Sunday Stories: Grandma Van and the Runaway Horse

From the memoir of Nellie Thurman VanArsdall, 1888 - 1993

In about 1908, my husband, Ray Alexander VanArsdall and I were a young couple with a one-year old son, Vance, living on a farm about three miles from the home of my mother and my youngest brother.

One bitterly cold day, with deep snow on the ground, I decided to go to spend the day with my mother and brother, as we were moving soon to another part of the state, and I wouldn’t get to see them often. So my husband hitched a gentle spotted mare to the buggy and I drove without incident to my mother’s home.

Later in the day, my husband decided to take a team of horses to a blacksmith shop in the nearby town of St. Edward, to get them shoes, as he knew that when the deep snow melted, the roads would be rough and hard on the horses’ feet. Since the spotted mare which I had driven over to my mother’s Was one of the team he wished to get shod, and the other a spotted stallion, he drove the stallion and a bay gelding over. He left the bay gelding for me to drive home, and took the spotted mare along with the stallion to be shod.

This bay gelding had always been as gentle and trustworthy as the spotted mare. When the time came for me to go home, my brother hitched the gelding to the buggy and I started out. The gelding almost immediately started to shake his head angrily and snort and lunge for a short distances, but I managed to keep him under control. At first I thought that he was just cold and was feeling exuberant, or to use a horsey expression – feeling his oats.

But he became more and more obstreperous and I was becoming terrified, not so much for myself, but for my baby, and began to look for a deep snow drift into which to toss him. About this time I overtook a group of neighbor men in a wagon, who were driving around the countryside shooting rabbits for pass time. Upon seeing how badly my horse was behaving, one of the men suggested that I, with my baby, get into the wagons with the other men and they would take me to a  nearby farmhouse, and I could wait there for my husband to come by.

I did this, and this neighbor took my horse and buggy and drove several miles around the neighborhood, trying to make this horse more tractable, but he didn’t succeed, and at times the horse almost got the best of him. So the man finally gave up and left the horse at the neighbor’s place where I had stopped.

When my husband came along, he tied the horse securely behind his wagon and we led him home. A few days after this incident, the weather having moderated, and most of the snow having melted, my husband decided to turn this gelding and the spotted stallion out in a small pasture adjoining the barn, so that they might get some exercise. They had always been stable mates (meaning they were tied side by side in a double stall) and had run in this pasture together.

But as soon as they were freed from their halters, they rushed at each other with ears lying flat and bit and struck each other viciously while standing on their hind legs, then whirled and kicked each other with their back legs. And they made the most horrible sounds – shrieks, snorts and a deep bawling sound. They were really fighting – each with the desire and intention to kill the other. We had never seen anything like it. It was several minutes before my husband could get them separated, and not in time to prevent several injuries in the way of cuts and bruises from hooves and hide torn by vicious bites.

This was a calamity for us, as good horses were selling at that time for as much of $500, but at that time, must be sound and without blemishes. After this we could never stable them in the same stall, or turn them out to pasture together.

We debated at length about what caused this sudden bitter animosity between these horses, and we came to the conclusion that it was just a plain case of jealousy – the object of their rivalry being the spotted mare, which led us to the question – is it possible for jealousy to happen in the animal kingdom?


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