USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Horses’
Proverbs

“Heard it from the horse’s mouth”

I was talking with my friend and I said that I needed to hear a fact straight from the person who said it, and then she said something like, “yeah, you have to hear it from the horse’s mouth.” I inquired what she meant by this, where she had heard it from, etc. This is what she told me.

Informant: “My mom says, ‘I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth’ and that means that you heard it from the person who said it, so it’s authentic.”

Collector: “Do you know why it’s specifically a horse?”

Informant: “I don’t know, but she did grow up around a lot of horses. She grew up on a cattle ranch. And they all rode horses around.”

Collector: “So do you think this is specific to farmer culture or rancher people, rather than city folk?”

Informant: “I think so because you tend to… your language is dependent on your surroundings. You use analogies based on where you live, or on the things that you know”

The informant didn’t know much more about the origins of the proverb, but after some basic online search, I found that thefreedictionary.com offers the following explanation: “this expression alludes to examining a horse’s teeth todetermine its age and hence its worth. [1920s]” As my informant mentioned, this expression probably originated from a culture that was accustomed to being around horses, so its relevance in the future might be questionable. 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kentucky Derby Party

This informant is an old classmate of mine, who has know moved on to working in Los Angeles.  I started off asking this informant if he had any folk stories or family traditions that were interesting and he told me about the annual Kentucky Derby Party that his Grandpa throws.  At first I was hesitant that it really qualified as a custom or holiday/festival but it turned out to be deeply rooted in his family’s history.

Informant: I have to first start by telling you about Papa [this is what he called his grandpa.]  His family grew up in Kentucky but moved to Arcadia when he was born. His father was a horse trainer, and Papa spent a large portion of his childhood at Santa Anita Park.  So fast-forward to when Papa was applying to college.  He was training alongside his dad at this point and won a huge race that ultimately gave him the means to attend USC and the ROTC program.  So the horse races have been super important in his life and many generations before him.  Now every single year he takes all his grandkids to opening day at Santa Anita and every single Kentucky Derby he has a big bash at his house that has been an annual thing since before I was born.

Me: Sounds cool, tell me more about the actual party.

Informant: The party is super traditional to Kentucky, like its set up like Churchill Downs.  Mint Juleps are always served at the door, which is like this minty whiskey drink that Papa takes a lot of pride in even though the ingredients are really simple.  Everyone dresses really nice and there is always someone taking bets.

Me: What about when the actual race goes on?

Informant: Its weird that the big race is only like two minutes, but the party goes on all day.  Everyone just stands around the TV and cheers, most people don’t know anything about the horses but Papa always has some very strong opinions, based on tips from his trainer friends.

Me: Haha ya, never got the hype behind horse racing because of how short the races are.  Would you say this family tradition has rubbed off on you in any way?

Informant: Oh 100%.  I used to take our yearly trips to the races for granted but now I love them.  It gives me some quality time with Papa and I have grown to love the sport, especially picking winning horses when the walk around the paddock before the race.

The horse races, and more specifically the Kentucky Derby, have clearly become very meaningful for my informant and his family.  What probably started as a way to earn a living or a hobby generations ago has now materialized into an annual gathering of friends and family.  The family custom, not only displays their love for horses and competition, but also their dedication to family.  The informant said most attendants had no idea which horse to root for or bet on but still came because it gave them a chance to honor something important to their elder and reconnect with family members.

Folk Beliefs

Farrier Lore: If a horse has a glass eye, he will always kick on that side

Interview

Informant: “Here’s one for a fact. You know how some horses have a blue eye or a glass eye, if that horse is gonna kick, he’ll kick with the side that has a glass eye. That doesn’t mean the other side won’t kick, but if you’re gonna get kicked it’ll be on the side that has that glass eye”

 

Collector: “Why is that? Do you think it is because they do not see as well on that side?”

 

Informant: “I don’t know, I don’t know but if you hit one of em with a whip haha he’s gonna kick. He’ll hit with that one.”

 

The informant is a sweet, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He learned of this lore as a child when he was about ten years old from his father and grandfather while working on the family farm, which included horses and mules. He shod his first horse when he was 13, and has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.*

Sometimes a horse has an eye that is a clear, light colored, or blue-ish colored eye. The coloring of the eye does not physically mean anything as far as the informant knows; the coloring of the eye is similar to other animals like malamutes who have eyes of different colors. This piece of occupational lore is especially important for farriers because they work with horses’ feet and can get kicked. A horse kick is definitely something to be avoided because it is very painful and can even break bones. In fact, when asked how he felt about the lore, the informant said “I do know that one about the glass eye, that ones true. Let me tell ya.”  “I’ve been kicked.” Therefore, being aware that a horse has a “blue or glass” eye and a propensity to kick on a particular side would be helpful to avoid injury, especially for someone who has previously been kicked by a horse.

It is interesting that the reason the horse will kick on a particular side is unknown. I wonder if it does have to do with the horse’s ability to see out of a particular eye. Personally, my mother owns a horse and I sometimes work around horses, so I will definitely remember this information and probably pass it on if I ever see a horse with a blue or glass eye. Apparently “Pinto horses,” horses with big spots, are more likely to have blue or glass eyes.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Farrier Lore: White hooves v. Black Hooves

Informant: “There is an old saying about horses with white feet that a white footed horse is not as good as a black footed horse. They only come in two colors – black and white. But its only pigment so it doesn’t really matter what the color of the foot is. But the saying goes that… uh … if you have a horse with one white foot buy a horse, two white feet try a horse, three white feet look well about him, four white feet do without him.”

* When talking about foot color the informant is referring to the color of the horses hoof. A horse can have a lighter colored hoof which is more of a cream color (like a human fingernail), but the hoof is considered white. A black hoof is true to its name and basically black in color.*

 

The informant is a sweet, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the Farrier community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He learned of this lore as a child when he was about ten years old from his father and grandfather while working on the family farm, which included horses and mules. He shod his first horse when he was 13, and has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. *To “shoe” or to shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A Farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.*

In regards to this saying, the white horse was assumed to be tenderfooted, which means the horse would not be able to walk on rough terrain. So, the saying implies that when buying a horse if a horse had one white hoof then the horse should be fine and the person interested in buying should go ahead. If the horse had two white hooves then the potential buyer should “try” the horse, meaning that they should ride the horse and see how the horse moves. If the horse had three white hooves than the buyer should be very cautious and thoroughly check to see how the horse’s legs were shaped, the way the horse lands, etc; factors which could affect how prone the horse would be to injury. If the horse had four white hooves, then the buyer should “do without him” and not purchase the horse.

The informant remembers this tale in particular because he found it to be completely ridiculous and untrue. The informant stated, “No, no its not true at all. The color of the foot is simply pigment. It it has nothing to do with the quality of the foot. In other words, you can find horses with white feet running out there across the lava rock out there in the desert and black footed horses that can’t even begin to move out there.”

The informant told me this tale while he was shodding one of the horses in a horse barn. According to the informant, this tale was spread through ignorance and lack of information of horse anatomy. I feel that such an appraisal from a man with this much experience probably indicates that this belief may be false.

general
Legends
Narrative

Stealing Trujillo’s Horse: Family Legend

A family legend as told verbatim by informant:

“My stepfather is Puerto Rican and when he was a young boy his family moved to the Dominican republic in the time of the dictator Trujillo who ran the country for many years and Trujillo imported beautiful Spanish horses to the Dominican Republic and he had an incredible stable of incredible horse flesh that was worth a lot a lot of money. And my stepfather, was very good friends with the dictator Trujillo’s brother and he was young like in his, maybe 18 or 20, and there was a woman, the woman from his town he was infatuated with and she left the town to go somewhere else and he decided he wanted to see her again. And so he had no way of getting to her and so he decided that Trujillo had a stable full of beautiful horses—and my stepdad was an incredible rider, he could ride beautifully, horses. He decided to grab one of Trujillo’s horses cuz ‘what would he care’ and he would go visit this woman that he was infatuated with and in fact he did. But while he was gone, Trujillo found out through his stable hands that my stepfather had stolen, had taken one of his horses and there was a hunt for him. And he came back not knowing this and they brought him in and he said to me, ‘I knew that that frivolous act was going to be the death of me because Trujillo was ruthless’ and he knew he loved his horses. And as it turned out, in the end he was thrown into like a cell and he was worried like ‘Oh my gosh what’s gonna happen to me’ because he realized what he had done was just a stupid thing that a young man who’s in love does, and he got out only because his brother, Trujillo’s brother, BEGGED for mercy because he was one of my stepfather’s best friends. And my stepfather was bit of a Troubadour he was a poet and he sang and he was just a charming man and somehow by the grace of god and a lot of good luck they let him off the hook. But Trujillo has killed, had killed people for less that that. So that’s the story, the true story of his encounter with Trujillo.

I tell this story when I want to tell about my stepdad in his youth and how adventurous and kind of free he was and just really the incredible life he led because he was a young boy there his mother died when he was young and he had an older brother that he adored and that’s the reason he was in the Dominican Republic and not Puerto Rico, his older brother brought him there so he could be close to him and uh he lived this really this like rapacious, I mean he was just a rascal he was charming and a kind of bon vivant and uh just lived this crazy incredible life um as a young man. He had a lot of women and he had a lot of experiences and… he was just uh like a wild child, but wonderful he’d give his shirt off his back for you, but that was just one of the stories of his life. And it’s just like, I don’t know many people that could walk away from a dictator, one of the most ruthless dictators in history and just, you know, just kind of get away with that. Because he was a very lucky man and I like to tell that story because my stepfather’s a very charming and very interesting man who’s lived a very long life. So I like to tell that story.”

A lot of family legends follow some incredible story from the very distant implausible past, but the fact that this story is about a living man is a really interesting place to hear it from. I think that the story is true, given not only the sincerity in the way it was told but the compassion and love my informant had when she spoke about her stepfather. She told me that he is one of few men that truly lives life to the fullest, and thus is full of stories and wisdom because of it. She says she always tells stories about him and does so because she in many ways admires how he’s lived his life the way most people wish they could, with radiance and curiosity and adventure and risk.

[geolocation]