An Old Horse’s New Trick

All his life, Clifford has been a notorious practical joker. Some of his pranks are small ones. A favorite is a pretend bite, which he does out of the side of his mouth, a quick nipping motion that used to startle me, but now tells me that he’s in a good mood and all is right with the world.


He has set up more elaborate tricks in the past. These were mostly orchestrated to confuse Dad. He would move equipment or lumber around at camp or hide tools that Dad had just laid down.

He loved to shove Dad from behind, while walking. He would plant his whole face right between Dad’s shoulder blades and give him a push.

He still does that on occasion, but now he does it to me.

A favorite trick he has done for years is to ambush me when he’s running loose and I’m riding Trudy. He will jump out at us, screaming out of a clump of brush or trees at ramming speed, turning just in time to whiz by and scare the bejeepers out of me. He loves to hear me yell.

These fake attacks seldom fool Trudy.

This past week, Clifford set up the most elaborate premeditated prank he has ever orchestrated in the 23 years I have known him.

We had two library visits, one day apart. The first was in Cedarville, the second, a half hour north in Sault Ste Marie.

Rather than drive back and forth from Drummond, I was invited to stay with a friend who lives right in Cedarville.

She is not set up for horses, but Clifford is long accustomed to being tethered out on the grass.

At night, he stayed in her pole barn.

We had a long drive up on Wednesday, and I noticed that Clifford had not consumed any water the night before the five-plus hour trip.

I became slightly alarmed when unloading him in the library parking lot, because there was no manure in the trailer.

I was thinking he was possibly dehydrated, and maybe even blocked. But he seemed fine, willing to gobble up peppermints. So I went ahead with the program, thinking he might actually have to drop a load, and would let me know while we were in the library.


But he didn’t. He spent two hours entertaining kids and as usual, gave no indication that he needed a potty break.

Any horse owner can understand my growing concern. Pooping is a big deal. It’s a sign of health, keeping things in the system moving. A horse typically poops every hour. Clifford had now waited for seven hours.

A trip to my friend Jane’s revealed no manure in the trailer. I gave him a bucket of water, which to my relief he drank, and then he went to busily cropping grass on his tether.

I was happy to note that later, there was finally a manure pile in the grass. FINALLY.

Feeling a sense of relief, I put him in the pole barn with hay and water and we all said good night. I had told Jane if she wanted to, she could tie him out in the morning.

Next morning I got up and looked outside. No Clifford. I thought he was likely still in the pole barn. I wandered out into the back yard, and heard the unmistakable sound of approaching hoofbeats.

Through the trees he appeared, galloping straight up to me, no halter, no rope, nothing. He skidded to a stop and looked at me.

Jane was nowhere in sight.

I had no treats. I was not prepared to catch a loose horse.

“Follow me. I have peppermints in the trailer.”

I turned calmly toward the trailer and he did follow. But instead of waiting for me to open the door, he decided to blast off across the road.

I called him. He gave one look over his shoulder, put his tail up over his back, and galloped off up the foggy morning highway, his hoofs clickety clacking on pavement,  as cars whizzed past beeping at him.


I reached into the truck and grabbed my phone.

“911 emergency.”

“I’ve got a loose horse, running north of Cedarville.”

My truck keys were still upstairs in the house. I ran inside and grabbed them. When I came back down, a farmer in a truck pulled up in the driveway and said, “I caught your horse.”

I guess he caught Clifford, saw my horse trailer in the driveway and then put two and two together. Or maybe he had noticed us out in the yard when he was driving past. Everyone knows everyone’s business in a small town. I wasn’t terribly surprised, because the area is rife with horse-wise farmers and well, let’s face it, Clifford would go to anyone.

I called 911. “Nevermind the loose horse.”

I took the trailer up the road about a mile, and there was Clifford, standing in the guy’s driveway with a rope around his neck, waiting expectantly for me to come and get him.

He climbed up into the trailer, and when we got back to Jane’s, I found the evidence of his escape. The halter lay on the ground still tied to the tree. There was a grass-flattened area where he had been rolling.

A fluke, I thought. He had slipped it off. I adjusted it to the tightest hole and put it back on him.

Every time after that, when I looked outside, he was on the ground, thrashing around with all four feet waving in the air.

Damn. Colic. Why did he have to be sick, today of all days? We had an event coming up in a few hours, a half hour drive to the Soo.

I went outside and unhooked him, snapping the lead rope on, and we started walking.

We walked around and around. As we walked, I noticed multiple piles of manure, and his water bucket was nearly empty. I offered him a peppermint and he crunched it down.

He sure wasn’t acting sick. His eyes shone as he looked around brightly, checking out the beautiful Up North trees and grassy, flower-studded meadows.


I led him over to the trailer and got his saddle out. I threw it on his back.

“If you are okay, and you need walking, we will just do it this way.”

I climbed aboard and he lunged forward, head up, ears perked, Clackety-clackety-clack and we were off, the little horse with the springy stride, and aboard him I could feel the years falling away. He was purring snorts, smelling the air, checking out all the surroundings. He bounced along down the road and I thought, this is not a sick horse.

“Well,” I said. “I guess this is what you have been trying to do all along.”


We trotted down a side road until we came to a two-track at the end, and he broke into a run. But the path had a gate at the end with a “No Trespassing” sign.

“HAH!” I said. “That’s the end of your trail ride!”

I turned him back, but he fought it. He wanted to just keep heading east.

I remembered the day before, in Cedarville, when he had been posing outside for pictures with the little kids, but he could see the shoreline from there. His head was up and he just kept gazing out at the water.

Cedarville Library 2016

It is the 23rd year since Clifford first came to Drummond Island, his summer home with the rocky shores.

He had tricked me into riding him. The library thing is fun, but let’s face it, it doesn’t hold a candle to real Up North horse stuff.

It’s hard to believe he would actually feign an illness to do so, but he definitely knows how to get my attention.

Back on his tether that evening, I saw him lie down, rub his head, roll on his side, rubbing, rubbing, no doubt hoping that halter would come off.

I imagined the next time, we would catch him on the beach.



About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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