Pam Houston's short story "What Shock Heard" was published in her prize-winning 1992 collection, Cowboys Are My Weakness, a book that has become Houston's signature piece of writing.
Shock is the name of the narrator's five-year-old horse, who is very skittish of getting into a horse trailer at the beginning of this story. The narrator, whose name is Raye, is frustrated and at a loss as to how to coax the animal. People standing at her side suggest everything from whips to electrical prods. To Raye's surprise, in the midst of this confusion, a cowboy appears with a carrot in his hand and after Shock is inside the trailer, the cowboy whispers something in the horse's ear. Raye learns later that the cowboy's name is Zeke.
Besides being a cowboy, Zeke is also a hunter who spends a lot of time working as a guide up in the Alaskan wilderness. Eventually Zeke asks Raye to come to dinner at his place, where he plans to fix moose steaks. As Raye waits for Zeke to grill the steaks, she looks around the interior of his house. The walls are hung with taxidermied animals: owls, bears, deer. Zeke tells her stories about the animals, while Raye watches the way he touches them and hopes he will also touch her as lovingly later. But he does not. He throws her a pillow and blanket after telling her he is too tired to drive her home. Raye sleeps on the couch in the living room with all the dead animals' eyes staring at her.
Zeke leaves for a few week to go hunting in Montana. He asks Raye to watch his place and to take care of his horse, Jesse. One night, after Raye comes back from a ride with Jesse, she finds Billy in the barn. She had insinuated earlier in the story that Billy had hurt her physically, possibly raped her, although she had told no one because she feared Billy. Billy had told Zeke that Raye and he had once dated. Raye pulls a knife on Billy when he tries to get too close to him.
When Zeke comes back, he challenges Raye to a race on their horses. Raye's horse Shock throws her and she lays in the dirt, suspecting she might have cracked her jaw. Zeke finds her, and she open up and tells Zeke all the stories of her past. When Raye asks what he whispered in Shock's ear that day they first met, Zeke tells her he cannot put that into words.