photo © 2017, Kent Reeves; request permission for use.
by Joel Nelson
I have run on middle fingernail through eolithic morning,
I have thundered down the coach road with the Revolution’s warning.
I have carried countless errant knights who never found the grail.
I have strained before the caissons I have moved the nation’s mail.
I’ve made knights of lowly tribesmen and kings from ranks of peons
And given pride and arrogance to riding men for eons.
I have grazed among the lodges and the tepees and the yurts.
I have felt the sting of driving whips and lashes, spurs and quirts.
I am roguish—I am flighty—I am inbred—I am lowly.
I’m a nightmare—I am wild—I am the horse.
I am gallant and exalted—I am stately—I am noble.
I’m impressive—I am grand—I am the horse.
I have suffered gross indignities from users and from winners,
And I’ve felt the hand of kindness from the losers and the sinners.
I have given for the cruel hand and given for the kind.
Heaved a sigh at Appomattox when surrender had been signed.
I can be as tough as hardened steel—as fragile as a flower.
I know not my endurance and I know not my own power.
I have died with heart exploded ’neath the cheering in the stands—
Calmly stood beneath the hanging noose of vigilante bands.
I have traveled under conqueror and underneath the beaten.
I have never chosen sides—I am the horse.
The world is but a players stage—my roles have numbered many;
Under blue or under gray—I am the horse.
So I’ll run on middle fingernail until the curtain closes,
And I will win your triple crowns and I will wear your roses.
Toward you who took my freedom I’ve no malice or remorse.
I’ll endure—This Is My Year—I am the Horse!
© 2002, Joel Nelson
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission
Texas rancher, horseman, poet and reciter Joel Nelson wrote this poem for the Year of the Horse in 2002. He commented on the poem in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, of which he is a Heritage Fellow: “….[it is] a tribute to the horse because he’s been so important to me throughout my life…To maybe help a little in the understanding of the piece, I’ll talk about the ancestry of the horse a little bit. Evidence that scientists have unearthed over the years would indicate that the horse was not always as he is today. He was at one time a little terrier-sized animal trotting around the face of the globe with toes on all four feet. And it wasn’t until probably the Eocene Era that the middle digit of each paw had evolved into what we think of as the horse’s hoof. And the digits to either side diminished and are now what we refer to the splint bones in the horse’s leg. But this poem is a tribute to that great animal that I ride.”
Wylie & the Wild West put “Equus Caballus” to music on their “Hooves of the Horses” album. Listen here on YouTube.
Joel Nelson’s The Breaker in the Pen album is the only cowboy poetry recording ever nominated for a Grammy Award. Baxter Black has commented that the recording “…raised the bar for cowboy poetry for 1000 years.”
Find images and links along with the poem and more about Joel Nelson and more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.
This striking image is by packer, poet, photographer and more Kent Reeves. He’s particularly known for his photographs in the landmark book, “Between Earth and Sky: Poets of the Cowboy West,” by Anne Heath Widmark.
Check out the recent page about his great grandfather and his diaries, James B. Frew, The Story of a Young Saddler. Frew was the company saddler for the 5th Cavalry and he eventually opened a saddle shop that became the largest saddle company in the Ozarks.