The Horse Story

T his story is like the Haley’s Comet of Fred McDougall stories.  Everyone knew about it, but only a scant few of us were ever lucky enough to hear Fred McDougall tell it himself.  It is the greatest single story I’ve ever heard, and retelling it has been a source of great pleasure in my life.

“Like I told you”, said Fred, “I grew up on the poor side of town, and when we got bored we’d go out into the desert and play in the arroyos.  And arroyo, for those of you who don’t know, is a trench about six feet deep in the middle of the desert.  When the flash floods came off the mountains, the water would carve these deep trenches into the desert floor.   When it was dry, we’d dig into the side of them to make little hideouts and play tag.  Every year, some kid would die because his hole would collapse, or he’d get swept away by the flash floods.  It was pretty great.

Now our favorite game to play was called ‘gallina.’  What happens is, when the flash floods came through the arroyos, often times a chicken would drown and then rot in the sun.  See, gallina means ‘chicken’ in Spanish.  The way the game was played was, we’d draw a line about fifteen feet from the chicken, and you had to run up, touch the chicken, and get back to the line without puking.  As the game went on, we’d back the line up farther and farther until only one kid was left.  What makes it hard is, the farther you have to run, the longer you have to hold your breath to stop from puking from the smell of the chicken.  Plus, you also had to run by all the puke from the kids who didn’t make it, and I usually did OK because even though I wasn’t the fastest I was big and I could hold my breath longer. 

So one day, one of my friends comes running up, and he’s so excited he can barely speak.  When we finally calmed down enough to where he could get a few words out, he panted out, “You…have…to…see!  The…arroyo!  There’s…a…dead…horse.”

This was going to be the greatest game of gallina in the history of the universe.  Ever.   We got every kid in the whole town out ot the arroyo, and there were probably forty of us.  And let me tell you, this horse wasn’t just dead.  It had been sitting out in the sun rotting for at least a week, and it had bloated up to twice its normal size.  You could smell it from a half a mile away, and you wanted to puke just by standing anywhere near it, much less playing gallina. 

So off we go, and kids are dropping like flies.  There’s puke everywhere and everyone’s trying really hard, but finally the line got so far back that there were only three of us left.  When it was my turn, I took a huge breath, and could feel my eyes go out of focus from the smell even though I breathed in through my mouth.  I ran up to it and smacked it on the nose, and part of the nose fell off.   I had to run through piles of puke the whole way, and I barely made it back to the line without throwing up.  Next was this little skinny kid who always annoyed everyone.  You know the type.  He was just a scrawny, mouthy, irritating little know-it-all, the kind of kid who is just asking for a wallop. 

Now he wasn’t big, but he was fast, and he starts barreling towards the horse with his little legs churning in circles.  He gets within about eight feet of the horse, catches his toe on a rock,and goes flying face-first into the horse…which exploded, propelling chunks of rotting horse flesh and maggots a mile into the sky.  Even though we were a good fifty yards back, black chunks of rotting horse flesh and maggots began raining down from the sky, and everyone starts screaming and running away like it’s the apocalypse.  The kid is landed up to his waist in the horse, and he’s got maggots in his nose, maggots in his ears, maggots in his hair, and even rotten horse and maggots in his mouth.  He’s crying and puking and crying and puking, and we’re all crying and puking back at the line, and when he started to walk towards us we threw rocks at him to keep him away because he stank so bad.  (For some reason the fact that they threw rocks at this kid is the funniest part to me)

Finally, we took a vote, and me and another guy had to wipe this poor kid off and take him home.  We’re all crying and puking and wiping black, rotting horse flesh off this poor kid, and when we got him back to his house his mother nearly beat us to death for what happened to him.  About three weeks later they moved away, and I never found out what happened to him.  God I loved my childhood.”

So that’s the Horse Story.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Thanks Fred, hope you’re doing well.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

2 Responses to “The Horse Story” Subscribe