The bond between horse and boy


Watching a friendship form at an early age is one of the things I love best about my job as a veterinarian.

There are about 25 yards of parking lot between the two parts of our vet clinic, and I had a smile on my face as I carried a chart from my office at one end toward the horse clinic at the other. I knew this old gelding was going to be a fun workup.

The horse belonged to some folks with the last name Angel, and let me tell you, the 4-year-old boy who was best friends with Rex the gelding-well, he was an angel. The parking lot was full of trailers, and in between two trucks I spotted little Four walk out with his chest puffed out and his cowboy hat pulled down, old Rex a few steps behind him on the end of a red lead rope.

I stopped for a minute and watched Four lead old Rex across the lot, around a couple of trucks and into the clinic. His dad was a few steps behind, keeping an eye on things and talking on the phone.

I finished my trek across the lot and found Four standing in the clinic with Rex. They were checking out the other horses being worked on by other vets. Four would look at a racehorse and then look at old Rex, and I could tell what he was thinking: “My horse is way better than yours.”

I approached and we shook hands for a second and I asked him what was wrong with Rex today-besides the fact that he was 28 years old.

He looked over at his dad, who was still on the phone, and then said, “Daddy says he ain't stopping right no more and that you could fix him.”

I spent a minute sizing up little Four. His cowboy hat was pulled down so far that the tops of his ears were bent out at a right angle. His boots couldn't have been more than three inches long and attached were a pair of ancient spurs. He was dressed in jeans and a snap shirt. He had one arm around Rex's front right leg and his head was just a touch taller than the commissure of the legs as they came together to form the chest.

You could tell Four was a little scared about the whole situation. His dad was still on the phone, sitting across the way. Four had sunk into the chest of good old Rex to find some safety and comfort. For his part, Rex looked prepared. He stood calmly, looking around at all the activity, making sure his little boy was gonna be OK.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“I'll be 5 years old next month!” Four said as he puffed his chest out a little more. He started petting Rex's leg.

“Is this your horse?” I asked.

“Yes, and he's the best horse at the ranch. My daddy used to ride him when he was a little kid like me. We rounded up a whole pasture on him yesterday. He's the best,” Four said. “I think he can outrun any horse in this barn. I looked them over and Rex would be the fastest. He ran fast with me yesterday and boy howdy, I thought I was gonna fall off. He was almost flying. But daddy told me he was just trotting. I can't imagine how fast he must go when he runs.”

“What are you gonna be when you grow up?” I continued.

He looked at me and then up at Rex and said, “Well, I'm gonna be a cowboy, of course!”

“You sure you don't want to be a horse doctor? I think you would be a great horse doctor,” I said. “Then you could take care of other good horses like Rex. You could come here and I would teach you how to do it. We would have a lot of fun making horses happy.”

He raised one eyebrow a bit. I could see the wheels turning in his little mind and he held on a little tighter to the horse's leg and looked up at him again.

A moment passed and he said, “Nope, I'm gonna be a cowboy. But thank you for asking.”

His dad got off the phone and came over and Four followed behind us, leading Rex as we headed down to watch the old saint trot on the lameness pad. I explained to Four how to tell which leg was lame by watching the horse trot. He paid close attention and acted like he knew what I was talking about.

We finished the exam and treated Rex with just the right medicine to make him feel better. I told Four to hold on tight and screw down the next time he rode Rex, because Rex was gonna feel much better. This brought a concerned look to Four's face and he looked over at his dad for some advice. I could tell there was going to be a conversation on the drive home. It was gonna be scary now after Rex started feeling better.

The little boy led the old gelding back across the parking lot and loaded him into the stock trailer like they had done it a thousand times together. Dad closed the back and fastened it, and the two of them headed to the front to pay.

I stood back and watched it all happen and smiled. What a wonderful job I have. What a wonderful part of America I get to see every day. What amazing people live here and raise their families to be salt-of-the-earth, hardworking citizens. And most of all, there is the relationship between a little kid and a kind old horse. Few things touch me more.

Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing from Rural America.

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