The Houdini Horse

By Tery Ellen Boaz


We never knew what type of entertainment Silver had planned for us. On occasion it would be a moonlight saunter. It is a startling experience to be awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a horse... especially when he has chosen to stroll through the middle of a modern mobile home park. It is embarrasing to retrieve one's overly friendly horse while in one's pajamas, or find him happily rolling on a neighbor's front lawn. Try to explain to someone that your horse has cleverly crawled under his fence. Horses don't usually do that sort of thing, but Silver did.

Some believe that Silver is Houdini reincarnated... or is at least a distant relative of his. No horse can pick a gate latch as quickly or master a maze of obstacles meant to deter his escape as effortlessly as he did. I've watched him nonchalantly push, pry, and poke his way out of his stall, then walk slowly over to his paddock gate, take the latch in his teeth, spit it out and give the gate a shove with his pink nose.

So Silver earned the nickname "Houdini Horse". True to the Houdini reputation, Silver has many unnerving tricks. He could make a brush, rake, halter, -anything- disappear right before your very eyes! One minute I saw it, the next minute it vanished! But there is Silver innocently batting his baby blues at me wondering why I was so upset.

I would find objects in the most surprising places; brushes at the bottom of horse troughs, blankets buried beneath sawdust, hammers pulled halfway through walls and the water hose in the middle of the corral... watering dust instead of the watering trough. But all of this made Silver what he was, a loveable clown at heart.

Silver in Front of his Stall

One August day in 1972 I was sitting on a stump near Silver's stall and was joined by a couple of kids who also boarded horses there. I was worring about a dream which I had about a barn fire. There had been several unexplained barn fires in our area recently. Soon we were discussing what would happen to Silver if his barn caught fire. Could Houdini Horse get out of it or would he return to his flaming home as many horses do?

Shortly afterwards I led an old bay mare out of the barn into the pasture, leaving Silver the only horse left in the weary building. I just felt uneasy leaving the mare in the barn and felt young Silver was better prepared to take care of himself. I felt foolish about my fears as I threw Silver a flake of alfalfa and walked home.

"FIRE!" The call rang tunderously through the night. I lept up from bed. My husband yelled, "The barn's on fire! Silver!"

My heart sank as I saw the barn erupt into a wall of flames, raging and leaping like a giant torch. I jumped into some clothes and followed my husband out the back door. The flames were climbing higher, illuminating the area like the bright sun. The heat was so intense that it could be felt over a hundred yards away.

From the corner of my eye I saw the frail frame of the old mare making her way to safety on a slope far behind the barn. Fate had chosen her path. It was ironic that she, who had been blessed with more than 20 years, should live to see more. Had my Silver gone in her place?

Shouts echoed through the air. "Turn the hoses on your trailers!" shouted someone from the mobile home park. "Help! It's leaping up the fence!" came a cry from my left. "Oh! That poor white horse was in there!" cried another, "Did anyone get him?"

The Remains of the Barn

My husband ran to wake the widow who lived in the farmhouse. They appeared in shadowy forms dragging a hose toward the fire. A huge tree towered above the barn. If it caught, more than Silver would be lost! It would rage relentlessly through the dry surroundings. It was up to us to contain the fire until the fire department arrived. We were not alone in our fight - soon friends, neighbors, even strangers came to our aid.

A distant cry pierced the night above the crackling of the flames. It was shrill and eerie. I whirled around to see a ghost drift across the far end of the pasture. Dazed, I could not believe my eyes. It was a horse running wildly across the bottom of the pasture. Then he raised his head to look at me. It was not until he galloped toward me that I realized that it was my horse! Silver was alive! I threw my arms around his lathered neck and buried my face in his mane.

It was soon all over. The firemen were hosing down the remains of Silver's home. Everyone shook their heads in disbelief - the paddock fence still stood intact, attached to the smouldering ruins. Silver had cleared a four foot fence from a standstill to gain his freedom. That night he truly earned his nickname of "Houdini Horse"! The old barn was gone, but nothing in the form of life had perished.

Now and then men and animals are gifted with a special courage to see them through an ordeal that is beyond normal strength. Silver received such a gift when he was given the ability to jump the fence and the good sense to get away from the fire.

Our half mustang registered American Creme Albino, Silver Chico, better known as Houdini Horse, happily roamed a beautiful pasture in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains until the ripe old age of 33. For the remainder of his days he enjoyed the sweet spring water and the company of an albino mare. No more barns - he earned the right to run free.

Silver's complete story appears in the March, 1975 edition of The Western Horseman

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