By C.S. Marks.
So, yesterday was our soon-to-be-infamous Holiday Ride at the College. Once a year we ‘decorate’ the horses, saddle them up and ride them all over campus while singing Christmas carols. It’s fun, and the students look forward to it all semester.
This year, we had a really cold morning (after about a week of rain), with winds gusting to 30mph. Perfect weather for riding...if you’re a thrill-seeker. Horses get very naughty in such weather. Adding sleigh bells and Santa hats to their usual equipment gives them the perfect excuse.
I watched as two of my best riders were launched into the air. They were wearing helmets and (fortunately) fell clear of the horses. They were scraped up a little, and they’ll be sore today, but no real harm done. My big horse, Monty, was as restive as I’d ever seen him. He is very tolerant of being ‘decorated’, but the sight of the two loose horses hooning around with their heels in the air wasn’t exactly a calming influence.
As we started down the long path around campus, Monty insisted on leading the pack, tossing his head, snorting, and prancing like a circus horse. Double dose of obnoxious, but never once did he rear, buck, or place me in real jeopardy. At the end of the day, his worst crime was ‘excess energy with intent to commit enthusiasm’.
Between bouts of telling him to ‘knock it off’ and his telling me ‘No!’, I became reflective.
I have another horse--a Shagya named ‘Marton’. (A Shagya is a big Arabian-type Hungarian breed.) Marton comes the closest to equine physical perfection of any horse I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something). When he moves, every human within sight is compelled to pause in his/her labors just so they can watch him. He comes from a long line of distinguished sport horses. He’s an equine Adonis. There’s just one small problem: his brain.
Marton is intelligent. He cannot focus on anything for more than five seconds, and his energy is so boundless and inexhaustible that he is kind of a ‘white-knuckle’ ride, even in very controlled conditions. He loves the trail, but hates the arena. Any excuse to shy or bolt is a good one--keeps him from being bored. I’ve seen him rear onto his hind legs (with a rider), leap into the air, turn a 180, and attempt to scale a nearby wall. Why? Because he can.
I imagined trying to do the Holiday Ride on Marton, and it made me appreciate Monty. Monty cannot vie with Marton in any respect OTHER than his temperament. He is slower, less graceful, and...well, let’s just say his head looks like someone forgot to take it out of the box before affixing it to his neck. He is probably not as intelligent. But he can focus on a task, he is gentle and honest and ‘easy’. He would (under saner conditions) carry an inexperienced rider. He is FUN to ride, and it’s possible to carry on a conversation or think about picking out a nice spot for lunch, enjoying the scenery as I ride. I love to take him out on nice days with a group of friends. Monty’s not slow--he marches right along--but with Marton, you might not see your friends any time soon. He’s way too fast. Tie him to a tree while you eat lunch? Yeah. That’ll happen.
The thought of doing Holiday Ride on Marton makes me shudder. We would have been a danger to ourselves and everyone else in the group. Our idea of caroling might have gone like this: ‘The First No-el the Angels did say...’ (add Doppler effect to indicate speed. Runs complete circuit of campus between lines) ‘...was to certain poor shepherds in...(another circuit)...fields where they lay...’ etc. Not good.
Sometimes, when I read fiction, I want a Marton experience. I want to be shocked, thrilled, frightened...a ‘white-knuckle’ read. Other times I want a Monty--calm, strong, sensible, a little slower-paced, but never boring. Something that lets me appreciate the beauty of the words, not have them rush by me in the frantic flight to turn the page. ‘Monty-reads’ aren’t dull; they have their exciting scenes, twists and turns, suspenseful and introspective moments. But they’re not generally lethal. I can relax while reading them. Marton reads like to hit me with short, punchy sentences, ‘gritty’ emotionally-intense dialogue, and violence. Lots of violence. Not just off screen, either--it’s described so that every dripping eyeball or displaced loop of intestine leaps off the page at me.
The most memorable books on my shelves are Monty reads with occasional jaunts on Marton. They flow, peak, and crash like ocean waves. The occasional shocker or emotionally-wrenching scene is interspersed with humor and gentle-yet-effective storytelling. Tolkien and Richard Adams, two of my favorite authors, strike me that way--mostly Monty. I enjoy Stephen King, especially his earlier work. It’s a shining example of the ‘Monty-and-Marton United’ approach (though it often incorporates a few too many of those Marton moments).
What’s my point? We need both. Think back to the books you’ve loved throughout your lifetime. Some of them were probably more like familiar friends--books you re-read at intervals, settling into them like a good warm bath. Others are more ‘Martonesque’. Upon re-reading, I find myself skimming through these to recall the really shocking or emotionally evocative moments, such as when the vile antagonist finally ‘gets his gruesome comeuppance’.
There’s room for the tried, true, honest, faithful (if not most athletic) horse in the stable. Though he might not win any awards, he’s a fun ride. There’s also room for the elite athlete--the heart-stopping, exhilarating whirlwind-of-a-horse. Both can be memorable. Which one I choose to ride (or read) depends on the mood I’m in at the time. :-)
Elfhunter website - The site for C.S. Marks Elfhunter novels.
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