“Watch out! He’s right behind you.”
The buckskin horse lunged, teeth bared. I stepped aside just as Dad caught the reins and hauled the horse back.
“You have to watch him. He bites.”
“I’ll say.” I took the reins, avoiding snapping teeth and stamping hooves. Putting one foot in the stirrup, I mounted. The buckskin danced and lunged.
“Maybe you’d better get down.” Dad held out his hand for the reins.
“I’ve got it.”
“All right, then. Take it easy. Just out to the highway and back.”
Settling into the saddle, I reached down and patted the buckskin’s long graceful neck. His ears flicked. He placidly tore up a clump of grass; he didn’t intend going anywhere. Munching, he turned and looked over his shoulder at me, mischief glinting in his deep brown eyes. He blinked.
“If you’re going, then go.”
Nudging his sides, I held the reins loosely and clicked my tongue. He took a step, hesitated, took another—and bolted. Screams dwindled in the distance as the buckskin raced through the grass, headed straight for a clothesline—a wire clothesline.
Pulling on the reins and leaning backward over the saddle, I urged him to slow. The buckskin jerked his head and lengthened his stride. I ducked. The clothesline caught my chin, burning a deep groove below my lips, but it missed my neck. I flipped the wire over my head, turning my head sideways.
The buckskin didn’t hesitate; he raced for a barbed wire fence enclosing a stubble field. Clamping my thighs together and hauling back on the reins, I leaned back. Screams and yells moved closer, but they didn’t make any sense. Pulling harder, nearly horizontal over his rump, his head nearly touching his chest, the buckskin skidded to a stop on the wet grass inches from the fence, bucking and rearing while I hung on. Suddenly, he stopped and stood still, panting lightly.
“I don’t think so, buddy. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. Now, let’s go.”
The buckskin took two tentative steps and stopped. I nudged his sides. He took two more steps, lengthening into a trot and then an even gaited run. We sped along the grass and onto the dirt road, hair and mane flying in the crisp autumn air until reaching the highway. We slowed and turned, trotting back, gait dropping to a fast walk as we neared my family.
“Just what did you think you were doing?”
“You can get down now.”
“Are you going to buy him?”
“Don’t know. Dad stroked his flanks. The buckskin gently butted Dad’s shoulder.
“He likes you.”
“He needs a lot of training. He’s been abused.”
“Then we have to buy him.”
“I’ll think about it. Now, get down.”
Reluctantly dismounting, I held the reins and stroked the soft velvet of his nose. The buckskin whickered, lipping the palm of my hand for the sugar cubes I pulled from a pocket. “If he’s been abused…”
“I said I’d think about it.” Dad led the buckskin away while my family closed around me, questions flying.
Mom glared at me. “You should’ve stopped.”
“I was fine.”
“You could’ve been killed. If that wire had caught your neck . . .”
“Yeah!” chorused my brother and sisters. “Killed.”
On the way home, we talked about the horse. It was clear Dad liked him but Mom wasn’t so sure. Ever since they moved out past New Rome down U.S. 40 to the farm, Dad and Mom decided to buy some horses. Although I wasn’t going to be there long, I wanted some say in which horses they bought.
It was obvious Dad liked the buckskin, and hearing he’d been abused made him that much more appealing, at least to Dad and me. He’d buy the horse, that much was certain. It was only a matter of time.
And he did.
The next time I saw the buckskin, he was decked out, saddle and bridle covered with conchos and buckskin ties. He looked like he belonged in a western beneath a hero riding into the sunset. His light tan coat gleamed and his pale mane looked like a silken waterfall as he danced and sidestepped while Dad brushed him. Catching the reins tied around the top log of the fence, the buckskin pulled them loose, nudging Dad, and tossing his head. He wanted to go. Grooming could wait for later, he seemed to say.
“Got a name for him?”
“Apache.” Dad mounted and headed off down the driveway at a canter, dirt puffing beneath Apache’s hooves.
Every evening after work, Dad brushed the buckskin until he gleamed, mounted, and took off down the road, sometimes with Mom on the brown saddlebred mare, living a long held dream of owning horses and living in the country.
Apache settled down, but very few could ride him without Dad close by; he had a tendency to attack without warning or buck whenever anyone else mounted. The only exception was children. Apache loved kids, even my two little boys who never sat still for anyone or anything, unless they rode with Dad on Apache.
The buckskin didn’t give his love or his loyalty lightly or easily, probably remembering the harsh treatment of his former owner. He adored Dad, acting more like an enormous dog than a horse as he followed him around. Children fascinated him and he gentled whenever they approached, taking carrots and sugar cubes from their hands as delicately and gently as a refined gentleman. But Apache was a devil with the mares, a sort of mare’s stallion even though he had supposedly been gelded. (We learned later that he was still a stallion.)
Apache’s eyes gleamed with mischief whenever I wanted to ride, teasing me with nips whenever my back was turned, and whinnying when I turned and caught him, as though playing some private game. He never bucked me off or ran away with me again, having decided on some kind of truce as if I had won his admiration the day he attacked and ran away with me. But no one knew the depth of his loyalty until the day Dad was breaking an Arabian mare he’d just bought.
Lakaya seemed fine when Dad mounted her the first time, flanks quivering, nostrils flared, but she stood still, silent, head bowed. He started to put her through her paces when suddenly she reared and lunged forward. Dad went down with a sickening crunch.
Apache grazed in the pasture when Lakaya bucked Dad off. Two seconds later, the buckskin cleared the fence and raced to where Dad lay, beating the rest of us. He lowered his head and pushed at Dad’s shoulder. Dad groaned.
Lakaya took off down the driveway. Apache tore after her, racing ahead, and turning her back toward the house. He herded her all the way back up the driveway, nipping at her flanks when she stalled or tried to take off again. When they were almost up to where Dad now sat holding his right wrist, Apache nipped Lakaya again. She squealed and reared. My brother took her reins and led her back to the barn while the buckskin stayed near Dad until we got him in the car and Mom took him to the hospital.
Dad’s wrist was broken in two places. When he came home with the cast on his arm, no one was happier to see him than Apache was. He crowded the fence neighing and calling as Dad got out of the car, refusing to settle until Dad went over to him and stroked his nose and patted his neck. Apache was satisfied.
My parents eventually gave up the horses and the farm and bought a house outside of town. The owners of the farm had decided to sell the land to a developer and canceled their option to buy.
I don’t know who was sadder the day the new owners came for the buckskin, Dad or Apache. We never saw the buckskin again, but there is no doubt in my mind that wherever Apache went he made his presence felt every time he attacked.