California Riding Magazine • February, 2010

Horsey Humor:
On Felines and Equines

by Bob Goddard

Back in the early days, when we lived in the suburbs and boarded the horses in the country, we thought it would be fun to let our daughters bring their horses home for a visit. We no sooner pulled the horse trailer into our driveway when we found ourselves besieged by a mob of neighborhood kids begging for a chance to go for a ride.

Nothing attracts a crowd of kids quite like a horse in the yard.

The neighborhood kids weren’t the only ones excited by the presence of horses. Our cats noticed them too. Casey, the male, bolted for the house as soon he spotted the monsters (the horses). Misty, the female, couldn’t make up her mind what to do. Here were these mammoth intruders invading her territory and every fiber in her being told her to chase them out of the yard. Five thousand centuries of feline evolution screamed within her to ATTACK! ATTACK! and yet she stood frozen with her back arched. As much as she wanted to go after them, she knew that these abominations were out of her league. Nobody takes on Godzilla solo and we weren’t being much help.

Since neither Casey nor Misty had ever seen a horse before, their reactions were understandable. Had they grown up around horses, I’m sure they would have treated them with that casual indifference cats are famous for. After all, horses and domestic cats have been getting along just fine for centuries and there have been few reports of them eating one another. In fact, a cat can play a vital role in the life of a horse. There is nothing more efficient than a good mouser to keep a barn free of unwanted pests.

While a cat can learn to adapt to the presence of horses, an experienced barn cat knows to keep his distance. The reason for this is simple: horses are heavy. A cat that refuses to acknowledge this basic fact probably won’t live long enough to become experienced. It’s not that horses enjoy the way small animals feel under their hooves, it’s just that they don’t always step where they intend to, and well, accidents happen.

Suicide Sam

Most barn cats understand that it’s their responsibility to give the horses plenty of operating room. However, there are exceptions. Sam, the orange cat at our boarding barn was one such exception. Due to his blatant disregard of the “Stay Away or You’ll Be Squashed Law” he earned the nickname “Suicide Sam.”

In many ways, Sam was a typical barn cat. He was an expert hunter who enjoyed displaying his kills to anyone who was interested. He preferred the warm spots in the barn, took several naps a day and came when you rattled his supper dish. And like most male barn cats, he had a tendency to take off for several days at a time, but always came back happier than when he left.

What made Sam unique was his complete lack of fear around the horses. One of his favorite pastimes was to lounge in the middle of the indoor arena and watch the horses and riders work out. As the horses rumbled by a few feet away, Sam licked his paws and stretched out, unperturbed. After all, he was there first and if the horses wanted to use his arena, they just had to go around him. He thought nothing of plopping down inches away from a pair of hooves and giving himself a bath. And the little space on the floor between a horse’s legs? Hey, that was an ideal spot a snooze.

Given Sam’s behavior around - and under - the horses, it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would attempt to put him on top of one. While most cats would decline participation in this sort of project, Sam displayed no such misgivings. Not only did he not resist, he insisted on staying there until somebody pried him off. For Sam, sitting on a horse was a perfectly natural thing to do and something he would have done more often if he could have figured a way to get up there by himself. It wasn’t uncommon to see a horse being led around that barn with a proud orange cat planted firmly on top, surveying his empire.

I don’t know how many lives a cat actually has, but if by some miracle Sam is still alive, I’m guessing he is way past the fabled nine.