I was flipping through the TV channels the other night and came across The Ring 2. I tuned in just before the scene where the horse flips out on the boat. It is, for me, the scariest part of the movie. In the scene, Rachel is traveling by ferry to the house where Samara, the creepy, dark-haired, damp girl, lives. At one point, Rachel notices a horse in a trailer and approaches the animal, which, as if it sensed something malevolent living inside Rachel, goes utterly berserk. The horse kicks its way out of the trailer, rises on two legs, stomps some cars, chases Rachel to the edge of the craft and leaps over the rail into the black water.
The reason the horse scene scared me so much, even more than evil Samara herself, is because I can relate. Horses hate me, too. There have been multiple incidents in my life when a member of the equus caballus species has tried to hurt or murder me. It's a great mystery because animals usually love me: Dogs like me. Cats like me. Hamsters totally dig me. Goldfish and I go way back. Iguanas don't get me, but we maintain a civilized rapport. Even piranhas are kinder to me than equines.
I was about 13 the first time a horse tried to kill me. Cousin Donald and I were petting his father's Appaloosa, and the thing damn nearly kicked my face off. A few years after that, Johnny Steo got a horse for his birthday. When I tried to feed it, the sonovabitch bit my hand—on purpose!
There were other minor episodes throughout the years, some dangerous, other times they would just snicker or talk behind my back, no doubt plotting the right moment to assassinate me. Sure, there were moments when I thought I was paranoid, thought I was imagining the whole thing. But all that changed in Mexico in 1987—The Day of Wreckoning:
Chris, Tom, Kevin and I went camping in La Bufadora for the weekend. No. 1 on their to-do list was horseback riding. For anyone who's never seen a Baja rental horse, these are some tattered nags. Their hair is dull and patchy, their backs are badly bowed from years of carting tourists around, and the flies buzz around their heads just waiting for them to die. You can't help but feel guilty for riding these horses, but my friends were adamant, so we paid the man and off we went.
From the start, it sucked. My mount moved like molasses, laboring every step. She stopped often and ignored every plea to giddup. I kept falling behind the group, and several times the guide—with a huff and a scowl—had to come back and “motivate” the horse to move. Also adding to the suckage factor was that much of the trail was on a cliff. To our left loomed a 300-foot fall onto the Jagged Rocks of Certain Death should the horse, or I, make a wrong move.
It was there, on those cliffs, where our friend Flicka broke into a hard gallop.
It was amazing, really. Until that point she could scarcely take another step without collapsing. But now, suddenly, I'm sitting on top of Man O War bounding for glory at Belmont. I had absolutely no control over the She-Beast, and all the yelling, smacking and reins-yanking only made her run faster, harder, angrier.
When we caught up to the group, the shit got hairy. They were riding single file along the narrow trail with seemingly zero room to pass. When we came to the back of the line, my horse flew past Chris, then Tom, then Kevin and finally the guide, each time leaving only centimeters between us and the Cliffs of Certain Death. After passing the group, and seeing nothing but clear trail ahead, she went into ultra high gear, running even fasterer, harderer angrierer, her spasmodic pace violently jerking my neck and spine and smashing my assbone against the hard, cruel saddle.
I have no idea how long this lasted, five minutes maybe, which is an eternity when you're hanging onto the neck of a thousand-pound mammal that's trying to kill you. Then—as if the Michelin man himself had forged her shoes—she braked on a dime. The force of the abrupt stop vaulted me over her ears and into international airspace. I could see the ground below as I flew several yards forward, landed on my stomach and slid head first into a boulder, upon which I cracked a couple of ribs and broke my face, only slightly.
As I lay their groaning, I thought, Well, there can be no doubt. The horses of the world are conspiring against me.
I don't know why. Maybe, like Rachel on the ferry, there is an evil inside me they cannot tolerate. Or, perhaps, in a former life, I was Mr. Ed, and they're all still mad at me for revealing the long-kept secret that a horse can talk of course. Whatever the reason, I made it my mission to never get near one again.
And I didn't, not for a long, long time. Eventually, though, after several years without incident, I came to doubt the universal horse conspiracy ever existed. I figured it was just crazy talk from a crazy person who drinks too much coffee and is crazy. Foolishly, I let my guard down.
Oktoberfest, 2003—The Final Insult: Parked outside the Hofbräu tent in Munich was one of those old-fashioned beer-barrel wagons with a team of Clydesdales. The driver was allowing photo ops, so I asked my friend Teddy to take a picture and stepped between the two lead horses to pose with them. Before Teddy could lift the camera to his face, the goddamn thing head-butted me. He whipped his noggin sideways and used the bone between his nose and forehead to slam the bone between my nose and forehead.
Et tu, beer-barrel Clydesdale?
Being that his head bone was much denser than my head bone, my brain ricocheted against the walls of my skull and settled in my mouth. The beast glared at me with one black eye, hatred dripping from his pupil, as if to say, “Watch your back, pal.” So I ask you, is it coincidence or conspiracy? I can't say. I do know this: I would sooner go swimming with piranhas than ever get near a horse again.