Today, we’re pleased to present “Horse Thievery,” an excerpt from Devin Jacobsen’s new novel Breath Like the Wind at Dawn. Jacobsen’s novel, which has drawn praise from the likes of Joshua Cohen and Kevin Wilson, tells the story of a haunted family in the aftermath of the Civil War struggling with the legacy of combat and their own violent tendencies.
Yonder they lay: a tangle the like of fleas. They that we had sought since long before sunup this morning hovered a bit and sank from the horizon. Quinn and I had been jogging; now looking together, loping of a sudden to reclaim the distance, we raced to where they set.
The sky shot through with clouds, dusky like patterned roses. I feel myself become all entity with the horses. That instant when horse and man and tack float up a single being—cinches, hooves, and stomachs waiting there—the suspension—and then that beat where you are sundered, jolted into knowing that you have merged and been torn apart, only to do so again the next moment, because the horse carrying out your purpose has done the job so well it is as though you have fulfilled the feat yourself. You hover there like that as much a horse as man.
I recall once watching a Saddlebred pass a gelding who was walking a lazy walk and thinking something was funny, off. No simple difference of appearance. Something fundamentally at odds in the two horses’ natures that watching’s abetting could not enlighten.
I studied the Saddlebred jogging by, one beside the other. Nothing unusual, a sight seen every day by all likes and types of folks and everywhere, but in this passing was something wholly different.
As I came to sift it, I perceived first by the noise of the jogger against the walker (it required a new way of seeing since seeing would not behold). Only by letting my eyes, trained on them, the passer’s thighs and form at large, go loose yet still implacable could I behold it: the feet moving in apparent twos, in tandem diagonals, so unlike the walker’s whose plodded one leg at a time, one behind and then in front, this side followed by that. They were walking two different walks.
And a canter has got a different gait from a jog, which has a different gait from a walk, which has a different gait from a gallop.
Once I saw a man stride his horse so high his fetlocks reached his muzzle. Round and round they went, cavorting, a hilarious smile so wide an eagle’s nest could fit inside. Tipping his hat to the bewildered applause.
Whether he or someone else had trained the mare to prance that way he would not say despite my plying. So I beat him and stole his horse.