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The International Writers Magazine

Horse Business
Marc George

Summer was coming and for the first time I wasn't looking forward to it. I thought I was still being punished but mam said not to be silly. I was to be sent to Jacks because it would do all of us some good, and besides Jacks had specifically asked for me. No matter how hard I pleaded, begged and swore I was going to Jacks, and that was final. I didn't need my brother Jimmy to tell me how lucky I was, I knew: I would have Jacks all to myself.

Jacks was Jacks because his full name happened to be Jacob Jacob Jacobs and Welsh humour being what it is, his dad called him Jacks because as he saw it, it was a shame to waste a good name. Jacks had lived on his farm for ever. He reckoned it was more and anyway had been working with horses for longer than that. He was old in the sense that anyone over fifty was ancient in the eyes of a ten year old, but always seemed ageless some how. He wore the same blue overalls and tweed jacket day in day out and the only time I ever saw him without his Benny hat was at his funeral. But, the best thing about Jacks was his smell. It's a mixture of horse, hay, earth and peppermints with a bit of tobacco.

Jacks is my mam's uncle and my great uncle and had fought and won the last war. I 've always been unsure of him. We are fond of each other but we're not as close as Jimmy and Jacks. Jimmy's older than me by four years although there are times when you wouldn't think so. Jimmy and Jacks get on like a house on fire. They always spend time together: building dens, Jacks shall we go fishing…it makes me sick. All I can do is watch until I'm bored, at which point I'll go off and do my own thing. Jimmy's a brown nosed bastard.
When I am doing my own thing Jacks and I usually come to blows. I've either used something I shouldn't have or been and done something that I shouldn't have. It's fucking stupid some of the time but often as not Jacks will hit me for it. And boy that bastard can hit. Lie won't hold back like mam, he'll full on pelt me. Only one, maybe two hits depending on what I done, but by Christ they are enough. He has a way of hitting that makes the backs of my legs sting for hours, really deep pain that make the flesh heat up. But he never makes me cry. I won't ever let him do that.

So I was to spend the whole summer with Jacks all to myself. Mam kisses me as I get on the train to my embarrassment and Jimmy's snigger. I know she hopes Jacks' influence will do me some good, that I will come back a different person.

The train dumped me at Clarbeston Road some time in the late afternoon. Jacks was there all impatient.
"You've finally decided to show up then."
It's alright. I don't want to be here either you bastard. I'm not sure what I expected. For us to run up to each other hug and kiss? I don't think so.
"Let's be off then."
He takes my tartan duffle bag off me, slinging it over his shoulder. Without looking back he heads toward the farm. Jacks' farm is a good fifteen-minute walk west of Clarbeston Road. The village is just that. It has some houses and a pub. There's a post office which doubles as a shop and that's it. The whole village is built around the signal box-cum-station, which is situated next to a level crossing. I always expect tumble weed to blow along the street whenever I stroll along it, it's that bad and what's worse, I have to spend summer here.
I spend the fifteen minutes trying to catch up with Jacks. We don't talk until we reach the crest of the hill looking down onto the farm. Jacks turns toward me.
"There's one thing I'll know and mark me if you lie..."
I can't look at him for some reason. I want to shout and scream. Punch his skinny face in, bastard. My eyes are welling up. I don't know why.
"...are you doing drugs?"
His voice with its idiotic drawl makes me sick. No, I don't touch drugs.
"So, you're just a thief. Not stupid."
Yea, just a thief. That's all right then isn't it. Fuck, I really want to hurt him.
"I'll tell you now. I'll not have stealing in my house. You'll know the meaning of hell and discipline..."
The bastard pauses as if to make a point. He holds my gaze for a few moments as though reading my mind. All I can do is shrug into my parker and look away. He's won this round so we head for home.

The farm is quiet; it only serves to heighten how I feel. So much for having Jacks all to myself. If Jimmy were here he'd be lapping it up. Fuck off, Jimmy.

Jacks unlatches the back door and motions me inside. The kitchen is typical Jacks. At home we don't have the mod cons but we do have a toaster, electricity, oven and the like. But this hasn't change since the last century. The stove is an old fashioned iron-plated job that's heated by wood and coal. The kettle is an old black pot boiler with a matching pot that's huge. The only modem thing is the sink with its' running water. The lights are electric but old-fashioned electric. The flex is black with the two wires entwining and the switches are the round type with a little lever to switch on and off.
Jacks dumps my bag in the corner and asks if I'm tired or hungry. I don't know. I don't even care.
"Sit there then and I'll fix you something."
Don't force yourself. I don't want to be any more trouble than I already am.
"What ? "

Nothing. I take a seat in this poky threadbare chair and watch him. I drift in and out of daydreams of beating the shit out of Jacks. He's trying to tell me off, telling me I'm a drug user. No matter how much I say no, I'm not; he calls me a liar and then a thief. He goes for me, grabbing the top of my arm. I pull away and threaten to hit him if he comes any closer. He laughs, so I lose it. I punch him in the face, my fist connecting with his nose, which shatters, spilling blood. My left hand follows up into his stomach. He doubles over and I punch him down to the floor. Exultant I look down on this feeble old man and decide to teach him a lesson, emphasizing each point with a kick. I am not, NOT A LIAR. And I'm not a THIEF.

Jacks startles me with a cup of tea and two pieces of fresh bread. It's smeared with thick butter and homemade jam. My favourite. Jacks smiles and nods. Warily I bite into the luscious bread, watching Jacks watching me. I disregard him and concentrate on how hungry I am and how delicious it tastes. He smiles and heads toward the door.
"There's chores to be done. Meet me in the stables when you've finished."
And with that I'm free.
I find Jacks a good hour later. He's in the stable. He looks up for an instant and then continues shoveling shit.
"You're finally here then."

Ignoring him I look around for something to do. By the looks of it Tilly is yet to be done. Tilly has the temperament of a lady. She's quiet and gentle and very affectionate. She bobs her head at me and nuzzles my neck. My anger melts. I turn away from the hay net and hug and pat her. It's good to see you too Tilly. I scratch behind her ear and blow gently down her nose. I can't describe that moment, the smell of horse, leather and hay. The feeling of power and if you like sexuality.... no, sensuality that comes from these creatures. There's just something about horses that I love.

Jacks stops and looks at me. I'm not sure what he wants. But he just smiles and carries on. It takes me awhile to get back into it. I start from the head down. A brush in either hand circling down to the left and then back up to the right. Jacks finishes before me and sweeps and cleans Tilly's stall. I'm sure he's only doing it to make me feel slow and stupid. I finish off and then look around to see what else is to be done. Jacks comes back from the shit pile.
"Finished? Good, c'mon on then. There's still Morgan."

I haven’t met Morgan but I have heard a lot about him. Mama will read Jacks' letters to me instead of bedtime stories like she does with Jimmy. He hates me for it because I get to hear about Jacks before him.
Morgan is a Merlyn Cymreig. It's a top breed in Welsh ponies. Unfortunately Morgan was involved in some road accident and had his leg broken. A broken leg can often mean a horse's death. I've never understood why. I know it's all about money and cost, a broken leg on a horse can cost its owner thousands. The operation saves the horse but then the horse is no longer useful. It can't work - it can’t race, show or carry riders. It's simply cheaper for the owner to kill it.

Jacks was visiting his vet friend when the call came in. To cut Jacks story short, Jacks bought Morgan from the owner for the price of a dead horse. Its common practice to sell the carcasses to factories and the like for about five hundred quid. Jacks' vet friend owed him a favour or two and did the operation and treatments at cost. Morgan fully recovered. His only legacy is a small scar and the inability to be ridden. To this day Morgan is Jacks' pride and joy.

The bond between the two is evident. The way Jacks smiles, his skinny face lighting up as he flashes yellow teeth at Morgan. I feel like I'm intruding so I just watch from the side. Jacks' smile is infectious. Morgan is truly a beautiful animal. He stands about sixteen or eighteen hands high. That’s about five foot something. His black coat glistens and flexes with powerful muscles. His mane and tail are black as are his eves. He has white socks on all but one of his legs. He's gorgeous.
Jacks turns to me and smiles.
"Come here boy. Meet Morgan."
I'm scared. I want Morgan to like me. They both watch as I walk toward them. Jacks talking low into Morgan's ear. Still smiling. Morgan's head lifts a bit. I stop.
"Ssh. It's alright lad. Come on boy. Slowly."
I resist putting my hand out quickly. Slowly with palms up I manage to stroke the flat forefront of Morgan's head. I can tell Morgan's unsure but Jacks and I look at each other grinning madly He likes me. They both like me.
"Go and open the paddock for me boy and I'll get him ready."
Nodding with enthusiasm I rush out my sudden movement frightening Morgan. He starts. His metal hooves scraping the concrete floor. I freeze arid turn round. Sorry. Jacks gives me a look and then nods me on. I move slower this time.

The paddock is a training area where horses and riders practice. It's a fenced off area rectangle in shape. It's about forty feet wide and say sixty, maybe more long. It doesn't have grass but instead soft fine sand, which is better to fall on. I unlatch the wooden gate, watching Jacks lead Morgan. Morgan's clip clop walk is a little pedantic.
"Aye, it's his bad leg, always plays up when it's wet."
I shut the gate after them and climb up a rung. I watch as Jacks twirls in a small circle at the paddock's centre. He leads Morgan on at a slow walking pace building up to a quick canter and then to a walk again. He never uses the long training whip with a full whack but instead touches Morgan's haunches with it. I can see the muscles working, flexing and moving under the taut black coat. But something is wrong. Jacks stops every now and again cursing at Morgan as he readjusts Morgan's head collar and bridle:
"What's the matter?"
"The bastard’s is spitting his bit out."

If Jacks wants to show Morgan in next year's dressage competition Morgan needs to be broken in terms of saddle and bridle. The bit is an important part of the bridle that fits into the back of the horse’s mouth. If Morgan's spitting it out it means that Jacks can't control or manoeuvre him. One of the key elements of the dressage competition or even basic horsemanship is control of the horse.
So why is Morgan spitting his bit out?
"The bastards before me, neck-tied him."

Neck tied. If you've ever watched the show jumping on the telly and seen the horses with bowed heads and long arched necks then chances are you've seen a horse that's been neck-tied. That shape - the long arched neck and bowed, straight face is seen as THL perfect shape for a horse's head. But not many horses are born like that. The trick is to only have about three to four inches between the horse’s head and the wall. Not only that but the rope has to be tied lower down, forcing the horse to adopt the desired pose and shape. Once that's done the horse is left like that for its entire first year.

The result can be one fucked up animal. But apart from spitting out his bit, Morgan seems exceptionally quiet and well mannered. I'm a little confused and a bit uncomfortable at why Jacks is getting angry with Morgan. Before I can do anything Jacks is launching into Morgan.

You can not only hear the swish of the whip as it flicks through the air but also the sharp wet trill as it connects with Morgan's back and haunches. Jacks is going mental, shouting and screaming. I don' t know who is more frightened, Morgan or me. I don't know what I can do.

Morgan's trying to get away from Jacks and the whip, but is cornered. To escape he has to climb up the bank and hopefully jump the wire fencing. But the bank's incline is too steep for Morgan and combined with Jacks yanking and pulling on his training harness Morgan keeps stumbling. I expect him to fall and break his legs at any moment. I can't just stand there, I can't. I have to do something. I start shouting as I climb over the gate and run toward them.

I don't remember much after that. Grabbing Jacks' arm and shouting: he's had enough, he's had enough. Jacks' face, his anger and maybe hatred. Morgan rearing on his hind legs and then the blow. Such a powerful and searing blow across my face that I black out. I can't remember who hit me: Jacks or Morgan. It doesn't matter I don't want to remember. Whatever happened, whoever hit me left a long thin whelp across my face. It runs from my right temple down to my left cheek.

I must have passed out because the next thing I remember is waking in Jacks' bed. He is looking down at me. All he can do is say sorry: I'm sorry boy. The look on his face makes me want to cry, to hold him but I want to hit him more. I want to scream and shout but all I can do is turn away and pretend to go to sleep. All I can think of is Morgan. Why won't he take to his bit?

I can hardly speak at all. When I do, it is to ask Jacks about how a bit fits into a horse’s mouth. How it actually works. And for the first time I'm happy to listen. I hardly want to punch Jacks at all. Instead I watch him as he chats about horse's anatomy. The way he rubs his bristles when he's thinking. How his eyes flicker every now and again. We talk and discuss the simplicity of the bridle and how it works.

Horses have a natural gap between their back teeth and their jawbone. The bit fits perfectly into this gap and when attached to the reins, allows the rider complete control of the horse. Jacks and I discuss various types of design. We even discuss the idea of a bridle without a bit. But as ever it all comes to shit and life soon returns to routine.

Routine means one of two things: I've either forgotten to do something or have done the bloody thing wrong. Jacks keeps on at me with one fucking phrase.
"If you're going to do a job, do it properly or not at all."
I usually opt for not all.

And that's fine. I want to do my own thing anyway. I only have one thing in mind: to sort Morgan out. I spend hours just staring and watching Morgan. Looking for some clue as to what we could possibly do. Jacks and Morgan will exercise in the paddock and I'll follow them. I'll watch from the gate but I can't see the answer. I can't think how. Jacks and I will bicker about it. I keep on asking him why? Why would being neck-tied make Morgan not take to his bit? And then the answer came just like that. It 's all about taste.
Morgan must associate all those hours of discomfort with the taste of metal in his mouth. He must associate the bit with pain. Jacks looks like he doesn't see what I'm getting at. It's simple. If Morgan associates the taste of metal with pain then surely we can get him to associate the bit with something nice. What if we smeared jam or honey over the bit?
Fuck off then. I only want to help. Jacks smiles and then laughs. I don't know if this is good or bad. He startles me by tussling my hair before rushing off toward the house.

We smear Morgan's bit with jam and then place it in hiss mouth. He chews and licks on it. To our surprise Morgan accepts it straight away. I'm sure we both expected him to spit it out well I did any way. He's happily licking and sucking at the bit as Jacks leads him around the paddock a few turns. But then the inevitable happens. Morgan spits it out. I want to cry. Fuck, it hasn't worked.
I can tell Jacks is as disappointed as me. He leads Morgan past and then stops. He...he then puts his arm around my shoulder.
"Not to worry boy, it was the first go. We've... well you've done more in the last five minutes than I have in the last few years. Be proud boy, I am."
But it hasn't woredk. Morgan spat it out. Couldn't he see that? It hadn't work. I knew what he was doing. He was trying to make me feel better. Bastard. Why can't he just shut up, just shut up and leave me alone.

But Jacks won't. He chases after me calling my name, shouting at me to stop. I don't know where I am; I just have to get away. I fall and the next thing I know Jacks is on me. He has hold of me. His grip hurts my shoulder where he's got hold of me. I try to pull away from him. Twisting as Jacks slips and falls, his footing sliding from him in the mud. He lands next to me wrenching my shoulder.

Somehow I get up and sit on his chest. I don't clearly remember how, only that I want to hurt him. Hit and punch him because my idea hadn't worked. All Jacks can do is hold me away at arms length as I howl, swear and punch at him. I get weaker with each swipe of my fist until I finally collapse. I expect Jacks to push me away or hit me or something. He doesn't. I feel his scrawny arms hold me to him as we both cry.

For the rest of that summer we never spoke of that moment. Instead we took great pains in avoiding the whole situation. We did learn to give each space and for the first time to talk to each other on a level pegging. Admittedly it was all focused around Morgan but I didn't mind because for the first time in my life I had Jacks all to myself.

© Marc George April 2007

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