Tuerto the one-eyed horse

I have one good eye, and one that stays shut most of the time. Sometimes people look at me like I’m strange, but I think I have the kind of face Picasso would have painted.

Sometimes I wear a black patch over my strong eye to make my lazy eye wake up. And it does! There it is, blue and shining and open, seeing almost everything my strong eye sees. The words in my favorite book. The painting I’m working on or the sculpture I’m carving. And of course, beautiful horses.

Tuerto was a beautiful horse, but he was also one-eyed, kind of like me. But unlike me, if he had patched his strong eye, he wouldn’t have seen anything at all.

Tuerto’s good eye was on my weak side and my strong eye was on his blind side. When I first saw him grazing in my neighbor’s field, I liked him right away, just like I feel a certain kinship with people who have weird eyes or other unusual physical challenges. But the locals scoffed, “How could anyone want to ride a one-eyed horse? Dog food, that’s what he’s good for.”

Tuerto was tall. Almost sixteen hands tall. He must have had some Thoroughbred blood in him. He was a sorrel, and when I brushed him down, I could see glints of red, orange, gold and brown in his hide.

Tuerto’s owner let me ride him in the prairie whenever I wanted. He wasn’t like any other horse I’d ever ridden. He had to swing his head from side to side so he could use his good eye—his right—to see his way safely through the sage. Even though his body veered a little to the left and then to the right as he followed his head, mostly he stayed on the path, and I learned to give him free rein.

Tuerto had what’s known as a rocking chair canter because it’s so smooth and easy to sit. He didn’t grab for the bit or try to go faster; he was happy to canter through the sage, slow and smooth, so I could relax and enjoy his movement and the landscape rushing by.

My younger sister would have really liked to ride Tuerto. He was such a gentleman, he would have stood rock still while she climbed onto the fence to swing her leg over his neck, the only way she can mount a horse on account of her crippled legs. He wouldn’t have minded when we tied her crutches onto the saddle. He would have responded well to her long leather “boppers” she uses in lieu of her own legs to urge the horse forward. She would have loved his smooth gait, especially his rocking chair canter, as she sat astride his big, deep-chested heart. I’m sure she would have also figured out to give him his head.

Since Tuerto and I had such an unusual connection, I asked my neighbor one day if I could buy him, but she didn’t warm to the idea, so I didn’t press it. I wasn’t really set up to have a horse of my own anyway, and being able to ride my neighbor’s horse anytime I wanted was already a great deal. But then, about a week later, I was shocked to find out that she had done exactly that. Sold him. The new owners were coming for him that afternoon. Just like that, my riding privileges were finished.

When I said goodbye to Tuerto over the fence, I put my hand on the red-gold silk of his coat and pressed my face against his neck so my neighbor wouldn’t see me cry. But then he moved away just enough so he could fix me with his eye, looking deep inside like horses sometimes do, until I felt rooted and calm and peaceful again.

Not long after Tuerto was trailered away, I ran into my neighbor in the post office. I asked if she’d heard how Tuerto was doing in his new home. She looked at me with her blue eyes, but that day they seemed blank and cold, like ice water with artificial coloring.

“Tuerto’s dead,” she said, her face expressionless.

I must have looked like my heart stopped beating because she shuffled her feet and glanced nervously from side to side.

“He fell in a ditch and broke his leg so they had to put him down,” she added quickly, but it sounded mechanical, like a recorded message.

I still couldn’t say anything. All I could do was stare into those blank blue eyes and ask my silent question: How could this happen?

But she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say anything else.

I had to step outside into the cold wind. The tears streaming down froze to my cheeks. I couldn’t shake the image of Tuerto lying in a ditch, unable to get up. How long had he lain there before he was discovered? Long enough to be hungry and thirsty? Long enough to collapse a lung? Long enough to still be alive when the buzzards found him?

Why hadn’t his new owners walked him around the field to show him the fences and the ditches? Had they let him loose in the dark without giving him a chance to get his bearings? Had there been other horses in the field chasing him like horses do when they’re establishing their pecking order?

Why hadn’t I pressed my neighbor more insistently, shed my ambivalence and named a price for Tuerto that she couldn’t refuse? Why wasn’t Tuerto in my back yard right now, munching on a flake of hay, his coat like burnished copper, a one-eyed horse that was loved by a one-eyed woman?

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