The End of Old Horse Summary
by Simon Ortiz

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The End of Old Horse Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, a young Acoma Indian boy, and his brother Gilly are in the habit of visiting their neighbor Tony during the long summer days that pass in much the same uneventful way, week in and week out. Nothing, he thinks, ever happens in the summer, so he expects nothing unusual to happen on one particular day when he and Gilly wander by Tony’s place.

Tony has tied up his dog, Old Horse, which chews on the rope, snarling to get free. Feeling no sympathy for the dog, the boys do not equate its desire for freedom with their own; they only laugh and tell Tony that his dog “is going nuts.” Tony, busy with chores, replies that Old Horse is a “dumb dog,” and Gilly agrees.

The boys next go to the creek, where they have a good time playing. They try to chase trout upstream to a trap they have made, but this day they have no luck. As they prepare to go home, Tony arrives. Not smiling or joking as he usually does, he tells them that Old Horse has choked to death while trying to break free. Although the boys felt no particular affection for the dog, the news of its death evokes unexpected emotional reactions, which they try to hide. When the narrator suggests that perhaps Tony should not have tied up the dog, Tony erupts with anger, pushing him into bushes and frightening him. A moment later, however, Tony picks him up and apologizes.

The boys start home, and Gilly begins to cry. The narrator does not know what to say except to repeat that Tony should not have tied up Old Horse. He, too, is about to cry, so he challenges Gilly to a race, but Gilly continues sobbing. After saying “The hell with you,” the narrator runs by himself until his lungs hurt “more than the other hurt.” His exhaustion makes him so sick that he goes to the side of the road to vomit.

By the time that Gilly catches up, he has stopped crying, and the narrator apologizes for telling him to go to hell. The boys arrive home late for dinner. After they sit down, their father asks what Tony is doing these days. Gilly replies, “Tony choked Old Horse to death, hellfire.” The mother warns Gilly not to use that kind of language. The narrator does not want to talk about it and remains silent.


(Short Stories for Students)

“The End of Old Horse” begins with the narrator, an unnamed Native American boy, leaving home with his younger brother to go to the nearby creek to cool off on a hot summer day. They pass by Old Horse, a dog who is tied up with a rope, in front of the home of a neighbor, Tony. Old Horse jumps about wildly, chewing at his rope, trying to free himself. The boys tell Tony, who is fixing up an old horse stall so that he can park his truck in it, that the dog is overexcited, and Tony tells them to just ignore him. Gilly, the younger brother, curses about the dog, calling him stupid, awkwardly working the word “hell” into what he says.

The narrator muses about how boring life is. The only real excitement in the summer, he says, is when there are Grab Days during festivals for saints. Grab Days are a tradition of giving out candy and toys to children, similar to the practice of piñatas. It is here that he first points out the different perspectives of his mother and father: his father does not mind if the children hear graphic or explicit language, but his mother does.

At the creek, the boys chase trout into a trap that they made with some scrap tin. Gilly stops to wash some mud off of his jeans when Tony, the dog’s owner, approaches, looking somber. Tony makes small talk about the cleaning that Gilly is doing before announcing that Old Horse, the dog who was straining against his leash, has strangled himself with the rope and is dead.

(The entire section is 1,031 words.)