idol season ten | week 23 | 1470 words
Backing the wrong horse
Clancy Starshine was a horse with a dream. He wasn't looking for winner's circles or roses, for Clancy knew he wasn't fast or even especially athletic. He wanted fame and fortune of a different kind.
Clancy had his heart set on Hollywood.
He had an agent, a man named Barney McFadden. Barney worked with all kinds of actors, human and animal alike. He found fairly steady work for Clancy, but it was always for things like Stampeding Horse Number Three, or Herd Member Five. Clancy never got the good gigs.
"I believe in ya, pal," Barney would say, and he really seemed to. But Clancy's career was limited to crowd scene appearances, or occasional parts in farm settings. The work kept him in oats and a nice stall, but those weren't the kinds of roles that led to starring in television shows and movies.
Clancy's dream had started when he was a pony, not long after Majestic Stables had sold him to the kids' petting farm inside the Fun Festival, a local amusement park. Clancy had been part of the much-loved pony-ride attraction.
"Oh, Mama," the children would say, "have you ever seen such a dear little pony?"
I am, aren't I? Clancy had thought. I'm as cute as a button! Whatever that means...
Clancy worked there for a year, until he grew too old to be considered a pony. The Fun Festival would have moved him over to where horse rides were sold, but the love and adulation of little children had convinced Clancy he was special, clearly made for better things than circling a paddock while Harry or Betsy clung to his mane and struggled to stay upright. Clancy had decided to become a star. It was destiny–the word was even part of his name!
He'd heard about advertising work, and knew that one of the cows at the park's little farm had a friend who'd been photographed for a couple of magazines. He'd asked the cow to put in a good word for him, and a few months later, one of the magazines had called him for an audition. That was how Clancy had gotten his first job.
A mailer and a few appearances in a feed ad followed, and Clancy's career had been off to a good start. But several years had gone by since then, and Clancy's prospects hadn't changed. He was in the business, all right, and still working. But his rising career had never risen very far.
Westerns were all over the television, with more horses than you could corral in a football stadium. So why was it that Clancy never seemed to get the good roles?
Barney did what he could, but he said that Clancy's potential was limited by his color. With television being black and white, the lighter-colored horses got most of the good roles. Clancy was brown ("Please—I'm a chocolate bay!" Clancy always protested), so he was harder to see than the palominos, buckskins, grays, and white horses who were so popular. Worse yet, when it came to the darker horses, Clancy wasn't dark enough. Try as he might, he lacked the glossy black sheen of the beautiful stars of Black Beauty and The Wild Wild West.
Clancy had a friend in the building where he lived, a little pinto horse named Brewster who had also been born at Majestic Stables. Brewster was in the next stall over, and he got at least as much work as Clancy. The difference was, Brewster wasn't afraid to play a nag, and he was good at the comedic roles that had always eluded Clancy.
"You just need to learn a few tricks," Brewster kept saying, but Clancy was hopeless at them. He tried practicing "counting" with his hoof, which was pointless because he never knew when to stop. He tried the deep bow Brewster had showed him, and fell over in his stall.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ed was on the television every week dialing phones with a pencil between his teeth, or opening doors, or even hitting a baseball with a bat. Mr. Ed was one in a long line of very clever horses whose abilities were mystifying to Clancy.
Clancy just wasn't Wonder Horse material.
Sometimes, he got so despondent he started hiding apples in out-of-the-way places so they could ferment for a while before he ate them. In the summer, he'd been known to transport some of his feed to the hollow of a tree and add water from a trough. After a week of solid heat, Clancy would go back and eat it. At least that horrible blend of sour mash let him forget his feelings of being a failure.
His luck with the fillies was just as bad. He tried sweet-talking a few of them many times over, but they kept asking to see his headshots and resume before letting things go any farther.
Barney had given him a small black-and-white TV set one Christmas, which sat on the corner of Clancy's stall and played whatever was on the station Barney last set it to. It was probably meant to provide inspiration, though it often just raised more questions.
"What about that horse on Bonanza?" Clancy asked Barney. "Is he black or brown?"
"Brown," Barney said, "or so I hear. But you couldn't begin to carry a rider like Hoss. That's a special kind of work."
"What about that human I've seen in movies before, that Sidney Poitier? He's dark like me, and he gets work."
"Sidney Poitier is young and handsome," Barney said. "And he has that certain special quality studios are looking for these days. Hmm, how should I describe it?"
"He has talent," Brewster cut in.
"Uh, yeah." Barney stuffed his hands in his pockets and shifted his feet. He pretended to look out the window. "There's that."
Clancy later noted the appearance of another dark-looking horse on The Big Valley, but overall, Barney was right—such horses were uncommon. It was frustrating to still be doing print ads and circulars instead of leading horse material, after all these years. Clancy never even got to do line readings—Barney kept pushing for the opportunity, but the truth was that apart from Mr. Ed, audiences seemed to find talking horses creepy.
Once, a re-run of a movie showed up on Clancy's TV set, one which was very nearly the last straw: Francis Goes to West Point, for heaven's sake! Clancy was so enraged, he knocked the television to the floor. Even talking donkeys got better work than he did!
"You have to let it go," Brewster said. "Enjoy what you've accomplished, while you still can…"
"But I wanted so much more," Clancy said.
"Yeah?" Brewster snorted. "And I wanted to be a race horse—just look how well that turned out."
When color television became more widespread, it became clear that brown still wasn't a popular choice for horses. Clancy's career continued to be made up of print ads and large crowd scenes, with fewer and fewer offers coming in each year.
Barney McFadden finally went to his reward, after decades of serving the hoofed and the human alike. Clancy's opportunities grew fewer and fewer, while Brewster still got decent work, courtesy of the new agent they both shared. As Clancy's career dwindled, he was forced to downgrade his living arrangements several times over. But Brewster, a true pal and a prince among funny-looking horses, quietly moved to those lesser and lesser digs right along with him, to make sure that Clancy always had company.
Eventually, Clancy fathered a few foals of his own. When he started looking beyond the starlets of his youth, he discovered there were quite a few attractive mares whose expectations ran along more modest lines. Mainly, they wanted studs who were good-looking, healthy, and "not some drunken B-Western bum." Clancy, never that successful and no longer that despairing, fit the bill.
His late career resembled his early one, in reverse. His day job consisted of giving rides at harvest fairs. He got a couple of gigs along the lines of a Rancher's Monthly cover, with the part of "Middle Horse," but now his big dreams only happened when he slept. He'd never found the lasting fame he once sought, but he'd found contentment. Brewster always said that was better anyway.
Clancy died in a sunny pasture at the age of thirty, while resting in the shade of his favorite oak tree. He'd reached a good age for a horse.
In his last moments, he was dreaming of something he'd never even thought possible before watching TV through the window of a nearby farmhouse. On that TV screen, he'd seen the TriStar Pictures lead-in to a movie.
Clancy's final dream was the miracle and elation of becoming a flying horse.
This is a Gatekeeper's round, so there's no poll, but all entries can be found in the comments here for your reading and commenting pleasure. Only 18 of them, so quick and well worth it!