Monday, November 2, 2009

Rufus' story

One nice thing about small academic conferences is that they can meet in more out-of-the-way places...and the American Folklore Society has met, in the past, in wonderful small cities like Lafayette, Louisiana and Eugene, Oregon--and this year, in Boise, Idaho.

It's been over two years since I was west of...well, Chicago, since moving away from Colorado in the summer of 2007. There are many things I've missed since, mainly low humidity and good Mexican food. Boise delivered both, and then some.

The day before the conference officially began, I went on a day-long tour that took us to a Boise synagogue built in 1895 whose grounds are now host to a community garden used mostly by Somali Bantu emigres. Later we met and saw the beautiful work of two talented women who make stirrups, saddles, and rawhide riding accessories. After a great lunch of chile rellenos at Lalo's in Caldwell, ID, we made our final stop at a horse-training facility run by a crusty old guy who grew up, of all places, in Huntington, West Virginia.

(I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't make a note of and can't recall the trainer's name, but you'll see him in the video at the end.)

En route to the horse-training center, Deana Attebery, the master saddlemaker/rawhide braider (pictured above), got on the tour bus's PA system to explain that she herself was a student at the barn we were going to visit, and that the trainer would be riding a horse that used to belong to her son.

During her earlier demonstration, Deana had mentioned that her son, whom she'd been teaching to make saddles, had died several years ago, though she didn't explain how. During lunch, we sat together, and though she mentioned "the horse incident" a couple of times, I didn't press her for details.

Over the PA, she told us the harrowing tale. Her son, who was in his 20s and a lifelong rider, had been thrown from his horse, Rufus, and--as Deana said--"they both ended up in the river." The horse survived; her son didn't.

However, the horse only survived in body; Rufus was distraught and crazy-angry after the accident, a totally different horse than he'd been beforehand. No one could ride him; he bucked constantly when he was in his stall, and he was aggressive with Deana and her family.

I can only imagine how agonizing this must have been for Deana: Rufus was the only witness to her son's death, the only one who could explain what had spooked him and caused him to throw his passenger. The incident clearly haunted Rufus as much as it haunted Deana, but they couldn't talk about it. And they couldn't work through it. Eventually, Deana gave him to the horse trainer we were headed to see.

As Deana explained, under the trainer's care, Rufus was completely transformed. He went from being a manic, uncontrollable basket case to being the trainer's primary horse, the one he uses to train other reining horses. This is western-style riding we're talking about, so if you know rodeo, you'll understand what the trainer meant when he said that Rufus would make a good pickup horse--one that wouldn't be afraid to sidle up to a bucking bronc and have its rider jump on his back. That takes an exceptionally calm and "supple" horse, to use the trainer's term.

Check out Rufus now. That's an amazing horse. He could probably give us humans some training, too: how to overcome trauma, let go of guilt, and get a new lease on life.


Jane said...

That was *so* interesting, and it's not easy to engage me in animal stories. And it makes me curious, about horses and the process you described (after the trauma).

Pam said...

Amazing the power grief has over all beings...human and otherwise. Glad there was such a sensitive trainer in Rufus's life to help him work through it and move on.