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A carrot or a stick

Mr. Lynch leading Danny-Boy. Photo by David Lansing.

That Danny-Boy is a clever horse, says Mr. Lynch. We have been stopped in the middle of the road for a good fifteen minutes waiting for Danny to continue on. All our cajoling has been for naught. Even when Mr. Lynch got off the caravan and tried to pull Danny forward with the bridle the horse wouldn’t budge. So Mr. Lynch climbed back atop the caravan and we just sat there, waiting.

The thing is we had decided to take a different route back to Ann Gardiner’s farm and Danny didn’t like it. This is not the way you go, he would have said if he were more like Mr. Ed and less like Mr. Danny. I know the way and you don’t and I won’t be going this way. Go on your own if you want, but I won’t be joining you.

The spot Danny chose to stop was in front of a country house where two young children were playing in the yard while a couple of dogs ran around yapping and the mudder hung laundry on the line. One of the little ones, a girl about six or seven, came over and leaned against the fence. What’s the matter with your horse? she asked. There’s nothing wrong with him, I said, more than a bit embarrassed. He just doesn’t want to move forward. The little girl turned around and yelled, The man’s horse won’t move, Mummy.

The woman put down her basket of laundry and came over to the fence. Her son, who looked a bit younger than the girl, came over as well. Do you want me to help you move him? she asked.

I’ll tell you, it’s a very embarrassing thing to be sitting up high on a gypsy caravan with the reins in your hand and a big brute of a beast like Danny-Boy in front of you and you can’t make him move so a woman doing laundry has to interrupt her day to give you a hand.

That would be very nice of you, I said.

The woman went back to the house and came out holding a couple of carrots. She crossed under the fence and went up to Danny and talked to him in a low voice while stroking his neck. He seemed to quite like it (of course, if she’d climbed up on the gypsy caravan and talked to me in a bedroom voice while stroking my neck I probably would have liked it as well). Then she held out one of the carrots in front of Danny and made a little clicking noise. Danny immediately began to move. She grabbed his bridle and walked up the lane with us a bit, her two children giggling and squealing as they danced alongside the caravan.

When we got to the top of the rise she said, Do you think you can handle him now?

I think so, I said. Thanks very much.

Oh, it’s no bother, said the woman. You’re not the first to come by driving a caravan that had no clue how to make a horse do what a horse is supposed to do.

I suppose not, I said. She gave us a wave and then, grabbing the hands of her children, ran down the hill back towards the home. Not a minute later, Danny stopped dead in the road again. Fortunately, this time we were out of sight of the woman and her children. Mr. Lynch climbed down with his walking stick. Look here, he said sternly to Danny, holding up the staff. We know you don’t like going this way but we don’t really care. We’re not turning around and going on the other road. So you might as well get used to it. Otherwise it will be a long day for all of us.

And with that, Danny started up again.

Well done, I said to Mr. Lynch when he climbed back up on the caravan.

Well, said Mr. Lynch, quite pleased with himself, sometimes you use the carrot and sometimes you use the stick.

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Guiness is good for you

Photo by David Lansing.

I have to tell you about the evening Mr. Lynch and I had on Friday. We’d both cleaned up inside Paddy Healy’s farmhouse when Paddy’s wife, Anne, came out from the kitchen and asked us what we would like for dinner: chicken or salmon. Whichever would be easiest for you to prepare, I said. Well, it’s no matter, said Anne. Salmon or chicken, it’s all the same. So we said salmon and not thirty minutes later she was at our caravan knocking on the door and telling us that supper was ready when we were.

Dinner was in an odd little room with a lot of family memorabilia, including a mirror they’d been presented on one anniversary or another and some photos of the countryside. The meal was simple but tasty with various starches including, of course, lots of potatoes. But our choices for a beverage were limited. Water or juice, I think it was. Not that I blamed them. Why should they pour a glass of wine or even a pint for a couple of fellas sleeping in a caravan in their horse pasture? I certainly wouldn’t have.

Still, I was a wee bit thirsty. And it was still light out. Since Paddy had mentioned when we arrived that he could run us up to the pub later if we wanted, I asked Anne if he was around. Why, she said, do you want to go to the pub? If it’s no trouble. Well, he’s out himself he is and probably won’t be back any time soon if I know my man so I’ll see if me daughter can run you up there. A few minutes later, her daughter, who looked to be about twenty or so, came out and said she was on her way out and she’d run us up to the pub.

Now normally I’d have just walked to the pub but the thing is, you see, the pub was at the top of the long hill we’d gone down to get to Paddy Healy’s farm and the idea of having to hike a mile or more back up that grade—well, it just wasn’t something I was really keen about if you know what I mean. So in no time flat we were at the pub and Paddy Healy’s daughter was on her way to wherever the real craic was that night for when we walked inside there wasn’t another soul around. Not even the proprietor. I could hear some voices in a back room so I called out Excuse me and not long after that a middle-aged woman looking quite put out came to the bar. Could we get a pint? I asked her. She drew a couple of black ones as quickly as she could and then disappeared back into the room where she’d come from. Mr. Lynch craned his head around the corner and reported that she was back there sitting on a lounger with her feet up in the air watching some kind of Irish soap opera. Probably she’s a bit upset that we disturbed her TV viewing, says he.

The pub was god awful. It was only a tiny little room with one wall of distressed chairs and a few photos and such on the wall recalling events that had happened in the pub years ago. We sat there and drank our pints, trying to think of something to say to cheer ourselves up but nothing came to mind. I kept looking at my watch to make sure that it really was a Friday night about eight in Ireland and we were in a pub that was as dead as a graveyard in Lourdes. We drank our pints and Mr. Lynch said, Do you think we should get another, and I said, Well, why not? We’re here after all. And he said, I just don’t want to disturb the woman if she’s watching her soaps.

So I went to the bar and cleared my throat and said, Hello? And after a minute or two she came back in to the bar looking even more upset then she had the first time. Two more? she said. Yes, please. As she poured the pints I tried making small talk. Bit quiet in here tonight, isn’t it? Not really, says she. It’ll pick up later. I looked at my watch. It was after nine. I wonder what she meant by later. Sure there couldn’t have been more than twenty eligible drinkers in town and none of them were here on a Friday evening at nine. If one more person came in the door, which seemed unlikely, it would be a goddamn party.

We finished our pints and Mr. Lynch put a few bills on the bar, not wanting to disturb the proprietress and all, and we started walking back down the hill to Paddy Healy’s. It was a long walk and it was in the dark and there was no real shoulder to the narrow two-lane road so that I was nervous that if someone came over the hill too quickly and didn’t see us we’d be gonners. But I needn’t have worried. Although it took us a good half hour to get back to the farm, not a single car passed us on the road.

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Down the hill to Paddy Healy’s

The view from inside our gypsy caravan of Danny eating dinner. Photo by David Lansing.

I really don’t know how much longer I can hold the caravan back, I say to Mr. Lynch with a grimace. We’re going down the hill that takes you into Kylebrack and Danny-Boy, sweating something fierce, is trying to keep ahead of the heavy wooden caravan that wants to push him forward and I’m using every muscle in my right leg to brake-and-release, brake-and-release the foot brake on my right to keep the cart from pushing into Danny’s ass.

You wouldn’t think there’d be much work to driving a horse-drawn caravan, I say to Mr. Lynch, but this is like climbing a mountain in the Tour de France. At this point I’m sweating almost as much as Danny and feel just as hard at the bit, but there’s nothing to do about it because if I take my foot off the old mechanical brake for even a second sure we’re going to either run into a ditch or turn the cart over. God help us.

Finally we reach the bottom of the hill. I’m huffing and puffing and so is Danny. It’s been a run. Did Larry say anything about how we were to find Paddy’s farm? I ask Mr. Lynch. Not to me he didn’t, says he. Well, I suppose we’ll find it one way or the other.

And just then we spot an older man walking out from a farmhouse and opening an iron gate from the road. Sure it’s got to be our man. Are you Paddy Healy, I yell out. Aye, aye, he says, coming out to the road and grabbing a hold of the reins. I’ll just bring Danny in since the gate is a little narrow, he says. Fine by me. He swings wide from the road and carefully navigates Danny and the caravan through the gate. Stop for a minute at the wooden gate of a pasture and then we’re through, on to the thick wet green grass. This is your home for the night, says Paddy. Do you need some help getting the gear off or are you fine? I can do it, I tell him, but a bit of help would be welcome.

The two of us work together on opposite sides of Danny to remove the gear, just as Larry showed me. First undoing the shafts and the breech strap and letting Danny walk out from his heavy load, and then passing the reins through the rings on the straddle and the hames and taking off the collar, full of Danny’s sweat and hair, and the bridle and with that, Danny gives a snort and a rip and moves deeper into the pasture where he starts ripping at the thick wet grass, his hard day of work over with. And ours as well.

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Getting Danny-Boy to move

Me leading Danny-Boy through the Millenium Forest in Ireland. Photo by Allan Lynch.

It’s a bit zen, a gypsy caravan, I tell Mr. Lynch. Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. Mr. Lynch is having a hard time staying awake. His eyelids slip south, his chin, like a slow-motion landslide, slides down to his chest; he jerks, looks around as if he has no idea where he is or how he got here.

The thing is, there’s not much to a gypsy caravan. You sit on a plank of wood with the reins in your hand and Danny goes clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. For hours. To mix things up, once in awhile Danny will slow down, raise his white tail in to the air, and slowly push out fresh steaming road apples that land with a thick thuuuck on the road. It’s amusing.

And there are flies. Sometimes a few dozen, buzzing around his sweaty head and withers, crawling over his powerful rump. Big meaty flies that dive head-first into the white flanks and disappear. Must be biting him in there. God knows how they stand it. Once in awhile the road will dip and there might be a bit of a marshy area in the Millenium Forest we’re going through and the flies will be so bad you have to take the pillow out from under your bottom and flail away at them.

How is it zen-like? asks Mr. Lynch. I’d made the comment so long ago I’d forgotten about it. In the meantime, Mr. Lynch had fallen asleep, come awake, hopped off the caravan to walk beside Danny for a bit, and climbed back up.

Well, it’s like meditation, isn’t it? I say. The clip-clop is like your heart beating and the caravan swaying back and forth is like your breath and your mind clears and all you’re aware of are the sounds and feelings of being on this wagon.

I guess, says Mr. Lynch.

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.

It’s a different way of traveling, isn’t it? I say. So quiet. And slow. How far do you think we’ve come so far?

Maybe a couple of miles, says Mr. Lynch.

No! We’ve been traveling for hours.

Mr. Lynch shrugs. Just then Danny stops. Come on, now, Danny, I say, giving him a taste of the reins on his rump the way Larry showed me to do. Danny doesn’t move.

Come on, now, Danny. Gitty-up! I smack him a good one. Danny swishes his tail at flies but doesn’t budge. Mr. Lynch talks to Danny. Which is foolish since Danny has no idea who Mr. Lynch is. I’ll tell you what, I say to Mr. Lynch, it’s embarrassing when your horse won’t go. Maybe you’d better get down and lead him a bit.

Mr. Lynch climbs down off the caravan and grabbing the reins in front of Danny’s bit, pulls him forward. Danny throws his head back but doesn’t move. Please, Danny, says Mr. Lynch. I’m getting thirsty for a pint and I’m sure you’d like a little something to eat. The sooner we get to Kylebrack the sooner we’ll all be done for the day. Danny bobs his head up and down and starts walking forward, led by Mr. Lynch who looks back at me with a smirk and a single raised eyebrow. I guess some people are just better with horses than others, says he.

Kiss my arse, I tell him.

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Danny-Boy, our gypsy horse

Larry bringing Danny-Boy over to our gypsy caravan. Photo by David Lansing.

Leaning against the fence, Larry the horse wranger says, You’ve got two horses to pick from. That one there, he says, pointing at a bay in the back, is Molly and that one there is Danny. Does it make any difference, I ask Larry. Not to me it don’t but it might to the horse, he says.

Danny looks the more stout of the two. And less hesitant. Molly’s a fine looking gal but something in the way she looks at me suggests she’d rather have the day off, if you know what I mean. Let’s take Danny, I say, and Larry gives a shake of his wooly head the way a horse might and says, He’s got more the look of a traditional gypsy horse anyway, which is probably a load of crap but makes me feel better.

Now then, says Larry, putting a rope on Danny, who’s going to be driving the wagon? Not me, says Mr. Lynch. He points at me. He’s the horseman.

Well, this is only fair. Mr. Lynch has done all the driving in Ireland, even if he has almost killed us off several times, so I might as well take full responsibility for handling Danny-Boy.

You’ve done this before then, have you, says Larry, handing me the bridle. Never, I tell him. Ah then, sure you’ll be grand at it, just grand. When you harness the horse in the morning, says Larry, you start from the head and work back. When you take the tack off at the end of the day, you work in reverse: Start from the back and work your way to the head.

Head to ass, ass to head, I say. HAAH.

Exactly, says Larry.

You wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of equipment for harnessing a horse to a caravan (or maybe you would), but there is. Larry keeps going into the tack room and coming out with a new piece of tack, telling me what it is, where it goes, how many notches to give it, how tight to secure it, where to run it. Already I’ve forgotten everything he says. There’s no way I’ll be able to harness him tomorrow morning. Do the winkers go over the bridle or beneath it? Do you put the reins through the collar before you fasten the hames or afterwards? Does the straddle attach to the breeching or not; and how tightly do you buckle the belly strap?

Larry, whistling and nosing, backs Danny in to the shafts and attaches everything to the caravan. Mr. Lynch and I climb up and sit on little pillows on a bench in front. I feel like Cookie on Wagon Train. Larry grabs the reins in front of Danny and leads him out to the two-lane country road, slaps the horse on the ass, and starts laughing as Danny cantors down the country lane at a good clip with me holding tightly to the reins while imploring Danny to slow down. Mr. Lynch yells at me to use the goddamn brake.

I didn’t yell at you when you were driving, I say to Mr. Lynch, so don’t yell at me now, I tell him. Oh gawd, says Mr. Lynch. I don’t know if I can look. He shuts his eyes tight, bouncing up and down on his little cushion. And with that, Danny-Boy and I are off down the tree-shaded lane with the gypsy caravan bumping along behind us.

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