by Randy Reynolds

Brother Alex Jenkins brought Mac over to the parsonage on the Reynolds’ second day there.   Spot got his first whiff of horse odor, looked up to see what was blocking out the sunlight and not recognizing the beast, rushed forward barking for all he was worth.  Randy and Ricky bounded off the porch and not knowing any better, ran to the sorrel gelding and started stroking his nose and lips and hugging his front legs.

“Great day in the morning!”  said Gene.

“Your boy said he wanted a horse,” said Brother Alex.

“He’s too big,” said Violet from the living room, locking the screen door as if that would keep her and her daughters safe.

Brother Alex said, “He’s big, but he’s real gentle.  They could walk under his belly and he wouldn’t do anything.  Go ahead, walk under him, boys.”

Randy walked under the horse’s belly. Ricky followed. 

“See, he don’t kick!” said Randy.

“Can we keep him, can we keep him, please?” said Ricky.

“We can’t afford a horse right now,” said Gene.

“Oh, Mac’s not for sale. But y’all can keep him as long as you want, huh?”  said Brother Alex.

“No, Gene. The boys will break their necks,” said Violet.

Brother Alex said, “Take the roosts out of that chicken coop in the back yard and it’ll be a good stall, but he don’t much need one.  Just graze him in the backyard after you get some kind of gate on it.  For now you can just tie a rope to his halter and stake him out.”

Gene said, “I’ve been around mules all my life, but I’ve never saddled a horse.”

“Here, let me show you,” said Brother Alex.

The next morning, Randy and Ricky got up at dawn and went out back where Mac was staked out with Brother Alex's rope and a length of chain Gene had found in the little shed immediately behind the parsonage. Mac opened his mouth for the bit and Randy put the bridle on him.  No sense trying the saddle since the horse was taller than Randy, so the boys took a five-gallon paint can out of the shed and climbed, with some effort, from there onto Mac's broad back. 

Randy kicked the horse lightly in the ribs to get him going.

“Don’t kick him!”  said Ricky.

Mac accelerated into a fast but smooth gait.

“Don’t make him run,” said Ricky.

“This ain’t running.  This is single-footing,” said Randy.

“Well, don’t make him single-foot too fast."

They crossed Bush-Folsom Road into a forest that used to be a tree farm. The trees had been planted in rows and thinned out many times and now there were wide avenues of flat ground with a carpet of pine straw. Despite clusters of undergrowth and a rotting stump here and there it was an ideal place to ride.

It was also an ideal place for the Church of God to build their Campground, a meeting place for their annual statewide convention and revival. It was centrally located across the road from Shepherd’s Fold and not far from the Churches of God known as Sharp’s Chapel, Wardline, Savannah Branch, Covington, Bogalusa, Sun, Bedico and Robert; Baton Rouge and New Orleans were both less than an hour away. 

When the State Overseer in faraway Monroe made it known that he was looking at the site, an astute businessman at Shepherd’s Fold, Earl Core would buy the property at a bargain and flip it to the church at many multiples of his purchase price. The deal would be approved by the Overseer after seven members of Shepherd’s Fold, including Earl himself, pledged a thousand dollars each.  But that was a year in the future.  On this idyllic morning it was just a forest of forty-year-old pine trees, two little cowboys and a horse.

The Reynolds boys believed in prayer. They prayed at church. They prayed at meals.  They prayed at bedtime.  But they had never prayed before like they prayed for Mac when he got his foot caught in the chain.  The flesh of his right rear fetlock was a bloody mess, scraped down to the bone.

Brother Alex came over with a horse trailer.   “He must have got tangled up early and kicked all night.”

“Listen, I’ll pay the vet bill,” said Gene.

“No need for that.  I’ll take him home and put some ointment on it to keep the flies away.  It’ll probably heal in a few weeks."

“We’ve been praying for him,” said Randy. 

Brother Alex patted Randy’s crew-cut scalp with his three-fingered hand.  “The Lord answers prayers.”

“Amen,” said Gene.

A few days later, Brother Alex took Gene to the Thursday livestock auction in Bogalusa to buy the boys a horse. 

“I really can’t afford it,” Gene said.

Brother Alex said, “It’s on me. These boys trusted the Lord for a horse, and the Good Lord told me to buy them one.”

Brother Alex paid $37.50 for a blind-in-one-eye bay gelding with a personality that was the opposite of Mac’s.  No child would ever run under this horse’s belly.  The brothers would never ride double on him, and  Randy would seldom ride him in the woods without getting thrown one or more times.     

Gene, who liked R’s, named him Ranger.  

Ricky lost interest in being a cowboy after Ranger swept him out of the saddle by running under the clothesline. So Ranger became Randy’s horse.

Ranger was shorter than Mac, so Randy had no problem putting the saddle on him.  Or so he thought.   Ranger took a deep breath and held it.   Randy tightened the cinch then mounted up.  Ranger let out his breath.

Not yet feeling the looseness of the saddle, Randy urged Ranger into a run.  The horse got the bit in his teeth and ran straight toward a fence.

Randy yelled, “Whoa!  Whoa!  Stop, horse!”

But it was not until Ranger, at full speed, happened to jerk his head in such a way that, for a fraction of a second, his one good eye noticed and transmitted to his pea-brain the fact that a fence was coming up that he stiffened his front legs and slid to a stop, causing the saddle to slide to his side, then completely beneath his belly. Randy hit the ground hard and rolled over to see the crazed horse kicking at the dangling saddle with his rear hooves as he bucked across the yard, onto the pavement of Bush-Folsom Highway and disappeared toward Bogalusa.

The man who caught him two miles away happened to know whose horse it was.  He'd noticed just such a horse several times lately at the church he passed on his route to work.  He walked Ranger back to Shepherd's Fold and warned Gene that it was a dangerous animal and he ought to get rid of it.

Randy took all the blame for the incident and was allowed to keep the horse.  The saddle was destroyed but Uncle Barney King—the “Uncle” being a mark of respect, not an indicator of relationship—got one from somebody who owed him a favor and loaned it to the preacher's son. 

Uncle Barney’s estate, that he would later name Pine Knoll and turn into a private golf course, was just south of the church on Lee Road.  His house was where the survivors would go the night the horse from hell burned the parsonage down. 

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