A while back I didn’t have anything to do so I played cards with some politicians and won the state of North Carolina. Not knowing what to do with all my new-found riches, I tossed my bread upon the waters and found that a new horse came back to me. That is to say, I bought a horse with the intention of running it in the Kentucky Derby.
It was a perfect horse, sired by a perfect sire, haunches and paunches perfectly proportioned, teeth perfectly aligned, eyes perfectly fixed on the next race, legs perfectly designed for speed and fury. So we named it Secretariaticus.
Since I know nothing about horses and my daughter Larissa had not yet fallen off any or started whispering them, I decided to hire the best training and horse-husbanding team in the world. I advertised widely (perhaps you saw my ads) and interviewed extensively, and after a few hours of rigorous labor I found my team.
I knew they were my team because they were certified by Nationally Federated Association of Unions of Race-Training Horse People and their website was ornate with trophies won by horses they had trained. The team leader turned up with a file that contained all the data showing how their horses compared with the other horses and it was pretty impressive. They were way above average. Like, 89th percentile.
So my experts took to my horse. They regulated everything it ate, ensuring only the perfectest perfection of perfect foods to come near my perfect horse. They exercised it following the newest insights of the latest research which they kept up on by reading the most current journals and even sometimes contributing to them. They were clearly geniuses.
The immediate effects were a little disappointing. After a week, my dear Secretariaticus was a bit lighter and a bit slower than he had been the week before. I figured that was the natural consequence of starting to do things right after all the time spent doing things wrong (like when you type with two fingers and then switch to ten – you slow down at first).
No big deal. Plus my team leader explained everything to me. He had all the latest research to show why what we was doing was needed and he explained it to me turgidly and patiently, though I can’t deny that I felt a bit insulted when he patted me on my head and told me not to concern myself with questions too technical for me.
A month later my horse was still slower and still thinner. I asked for more explanations and he had lots of them. I couldn’t follow them they were so complex and obvious. So I just took his word for it. He was accredited. What did I know.
After three months, my horse was not only slower and thinner, but he was becoming nasty. I noticed that he wouldn’t voluntarily go near any of his trainers and his trainers didn’t particularly like going near it. He was docile enough during times of training, though he put no effort into his work. But as soon as he could he stumbled as far as he could from the staff and sulked on some corner of the grounds. He didn’t like other horses either, though one or two other sickly ones would sulk with him from time to time. They didn’t really seem to enjoy each other’s company. After a while, though, they would chase away any other horse who came near. Who knew what they were thinking.
After six months, he was suicidal. I can’t even describe the sorts of behavior he started engaging in because this is a family blog, but it included becoming friendly with barbed wire fences, chasing and hurting fillies, and other strange things that horses do when they are really, really mad and self-loathing.
I’d had enough. I called in my trainer for an explanation.
“What’s wrong with my horse?” I demanded febrishly.
“What are you talking about?” He responded somnolently.
“My horse!” I insisted ferally.
“What horse?” He returned vacuously.
“The horse I hired you to train!” I persisted cladistically.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he replied, I thought, somewhat laetifically.
In my exasperated frustration I lapeled the man and dragged him out to the pasture and, briny and spumatically, I pointed to the horse and spat, “That horse!!”
“Oh, that,” He fluttered. I always thought that was a bit of a funny creature. As are all your animals here.”
“What do you mean?” I weptically wondered.
“Well, to begin with,” he patiently drolled, “You seem to have a real hang-up on semantics. I mean, don’t get me wrong,” he me-wronging continued, “I’m not anti-semantic and I don’t think anybody should be, but your constant insistance on calling it a horse is charming and all, but it’s just not done that way any more.”
I was found dumb, so dumb-founded was I. My consternated stupefaction had become a chiasm of stupefacted consternation. Not knowing what I should do, I did what I know not.
But after a while, I stopped not knowing what I was doing and attended to myself. There I was, standing out in a pasture with a mad horse and a mad man who had driven me mad and was fussing over words that I used when I spoke of my horse as a horse.
I was lost. I sat down and cried.
Then I got up and softly and quietly, with no more energy than my precious Secretariaticus had, I asked him to explain what he meant when he said people didn’t call horses horses anymore.
“Well, it’s not that they don’t ever do it,” he commiserated. “It’s just that you are so strict and legalistic about it. I know your ass is funny looking and all, but it would still be okay to call it an ass, or even a donkey, at least once or twice.”
It was then that my head fell off.
I replaced it and found new strength. I looked him in the eye (did I mention that he only had one eye, right in the middle of his forehead?).
“What do you mean?” I demanded valenteriously.
“Look,” he pitied, “I know you have your dreams and I know some people still believe in horses. And I’ll admit that when I first saw this animal of yours, I wondered why it was so unique looking. Even beautiful, in its own way. But I’m a professional and I wasn’t going to let my feelings interfere with my work. I have to be practical. I knew I could get it acting like all the other asses on the ranch; it was just a matter of time.”
I couldn’t credit his words any more than you can. I was too demersified to know what to say. I took him by the ear, walked him to the edge of the ranch, and told him to hitch-hike back to his island.
But it was too late. By this time I had sold off all my assets to train the perfect horse. But so skittish had he become through the expertise of the trainers that all I could do was provide something approaching a comfortable setting for him to live out his last few years. We moved to the suburbs and I made sure nobody disturbed him. But there was no hope of ever winning the Kentucky Derby.
I guess you could say I learned my lesson, but even so it cost me everything I had. Nevertheless, it is worth saying: you can’t train a winning thoroughbred if you think it is an ass.
I went out to the pasture to see how Secretariaticus was doing after being treated like a horse and I thought you would like to know. He’s doing much better. In fact, wouldn’t you know it, he’s begun to sprout wings.