Gateway to the Classics: Among the Farmyard People by Clara Dillingham Pierson
Among the Farmyard People by  Clara Dillingham Pierson


The Bay Colt Learns to Mind

T HE span of Bays were talking together in their stalls, and the other Horses were listening. That was one trouble with living in the barn, you could not say anything to your next-door neighbor without somebody else hearing. The farmer had solid walls between the stalls, with openings so far back that no Horse could get his head to them without breaking his halter. This had been done to keep them from biting each other, and as nobody but the Dappled Gray ever thought of doing such a thing, it was rather hard on the rest. It made it difficult for the mothers to bring up their children properly, for after a Colt was old enough to have a stall to himself, his mother had to call out her advice and warnings so loudly that everybody could hear, and you know it is not well to reprove a child before company if it can be helped. Indeed, it was this very question that was troubling the span of Bays now. Each of them had a two-year-old Colt, and they knew that it was nearly time for the farmer to put these Colts to work. The span of Bays were sisters, so of course their children were cousins, and they were all very fond of each other and of the Blind Horse, who was the uncle of the Bays and the great-uncle of the Bay Colt and the Gray Colt.

"I am worried about the Bay Colt," said his mother. "Since he was brought into the barn last fall and had a stall away from me, he has gotten into bad ways. I have told him again and again that he must not nibble the edge of the manger, yet the first thing I heard this morning was the grating of his teeth on the wood."

"Well," said his aunt, "you know he is teething, and that may be the reason."

"That is no excuse," said his mother sternly. "He has been teething ever since he was five days old, and he will not cut his last tooth for three years yet. I don't call it goodness to keep from cribbing when you don't want to crib, and the time to stop is now. Besides, if he waits until he has all his teeth, he won't be able to break himself of the habit when he does try."

"That is so," said his aunt, "and he will ruin his teeth, too."

"Pooh!" exclaimed the Bay Colt, who had heard what they were saying. "I can stop whenever I want to, and they're my own teeth, anyway. It isn't anybody's else business if I do ruin them."

"There!" said his mother to his aunt, "you see what I mean. That is just the way he talks all the time. Now what would you do?"

"Let him alone," snorted the Dappled Gray. "Let him alone, and he will get some Horse sense after he has been broken. He'll have a hard time of it, but he'll come out all right."

The Bay Colt kicked against the side of the stall, he was so vexed. "I'll thank you to let me alone," said he. "I don't see why everybody tells me what I ought to do. Guess I know a thing or two."

"I'll tell you why," said the Dappled Gray, in a voice that sounded as though he were trying very hard not to lose his temper. "It is because you are young and we like you, and we can save you trouble if you mind what we tell you. I had lost the black pits in my front teeth before you were born, and when a Horse has lived long enough to lose the black pits from his teeth, he knows a good deal. You don't know a curb-bit from a snaffle now, but you will learn many things when you are broken—a very great many things."

The Bay Colt tossed his head and did not answer. When he was led out to drink, the Dappled Gray spoke quickly to his friends. "We will let him alone," said he, "as he wishes. We will not advise him until he asks us to do so." They were all whinnying "Yes" when the Bay Colt came back. Then it became so still that you could have heard a stem of hay drop.

For a few days after this, the Bay Colt had a very good time. Nobody gave him any advice, and even when he gnawed at the edge of the manger, his mother did not seem to notice it. After he found that she didn't say anything, he didn't gnaw, or crib, so much. He was such a foolish and contrary young fellow that when people told him not to do a thing, he always wanted to do that thing worse than anything else in the world. His cousin, the Gray Colt, was not at all like him. She was a gentle little two-year-old whom everybody loved. She was full of fun and was the gayest possible companion in the meadow, yet when the older Horses gave her advice, she always listened and obeyed.

The Bay Colt was very fond of his cousin, but he did like to tease her, and once in the fall, before they came to stay in the barn, he called her a "goody-goody" because she wouldn't jump the fence and run away with him. He said she wouldn't do such things because she didn't know what fun was. Then she did show that she had a temper, for her brown eyes snapped and her soft lips were raised until she showed all her biting teeth. "I'm not a 'goody-goody,' " she cried, stamping the ground with her pretty little hoofs, "and I just ache to go. I feel as though there were ropes that I couldn't see, pulling me toward that fence every time I think of it, but I won't go! I won't go! My mother says that she jumped a fence and ran away when she was a Colt, and that she felt as mean as could be afterward."

"I don't care," said her cousin. "I'm going anyway, and you can stay at home if you want to. Good-bye!" He ran and leaped over the fence, and trotted down the road with his head well up and his tail in the air. And then how the Gray Colt did want to follow! "I won't!" she said again. "I won't do it. I'll look the other way and try to forget it, but I wish he knew how hard it is to be good sometimes."

The next morning the Bay Colt was in the pasture again. The farmer and his man had found him far away and led him back. "I had a fine time," he said to his cousin, "and I don't feel a bit mean. I'm going again to-day, but don't you tell." When his mother scolded him as he deserved, he just switched his tail and thought about something else until she stopped talking. Then he ran away again.

The next morning when the Gray Colt saw him, he had a queer wooden thing around his neck, and fastened to this was a pole that stuck out ahead of him. It tired his neck and bothered him when he wanted to run. If he had tried to jump the fence, it would have thrown him down. When the Gray Colt came toward him, he pretended not to see her. He might just as well have looked squarely at her as soon as she came, because, you know, he had to look at her sometime, but he had a mean, slinking, afraid feeling, such as people always have when they have done something wrong and have had time to think about it. Besides, he had changed his mind since the wooden poke had been put on him, and somehow his running away seemed very foolish now. He wondered how he could ever have thought it any fun, and he was so disgusted that he couldn't keep his ears still, but moved them restlessly when he remembered his own silliness.

The Gray Colt was too polite to say anything about his wearing the poke, and she talked about the grass, the sky, the trees, and everything else she could think of. Once she was about to speak of the fence, and then she remembered and stopped short. The Bay Colt noticed this. "You might just as well go on," said he. "You are very kind, but I know how foolish I have been, and there's no use in keeping still. You were right, and it doesn't pay to jump fences for a few minutes of what you think will be fun. I feel sick all over when I think about it."

"It's too bad," whinnied the Gray Colt. "I'm very sorry for you."

"And what do you think?" said the Bay Colt. "I heard the Dappled Gray say this morning that I was like a Pig! Imagine a Colt being like a Pig! He said that it didn't make any difference on which side of the fence Pigs were, they always wanted to be on the other side, and that I was just as stupid."

This was all in the fall, before the cold weather had sent them to live in the barn, and while the Bay Colt was wearing the poke he could not well forget the lesson he had learned about jumping and running away. His mother grew quite proud of him, and the Dappled Gray had been heard to say that he might amount to something yet. That was a great deal for the Dappled Gray to say, for although he had a very kind heart, he did not often praise people, and hardly ever said such things about two-year-olds. That made it all the harder for him when the Bay Colt became cross over being told to stop cribbing.

You know there are some Colts who learn obedience easily, and there are others who have one hard struggle to stop jumping, and another to stop cribbing, and another to stop kicking, and so on, all through their Colthood. The older Horses are sorry for them and try to help them, for they know that neither Colt nor Horse can really enjoy life until he is trying to do right. To be sure, people sometimes do wrong even then, but if they will take advice and keep on trying they are certain to turn out well.

And now, when the Bay Colt seemed to have forgotten the lesson he had in the fall, and after he had told the other Horses to let him alone, very strange things began to happen. The farmer took him from his stall and made him open his mouth. Then a piece of iron was slipped into it, which lay on top of his tongue and fitted into the place on each side of his jaw where there were no teeth. Long lines were fastened to this iron on either side, and when he tossed his head and sidled around, these lines were gently pulled by the farmer and the iron bit pressed down his tongue.

The farmer was very kind, but the Bay Colt did not want the bit in his mouth, so he acted as ugly as he knew how, and kicked, and snapped with his jaws open, and tried to run. The farmer did not grow angry or cross, yet whenever the Bay Colt showed his temper, the bit would press down his tongue and stretch the corners of his mouth until he had to stop. Once in a while the farmer would try to pat him and show him that it was all right, but the Bay Colt would not have this and he was a very cross and sweaty two-year-old when he was taken back to his stall.

He missed the Gray Colt from her usual place, but soon she came in with one of the farmer's men. She had been driven for the first time also.

"Hallo!" said he. "Have you had a bit in your mouth too? Wasn't it dreadful? I am so angry that my hoofs fairly tingle to hit that farmer."

"It was hard," said the Gray Colt, "but the man who drove me was very kind and let me rest often. He patted me, too, and that helped me to be brave. My mother says we won't mind the bit at all after we are used to it."

"Well," said the Bay Colt, "I'm never going to be used to it. I won't stand it, and that's all there is about it." He stamped his hoofs and looked very important. Two-year-olds often look quite as important as ten-year-olds, and they feel much more so. The Bay Colt was rather proud of his feet, and thought it much nicer to have solid hoofs than to have them split, like those of the Cows, the Hogs, and the Sheep.

When he said that he would not stand it to be driven, a queer little sound ran through the stalls. It was like the wind passing over a wheatfield, and was caused by the older Horses taking a long breath and whispering to themselves. The Bay Colt's mother was saying, "Poor child! What hard work he does make of life!"

The next day both Colts were driven again, and the next day, and the next, and the next. By this time the Gray Colt was quite used to it. She said she rather enjoyed knowing what the man was thinking, and that she could tell his thoughts by the feeling of the lines, much as she used to understand her mother by rubbing noses when she was a tiny Colt. Her cousin had a sore mouth from jerking on the lines, and he could not enjoy eating at all. That made it even harder for him, because he got very hungry, and it is not so easy to be sensible when one is hungry.


Her cousin had a sore mouth from jerking on the lines.

When the Gray Colt learned to walk steadily and turn as her driver wished, she was allowed to draw a light log through the furrows of a field. This tired her, but it made her very proud, and she arched her neck and took the daintiest of steps. It was not necessary that the log should be drawn over the field; still, she did not know this, and thought it was real work, when it was done only to teach her to pull. The man who was driving her patted her neck and held her nose in his hand. When he stopped to eat an apple, he gave her the core, and she thought she had never tasted anything so good. As she went back to her stall, she called to the Horses near, "I have been working. I have drawn a log all around a field."

The Blind Horse spoke softly to her. "You will have a happy life, my dear, because you are a willing worker."

Although the Bay Colt didn't say anything, he thought a great deal, and about many things. While he was thinking he began to crib, but the noise of his biting teeth on the wood startled him, and he shook his head and whispered to himself, "I will never crib again." When he ate his supper, his sore mouth hurt him, but he didn't whimper. "You deserve it," he said to himself. "It wouldn't have been sore if you had been steady like your cousin." The Bay Colt was growing sensible very fast.

The Dappled Gray had noticed how suddenly he stopped cribbing, and so watched him for a few days. He saw that the Bay Colt was in earnest, that he drew the log up and down without making any fuss, and was soon hitched with his mother to a plow. The Dappled Gray and the Blind Horse were also plowing that day, and they called across from their field. "Fine day for plowing," they said.

"Perfect," answered the Bay Colt. "Did you notice the last furrow we turned? Can you do any better than that? If I had jumped, it would have been crooked instead of straight; and if I had stopped, it would not be done yet."

"Good furrow! Wonderful furrow!" answered the Dappled Gray. "Always knew you'd be a good worker when you got down to it. You are one of us now, one of the working Horses. Glad of it. Good-bye!" And he turned away to start his plow across the field again.

"Do you like being grown up?" said the Bay Colt's mother to him.

"Like it?" he answered with a laugh. "I'm so proud that I don't know what to do. I wouldn't go back to the old life of all play for anything in the world. And my little cousin made me see my mistakes. Was there ever another Colt as foolish as I?"

"A great many of them," said his mother. "More than you would guess. They kick and bite and try to run because they cannot always have their own way; and then, when they have tried the farmer's way, and begin to pay for his care of them, they find it very much better than the life of all play. Colts will be Colts."


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