from The Cosmic Balancing Act
A farmer went to market to buy himself a horse – to help with all the chores about the farm. But when he got it home he made a strange discovery: it could talk – in fact, it could do little else.
“Ah, now, when you say ‘plough’ – ” the horse began – “in which sense are you using the term? Are you merely bringing the item to my attention, or are you deploying the verb in the imperative tense?”
“Plough!” the farmer repeated.
“I see, an imperative, eh?” said the horse. “Then how about a please and a thank you?”
Needless to say that once the farmer had secured the horse’s agreement, it was unable to pull the plough anyway. Its furrows were shallow, and veered about the fields in all directions.
Moreover, the horse refused to accept responsibility. “Hardly my mistake,” it quipped – adding smugly “You can tell a good farmer by his ploughing.”
“You wanna get rid of that horse,” remarked the other farmers. “A talking horse is bound to lead to trouble.”
“Oh no,” said the farmer. “ I’ll break him.”
The horse proved as useless at other tasks: it couldn’t pull a cart, it couldn’t drag loads or turn a millstone. It couldn’t sleep in a stable – it neighed all night and dozed all day in the farmyard. All it could do was to provide the most feeble explanations.
“Something wrong with that millstone,” it complained. “Call that a threshing machine? As for the suspension on that hay wain – well, forget it!”
“Shut up!” said the farmer. “You will have to learn to be a horse.”
“Charming,” said the horse. “And you will have to learn some manners!”
The talking horse began to dominate the farm – airing opinions, shouting instructions, and treating the farmer with utter disdain. It intimidated the other animals, and caused a rift between the cows, and soured relations with the horses on neighbouring farms.
One by one, the animals learned to do as they were told, and keep out of the horse’s way, hoping that the farmer might eventually get rid of it. But he didn’t – he just learned to do as he was told as well.
“Oats!” the horse would bark, snapping its hooves. “Hurry up, I haven’t got all day!”
“Certainly,” the farmer would gasp. “Anything else?”
“Well,” the horse would suggest, “I wouldn’t mind some new shoes – ”
“You wanna get rid of that horse,” the other farmers would mutter.
“I’m winning him over!” the farmer would insist.
Gradually the farm fell into disrepair, the soil grew bumpy and hard; deliveries went undelivered, collections uncollected – machinery jammed, fences fell down. Some of the animals wandered away, others grew dispirited and morose – and the farmer started eating the rest of them just to survive.
And all because of the talking horse, which wouldn’t do its job, and covered up these troubles with its pronouncements.
“Another bumper crop!” it would pronounce. “Another year of growth! Grass is up, weeds are up, animals are down! Did you know we have produced a record quantity of snow? – once the figures have been seasonally adjusted.” And so it would continue – for, though talkative, the horse knew nothing of economics.
The farmer, in time, grew deaf to all this, and took to selling eggs by the roadside – in the hope that this might pay for feed for the hens, and the horse.
“The shame of it,” sighed the horse. “Have you no pride? What will the neighbours say?”
“You wanna get rid of that horse,” said the other farmers.
“Oh no,” muttered the farmer. “I can sense that he’s about to change his ways.”
After forty years the farm was ruined, and the farmer was ruined too. He only survived by selling off his buildings as firewood. And the horse, though still verbose, was pretty ruined as well – and suffering from delusions of grandeur.
“I had always had hopes for my little farm,” it would mumble to itself, “but I regret that my farmer wasn’t up to it.”
Then one day, the farmer – who was slow on the uptake – went up to the horse and asked it: “Do you work for me, or do I work for you?”
“Easy,” said the horse. “You work for me. Don’t you know bloody anything?”
“Really?” said the farmer, thinking it over.
Suddenly, and quite unaccountably, he decided to get rid of the horse. He dragged it down to the knacker’s yard immediately.
“Ah, the National is it?” chuckled the horse. “I thought as much – do I hear the crowd? And am I mistaken, or is that the scent of victory?”
The slaughterer gave the farmer a pound out of pity, and pulled the old nag into the yard. And the farmer ran off laughing to the nearest pub.
“Mr Starter,” the horse continued. “Before the off, would you be good enough to top up my nosebag?”
“No,” said the knacker. “And that’s not a nosebag – it’s a blindfold.”
Moral: It’s never too late to change horses.
© Adam Acidophilus 1997. Yep, ’97.