Mind the Teeth

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What a grumpy girl! Stubborn! Bites! Kicks! That horse has quite the reputation. But looking at her now, chomping on hay in the pale morning light, you wouldn't suspect any of it. An old grey Arab. Handsome animal. Just thin with age, in body and temper.

Sure, she's escaped her stall again, the wooden door wide open and creaking on its hinges. That's brains, though — a horse learning to pull a bolt with its lips. If she hated her humans so much, she would've left the first time she freed herself. To live wild and free for the rest of her days.

But the hay was all she wanted. She doesn't even care about me approaching. Maybe she hasn't noticed me. I don't want to scare her. I'm new to the stables — arrived just two days ago, so the animals don't know my smell well yet. I should find the boss, anyone who can help. But everyone's still asleep.

'We're the early birds, aye, girl?'

Her ears twitch as she gorges on her cheeky breakfast. She does know I'm here. She doesn't even have a bridle on, though. It's not beside her stall and I can't see anything to tie around her neck and lead her back. The equipment shed's too far around the corner to trust leaving her alone. Let's try something simpler.

I take a deep breath and still myself, emptying my body of all emotion except calm love for the horse. I speak again, softly.

'Is that yummy?'

I lay my hand on her shoulder, expecting her to flinch or bulk completely. She just shudders, tilts her great head to inspect me, and casually returns to her meal. Her coat's warm velvet. The muscle beneath flexes as she shifts her weight. I brush away a speck of dirt I'd mistaken for a spot and give the horse an extra scratch. She flicks her ears forward. I spread my hand as I stroke her neck, the tingling in my palm and fingers spreading to my heart. It swells as does my smile. The horse's musk mingles with that of the farm and forest — earth, grain, grass, fur, flower, and sun. A good morning.

'Come on. Let's get back to your room,' I feel sad just saying that.

But I gently nudge her towards me by the crest of her neck. I'm delighted to find her obliging. She turns as my hand directs her until we're facing her dim little box. She seems unperturbed, a single straw still hanging from the edge of her mouth. I take it and offer it back to her. A few wiggles of the lips and she's taken it between her teeth. While it disappears, inch by inch, I put the tiniest pressure on her neck and she moves forward, step by lazy step.

Where's the monster I've been told so much about? Where's the attitude that has her isolated when the noisy children come? She nearly rolled over one with it in the saddle, I'm told. After that, she's been kept out of "Fun Ride Fridays." I can't imagine she's very broken up about that.

The straw is almost gone, but we've reached the gaping dark rectangle of her stall. Is it my distaste or hers that makes her toss her head? Tension seizes her mellow muscles, neck and ears upright with alarm. She pounces away like a colt and makes straight for the hay again. I don't even try to fight my grin.

But then I see the boss. With rope. All joy drains from my body at the sight of it. Her lips are pursed — not unkindly. An exasperated smirk. To bind the beast.

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