American Indians called the horse “sacred dog” and acquired him in the mid-1500s when De Soto and Coronado brought it to our shores. The Indians took to the animal like brilliance takes to rainbows. The horsemen of the plains were considered by many in the American cavalry, “The finest light horse cavalry in the world.” They were never defeated in combat.
The Horse Culture on the plains lived with their animals, and like the riders in the Spanish School in Vienna today, came to call them “friends.” They lived with their horses. They knew them with their heart.
Lives of the nomadic Plains tribe, especially the Comanches, were revolutionized by the horse and they became skilled thieves perfecting the art of rustling. They were the best of horsemen and we treated them badly. In 1874 thousands of animals, considered by the southern Commanche to be their best, were senselessly slaughtered. Ari often reminded me. Horses have a different sense of history and time. All of them recall what earth was like when the world was young and no grunting four-spinning upstarts jammed the roads and fouled the air.
I’d tell Ari stories like a silly human — dates and names and stuff like that — and he’d look me in the eye the way a good horse does — and snort, reminding me his roots on our home planet went back 40 to 60 million years. His earliest ancestor, little eohippus, the Dawn Horse showed up a lot earlier in the game than we did. “How long you been around skinny two legs?”
He had me there.
He loved me to tell him stories.
An incurable romantic, he loved fiction best. Hidalgo, the mustang, and Frank Hopkins who raced him ’cross the Ocean of Fire were his favorites. When Ari was recovering from surgery, I constructed a paddock at my end of the barn and rigged a projector and white sheet sharing the Disney movie with him. He watched it over and over. For a horse who’d been free as a feral hen, to be corralled in a 20×20 foot area for three months – the recovery was long – was an ordeal. I had to relieve his boredom. Mine, too.
I mean, how many organic carrots can we munch? He loved dearly cornflake butter crunch cookies.
For over 40 years I’ve lived with a horse like the Indian lived with his. He was a friend. My best. He slept in the bedroom next to mine. I couldn’t ask for a sweeter neighbor. I met him first on Oahu in 1993. We looked each other in the eye and immediately bonded. Born on Kauai in 1987, he was 29 years old.
The night he died, peacefully in his sleep, he said, “What you skinny two legs need is another Seabiscuit.” He loved that film best.
His death left a hole in my heart the size of Diamond Head Crater, and a chunk out of my life the magnitude of Mount Kalihi.
But this he gave me: the joy of having known him.
Bettejo Dux is a resident of Kalaheo and author.