It was me, my brother Bob, ol' Charlie Bell, and a near-worthless critter
named Gus that had 18 head of Standardbred orangutans fresh shipped into the
New Jersey winter when this story takes place. Twenty below and we were
sleeping in the barn above the horses for the first couple of months because
we couldn't rent a house until the first billing cycle went through and we
had some money--if one or two of the owners actually paid.
And this was a well-ventilated barn, so the 20 below was blowing hard through
the cracks in the mow and we found ourselves sleeping with electric heaters
INSIDE our bedrolls. Now, Charlie was a cranky old fart, 65 going on 140, who
during the day ran around in a little bumble bee black and yellow ski suit
but at night slept next to nekkid. The problem was that our collective draw
on the barn electricity would cause the upstairs circuit breaker to blow
about every two hours--and Charlie was the first to feel the chill in his
You'd hear him start to cough, then thrash around in his bedroll muttering
and then, suddenly he'd fall out of bed. No big deal--just a couple of inches
from the bedroll to the boards of the mow, but with Charlie it sounded like a
bag full of baseball bats hittin' the floor followed by a wildcat screech.
Anyway, ol' Charlie, good 'n woke by that point, would stumble, coughin' and
cussin' ,down the ladder to the fuse box and light us all up again.
Now this is actually a story about hobbles, or hopples as they are called in
Standardbredese, so I'd better get into them. Hobbles arre straps that tie
two or more of a horse's legs together, much like you used to tie you're
little sister's shoe laces together long ago. So they don't go nowhere. But
in Standardbreds we use hobbles (hopples) to tie a front and a back leg
together for a whole different effect--a kind of side-wheeling waddle we call
My brother Bob, some 15 years younger than me, hated horses, hated shoveling
manure, and was a professional SCUBA diver wondering what the hell he was
doing in stinking New Jersey eating mouthfuls of frozen sand kicked up by
furry sidewheelers when he could be in the Camaan Islands romancing tanned
and lively babes--FOR MORE MONEY! But he was helping his big brother.
Charlie, on the other hand, was right where God intended him to be, preaching
the Gospel of The Racehorse Is Made In the Stall to all of us. A typical
sermon: "Now what are you doing--what do you think you're doing with that
bandage--I showed you a hundred times how to wrap a leg and here you're about
to cord this horse sure as hell--gimme that damn wrap--hold the horse, fool,
see, he knows you were tryin to kill him. Now watch what I do and don't
forget it--I said HOLD THE HORSE--goddam kids these days can't chew gum and
wrap a leg at the same time. Gimme the damn shank and just sit down and don't
do nothin but watch and think. That oughtta short out the whole damn barn."
End of Hopples, part 1