foals gamboling about, and I was constantly trying to draw them.
A few of the older kids on the school bus took a liking to six year old me. I was allowed to sit at the back of the bus with them, instead up front with the other little kids. A couple of girls who were in their last years of highschool admired all my drawings, and taught me how to draw horses using peanut shapes.
Then there was the bus driver. Mister Cook had horses, and a real stagecoach! I had newspaper clippings and photographs out of the newspapers from weddings he had done. I thought he was about the greatest horseman I had ever met, and over a few years, he fed my horse craving more than anyone. Every time I boarded the bus or was getting off, he would give me a Western Horseman magazine or two. I would devour them from cover to cover, but never, ever cut them up. They were far too precious to me. If I read anything I didn’t understand, all I had to do was ask Mister Cook, and he would explain it to me. One day, as I got off the bus, he caught my attention only to give me an intriguing stack of magazines that weren’t. They were different than the norm, and I couldn’t wait to get home to read them.
That night I devoured what he had so generously given me with insatiable curiosity. Within those covers were the most interesting bits of information I had ever read, as he’d given me the Western Horseman’s scrapbooks, all of them. I read with a flashlight under the sweltering stuffiness of the bedcovers, with barely a moment to come up for air now and again. Exhausted by the time I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I fell asleep, all sorts of dreams of training horses, in my head. I could hardly wait to get out of the house the next morning, ran the quarter mile to the intersection of the gravel roads where the bus picked us up then anxiously waited for the bus. Barely able to contain my enthusiasm, I was almost vibrating with expectation when the bus stopped before me. The doors opened, I hopped onto the first step with a huge, happy smile only to find Mister Cook wasn’t sitting in the driver’s seat. I was too young to know if he retired or left to do other things, but I surely did miss my friend. I suppose that’s why he gave me the training books, because he knew we wouldn’t be able to share our passion for horses.
I rode anything in the neighbourhood that had a mane, tail and whinnied. If you owned a horse and lived nearby, you knew who I was. When I was fourteen, I got my teenage, horse crazy girl, dream job. I was hired on at a local farm that was owned by a well-known veterinarian. It was a leading thoroughbred breeding farm, stood several fine studs, produced many winning horses on the track, and was a vet clinic complete with surgery and operating table.
It was the perfect place for a girl who soaked up anything horse related, like a sponge. They didn’t coddle or baby me in the least. From the first minute of the first hour of the first day, I was thrown right into the thick of things.
There were two rather lovely barns, a large, steel, breeding shed as well as loose housing for broodmares. The first of the barns was where the foaling stalls were, where injured horses recovered from surgery, and where the senior stallion, Oscar Award had his stall. By the time we finished mucking out those large stalls, I had learned that there was a proper way to clean a stall, and a proper way to load a trailer to maximum capacity. More than that, I learned how to back a tractor and trailer into a barn and all the way to the end. It took multiple tries, a good deal of sweat and frustration yet somehow, I managed it. The whole time, the three men I worked with never said a word. After initially showing me what was what, they left me to figure it out on my own, and figure it out, I certainly did.
We moved on to the next barn. The first, four stalls were huge and specifically designed for a large mare and foal. These four mares with their lovely babies were taken outside to stretch their legs, the stalls were mucked out then used to house the next stalls to move horses into. Other than the mares and foals, the rest of the horses in that barn were racing stock of all ages and all genders, colts, fillies and a few geldings, too.
I thought things were going along very well. I was getting the hang of it, keeping up with the far more experienced men, and figured I was earning my wages. By now we were about halfway through the stalls and I proceeded to get the next horse from it’s stall. I clipped on the leather lead and brought the big, solid horse out into the aisle. I suddenly had the oddest sense that something wasn’t right. That I’d somehow done something wrong. Stopping there in the middle of that wide aisle, I looked at the men, only to see that they were silently frozen, watching me.
“Um … am I doing something wrong?” I asked with worried confusion, the horse standing patiently by my side, “This stall gets cleaned too, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” the head trainer nodded while encouraging me to carry on with a nod.
“Are you sure?” I felt doubtful. They were looking at me so oddly, “I can put him back?”
“No no,” the foreman assured, “that’s fine, just carry on.”
I did as they said, and led the big horse into a cleaned stall. The second I closed and secured the stall door, the men all heaved an audible sigh of relief. As it turned out, I had taken Elegant Dean from his stall, a stallion with a reputation for being rank and dangerous. Funny thing about that horse, he never gave me a lick of trouble, not even once. In fact, we became quite the buds, and I could pretty well do anything with him. He was by far, my favourite horse there.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB