Tawny and Domino
The Irish Free Thinker
My interview with Author Tawny O’Hara
Tawny talks about writing, dogs, goats, life, music, and horses…
I meet Tawny O’Hara several years ago in an online writing group. We immediately struck up a cyber-conversation and became fast friends. She is an Irish free thinker; a writer, author, horse-lover, musician, mother, and so much more. A multi-faceted talent of a woman that has so much zest and charisma she could talk a monkey out of a tree. She is witty, wise, and wonderful. She is the kind of person who would give you the shirt of her back, but tell you to go get a job while handing you her shirt.
O’Hara writes like she feels. There are no pretenses, no shallowness, no ego. She doesn’t lack humility, and is all about making you feel part of her story. She is like a warm fire and a cup of cocoa on a snowy afternoon. Her honesty will reel you in and you will want to become her friend, too.
In the 1970’s, O’Hara traveled the States with her rock band, Make Believe, singing with famous singers and having lunch with celebrities. It was a lucrative time for O’Hara, and one that has fond memories for her. During that time she raised two children; Kasey, her daughter, and a son. O’Hara knows about the challenges of raising a family alone; her husband overseas in the Vietnam War. She knows about plenty and lack - good times and bad.
But, above all she is an advocate for animals. She has human-like goats, animated dogs, and horses that converse with the goats and dogs. She has great stories about every one of her animals; their passion for loving and their zeal for life.
O’Hara’s first novel Angels Come with Fur is an anecdotal account of her life with her Great Danes. It has rave reviews around the Globe, and is accounted as a favorite of many.
O’Hara has a rescue horse, Domino, so called for the domino that rests on his left side between his front leg and withers, and a newly acquired mare that is learning the ropes of the O’Hara stable yard. She doesn’t ride much now, feeling the pain of past bumps and scuffs, but she is hopeful that one day she’ll be back in the saddle, riding above the uneven terrain that surrounds her thirsty land.
McKnight: Where are you in the world?
O’Hara: Well my mind and my heart usually ramble around the country sides of Ireland, but in reality I live on the backside of New Mexico. I’m about 25 miles SE of the closest town, Deming, NM, but closer to a wide spot in the road called Akela Flats. I have a section of vacant land in front of me, maybe more, can’t see anything on to the Florida (pronounced Floor-ree-da) mountains which are almost 10 miles away at the closest point.
The land is full of sage, mesquite and every kind of mulley grass you can think of. There are spatterings of tall yucca trees and a few cacti within my view. We have lovely bushes of crown of thorns that can go right through a steel belted tire. The ground is covered in different varieties of Jasper and white melted rocks that were the result of a small volcano around here long ago. Love those little bubbly rocks and pick them up every time I find them. They say you can find Amethysts here too but haven’t been able to. I’m one of those people who could stand up to my knees in arrow heads and never find a one. When I’m out walking and talking with Domino, my big Apache Rez wild horse, we imagine those days when Geronimo and his ancestors lived here without the white man to bother them; hunting and living free. I feel bad they took that wonderful heritage away from all of us. My people didn’t take from the Indians so I don’t take blame. Mine were being moved from their homeland at the time, also. Guess that’s my bond with the Native Americans, doubt they would feel the same, but in my dreams we are all friends.
McKnight: You were in a rock band. Tell me about the band and your music...
O’Hara: I grew up playing Classical piano and then Hullabaloo came on TV and my Mother decided I should be a Rock-n-Roll star. She sold my piano to my cousin and I came home one day to face no piano, which I lived on, and a guitar setting there instead. It was a Gibson Classical and I hated it. I wouldn’t touch it for days and when Mom finally convinced me to try it I had no idea what to do with it. I bought a book of “The Beatles” songs and they had pictures of chords and thus my career was started. I wowed my close friends with my renditions of songs and three chords.
One day my friend took me out to her backyard and sitting across the yard she yelled at me to sing louder as she couldn’t hear me. When I got loud enough for her to hear she went inside the house and yelled, “Louder I can’t hear you.” I was screaming out the song by that time. I learned a lot from that and then I learned how to project. This helped a lot with raising my two kids because there was no way they could say they couldn’t hear me at any time.
My Mother was working as a waitress in a fancy restaurant in Riodoso Downs, New Mexico, and I was her bus girl. I was 17 at the time and very shy. By that time I had begun singing folk songs and was madly in love with Bob Dylan. Those songs fit me as I grew up with old songs my Grandfather used to sing to me from Ireland, and some he had picked up in his move across the States. At one time I knew all 90+ verses to “House of the Rising Sun.” When the Animals, an Irish folk rock band, came out with about five verses of that song it became a hit. A hit that I knew and most lounge bands knew also. My Mom talked the guys in the band into letting me sing with them one night. My legs were about to shake off my body and I started so quiet people were yelling at me to be louder. When I closed my eyes and let loose they went wild for me, so I was a regular sit-in with the band on that one song. I never lost the stage fright. But if I stared at the lights or closed my eyes I could block out the crowd.
Later, much later, and a marriage and baby later, I moved to Denver and there is where it all seemed to start. I was 19, my husband was in Germany during the Vietnam War, and I had to raise my baby alone. I got a job at a corner bar singing. I was probably awful but I had some influential fans. One was a local singer in Denver and she took me under her wing and taught me how to be an entertainer on stage. She even helped with my stage fright by showing me I was above the crowd not in the crowd. I wasn’t there. She even helped me make some demo tapes to give to agents around Denver. One agent was a really good guy who told me that with my big voice I should have a bigger sound. He told me to get a band. That was several years down the road and several guitars later.
When Ovation first came out with their guitars they were practically giving them away to entertainers to use on stage. That was my first 12 string and I’ve never played anything else but a 12 since. I made a small name for myself in lounges around Denver and one entertainment reporter really liked me and kept my crowds coming in and following me around Colorado.
When my husband came back I moved back to Albuquerque and worked at getting jobs around there. I finally decided to build a band and we called ourselves, “Make Believe.” The band grew to about five members at one time and back to three, and up and down. No one but me was expendable and drugs or being stoned on stage was a way to get kicked out of the band. I didn’t give but one warning.
We were asked to open for several big bands back in the 70’s and we did a pretty good job of it. I found I could sing in front of thousands of people with no problem, but make me give a speech in front of 30 and there went my shaky legs again. Then I met a couple of brothers who were very famous in New Mexico by the name of the Wickham Brothers or Hank and Louie Wickham. Louie was my mentor and would book me somewhere and forget to tell me. I guess I would have second sense but always managed to call him before I was late for a booking or I would read it in the paper. He got me in contact with quite a few people who were great in the money making department and he never allowed me to ask too little.
I had a bad motorcycle accident that ripped my face off and that ended my time with the Wickham Brothers but not my career. I hooked up with a partner named Ron Bosserman and we were two peas in a pod. We came from the same part of the country and our styles were almost identical. He was looking for a partner and I was looking for a job after I healed and we practiced three hours before we first went on stage together and were together three years. We had a blast and packed the small lounge and bar areas so tight that there were nights we had to sing 15 minutes on with 45 min breaks to get a turn around so those outside could come in. My 15 minutes of fame; lots of laughs. Ron was Waylon Jennings' ex-bass man and it wasn’t unusual for Waylon or some of his band to stop by off and on. The night I met Doug Kershaw was the highlight of my entire career. I was singing along and looked up and there he was in the back of the club in a velvet suit. I couldn’t get a sound to come out. Thank God for my partner who took over and deserved the credit for getting Mr. Kershaw there.
In between Hank and Louie and the accident I had gotten a divorce and then a year later I remarried and stopped singing, sold the bands I was managing and tried to settle down. Three years after that I was divorced again having remarried the same guy and realizing, nope - I was right the first time. He took all my money, house and cars and I took the kids. I got the good end of the deal, did miss the money some though.
I went back to the lounge scene singing. I could make a lot of sound come out of that 12 string so I did all right by myself then something awful happened. Disco. I had to go on the road and after a year of home a few days and then back again, I quit and went to college. The entrance back into the world of humans and out of the world of entertainment has always held its share of what ifs and should haves and could haves. I have never made the same amount of money I did in the 70s nor have I ever had as much fun at a job as in those days of pretend. Not that it was easy. I would work until two in the morning, take about two hours to wind down, sleep until 8 am, get up and take care of my one then two babies, and practice until school was out for my son or all day on my three days off.
I had a woman who was a great fan of mine and was in the audience every night where ever I was working. One day, one of my days off, she had found out where I lived and came to my door. I opened it in hair rollers, wearing an old t-shirt, cutoff jeans and had pea baby food all down the front of my shirt from where my baby Kasey had just spit them. This woman’s eyes got wide and she asked me if I knew Tawny Herrera. I told her that was me. She screamed and ran away. I never saw her again in the audience after that encounter. That side of what she mistakenly thought to be a glamorous life was too much for her. I still think of that and laugh and wonder about those who wanted my autograph those years ago. Wonder if they still have those worthless pieces of paper.
Those music years were some that opened doors to meet people I would never have been able to meet as a human. I sat and talked to famous people, shared glasses of wine and opinions with them. Sat and ate a steak dinner with Dan Blocker in Cody, Wyoming (well, I had a steak dinner he had two). I got to meet them on a one-to-one way, not as a fan, but as a comrade. I never asked for autographs. And there are many I wish I had asked for. Doug Kershaw’s for one. Damn.
McKnight: Where does your love for dogs come into the picture? How many? What breed? Why Great Danes?
O’Hara: I’ve always had a dog. Dogs have always been my confidants my best friends and someone to love me when I felt alone. All kids should have an animal to love and confide in. I’ve seen my dogs of my childhood brutally killed in front of me by adults who didn’t feel animals had any value but to do their bidding. I have never felt an animal my property or owned by me. We live together; we love and respect each other. I join their pack as the Alpha and they accept that. (Actually they have to because I also have a duty to feed and shelter them and get clean sheets on the bed for them. I think they appreciate how I perform my duties.)
I have always wanted a Great Dane. I longed for a Great Dane and one day I got one. A puppy we named Gandalf from the Hobbit books. (That was back when you actually read great books and I read those books to the kids.) He lived up to his name and was my baby boy until he died 11 years later. He wasn’t a “dawg” he was a member of the family. He and Kasey would argue and come running to tell on each other. When he grew up he would argue with his big brother James. They had a fight once where James thought it funny to tell him he wasn’t really my son. Gandalf whined all night and would only go to sleep if I rocked the water bed. I would slowly drift off to sleep only to be awakened by a crying dog again and have to start rocking the bed again. That was a long night. Needless to say their relationship was never the same. James moved out and when he came to visit Gandalf made him sit on the floor claiming the sofa or chair he might sit in. When he died my heart was broken and I didn’t think I’d ever be the same. It was almost like losing a child.
I got a call from the pound from a girl who had known Gandalf. She told me there was a female Dane there that might die if someone didn’t come who could help her. I went in and saw a skeleton with black skin. I took her not knowing if my other dog would accept her as my other bitch was living up to her name of Taoiseach (Tee shuck), which is Prime Minister in the Irish language. There was no problem. I named her Dubh (Dove) which means black in Irish but she was always a love and lived up to both the meaning and the pronunciation of her name. I had her for eight years and she finally just laid down and went to sleep. She died as elegantly as she lived. She was and angelic queen.
In 2002 I was perusing the petfinders web site and saw Gandalf staring back at me. When I checked his birthday was the same as Gandalf’s also. I drove from Cottonwood, Arizona to Phoenix to meet him. When I walked in we fell in love. I felt a total healing of my heart. I couldn’t take him then but when I went back to get him he wouldn’t move from the door. He was bound and determined to leave with me that time, and he did.
After that I adopted Grainne Na Mhail, (Grawn-Ya EE Wy-ya) or Grace O’Malley. She was named after a famous Female Irish Pirate who was another heroin of mine from childhood. Grainne was a hoot, my tattle tale and always “Jojo did it.” Jojo was a purchase my sister made and when she tried to take him back the man admitted that his prize Queensland bitch had gotten with a coyote and he didn’t want him. So I took him coyote and all. We call them coy-dogs out here. Then Grainne’s heart burst when she was three years old and so did mine on that awful rainy April night.
I got another call about a little girl named Panda Bear, because of her markings, who was in need of a home or had to be euthanized. We made payment arrangements and I drove from where I now am back to Phoenix and picked her up. We spent a lot of time at the vets because of injuries and had to remove a toe that had been broken and gotten infected. But she is now my big baby girl.
Oscar and Panda are the only Danes I have now and have passed the gauntlet of adopting Great Danes to my daughter who has two beautiful boys and I suspect will continue where I leave off. She is so much better at it than I am. I just let them be dogs, but Kasey teaches them manners and teaches other people through her beautiful boys. Kasey stands 5’2” and handles two 100+ pounds of dogs with no problem. I’m proud my kids learned to love and respect animals as much as I do. (Her dogs are whooshy city kids though where mine are country kids.)
Last but not least is Bodiccia (Celtic Queen). I just call her Bodie and she listens when she’s ready to. I was driving into town and saw a car stop and throw something out of the car. When I got closer I saw a little black pup sitting staring at the leaving car, from the middle of the road. I stopped and picked her up. I tried to catch the guy but he drove faster than I could do without a ticket. I found they had tightened her collar so tight it was choking her and after brushing her for several days about an hour per day and two trash bags of hair later, she was skinny. Now she is a happy shiny black lab who loves her Panda, adores big ol Oscar and puts Jojo in his place even when he doesn’t need to be. I think it took month or so of driving into town before she quit going to the floorboard of the truck every time we passed the place she was thrown out. I don’t know if she was hiding in case the person wanted her back or it horrified her thinking I was going to do the same. Nope. Every animal I take into my home stays in my home. I don’t throw lives away.
McKnight: I saw a picture of your goats. How many goats do you have? What breed? Are they ornery?
O’Hara: I have one goat, Fion McCool. He’s a mix of goats but his daddy was a Boar Goat. Ornery? That all depends on whom you ask. I think he’s my boy and perfect. That is not the consensus of the rest of the humans around here. But I don’t care and when he’s out and playing you must be prepared to explain in goat what your purpose here is and no way you are getting next to MOM.
I was at a friend of mine who raises goats for meat and milk. Fion’s mother had three kids and she rejected him. There is no known human reason why, only she knew, as he looked just like the other two, but he was smaller. He came running up to me crying. I’d say bleating but it was one long WAAAAAAA. I first thought it was a tiny poodle and knelt down to pet it and he jumped into my arms still crying and kissing me. I had to take him. That was a good decision as he was to be killed the next day. My friend didn’t want to kill him and was happy to give him to me. I took him home and raised him in the house with potty trips after the bottle, outside with the dogs. Panda adored him as she does all babies and he would curl up with her on the sofa either beside her or on top of her. He knew his bottle times and how many. It was cute to hear the little tap tap of hoofs along with the paw thumps. Fion got a bottle and the rest got nummy nums. He was born in January and way too cold to put outside alone so he slept in bed with me until he got bigger then went to a crate at night and outside with Jojo or some dog during the day. He could still come in sometimes during the day until he went on hay and off the bottle. Then he started making messes in the house and his first full night outside behind a locked gate on the deck and in his crate was traumatic for me and him. I was up all night checking my baby to make sure he was alright.
I have pictures of him as a baby where all you can see are his back legs and little butt with the rest of him under the tarp where the hay was kept up on planks out of his reach, we thought. There is no door on any shed he cannot open if there be hay or sweet feed on the other side. There is nothing he won’t have to inspect and drawer he won’t pull out. No bucket or bin is left unturned in his ever unrelenting search for FOOD. Fion now stands about 36 inches at the shoulder lives in a log cabin near his pals corral. I love to see him and Domino, my horse, walking side by side out to the pasture, like they are discussing something important. He is a picky boy and things people say goats eat, he won’t. He does love paper though and has been known to eat a bill or two. That I forgive and have no problem telling them it wasn’t paid because my goat ate the bill. When he was a baby he did tricks and still loves to stand on a step stand for applause and accolades of praise for his wonderful feats of daring. He will jump off with a twist and turn and come over to me to be loved on. On walks with the dogs he chases rabbits for a ways with them until he sees something good to munch. I forgive him for everything because there has been nothing more important than he is. Even to the tap marks on the pickup hood. They buff out and if they don’t well that’s what a pickup is for, not for pretty but for work. I put plenty of scratches on it running through the mesquite so his little tap marks are nothing. However not everyone feels that way. There is a religious group that quit coming around when Fion jumped up on their new pickup and did a few jigs for them.
McKnight: Domino is a beauty. He has lovely markings and a nice disposition. Describe your horses and your relationship with them. What’s it like to raise horses in New Mexico? Do you give them carrots and apples?
O’Hara: Welph, I have two. Not that I ever even meant to have one but God had different ideas for me and I now have two. One, Liffey an AQHA registered quarter horse may have a forever home soon and Domino my mutt horse will once again be an only child again. (Do I hear a WHOO HOOfrom the corral?).
My first is Domino. He will not leave me until either I die or he dies or we both go together. He is my baby. Domino is a mix breed and I think he has draft in him as he is tall and stocky legged with feathers and gentle as a lamb… to me. Anyone else must die or be told they might. He was an Apache Reservation wild horse sold at auction to local cowboys with brutal ideas about breaking a horse. They took the word breaking to mean just that. He was beaten, whipped, tied with a log chain for days to a tractor tire to keep his head down, hobbled, then saddled and spurred to buck and when he fell they would beat him with 2x4 pieces of wood. He didn’t break.
A woman, who knew less about horses than I do, rescued him but carted him from stable to boarding stable until the bill came due and she would get a Sherriff deputy to go with her and she would claim abuse. It wasn’t hard to do as no one dared get near him. His mane was matted to the point of appearing he was hiding baseballs in there. His tail wasn’t any different. When I met him he was at my friends who were boarding him for the woman. She pulled the same thing but being out of boarding facilities, she took him down the road to another friend who has a donkey rescue.
My friends got together and the woman thinking she would come back and get Domino was surprised when she came back and he was gone. They decided that Domino and I were perfect for each other and a series of events happened and he is mine, all mine, and I am his all his and I’m the only one he allows to get near him. I get over under and everywhere on him, but yet to ride him. It’s been three years and when I first faced him in the corral I thought, “What the hell am I doing with a wild angry horse?” Now I know that it’s because I needed this new love in my life. He heals me when I go out to hug him, the stress and pain just fades for a little while. When he puts his chin down on my back I know he is hugging back. His power is soothing to me.
Liffey was first a phone call early in the morning. Someone had called my rescue friend wanting her to take their horse. She said she didn’t have room for it but would go look at her. She said, “Tawny you have to take her; you said you wanted a friend for Domi.” I turned her down twice but the third time I called her and said OK. When we got to their place I saw a beautiful young horse, standing amid piles of scrap metal. She too was matted and the water trough was not only dry but had dry tumble weeds in it. They gladly told us that since they didn’t have any money to feed her they didn’t water her either. I wanted to punch the woman but I wanted Liffey out of there. Her registered name, I found out when they were giving me a bill of sale, is Go Jet Cash Deck. They called her Nifty. What a terrible name for an unwanted neglected horse. She had been standing in that mess for 9 years. When we opened the door of the trailer she stood in amazement then ran, fell, got up and ran. All day she did this with Domino at her side. The next day she walked all over the 40 acres with Domino still at her side. She had no muscles and for the first week falling was common.
The evenings were spent with Domino laying down in exhaustion over in his special area and she would lie down under the shelter while I rubbed her legs down with liniment and giving her butte for the pain. I started taking Domino for walks and let her run alongside us. Her awe of the vast world was evident in a video I took of her. She is now healthy, hooves trimmed and rubbing legs too dangerous. She is WOMAN now and don’t take no crap from no one no mo. My little girl has grown up so fast. Now she has to go to trainer. Because not only am I not a trainer, I don’t want to be a trainer. I don’t want to ruin this empty slate with any blunders.
McKnight: I loved your book Angels Come with Fur. You brought me into your world; loving, caring, and all the emotions that come with owning an animal. Who has had an impact on your writing? What drives your creativity and desire to write?
O’Hara: Hmmm. That would be Mark Twain as an author. I like, no I loved Mark Twain most when he wrote about what he was doing or himself in general. However I was entranced for a whole weekend with his voyage in time in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I can’t say how many times I have read that story. My favorite was how he opened his biography with the line, “…I was born at a very young age…” He saw the humor in his tragic times and in times others thought to be tragic. He didn’t go with the accepted flow of literature but went with what he knew. He spoke as he knew best to speak and thus making his stories easier for me to live in with him. His country, down home style of writing is how I write, as I don’t always use the best grammar when I write nor when I speak.
I’ve had some criticism about how I write but I find it’s more from my American critics than my friends in Europe and Ireland. The comments I get from my Irish and English friends are far from negative on how I express myself but asking me to write in that style more often. Of course I will because that is the only style I write in.
I’m not a posh person, as many will attest seeing me tool around town in boots covered in manure and mud with some hay on them and my old straw hat and sometimes, more often than not, holey jeans (it ain’t because they were blessed either). My truck has enough mud on it so you know about where I live, and I dress in layers and not necessarily coordinating layers. There is no way I can tell you a story through these old eyes and pretend to be a wealthy land owner with a string of well papered horses and correctly bred animals. To do so would come out pretentious and more than likely wrong and unbelievable. I have to let you see what I see through the only eyes that can understand me. This is what Samuel Clemens did. He wrote about the river that he loved and those that lived on it. I believe in his time, Mark Twain was more admired by Europeans than in Americans, so maybe I can be in good company.
McKinght: I like the way you think; you write what you know and write in the way you like to tell it. With that said, do you have suggestions for novice writers?
O’Hara: Well I believed I rambled on in the last question and gave that answer. I can only really tell you what I like to read. There are a lot of books people rave about that I have trouble getting to the second chapter without yelling. Steven King has that ability to scare you to death just by reading and seeing what he is seeing. I had a boss once that told me to take notes on a project like I’m a camera. He told me to see it all and make it easy to understand and informative enough so that if I died tomorrow someone could take over the project and know what was going on. Gruesome I guess but that’s the way a book should read. It should make you develop a movie in your head that flows on with every period and well placed comma without a commercial.
McKnight: You are working on a new book, a sequel to Angels Come with Fur. Can you give us a peek into your manuscript and share a few pages?
O’Hara: Sure. I am still working on it, writing when I can…
It is the last end of winter here in the high desert of New Mexico. The air is crisp but not cold but I put my jacket on anyway. I knew as the day goes on it’s going to end up in the back seat and soon there will be that usual clean out of all the hoodies and jackets and coats from the back seat of my truck.
Driving up my road, I surveyed my land and thought about when I will get the money to fix the fencing and replace the barbed wire with smooth wire. However, I love those old gnarled and grey cedar posts put in there years ago by someone long dead and gone, but I hate the barb wire that is now limp and swaying between them.
I turned onto the paved road and headed towards town. Usually I honk when I get to my friend Roy’s homestead and if he’s out he waves back, but that day was different. He had a new resident in his front pasture and I had to slow down to stare at this animal. It’s a Pinto horse. I’ve never been that drawn to Pintos; and I don’t know why this one seemed to grab at me.
Instead of just honking and driving on, I pulled up to his gate and honked a couple of times. Roy came up from the back of the house waving his usual big cowboy hand at me. Getting out of the truck, I leaned on the fence not wanting to go in uninvited because of the three blue heelers ready to take on any intruders. They don’t seem to care if they’ve seen you a million times; until you are invited in by Roy or his wife, Vickie, you just don’t go in.
“What’s that in your pasture there?” I pointed towards the Pinto horse.
Roy ambled up to the gate opening it as he speaks. “Well I’m boarding him for a while for a crazy woman. Come on in and take a look at him.”
The dogs retreat but stay ready just in case. Roy opened the gate and left me to close it after I came in, and went over to the gate to the pasture expecting me to follow him.
“What do you mean by crazy?” I asked. That’s the thing I like most about Roy. He tells it like it is and I guess we get along because I do too.
“Oh I guess she ain’t too bad for an easterner. She rescued this horse from some Mexican cowboys. He was sold at auction as a wild mustang from the Apache reservation. They couldn’t break him but they did a lot of beating to get him down and he never went down I guess. But she’s really afraid of him. She comes and throws apples at him and when he comes up to get corn she gets back.”
He opens the lid of the metal trash can and took out a handful of cracked corn. “He loves this stuff and that’s the only way I can get him to come over here, besides feeding time. I throw out the hay here,” He indicated a small feeding trough, “and that horse waits until I leave before he comes over to eat. He don’t trust no one.”
Roy lets out a whistle to get the Pinto’s attention and holds out his hand with the corn. I was watching the horse and saw he was also watching us and has been watching us all along. I think there really wasn’t a reason to try and get his attention as he was already pretty aware of what was going on, just pretending to not notice us.
Finally the Pinto put his head up and stood there staring at us for a moment then moved with small slow steps towards us. Roy is encouraging him calling his name, which is Domino, and wiggling his hand back and forth.
“Why is his name Domino?” I ask thinking that a strange name for a horse.
“Look on his left side there’s a picture of a domino on it, you know, the kind you play dominos with.” Roy said indicating towards his right with the corn filled hand.
As Domino gets closer he gets bigger. I don’t believe I have ever seen a painted horse that big in my life. His legs are thick and he looks strong. Good looking horse except for the massive matting in his mane and tail. Although I don’t know that much about horses, this horse looks strong and healthy.
“Geez, Roy, that horse needs a good grooming!” I comment as the horse stopped far enough away so no one can grab him around the neck and stretched to eat the corn, then backed up. He didn’t leave and I knew it’s because there could possibly be more corn.
“Yeah,” Roy says and reaches in for another handful of corn and offered it to Domino. “No one can get close enough to him to do that. I’ve been around horses all my life but I’m too old and brittle to tangle with him. Why don’t you try and feed him?” Domino stretched his neck out again to get the corn in Roy’s hand.
I reach in and got a handful and stuck my arm out as far as I could and offer the corn to Domino. Then I saw something different from when he was taking the corn from Roy. He was staring at me and not in a mean way. He was just looking hard at me. I looked him in the eyes, something you aren’t supposed to do with any animal, but it was more like contact and not like dominance. We stood there in silence just looking at each other, sharing thoughts. I have never seen nor felt such an inner connection like that to a horse before.
There was thought and feeling in that moment, between us that I can’t describe. I just know I felt an extreme sadness and loss. Then he stepped a step forward and took the corn from my hand. He gave me a final look and then turned and went back to the other end of the pasture.
“Now that’s a spark if I ever saw one.” Roy said breaking the silence. “That horse likes you.”
“Now how can you say that?”
“Well there’s something there I’ve only seen a few times in my life and that was a strong connection you two just had. That horse is meant for you.”
“Nah,” shaking myself back to reality. “There ain’t no way I can afford a horse and besides I don’t have a corral or money to build one.”
“Ah, Tawny, you know if you set your mind to it you could find the money. I know you pretty well,” Roy said as he placed the lid back on the can and we walk back to the entrance gate. We small talked a bit and I got back into the truck and drove on.
Something inside of me bothered me really bad. The horse had reached in and taken control of my soul for just a moment, and I had taken control of his, and for some reason I felt that more than a little disconcerting. Over the years I have rescued many dogs that didn’t read me as well as that. Sure I had loved those dogs, and I loved the ones I have now, and we connected – but somehow this was different, although I couldn’t explain it. I puzzled, I pondered, I wondered and daydreamed about Domino all the way into town.
The next day I had to go to the doctor in town and while driving home, I slowed down going by Roy’s homestead, but this time I didn’t honk. I saw Domino in the small pasture and, as God is my witness, he looked my way. He seemed to recognize my truck.
Several days passed before I had to go to town again. This time I took a few carrots to give to Domino. I pulled up to Roy’s gate and got out of the truck, but he wasn’t at home. I felt a little disappointed. As I was getting ready to get back into the truck, I heard a small snort coming from behind me. I looked around and there was Domino, standing at the corner of the fence, looking at me.
“Hey there, Domino! How you doing? You want a carrot?” I walked slowly over to the fence, and he thought better of it and stepped back. And yet he didn’t leave, so I stretched my arm across the fence. He stretched his neck up to the carrot and took a small bite. He stood there watching me as he savored the piece of carrot. Then he took another bite, leaving me with just a small stub of carrot.
“You are going to have to get closer to get the rest,” I told him, “because I’m not holding this little stub while you take a finger with the next bite.” Domino stopped chewing and looked at me, like he was trying to figure out how to get the carrot without moving closer; or perhaps he was wondering just how safe I was. He walked slowly up to me and, using only his lips, gently picked the rest of the carrot out of my palm. Then he stepped back just as quickly. I think he appreciated the fact that I hadn’t made a move to pet him.
I turned and got into the truck, while he stood there chewing on that last bit of carrot. He watched me closely as I drove away towards town. I don’t know why, but I looked in my side mirror and saw him leaning his head over the fence, to better watch me leave. I couldn’t help myself. Every day I made an excuse to go to town, just so I could see that horse. Or perhaps I would go visiting someone who just happened to live past Roy’s, making it necessary for me to drive past his homestead so I could stop at the gate.
As it happened I always seemed to have a carrot or two, or sometimes an apple to give to Domino. On one of my random visits, Roy opened the little gate leading into Domino’s ¼ acre corral, and he said with a knowing smile, “Why don’t you go inside to give Domino that apple, Tawny? He ain’t gonna hurt you. He’s your horse.”
I didn’t really believe him, but I went in anyway. There was no fear inside of me, as there perhaps should have been. After all, this was is a big, wild, angry horse. He could have decided to take out and run me over or rare up and stomp me to death without giving me a minute’s warning.
Domino was watching from the other end, and suddenly he started walking towards me with his head slightly down, and yet he was watching my every move. He stopped about ten feet in front of me, and I stopped too. It was a showdown! More like a quick draw of minds. Who was going to draw first? He gave a snort and then pawed the ground. I snorted back and then I, too, pawed the ground with my foot. Domino quickly raised his head, his ears standing up straight and pointing towards me like satellite dishes. He took a step back. I turned around and held the apple in front of me so he couldn’t see it.
Finally I heard a shuffling sound. I felt his breath on my hair as he smelled me. Turning around very slowly, I glanced at his face and he took another step back. He was so close to me that I could have reached out and touched him, but I didn’t. I offered him the apple and he took it in small bites, chewing each one before coming back for more. He watched me intently as he took each bite of the apple, our eyes locked together. Neither one submitted, and yet neither one dominated. I think he understood that it was a connecting eye-lock, not a battle. I think, from that moment on, I was almost certainly in love with that horse. My heart was beating fast out of love, not fear, not mere excitement – it was that steady thump, thump, thump you feel when you’re in love. I knew this horse, and he knew me. I turned on my heels and went back to the gate, and Roy was standing there smiling.
“Yip, that’s your horse,” he said as we walked. Then his voice turned into a serious tone. “You know, I bet that woman would sell him for the right price.”
“Yeah, bet she would,” I said with a laugh. “Do you think she’d take twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents, cause that’s about all I have right now?”
Roy laughed and followed me to the gate as I got back into the truck. This time I simply turned the truck around and went back home, as I felt I didn’t need any false reason to go on. The reasons for my visits had clearly been found out, and I was confused. How could a woman my age take care of a horse like that? I had no money, I had no place to put a horse, the pasture wasn’t fenced; I already had a goat I had bought from Roy when it was only a three-week-old kid, plus my two rescued Great Danes and a coy dog. No, I just couldn’t afford to keep a horse.
A sudden feeling of anger came over me as I turned onto the dirt road leading to my property. “Why can’t I have this?” I asked. “I never ask anything of you, God! Well, I seldom ask anything from you. And when I do, it’s for food or money to pay bills. But this is totally different. You said you would give me all the desires of my heart. Maybe … maybe I just don’t deserve this horse. OK, Maybe I can’t afford this horse. I’m just being stupid and self-centered again. Besides, he ain’t even broke – and I sure as hell can’t break him. I mean, why have a horse you can’t even ride? This is just stupid.”
A small tear welled up in my eye, but it was quickly suppressed. I knew the total impossibility of this foolhardy desire. The good times I had spent with horses were several lifetimes ago and I was now sixty years old. That was way too old for me to try and break a big horse like that. Besides, I didn’t know that much about horses. I know dogs, so I will just stick with what I know. By the time I pulled into the house I had pretty much talked myself out of the idea of inviting Domino into my life, into my world. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, my dreams wouldn’t let up on him. I awoke the following morning feeling free and yet really sad. I had dreamt that I was riding Domino across the desert – we were fighting bad guys together! There he was, rescuing me from one disaster after another! I was a young girl again with my long auburn hair flying back in symmetry with his mane as we flew in a steady gait across sand and cactus and over mountains. It was just Domino and me escaping, always escaping. I simply couldn’t stand not seeing that horse.
I finally gave in and going to the refrigerator, I fetched one carrot, got into the truck and drove over to Roy’s without trying to think of excuses. As I pulled up to the gate I couldn’t see Domino, so I honked a couple of times before getting out. The racket of barking dogs announced my arrival, and Roy’s wife came out onto the porch. “Hey, how are you doing?” I yelled as she wove her way through the dogs, yelling at them to shut up.
“Oh, we’re fine,” she said as she leaned on the gate. “I don’t know where Roy has gone, but he should be back soon.” Her voice sounded disgusted. I didn’t know whether she was disgusted at Roy, or at me.
“Well,” I said in a rather shaky tone, “I just came to give Domino a carrot. Where is he?” I looked towards the small pasture. Roy’s wife turned around and followed my gaze. Then she leaned back on the gate gently pushing a dog aside with her foot.
“That woman brought the sheriff and said Roy was abusing the horse and she wanted her horse back. So she took it owing Roy around $500 in hay bills.”
Vickie was noticeably upset and frustrated, apparently with life in general at this point. “Roy knew she was a kook and he was the last person who would take that horse. But he’s got a soft heart for horses and I guess he did it more for the horse.” Vickie stops to yell at the dogs to quit barking. “She does that with every place she boards him. When the payment comes due she goes and gets the sheriff to help her.”
My horse was gone. I felt like my heart had been pulled out of my chest and lying helpless on the ground barely beating. But I tried to suck it up and maintain.
“Do you know where she lives?” I ask not knowing what I can do as I have no money to buy him and no place to put him.
“Nope,” she as she at the soft sugar sand soil at her feet kicking up a small cloud of dust.
“Why is the sheriff’s office doing that? Don’t they recognize the horse by now and know he continues to look the same every time they help her pull him out of a place?” I was puzzled at this scenario as it didn’t seem to make sense.
“Tawny!” Vickie looks at me with surprise and a smile on her face. “Don’t you know the sheriff’s department round here by now? She must have a sheriff friend she calls every time, to help her. I doubt that