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The Horse Named Worthless
Author’s Note: This is a fictional story that my husband told our children when they were younger. I always thought it was a great story, and each time he told it to them I think they walked away with a sense of understanding and knowledge that made them appreciate patience.
A long time ago, a young Dakhóta boy from Cannon Ball went to a big powwow somewhere out in Montana. He went with his grandpa and grandma. The old grandpa had taught his grandson the old ways of their people, especially the songs and stories.
On the third day of the powwow, an elderly couple who had lost their son in battle entered the powwow grounds. The couple announced that they wanted to give their son’s horse away. It was a bay gelding and he was painted as if he was getting ready to go into a war party. He was adorned with twenty $100 bills attached to his mane, tail, and blanket; it was the prettiest horse the boy had ever seen. The elderly man walked the horse out into the arena. Just then, the boy’s grandpa told him, “Go stand over there,” and pointed to the north with his lips. The boy nodded his head in understanding. His grandpa continued, “Go stand over there and sing that song I taught you, that one about the horse nation. Just keep singing loudly and that horse will hear you.” The boy took off towards the northern side of the arena and began singing his horse song. Some people in the crowd were looking at him and wondering what he was doing. The elderly man led the horse around the arena one last time, slapped it on the hind end, and watched it race off.
There was a group of men running after the horse, trying to corner him, trying to grab the money, and doing everything they could to catch him. However, it was no use. The horse was too fast and too smart for the men to catch. After about 10-15 minutes of them trying to catch the horse, the men were scattered laying on their backs and their butts trying to catch their breath all throughout the big powwow arena.
As the boy looked on from the north side of the arena, he saw what was happening and began to sing louder. This caught the attention of the horse, and he trotted toward the young boy. His ears were straight up as if he could understand the boy in his own horse language. When he reached the boy, he began to putt the ground in front of him as if he were encouraging him to jump on his back. The boy put his arm around the neck of the horse and jumped on his back with ease. He threw his arms into the air and let out a loud victory cry and the crowd echoed him. Loud cheers of victory cries from the men and women of the crowd filled the powwow grounds, as the two rode all over inside the arena. Even the men who were unsuccessful in catching the horse were yelling proudly at the young boy.
When the elderly couple came back to the arena, the boy and his new horse rode up to them and he jumped off. Showing his appreciation and respect for them, he shook their hands and hugged them both. The elderly man explained, “Our son won this horse in a men’s traditional special four years ago, but he was drafted into the army shortly after. When he left for war, he didn’t come back. He never got the chance to work with him or give him a name. The horse is yours now, so you can give him a name.”
The young boy looked at them with a smile and said, “I will call him Worthless.” Confused, the elderly couple looked at each other and then at him. He chuckled at their confusion and explained, “I didn’t choose that name to mean that the horse itself was worthless, but because it means that it was worthless to try and run after him and look like a fool. All that had to be done was to earn the horse’s respect. With that name, it will be a reminder to me of how my patience and respect paid off and how to not act foolishly just because I want something that is beautiful.” The crowd once again erupted in victory cries and cheers.
Just as he was going to get back on Worthless, he collected all the $100 bills and gave them to his grandpa and grandma. His grandpa asked, “How are you going to get your horse all the way back to Cannon Ball?”
With a huge ear-to-ear smile he replied, “I will ride him all the way home.” So with that, the young boy and Worthless started out on their long journey home. The grandpa and grandma followed along and made sure they were okay.
As the years went on, the young boy grew into a man, and his grandparents made their journeys into the spirit world. Worthless also made his final journey. It was very hard to lose his best friend, but the man had started his own family. His wife had given him a son whom he taught everything, just as his grandfather had taught him. He taught him all the songs, the stories, and the prayers.
His son is now a teenager and often attends spiritual rides to honor the ancestors. It is said that when he rides there is always another horse riding beside him, but he cannot ever see it. Many people have asked, “Whose horse is that—the bay that runs beside you when you ride?”
When he tells his father what the people ask him, his father just smiles and tells him, “It’s my best friend Worthless. I sent him to look after you.”