It was early evening when the horse trader opened the gate to the lane that led to the Otto Flath farm and leading a long string of horses made his way slowly onto the yard.
The evening chores were nearing completion. The cows had been milked, the milk had been separated, the cream had been placed into the cream cans, the skim milk had been apportioned among the calves, the pigs, the cats and the farm dogs; all that was left to do was to wash the cream separator components.
The horse trader’s appearance did not come as a surprise. Otto had anticipated the trader’s visit for some time. Each year the trader would appear on the yard and as often as not the Flaths would see a horse or two exchange hands. Otto, like the trader, was willing to engage in the sport of horse trading and the rest of the family was eager to see the results.
The trader would travel throughout the countryside on one of his horses behind which he led a dozen or so others. His old well worn saddle, along with a couple of saddle bags adorned his lead horse. Behind the lead horse another one of his string would carry the rest of his travel essentials (a tent, some food and other things). The farmers that he would call upon would usually offer him a place to sleep, water for his animals and perhaps a meal or two. If he was forced to sleep on the roadside, he would place hobbles on his horses, pitch his tent, start a small fire and sleep in the open air.
He was an old man (at least Eddy and Harry thought so). The many days of traveling from farm to farm in the open air had left their mark on the man. He stunk from the smell of stale perspiration combined with the odor of sweaty horses. The length of his beard was as varied as its color. His brown leathery face displayed deep set grey eyes and his unkempt hair protruded in tatters from under his sweat stained felt hat. His body was lean and when he dismounted his hunched frame was at least a foot shorter than Otto’s.
Upon dismounting Otto and the trader quickly renewed their acquaintance and began to engage in the art of horse trading. The conversation continued in a language that neither Eddy nor Harry understood so rather than listen to the negotiations, they circled the herd and commented to each other as to which horse they would like to see their dad purchase. The trader had a variety of horses most of which were draft horses but among them was a small pony that caught their eye. Otto boasted of owning more than a dozen horses but there was not one small pony among his herd. Eagerly they followed their dad as he casually examined each one. Otto not wanting to display any favoritism among the choices checked each one. Expertly he lifted every leg and checked each hoof. He slapped each horse on the rump. He ran his hands over the flanks and he tugged at the manes and tails. He untethered each one, led it around, made it back up and he even leapt on each of the horse’s back. He checked their teeth as well as their eyes and ears. All was done to determine the age of the horse, to see how approachable it was, if it was harness broke, riding broke and most of all if it was healthy.
Finally after Otto did his due diligence he began to haggle with the horse trader. Eddy and Harry observed the procedure from the side lines not saying a word but secretly hoping that their father would buy the pony. Their excitement grew when Otto stood next to the pony but hope turned to disappointment when Otto walked over to the Clydesdale and talked for a long time with the trader. Judging by the tone of the conversation the boys realized that their father was set on buying the biggest, most clumsy looking horse of the whole bunch.
After the cash was exchanged for the horse, Otto offered the trader a pen for his horses and a bed for the trader. The sun was nearly below the horizon by the time the deal was completed and usually the trader would not turn down an invitation like this but instead of accepting, the trader climbed aboard his saddled horse and left the yard without further adieu.
It was a daily ritual in the Flath family to gather around the eating table each evening to share in a cup of cocoa or a cup of tea, to pray together, to share in the daily events and to make plans for the forthcoming day. After Clara led the prayers and completed her bible reading she turned to Otto and said,
“Why did you buy that horse? We now have a tractor and you have more horses now than you can use. I think it was a waste of money.”
“Clara,” Otto replied, “I know that you are right but I think that this horse will be a good match for Prince. He is bigger and heavier than Prince but their colours match perfectly. I will sell one of the other ones.”
“Oh,” Rudy interjected, “I know what we should name him; he is bigger than Prince so we should name him King.”
And so it came to pass that the big, bulky Clydesdale became King and unknown to anyone present how prophetically Rudy had named the new acquisition.
Prince had been a member of Otto’s herd for over a year and ever since he came into the fold, Otto was in search of a mate for Prince. Prince was aptly named. He was not a pure bred Clydesdale. He was a little smaller and more compact than a pure bred Clydesdale. His colouring was classic Clydesdale sporting a fall blaze ace, intelligent curious eyes, long thick wavy jet black mane and tail, white socks that slowly blended into the beautiful bay colouring of the rest of his body. He carried his head high above his arched neck and pranced rather than walked. He was of very even temperament and was always eager to pull more than his share of the load. Even though he was a plow horse he was very pleasant to ride.
The morning following the acquisition, Otto in his excitement to team King up with Prince, brought Prince in from the pasture, harnessed them and hitched them to a wagon. King cooperated very nicely through the process and he accepted Prince as a team mate without any objection. Of course the rest of the family gathered round to see the result of Otto’s acquisition; there were even several comments approving the look of the team. All went well until Otto climbed into the wagon box and urged the team forward. Upon command and a gently slap of the reins, Prince promptly leaned forward eager to get going but King just stayed in one spot and did not make any attempt to start in unison with Prince. Bewildered Otto tried again but this time he slapped King’s rump harder with his rein and raised his voice considerably in an effort to get King to equal Prince’s enthusiasm. Once again the outcome was disappointing. Otto just hung his head devastated at what he was witnessing. After much urging yelling and whipping Otto managed to drive the team to the end of the lane with Prince prancing three feet ahead of King and pulling King along as he went. Otto in disgust slowly made his way back into the barn yard, unhitched the team and then released Prince into the pasture.
Otto knew immediately that King was bone lazy! He knew there and then that King would be useless as a member of a four horse work team and it would be unfair to the other three horses to be saddled with King.
“Perhaps,” thought Otto, “King might perform more valiantly singly and live up to his name.”
So Otto hitched King up to the buggy. Yes, King was quite willing to be hitched up as a single. He made no fuss when he was backed up between the cart shafts. He stood quietly as his traces were attached to the single tree and he waited patiently while Otto climbed aboard the cart. However, when Otto urged King forward, King took his own sweet time to break into a slow, slow walk and even when the buggy whip was laid on him he only agreed to break into a slow trot.
“Well, that was a mistake!” Otto reflected to himself. “Now I know why that sheister of a trader left in such a hurry. I guess I will have to sell him and in the mean time I will put him in the horse pasture with the rest of the horses.”
Otto stripped the harness off King, removed the bridle, replaced the bridle with a halter, led King to the pasture gate, opened it and released him. Immediately several horses gathered around King eager to check out the intruder. Again it did not take King long to reveal his true nature. Most horses by nature are communal and generally are open to welcoming a new member and being eager to get acquainted they gathered around King. As they surrounded King, there was the usual snorting, whinnying, head bobbing by the established herd but King did not respond. He stood stoically alone, head held higher than usual with ears bent back. Barney was the first to come near King and just as he came to within a few feet, King struck. Without any warning, King charged Barney biting ferociously at Barney’s neck. With that assault Barney hastily retreated with a bewildered look on his face. After a few more minutes of grandstanding, big old Mac decided that he would approach King in an effort to get to know him. With head and tail held high, ears turned forward and with flared nostrils Mac slowly approached King. Not moving King followed every move and every gesture that Mac made. Mac, leery of King’s reaction to his approach, bobbed his head and making some snorting noises slowly closed the gap between them. After a few minutes of this ritual Mac stood parallel to King and extended his nose in to get a good sniff of King. King did not appreciate Mac’s advances one bit and just as Mac’s body came within reach of King’s hind hooves, King turned his hind quarters in Mac’s direction and let fly with both of his huge and powerful legs. His aim was true, striking Mac in the belly with such force that Mac was nearly lifted off the ground.
“I have seen enough,” Otto gasped, “not only is King lazy but he is also a bully. Boys get a pail of oats and get the others away from King. I have to take him back to the barn yard and I will try again tomorrow and see what happens. Maybe they will get along.”
The result of the second attempt the next day was no different from the first. Discouraged, Otto led King back to the barn yard and penned him up in the corral.
A discussion among the family followed during which ideas were explored to solve the King problem and King’s tenure on the Flath farm.
“Get your money back,” implored Clara.
“Sell him for fox meat,” suggested Rudy.
“Yes, yes,” chimed in Eddy and Harry.
“Trade him for anything, shoot him, send him to the glue factory.”
Everyone had an idea.
“Okay, I will try to get my money back but if I can’t the only thing I can do with him is to put him in the cow pasture with the milk cows. He cannot be together with the other horses,” exclaimed Otto.
After tracking down the horse trader and after trying to trade King for anything of value, King was exiled to the cow pasture. Curiously though, he did not mind living among the cows. He could be seen grazing along side them and even lying down among the cows as they dozed in the summer sunlight.
It was Eddy’s and Harry’s duty to bring the milk cows in from the pasture for the evening milking. The cow pasture was quite large and sometimes the milk cows would be found at the far end of the pasture and sometimes King would be found grazing among them. Even though King was a bully among other horses he liked humans and would walk up to anyone who happened to be near him. He always liked to have his forehead scratched and his neck patted. He especially liked to have the silky portion between his nostrils scratched gently and when Eddy or Harry appeared he would approach them looking for a treat of oats and a pet. He did not mind at all if anyone wanted to climb aboard his back and go for a slow walk. Since King was a large animal standing seventeen hands high, climbing aboard his back was very difficult for the boys especially for seven year old Harry. In order to climb aboard Harry would leap as high as possible, grasp a fist full of King’s mane, wrap his legs around King’s bulky front leg, then shinny up until he was able to grasp enough mane with both hands to be able to eventually clamour aboard. Riding single or double made no difference to King. Throughout the whole procedure King would stand motionless with his huge head turned towards the boys and with his big brown eyes patiently waiting until they were comfortably on his back. No amount of tugging or clamouring upset him at all. When the boys were ready they would urge him forward and King without a bridle or rope on his halter would follow the cows to the barn yard.
Summer passed and try as he might Otto could not find anyone who wanted King: he was stuck with a lazy bully who liked people and cattle more than he did his own kind.
“Clara, I have tried to sell or trade King for two months now and no one wants him but I am not going to give him away or sell him for fox meat” declared Otto.
“I have been thinking about King too,” said Clara, “Maybe he would make a good school horse. I know that he is really too big for the boys to harness and hitch up by themselves but he is so gentle, so slow and so patient that he won’t kick at them nor will he try to run away. You know as well as I do that they like to race the other children’s horses and they can easily get hurt doing so. I don’t want you to let them have any of the smaller more eager to run horses because they will want to race with the other children. If you make them take King they won’t ever try to get into a race and be the first to get to the half mile corner from the school yard.”
“They will not be happy, Clara,” mused Otto.
“Don’t worry about it Otto, they will just have to put up with King.”
And so it came to pass that King became the school pony.
The decision was made and it was final: King became the horse designated to transport Otto and Clara’s children the three miles from their home to Slawa school. It was not a situation that was enthusiastically embraced by the children.
“Why do we have to use King? He is so big and ugly. He is so slow. Everyone at school will laugh at us.”
These and other objections were voiced in chorus when Otto relayed the news to Eddy and Harry but no amount of pleading would change Otto’s mind.