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96 pages
Oct 2003
Baker Book House

Dark Horse

by John Fischer

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For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to be a white horse. I wasn’t all white, but my good ancestry had left me more white than most horses I knew, and fortunately, in the most important places. Most of my face was white, and the white of my right front leg ran up to my shoulder so that if I stood at an angle ... with my good leg out . . . and my head slightly cocked . . . all you could see was white.

It was a good sign, I was told, and the mark of a leader.

It was for this reason that when I came of age, I was sent to a special ranch where they trained horses like me to think, walk, and prance like white horses. We learned how to make the most of our white parts—even how to pose so as to show the most amount of white (without looking unnatural).

This was harder for some horses than others. I remember one that had a beautiful white rump and tail and one white streak between his eyes. His unfortunate fate was always having to present himself backwards—not to mention the strain on his neck from twisting over his shoulder so that the white on his head could be seen.

Life at the white horse ranch was very ordered. We spent most every morning exercising on a track—our muscles had to be developed to their fullest for a more impressive display. Then, after a brief rest, we were washed, brushed, and groomed by our trainers for posing sessions.

Posing sessions were boring, but any horse could easily become accustomed to the enjoyable preening and doting associated with them. During these sessions, the owner of the ranch would often come by and comment on our progress. I was proud to be “one of the most promising animals he had seen in some time.” (I often wonder now if he meant that, or if he told the same thing to all the horses simply to build up our horse pride.)

True or not, his words worked on me. I began to form quite an attachment to my own whiteness. I found myself more and more aware of it, almost as if it were glowing with a light of its own. But of course it was easy to become white-minded at a school where everything revolved around being white.

My favorite part of the day was after the posing sessions, when we were led into a large pastured area, fed from long wooden troughs of hay, and allowed to run free in the late afternoon sun. During the spring there was even real grass to pull up with our teeth. I marveled at its sweetness and at the strange appeal of the gritty dirt in my mouth.

From the fenced pasture we would occasionally see small bands of wild horses moving across the plains in the distance. Seeing them always gave me a curious, restless sort of feeling. Like sniffing a spring wind that has blown across distant fields of clover. Almost in spite of myself I would move to the fence and watch them prance and canter on the horizon.

What would it be like to be . . . out there?

Part of me was drawn to the adventure, the freedom. But another part was full of questions. How would I be assured of food? Who would keep me clean? And—most important of all— what do the wild horses know of being white? What do they care? It was always this question that would shake me from such foolish daydreams and remind me that I was destined for a “higher calling.” Whiteness could not be important out on the plains; it would be impossible to maintain. I was obviously dedicating myself to the true glory of horses—being white.

For this reason, the highlight of each year was when a white horse show came to our ranch. It was the one time we were able to see real white horses in all their splendor. Men would come to these shows in great numbers to see the bright spotlights reflect off these horses’ magnificent heads, powdery white manes, and rippling, muscular flanks. I used to dream of being in that spotlight, because I knew that with its help, even though I wasn’t all white, I could still look like a white horse. All of us at the ranch shared that one burning dream—to one day join a white horse show.

It was during one of these shows that I first met him. The shows always came during the first warm evenings of spring, and this night was crystal clear, making the resplendent white horses appear unusually bright.

“Have you ever seen a white horse?”

The snicker came from behind me—so softly that only I could hear. I turned my neck to lay eyes on the most startling horse I had ever seen. Wild as a prairie storm. Dark as the night plains.

“Who are you—and how did you get in here?”

“I am not new to you.”

Suddenly it came to me. He was the dark horse I had seen earlier outside the pasture fence. He had been the only wild horse to venture close to the ranch. Once he came near enough for me to strike up one of my more impressive, rehearsed poses. I had imagined this heathen horse would gasp with awe and gape in astonishment. But he didn’t gasp or gape. He simply chewed on a mouthful of grass and looked me straight in the eyes. That look— I’ve never been able to erase it from my memory. It had a piercing clarity that seemed to burn even from a distance.

And now, up close, that look was making me very uncomfortable. It was as if he were looking right through my eyes into my very soul.

“Have you ever seen a white horse?” he repeated.

“Well, of course. Isn’t this a white horse show?”

“But have you ever seen a white horse?”

“I see the white horses that come in the show. And some of us here at the ranch are almost all white.”

“Have you ever walked completely around a white horse?”

Now he was starting to rattle something in my thinking. True, I had only seen the real white horses from a distance. When they were through showing, they were whisked away to the separate stables where they were always quartered. And then I thought of all the horses at the ranch, none of which were all white. I thought of all the horses I knew, and I had to admit that I had never walked completely around a white horse.

“Look at that horse right now in the spotlight,” he said. “Do you see all of him?”


“Of course you don’t. And watch—when he’s through posing, he’ll walk off into the darkness. Do you see? The light only shines on the pose, not the real horse.”

I was bewildered. Couldn’t find the words for an answer. Who was this dark horse? Where had he come from? Was he some kind of cynic? An enemy, perhaps, trying to discourage me from my calling? And how could one with no white on him seem to . . . well, shine the way he did?

I turned toward the stage. I had to find relief from this wild horse’s scrutiny. I had to collect my thoughts. But as I stared at the staging area, something looked different. After looking at the dark horse, the stage lights looked somehow lesser, more diffused. The light on the horses was a frothy glow, rejecting back a surface sheen . . . but the light in the eyes of the dark horse flashed with pinpoint clarity and burned deep as a branding iron. I watched the horses come and go in the spotlight, striking their poses with casual grace. They had all been through this so many times before.

Suddenly it all seemed so hollow. Useless. Lifeless.

And then with the new light that was already illumining my thoughts, I saw in an instant the folly of this whole procedure. How foolish that it had never occurred to me before! I wasn’t going to get any whiter by being at this ranch—only more clever at appearing white!

I looked back again at the dark horse, and his eyes were dancing with excitement. He knew what I was going through. Without even speaking he was willing me to ask the ultimate question. But who could ask such a question? To speak those words would be . . . horrifying. It would undermine everything I had ever learned about the glory and purpose of horses. It would alter the whole course of my life. But it was no use holding back. The question had already asked itself in my mind, and there was nothing that could keep it from falling out of my mouth.

“Do you mean to tell me . . . there are no white horses?”

“No,” he replied. “There is one.”

“You mean the White One?”

“Of course. He is the only white horse there ever was or ever will be.”

“Aren’t we to be like the White One?” It was another horse from the ranch speaking, for there was now a small group listening in on our conversation.

“Yes,” said the dark horse. “But whiteness is not on the outside. It is in the heart. White isn’t what you look like, it’s what you do when you follow the will of the White One. You cannot change a hair on your body, but he can change your heart and shine his light in your eyes.”

As I stood there, the whiteness on my leg and face began to tingle as if it were glowing— not in a good way this time, but in an embarrassing way. Suddenly it seemed like a thousand eyes were focused on that small area of whiteness I had cherished for so long. How insignificant it became. I wanted to hide. The whiteness had been the focus of my trust, not the White One. I was ashamed.

I asked another question, trying to get the attention off myself for a moment. “Why then do we have white horse shows?” I asked. “What’s the point?”

He just looked at me, and his eyes said the obvious: There is no point.

He was becoming restless, as if my question had finally brought our discussion to the conclusion he was seeking. He pawed the ground, tossing his great head up and down with anger.

“There are thousands of horses out there who have never heard of the White One, and there is an enemy afoot—crouching at the door—while you waste your time comparing whiteness.”

At that he reared back, and his cry was a mighty thing. “If you would follow the White One, then follow me!”

Just that quickly he was gone—vaulting two fences and galloping hard toward the open plains.

There was now no small commotion created in the white horse show. The air was choked with dust. Horses panicked and whinnied— people panicked and shouted. The thunder of the bolting dark horse seemed to echo and reecho from the stable walls as the spotlights turned off their subjects to search the crowd for the cause of the disruption. And the few of us who had heard the words were stamping our hooves in an agony of indecision. Even as I watched, the eyes of two of my companions began to flicker and flame. And in that instant, I knew. It should have been a hard decision. But it was not. The truth was too clear. The challenge was too compelling. The alternative was too costly. There was a choice, but there was no choice.

The next events happened so fast that I only remember flashes and pictures. But those pictures will always stay vivid in my mind. The flying dust, the easily vaulted fences, the pounding hooves, the sweat and dirt mingling to mud and caking on my white leg, the faint outline of the other horses—black against the night sky.

Racing into the darkness, we had only the stars for light. That, and the light of the White One, shining through our eyes, driving us across plains we had never run, toward mountains we had never seen.