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05 July 2017 @ 02:16 pm
LJ Idol Season Ten: "On A Hoof And A Prayer"  
On A Hoof And A Prayer
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!

penpusher: CBSpenpusher on July 6th, 2017 02:21 am (UTC)
Aw, Clancy is a true Knight! And I very nearly went the Mister Ed route myself except I already did on my own with the "WTF Episode of Mister Ed" complete with youtube video of the actual ep! If I didn't already write it five years ago, it might have been a perfect fit for this prompt!

You really Peg(asus)ed this!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: TVhalfshellvenus on July 6th, 2017 06:43 am (UTC)
The whole idea of some agent repping a horse with so little talent--in the age of Mr. Ed and decades of Wonder Horses-- was an irresistible road to travel with this prompt. Writing from the horse's perspective was even better, though. How sad to BE that wrong horse, the one with all of the ego and nothing to back it up. Really, it's like kids these days who want to grow up to be famous for... being famous. \o?

I learned more about the TV shows and horses of that era than I ever intended to-- jeez, the research! The Wonder Horses were incredibly smart, and Mr. Ed's portrayer was along those lines. They built a show around the idea of him without any sense of how very much he would live up to it. :D
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on July 6th, 2017 05:36 pm (UTC)
clancy isn't much different from a million human guys who want to be famous but lack the talent and the presence. i love the exchange about dark horses on tv: "what about sidney poitier? he's dark and he gets lots of roles." "yeah, but he's young and handsome and has talent." ouch. but it ends up being a very sweet story, and not the crack i was expecting. (don't get me wrong - you give good crack, and a story about a horse who wants to be on tv could easily go that way, but this was pretty straightforward and gave clancy and brewster real personalities and lives. and i liked it!)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 6th, 2017 08:16 pm (UTC)
who want to be famous but lack the talent and the presence.
I would like to think that was less common in the '50s and '60s, or at least that people hoped they were pretty enough or talented enough for TV or the movies. Instead of just, "Well, why NOT me? Because I want that."

Being spectacularly unaware of your own lack of abilities has always been all too common, though, sadly!

Poor Clancy really doesn't have much in the way of talent, which at least Brewster is willing to admit when the difference between success and not is so glaringly obvious.

Some of my crack does end with pathos or sweetness, though usually it's just evil humor all the way through. But Brewster made me like Clancy more and want better for him. There was no Brewster in mind when I started writing this, but apparently he had other ideas!
marlawentmadmarlawentmad on July 6th, 2017 07:02 pm (UTC)

The perspective worked great; I'm so pleased Clancy had such a good friend & that he found some kind of contentment.

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 6th, 2017 08:19 pm (UTC)
A good friend can make all the difference, especially when you don't really have what it takes for success and yet any normal horse (or person) would objectively realize that you have a good life. Had Clancy never gotten the idea to be a star, he would have arrived at contentment much sooner.

On the flip side, there's Bamboo Harvester, cast as Mr. Ed. He was bought as an ordinary--though very attractive--horse, without any idea of how incredibly capable he would be at learning tricks. More talented than most people could ever hope or expect a horse to be!
marlawentmadmarlawentmad on July 6th, 2017 09:55 pm (UTC)
I never thought much about the horse behind the show, but I sure am curious now!
rayasorayaso on July 6th, 2017 08:49 pm (UTC)
I loved this! It was sweet and funny at the same time, and both are hard to do separately, let alone together. The details about horses and "actor horses" was great. The trajectory of Clancy's "career," with a little stop for his homemade hooch, would be so familiar to wannabe human "stars," especially of the 1950s-60s. You had a lot of great lines. I especially liked, including "Clancy just wasn't Wonder Horse material" (which was so dry), "Please—I'm a chocolate bay!" and "He'd asked the cow to put in a good word for him," which is just so absurd! This was excellent work, and so creative.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 8th, 2017 12:34 am (UTC)
Imagining what an acting/modeling career might look like for a horse was one of the fun parts of writing this-- and of the parallels to human crowd scenes and non-speaking parts that indicate that you ARE getting work... but not very exciting or necessarily even promising work. Maybe you'll always be a random background horse, and never the lead!

This part, Clancy just wasn't Wonder Horse material, is one of those irresistible parts of writing a self-deluded character. Clancy has no visible talent to speak of, but he contents himself with thinking, "Okay, so I'm not super-horse or anything, but still!"
bleodswean: pic#126855595bleodswean on July 6th, 2017 09:06 pm (UTC)
AWWWWW! So glad Clancy had a long life and found contentment there at the end. Not all of us can be Mr. Ed.

I really really liked this line - but now his big dreams only happened when he slept !!!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 8th, 2017 12:36 am (UTC)
When are dreams are so much bigger than our talents or possibilities, it's better that they don't consume our waking hours!

Sometimes, that's where people find necessary inspiration. But if you don't have the talent for what you want, and hard work won't get you there... you may be much better off just accepting reality. Of course, part of the problem is that you have to recognize reality, and not be telling yourself that you are an AWESOME horse, so amazingly handsome, and that you should of course be the star of everything!
i_17bingoi_17bingo on July 7th, 2017 01:45 pm (UTC)
I relate to Clancy so much, it's not funny.

For a life full of disappointment, he seemed to live a good one, though.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 8th, 2017 12:39 am (UTC)
Aw... I hope your own history hasn't mirrored Clancy's!

He actually had an objectively very good life, and when he stopped imagining that it should be something else (just because he wanted the moon, when he lacked the magic to take or keep it), that was when HE realized it was a good life. In many ways, it was very similar to Brewster's life (except that Brewster had more talent), but I think Brewster was always pretty happy with how things were.

Getting ourselves to focus on that idea is the hard part. :)
favoritebeanfavoritebean on July 8th, 2017 08:20 am (UTC)
This was so sad, and oddly enough, pretty much sums up Hollywood and the music scene oh so well. I about lost it when reading that final wish to become a flying horse.

Very well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 10th, 2017 06:43 am (UTC)
It is hard to succeed in the entertainment industry, and sometimes it seems as if caprice has more to do with it than anything. But the road to fame and fortune is much harder if you don't really have the talent for it (and Clancy didn't).

If there is a heaven for horses, though, talent or a lack of it would no longer matter, and even the most impossible dreams could come true.
Murielle: Scrunchedmurielle on July 9th, 2017 12:13 am (UTC)
Aw, poor Clancy! I feel for him.

You did a fabulous job of bringing this poor horse, and his aspirations, to life. Even if he never reached the heights he longed for he was a good horse who never gave up on his dream. I love how you took us into his heart and created a character we could smile over and even love a little.


The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 10th, 2017 06:46 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Those were awfully big dreams for a fairly ordinary horse, but he found happiness along the way-- and a good friend, which probably matters more than anything. :)
swirlsofblueswirlsofblue on July 9th, 2017 11:04 am (UTC)
Glad Clancy managed to find contentment in the end. A fun and sweet piece.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 10th, 2017 06:46 am (UTC)
Thank you-- I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)
messygorgeous: pic#126845085messygorgeous on July 9th, 2017 05:15 pm (UTC)
Oh my gosh! I had considered writing something from a horse's point of view too! You did a great job with this.

I think Clancy's story is that of a lot of humans who want to be actors/pro athletes/musicians. There just aren't a lot of spots for all the people who dream big, so it is good he was able to find contentment.

I do wish Clancy could have achieved his big dreams but that's just because I'm a marshmallow who wants everyone to be happy. I was glad he got to fly there at the very end!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 10th, 2017 06:49 am (UTC)
There are very few opportunities for people who want to be star performers or athletes-- even for those loaded with talent, which is sadder than for those who just want to be famous because it seems appealing (well, why wouldn't it?).

I'm glad you got caught up enough in this story to want Clancy to achieve what he'd dreamed of. He was able to recognize the happiness inherent in where he already was, and that makes the biggest difference of all. :)
Rebeccabeeker121 on July 10th, 2017 01:18 am (UTC)
I wonder what Clancy thought fame would be, and if he ever realized that a nice farm with an oak tree and filly were probably way better than the attention ever could be.

I enjoyed how matter of factly you told this story.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 10th, 2017 06:59 am (UTC)
and if he ever realized that a nice farm with an oak tree and filly were probably way better than the attention ever could be.
I think he realized those were good things, but probably never had the sense to know that that was a much better life than the one he thought he wanted. He was not that self-aware!

In the end, he was probably luckier than he realized in finding all that did come his way.

Thanks for reading!
flipflop_divaflipflop_diva on July 10th, 2017 09:13 pm (UTC)
Poor Clancy! It's hard being just an ordinary horse!

But I'm glad he had a good friend and was able to enjoy the life he did have at the end. Maybe if horses get reincarnated, he can be a flying one in his next life :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 11th, 2017 12:09 am (UTC)
It's hard being just an ordinary horse!
All the more so if you're unaware that you're ordinary!

I expect Clancy will be flying in horse heaven, if nothing else. And eventually Brewster will be there right along with him. :)