A couple of days ago, when Billy, who was born in Wyoming and followed his father's rodeo show all over when he was a kid, walked around the shedrow, leading a horse, I asked, "Have you ever been kicked?" He said, "Everything, bit, kicked, back bit, stepped on, even blind."
Next time he came around, I said, "You were blind?" and he said, "Yes, five or six years ago. My good eye. My left eye."
The third time he came around, he stopped a little bit longer, said, "Happened here. Two months, face down in a pillow, twenty-two hours a day. I was determined to regain my sight. The day the meet ended, I was allowed up and I asked a friend to come pick me up so I could see the last races."
When I asked Harry, who was riding bareback when he was a kid growing up on a farm in South Carolina and has worked at racetracks since the 60s, if he'd ever been hurt, he said, "Broke my ribs once and my collar bone," and told me how he was breaking a horse for Timmy, and Timmy was leading him and everything was going good then then all hell broke loose and the next thing he knew, he was in the house. That's when the ribs were broken. He didn't tell me about the collar bone.
When I was standing in the doorway near Shirley's stalls, a horse and rider came around and Terry, a very gentle fellow with impeccable manners who walks through the shedrows taking orders for feed delivery, told me to move back. I asked if he'd ever been hurt and he said, "Sure, many times. You can't not be when you're working around horses.
Today Jeff and his son were sitting outside his stalls, watching as I carried a scoop of breakfast over to Eddie, a chestnut horse who Elena says is the sweetest of all her horses put together. But I don't know Eddie at all except to look in at him.
I'm comfortable going into Rad's stall when he's in it, just as far as the feed tub where I quickly dump his feed. It took Elena a number of times standing there, "Don't just hold the feed. You're teasing him. Say, 'Go back, over to your tub,' and 'Hurry up now, you can't just stand there.' until I learned how easy it is to feed him. It's gotten so that whenever I go into the feed room, across from his stall, he starts bobbing his head and whinnying, certain that I'll notice and bring him a scoop of pellets.
Elena was washing Stormy, but she told me what to say, same stuff I say to Rad and Stormy, and again, assured me that Eddie, who she calls Peanut, is very gentle. But when I said, 'Back," and pushed on his big chest, he hardly moved. I tried again and he moved enough to block the tub. I put the scoop on the ground outside and fastened the stall enclosure again when I noticed that Jeff was laughing. "Just go in there. Feed him," He said. He used to train horses, then became a contractor, but is back with horses now that the economy was so bad. His kids help him hotwalk, wash and feed the horses.
Finally Jeff got up, took the scoop, started to walk into the stall and Eddie turned his head away. "See, when he turns his head, you just slip right on by. You'd know if a horse had any intention of hurting you. This horse is young. What is he, three years? He's not going to bother you, he doesn't know what the other horse knows so you gotta just wait until he turns his head, slip on by and dump the feed."
I got bitten once, four years ago, when I was videotaping Ronnie Prince as he got a leg up on a horse in Pam Angevine's section of the shedrow before going out to exercise ride early in the morning. I was so intent on getting the images that I hadn't realized that I had backed toward a horse leaning out of the stall who took a nip of my back. I'm quite sure that I managed to hold on steadily to the camera because that was my goal. I did get a bruise and a lot of comments about a black horse biting the white woman.