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the death of old major (1966) Editors’ Note: This story is a tribute to a family horse and a way of life. It appeared in the fall/winter 1966 issue of the Appalachian South, a magazine West and his daughter, Ann Williams, launched after he founded the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem, West Virginia. Whether it was intended or not, the title bears an interesting reference to the character of the workhorse in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm (1954), about a revolution gone awry. I braked the pickup to a quick stop.It was past midnight. The trip to town had been longer than expected. I was in a hurry, but there in the middle of the dirt road just off the highway stood Old Major, our stallion. The headlights glistened on his sleek hair and sparkled when the glow caught his eyes. His head was not held high now in the usual proud way. It drooped low. He stood headed toward the barn holding his left hind leg up. A cold chill ran up my spine. I knew something bad was wrong. I got out of the pickup. Major raised his head and nickered feebly. Seemed that he wanted to say he had been waiting for me. I saw at a glance what had happened. Across the highway the pasture gate was open. Careless city hunters must have left it open. Major had walked out on the speedway.When a big trailer truck hit him, knocking him into the ditch, he had struggled out, hobbled as far as he could, and waited. He nickered again and winced as I passed my hand over the bloody leg.Both bones were broken about a foot above the hoof and the hip was smashed.One could move the leg back and forth, limber as a rag. I knew that this was the end of old Major. Major wasn’t really old. We said “old” only because we loved him. He was only five years. His full name was Ideal’s Major Allen. That’s the way the registration papers read. He was sired by champion Beau Ideal, and was himself already a prize winner. Hedy, our younger daughter, and her sister Ann had raised him from a gawky colt. They were as proud of him as he seemed to be of himself.Hedy taught him to shake hands,to lie down for her to mount,and 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 61 no lonesome road 62 other tricks. She had watched him grow to be a big stallion with white stockings who walked as if there were springs in his hoofs. He was a Tennessee Walker. Major was indeed the family pet, our favorite of all the colts and mares on the place. Proud, full of fire, he seemed to have more sense than any animal on the farm. He even seemed to know about children and how to treat them. He actually seemed to love them. Hedy would ride him standing up or even standing on her head on his back,child-like,to show off.When little Judy Hall, our neighbor’s four-year-old, wanted to ride, Major would plod along like an old workhorse. Once the toddler lost her balance and came up on his neck. As she clung to his mane,Major lowered his head and let her slide to the ground unhurt. But when I mounted his head went up, his eyes sparkled, and he was off like the wind. He was a big tease, too. If one of us went into the pasture where he grazed, he would come galloping full speed straight at us. When almost upon us he would suddenly stiffen his legs and skid to a stop.At such times his big brown eyes would twinkle as if he wanted to say: “You thought I was going to run you down, didn’t you?” Then his nose would nuzzle our pockets for carrots or apples. He dearly loved both, and seemed to think our sole purpose should be to carry pockets full of them around for him. But there on the side road old Major whinnied feebly and let his head drop low. Somehow I could hardly believe this was the end. Only that morning I had felt his powerful muscles under me as I rode him over the road in a vigorous workout.I was thinking how I would write Hedy andAnn...


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MARC Record
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