By Bob Huber: Local Columnist
I once had a rude experience with a horse named Coaly. He was a plow plug, a big, black Percheron with the combined disposition of a medieval executioner and Jack the Ripper. They don’t make animals like him anymore, and we’re lucky that way.
To be more specific, he was large as a Sherman tank, and he had the head of an elephant, the teeth of a crocodile, the hooves of a brontosaurus, and the personality of a diamondback rattler. In short, he was a Texas chainsaw with a full tank of gas.
Coaly was owned by the father of my friend Smooth Heine. We were 10 years old when this took place, busy hunting lions in the milk barn, fighting off the Japanese army with apple twig bows, and driving the Heine pigs to Dodge City.
When we were bored, we tried to ride Coaly. We were never successful. He brushed us off, shook us off, bucked us off, and sometimes sat on us. It was a great victory when we got through the day without terminal wounds.
I don’t know why we vowed to ride Coaly. It undoubtedly had something to do with rising testosterone levels or Saturday matinees featuring Roy, Gene, and Hoppy. Whatever, we never let a summer’s day pass that we didn’t try to get on Coaly’s back, which was no mean trick.
To ride Coaly was to straddle a Boeing 707. Up there, without oxygen, we looked like railroad crossing signs. Our feet were flung wide and our arms outstretched to fend off apple trees. Not that we got up there often. It took stealth and cunning.
Our most ambitious tactic was to hide in an apple tree and leap down on Coaly’s back. I usually did the leaping, because it was Smooth’s job to entice Coaly with sugar cubes and stay out of his reach.
But Coaly wasn’t dumb. As soon as he slurped the cube with his tyrannosaur lips, he took a step to the left in a cute shuffle. “Eeeaaugh!” I always screamed as I missed his broad back and raked his ribs with my fingernails.
Once on the ground I had to scramble, because Coaly always bit whatever portion of my anatomy was closest. Then he would step on my foot, making sure I was firmly secured before he took a second bite. The ritual was always the same.
One time I anticipated his sidestep, calculated the drop zone, figured in a little Kentucky windage, and leaped just as he reached for the sugar cube. Flinging my legs wide like a loping grasshopper, I — smashed to the ground! Coaly wasn’t there. He’d stepped the other way.
At least he didn’t bite me that time. He just glanced over his shoulder as I lay face down, spread eagle, and chuckled, a heinous sound.
The only distance I ever rode Coaly was about 50 feet, the space between the apple orchard and Mrs. Heine’s clothes lines. I had dropped out of a tree and somehow got a grip on Coaly’s broad back.
Without hesitation, he laid back his ears and shot forward in a teeth-rattling canter. That’s when I realized why medieval knights wore so much armor. He glanced back at me once, and I heard his evil giggle.
That’s also when I looked ahead and saw Coaly’s second line of defense — Mrs. Heine’s clothes lines — six strands of horizontal wires humming in the breezes. Coaly lowered his mammoth head and ducked under them.
At that moment I became involved in a life or death game called ‘rapidly move the wires over your head before you hang yourself while galloping full tilt on a crazed animal.’
I made it though the first five strands, but as I reached for the last wire, Coaly sensed a hint of victory in my screams and skidded to a halt. Smooth said later I flew off Coaly’s back and cart wheeled around that last wire three times before shooting into space, looking like a bedraggled old man swatting hornets.
I ended my flight as a limp missile in Mrs. Heine’s blackberry patch, but I sprung to my feet, plucking thorns from my rump, and ran, because Coaly came after me and bit me hard on the shoulder. He could never resist grabbing my attention that way.
I don’t know whatever happened to Coaly, but wherever he is, I’m sure he’s still glancing over his shoulder and giggling evilly. They don’t make horses like that anymore. At least I hope not.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.