Chestnut Arabian horse – more than magnificent
COMMENT AND CONFUSION
To look at Upset was to look at magnificence. He was impressive . . . a chestnut Arabian horse – a stallion that stood bigger than life itself . . . breathtaking to a small girl.
I was only 10 years old when I met Upset and his owner, Max Nielsen, but I couldn’t get enough of the horse and found myself drawn to his pen, corral, pasture, wherever he was, to just gaze upon his grandeur and picture myself riding him. It was a dream I never hoped would become reality.
“This is a horse you would never be able to control,” Max saw me gazing at his stallion. “His name is Upset and the name fits his nature.”
I was shy and didn’t answer, but I was absolutely sure in my heart Upset would never hurt me.
“Run along home,” Max said, shooing me with his hands. “I need to take him out for his exercise.” Max was a stocky man, with arms thick as tree trunks. I remember the hair on his arms was gray and his smile was a bit crooked which made me warm inside when he flashed it.
I avoided running into Max after that but was still drawn to Upset and found a place I could sit unnoticed to watch Upset and Max work. I spent many hours watching their interaction in a small pasture behind his house in rural Clinton, Utah. When Max and Upset were together they seemed to become one. Upset knew Max’s wishes even before a command was given. Max was a short man and Upset learned to kneel on his front legs to allow Max to mount. On command Upset would rare with his front feet moving high in the air. It would take my breath away.
I was a timid child and a loner. It was not easy for me to make friends but Upset became my confidant as I spent much time bringing him apples, carrots and sugar cubes stolen from my mother’s pantry. Max warmed up to me as well and we began to share a love for this stallion that “a little girl could never ride.”
The time came that Max allowed me to curry (groom) Upset and untangle his beautiful red mane and tail. No child ever brushed a horse with more love and reverence than I did during that first experience. It was probably as close to God as I ever felt. I paid attention to detail and made sure Upset had every inch brushed and clean.
“Upset seems to really take to you,” Max said with some disbelief in his voice. “He doesn’t like too many people.”
I smiled without a word. I knew that Upset and I had a special bond. I knew it the first time he gently took the sugar cube from my open palm, and nuzzled my face in appreciation.
Each visit with Upset drew the horse closer to me and me to him. He came to the fence when he saw me running toward him and would begin looking for his carrot he knew I carried. I’d share my day with my friend and sometimes lay in the cool clover and chew on a piece of straw as Upset grazed near by.
After a time Max let me help with other chores for Upset. I cleaned his stall and my reward would be the chance to hold the rope as Max worked with Upset.
Max taught me more and more about horses and how to care for them and the friendship between us grew and I began to feel a great adoration for this man who owned the horse I loved.
Max let me help saddle Upset for his morning ride one day explaining the perfect knot to put in the cinch to keep it from dangling and hitting Upset in the legs. The blanket had to be notched up at the saddle horn to allow air to circulate there. I had to use a stool to reach Upset’s back and even then stood on tippy-toes to do my best with my friend.
Watching Upset get his shoes put on was tough. I was sure the nails going in the hoofs did not feel good and I cried. Max was always patient with e and explained how the hooves in a horse were like our fingernails. It didn’t hurt him to get shoes. It provided protection for him.
The day came late in the summer when I climbed on the wooden pole fence at the small pasture to watch Max work out with Upset. He had him on a tether and Upset was prancing, doing a dance, as he moved around his master in a circle. Max looked at me from the corner of his eye and loudly voiced a drawl, “Hello little miss…”
I waved back.
“You ready to climb aboard?”
I didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure I heard him right.
He stopped Upset and walked him over to where I was perched with anticipation on the fence. “I think you’re ready to take a ride. I’ll stay with you.”
My heart nearly stopped. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Me? But I thought…” the words stuck in my throat.
“Come on little one,” he grinned. “Time’s a-wastin’.” He reached over and lifted me with ease into the small pasture.
I tried not to look anxious or scared – but I was both. Max had to lift me to the saddle. Upset’s stirrup was too high for my short legs. “Always mount from the left, he said. Never from the right.”
Max’s instruction fell like love notes on a little girl’s ear. I wanted to do everything right. I wanted my friend to be comfortable with me.
“Sit tall now. Hold the reigns like this. Never let the horse know you are scared. You have to stay in control.”
When I rode Upset that day somehow our spirits merged. I felt his great heart beating within me and I never wanted that moment to end. As he cantered in a circle, I felt the cool air breeze by my face and I knew I had found a friend that would never betray me and would always be there when I needed him.
That summer was spent telling my secrets to Upset as he munched on carrots and apples I tucked away for him.
He held many of my tears, a lot of my smiles but, most of all, my entire heart.
(LuJane Alger Nisse was raised in rural Clinton, Utah. She owned and operated two community newspapers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho for 30 years. She lives in Palouse, WA and has four grown children. Max and LuJane stayed friends until a heart attack took him. She still thinks of him and his horse often.)