I always called him “The Horse”. He belonged to me as my father had given him to me on my tenth birthday. His actual name was “Tony” but to me that was a silly name for a fully-grown horse.
From the day that he was delivered to our farm, as much as I thought of him as mine, Tony had other ideas. He would never take grain out of my hand, was very difficult to catch in the mornings, and would always graze in the far corner of the house paddock. So Tony became known simply as “The Horse”.
Every time that I went out with the halter to catch him he would wait until I was very close and then gallop off to the far corner of the paddock. Here he would stare at me and snicker as if to say. “I am the boss here. You won’t catch me unless I let you.”
He would play this game sometimes for nearly half an hour. The strange thing about him was that as soon as I had saddled him, and climbed aboard, he became a most obedient and docile animal.
One morning nearly a year ago my father wanted me to ride over to one of our neighbours to check on his homestead. He and his wife were away at the coast on a few weeks holiday and we had promised to keep an eye on the place while he was away. So straight after breakfast I walked out into the house paddock to catch The Horse.
He was grazing alongside the small dam in the centre of the paddock but as soon as he saw me he was off to the far corner. I had no alternative but to trudge after him as I had done many times before. Forty minutes later I had him saddled and we were on our way.
There was a rough four-wheel drive track that leads from our homestead to our neighbours but it was a beautiful day and I decided to take the scenic route. It was considerably further than the track but it followed the river as it carved its way through a low range of rocky hills and, most importantly, I could make a short detour to check out my favourite fishing spot.
There was no real track, just a series of cattle paths that climbed over the hills. At times the path was in a valley right beside the river but was mostly high up on the steep slopes and cliffs above the river. My fishing spot was on a sort of peninsular that jutted out into the river where it rushed around a sharp bend and over some rapids.
There was no path to the spot and it was quite steep and slippery with loose stones. I should have left The Horse tethered to a tree on the main path but I was in a hurry as I was probably already in trouble with my father for taking the long way to the neighbours.
We were nearly at the flat rock that I used as a platform to fish from when with a loud flapping, and its usual whistling sound; a crested pigeon flew out from a bush almost at the horse’s front hooves. The Horse immediately reared up and then shied violently to one side. I had no chance and was catapulted over the back of the horse, and over the steep slope down to the river. I hit the ground hard and my head must have slammed into a rock, as the next thing I remember is the freezing cold of the water as it closed over me.
I tried to stand up but could not feel the bottom. The current was sweeping me along. I tried to swim but my right arm would not work properly. Then I realised that as I tried to kick there was a horrible grating sensation in my right leg.
For a moment blind panic gripped me. I was about to scream when the current pushed me up onto a half submerged boulder close to the bank.
It took me many minutes to get my breathing and my mind under control. I looked up to see if I could see The Horse but he was nowhere in sight. I could see that my right arm was broken between the elbow and the wrist. Slowly turning around, as I was afraid of being swept off the rock I looked down at my right leg. My trousers had been ripped open and I could see a piece of bone protruding from the skin just above my ankle. It was then the pain hit me and I passed out.
When I came to I had no idea how long I had been unconscious. It was then that the real desperation of my situation hit me.
My parents would not come looking for me for many hours and then they would start looking along the four-wheel drive track. There was no way I could move from the boulder without being swept away by the river. I was already shivering violently from the cold of the water and if I was still there when night fell it would get very cold.
The pain was really bad and I was only just barely conscious when I thought I heard my father calling my name. I opened my eyes and saw him scrambling down the slope. Behind him was my mother talking into a satellite phone as she carefully descended.
I was in hospital for two weeks and had two operations on my leg but now a year later I am fully recovered.
Apparently very soon after I had fallen off and rolled down into the river The Horse had galloped back to the house and had kicked up such a fuss at the gate into the house paddock that he had attracted my father’s attention. Realising what must have happened my father had alerted my mother and had then, not wanting to waste any time, ridden The Horse out to look for me. The Horse had refused to go along the track and after struggling with him for some time my father had let him have his head.
He had led my father directly to me.
Well! Now Tony is no longer The Horse but is now “My Horse”.
The damn thing is still hard to catch in the mornings though.