When it comes to horses, I seem to be colorblind. They all look like brunettes to me and I can't tell one from the other. Except for the obvious exceptions like the white ones. And the blondes.
This deficit has resulted in a few embarrassing situations:
"Bob, you can ride Caspian today," my riding teacher tells me. "He's the bay out in Field Three. Bring him in and we'll saddle him up."
I need more information than this. I'm vaguely aware that "bay" means "brown," but there are six horses in Field Three and five of them are brown. One in five are not good odds. I need her to come out and point, but I'm afraid to ask.
So, I go out to Field Three as instructed. At the gate I call Caspian by name, as you would a dog. "Come 'er Caspian! C'mon boy!" I'm hoping this will separate him from the pack.
Six horses, including the white one, are under the impression that their name is Caspian. The Caspians amble toward the gate in a loose knot, apparently believing Second Breakfast is at hand. Or, that like some Great Gray Wizard, I have the ability to conjure large buckets of oats from my armpits. I halter the first brown horse I can get my hands on and lead him into the barn.
My instructor is perplexed. "You want to ride Charley today? Do you think you're ready for him?"
Of course I'm not ready for Charley. Charley is a Morgan with Grand Ideas & Big Ambition. The real Caspian just wants to get through the day without making anyone mad. My ignorance, always just a few steps behind me in pursuit, has caught me this morning and Real Caspian remains out in Field Three. I spend the next thirty-seven and a half minutes of my riding lesson surviving on approximately five breaths of air.
Today We Work on Our Colors
"He's the bay," she says. Horse color terminology befuddles me. The sheer volume of different color words is overwhelming: bay, black, blanket, blue roan and brindle. The alliteration is distracting.
I need help, that's for sure. So I turn to my daughter, Hiliary. It's amazing how much of this stuff she's picked up over the years.
"Okay, H. Bay is a color – it means brown, right?"
I've recently discovered this fact. It's a new fact for me, still on wobbly legs and I hesitate to use it too aggressively until I'm sure. I've heard the word many, many times, of course. But I've always incorrectly assumed "bay" referred to some kind of sub-breed. Not a major category like Arabian or Quarter Horse, but perhaps a level or two down on the taxonomic hierarchy.
"Yes," Hiliary assures me, "it's a color. They have a brown coat with a black mane and a black tail. And black ears."
Ah, now I see. Charley does not have a black mane or a black tail. Or black ears.
"So, the accessories are darker than the suit." I like making analogies.
"Well, the 'accessories' may not be uniform. You could have three black socks and a black mane. Or four black socks. It varies. And they're called 'black points'. "
She's losing me with all these combinations of brown and black and points. I feel like I'm at the edge of an abyss of complexity and controversy. So, I switch colors.
"Does it work the same way with white horses?"
"Actually, most of the horses you call 'white' are really gray horses."
"No – they're white." White should be simple.
"Dad, look in the mirror. What color is your hair?"
"It's gray ... with a free parking spot."
"Right. You don't say you have white hair with a free parking spot, do you?"
"The gray is mostly your fault."
"A real white horse has a white coat and pink skin."
"Okay then, what makes a gray horse a gray horse?"
"They have a white coat, but darker color skin."
I don't trust her. She could be telling me anything at this point. I need to regain the initiative and navigate the conversation to something more familiar and comfortable.
"What about blondes?"
"You mean Palominos?"
"Yes! Palominos! The word triggers a reaction in my memory banks and I know this is right. Palominos are the blondes. I love learning.
"Okay, Dad, what about Palominos?"
"Are they dumb?"
"I think it's time to talk about something else."
"Hey, Hiliary – what does a Palomino say when you blow into her ear?"
"Thanks for the refill!"
"Let's talk about dressage now."
An excellent suggestion. I need to work on my letters.