Brownie was the smartest, coolest horse I’ve ever seen, and he had a mischievous side to him. He was all brown, with a white face, and he was always the Alpha male among other horses. I watched him fight for that title more than once, and he always won. He had a black mane and tail, which we liked to keep long, since it was the mid 70s, and long was in. He also had a split tongue. I was told that the Indians would do this to horses as part of their breaking and training. The split didn’t run down the middle of his tongue, it was off to one side. It looked like a mitten with a 3 inch thumb. How cool is that?
We lived in that house for 6 years and Brownie was a permanent fixture. I loved taking care of the horses and just hanging out with them in the pasture. We were kind of like best friends. One day when I couldn’t get Brownie to do what I wanted, my Dad said, “You have to be smarter than the horse”. I don’t think he meant it as a challenge, but to this day, I don’t think I’ve gotten over that hurdle.
Brownie probably should have been named Houdini, as he was a master escape artist. He was always getting out of the pasture and into trouble. We often awoke to find him in the backyard, front yard, or at the neighbors. I also chased him through the neighborhood streets several times, and up and down State Street, through 4 lanes of traffic, more than once. I eventually learned that when I found Brownie out of the pasture, I could immediately put him back behind the fence, go inside the house and watch him through the window. I saw some amazing things.
The main gate from the pasture to the backyard was a big drive through gate. It had a hook and eye latch system. In fact, it had two, one on the inside and one on the outside. Lifting the hook on the inside was child’s play for Brownie, so we always tried to hook both latches. I watched from the kitchen window one day as Brownie lifted the inside hook with his nose and the outside hook with his tongue. We had to tie that gate shut after that. My Dad once parked his truck in that gate opening while loading it with manure. He left it there and went into dinner. There was just a little space on each side of the truck to each post. When we came back out after dinner, ol’ Brownie was stuck between the gate post and the driver’s door. He couldn’t move in either direction. We pulled and pushed on him but he wouldn’t budge. My dad finally picked up a good sixed 2X4 and started coming up behind the horse. When brownie saw him coming with that board in the air, he gave a huge lunge and forced his way into the yard. He left the whole side of the trucks door caved in.
As part of the horse pasture, there were a couple corrals that we could use to separate horses. The corral opening had a sliding pole system to close if off. There were 3 poles about 12 feet long that lay parallel with the fence. These poles could be slid across the opening to close it off from the rest of the pasture. One summer, my mother decided the corral would make a good garden area. We knew Brownie could easily slide the poles out of the way at will, as we had watched him do it more than once. We tied these poles in place at both ends as tight as we could, and for extra protection my Dad strung 2 strands of barbed wire across the coral about 10 feet inside the poles. The garden went well for a year, or maybe two. One late summer day just as the garden was ripe and doing well, my mother headed out to the garden and found all 3 horses there. They had eaten almost everything, including the raspberries, down to the roots. The only thing that remained untouched was the zucchini, which to me, was another confirmation of just how smart Brownie was. My mother was very upset and cried and swore and chased the horses around with a big stick. My Dad offered to shoot Brownie on the spot if mom wanted him to. It was a big disaster. I even cried, because the only thing left was the zucchini. When things settled down everyone went inside. I fixed the fences and went inside to the kitchen window. After a bit, Brownie came back to the poles across the gate. I watched him work each of the top 2 poles out of the way by putting his neck under them and sliding them inch by inch through the ropes and out of the way. He stepped over the lower pole and walked up to the barbed wire strands. He put his head under the top one and lifted. He put a foot on the bottom one and held it down. The other two horses rushed through as he held the wires and then he made his way into the garden to see if there was anything left.
“Never let your horse do something he knows he shouldn’t do, as it will be almost impossible to cure.” This wise piece of advice was given to me by a friend who had spent many years training horses and in the rodeo business. Unfortunately it was about 20 years too late.
When I was about 12 or 13, my brother and I discovered a new game to play with Brownie. We would jump on his back with no saddle, bridle, rope or anything. We would just sit there. Brownie didn’t particularly like that. He would walk around the pasture and try to get rid of us. He would never buck or run. He would slowly plod around the pasture and try to rub us off on posts and trees. He would also raise his back up while going under branches to try to knock us off. We had a stall with about an 8 foot doorway. He would walk under that and raise up to scrape us off. Sometimes we got knocked off but we learned to lean way to the side and hold on with one hand and the heel of a foot as he went under. It became a pretty fun and creative game for me and my brother. To Brownie, it was one big annoyance. He kept working harder and harder to get rid of us. Finally, he would swing his head around and bite us. It took me awhile to get back on him after that first bite, but I learned to dodge that also. We had a lot of fun at Brownie’s expense that summer.
When hunting season rolled around in the fall, my dad and Uncle Jim planned a hunting trip with the horses. My brother and I got to go, as well as Jim’s son, Darrel. Jay Drake and his son came along with Sa Nova. I think we had 4 horses altogether. We drove up the Boise River to Plantation Creek and camped for the night. Early the next morning we started up the trail on horseback. Jay and Bick Drake took the lead on Sa Nova. Jim and Darrel were next on Brownie. My brother and I were on one of our horses behind them and my Dad brought up the rear. As we moved up the mountain we came to a tree that had fallen part way across the trail. Jay and Bick leaned forward and ducked down and went under the leaning tree. Jim and Darrel followed ducking low to get under the branches. Ol’ Brownie took the opportunity to rise up as high as he could. The tree caught Uncle Jim right in the chest and it scrapped Darrel off the back of the horse and onto the rocky trail. Jim came off next and landed right on top of Darrel, knocking the wind out of him. Brownie continued on up the trail as if nothing had happened. Uncle Jim got up yelling at the horse and checking on Darrel. The last thing I remember him yelling is, “Where did that lousy horse learn to do something like that?” My brother and I tried to maintain a look of utter astonishment and innocence as we rode up from behind.