Percival Whickerstaff was well known around Oddsborough Farm: he was the biggest, strongest, and hardest working animal, getting up early and working late. Sometimes, the other animals would be in bed and would be sent off to dreamland by the sound of his big, powerful hooves outside. When he wasn’t working, Percy was kind, friendly, and always willing to help out every animal on the farm.
Percy was everyone’s friend… but he had a secret.
Not long after Mary Mu-Kau started organizing Oddsborough Farm, she tried to talk to Percy about setting up a work schedule and organizing the chores. Mary didn’t think it was fair for some of the animals to do less work while Percy worked so hard. But every time Mary tried to talk to Percy, he was busy. So, so, busy. He would pull wagons into the orchards, use pulleys to lift heavy hay bales into the barn, haul lunch out of the kitchens for everyone to eat, and more. Every time Mary would ask:
“Percy, can I talk to you?”
Percy would respond:
“Gosh, Mary. I’d love to, but I’m a little busy.”
After getting to know most of the animals at Oddsborough Farm, Mary grew suspicious of Percy always being too busy to talk to her. And so, one night, after all of the other animals were asleep, Mary sneaked away from her bed and followed the sounds of Percy’s thundering hoofbeats. They were almost like music, Mary thought to herself, always thudding in perfect rhythm: thump-thump, thud, thump-thump.
When Mary finally found Percy, way out behind the oldest barn, far far away from the farmhouse, she knew why Percy’s hooves sounded like music… Percy was dancing.
Not dancing like you or me might do, but dancing like a horse would: high kicks, perfect rhythm, and even crossing one of his massive hooves over the other. There were times it seemed like all his hooves were off the ground at once, and Mary thought it was a miracle that the whole ground didn’t break open when Percy came back down to the ground. But it wasn’t that loud, really, and Mary was surprised.
“Percy, you’re very light on your hooves.”
She said it without thinking about it, but the minute Percy heard her voice he fell over with a monstrous THUD, knocking over a stack of haybales and a big bucket of water. Percy tried desperately to get to his feet, but the hay was now stuck to his head and made him look like he had a long, blonde mane. Mary tried not to laugh as she apologized.
“I’m sorry I startled you, Percy. Are you all right?”
“Yes! Everything is fine! Please go back to bed, Mary! I’ve got… lots of work to do! Lots of work still to do, yes, lots of work, so just…please…”
Mary saw Percy’s eyes look incredibly sad, and the big war horse fell to his knees, his ears hung low in dismay.
“Please just leave me alone. And don’t tell anyone you saw this, okay?”
“Percy,” Mary replied, “I don’t understand…”
“I love to dance, Mary,” Percy sniffed, his face even longer than usual, “I want to be like the Lippizans with their dressage: the piaffe, the passage, the half-pass… but I can’t. I’m just a big, thundering fool!”
“I think you danced very well, Percy,” Mary said.
“Even if I did, all the other animals would laugh at me. A horse like me, a Percheron, I’m supposed to be strong and be a hard worker… if the other folks knew I liked to dance, they’d make fun of me, just like…”
Percy sniffed again.
“Just like at my last farm.”
Mary walked over and nuzzled into Percy’s strong neck.
“Percy, we all have things that make us different. That’s why we’re here. Just because you like to do things that a big horse like you wouldn’t normally do doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.”
“No!” Mary said proudly, “I’m a cow that likes to do taxes! Don’t you think I got made fun of for that?”
“But that doesn’t mean I stop doing it. It doesn’t mean I stop being me.”
Percy stayed on the ground, looking at his silly mane in the reflection of the spilled water.
“Percy,” Mary continued, “Do you work extra hard because you’re afraid folks will make fun of you if you don’t?”
“Then I’m glad I finally got to talk to you,” Mary smiled her little cow smile, “Because that’s not fair, and it’s especially not fair that you work so hard because you’re afraid. I’ll tell you what: you work only as much as the rest of us do, and then you can take a break and dance if you want to.”
“And if anyone makes fun of you for dancing, I’ll poke them with my horns… just a little.”
“Don’t be mean to them, Mary,” Percy sniffed, “they don’t know what they’re doing, it’s not their fault.”
“It’s not your fault either, Percy.”
Percy looked at the puddle again and shook the hay out of his mane.
“You’re right,” he said, standing up so fast it almost made Mary fall over, “tomorrow at lunch time, I’m going to dance for everyone, and if they don’t like it, well… maybe we’ll have a talk later.”
Mary smiled her little cow smile.
“And I’ll bring the lunch out for everyone tomorrow.”
The next day, Percy was very nervous, but he heard the music in his heart and danced until he was sore. He leapt into the air, he did all the dressage moves he had studied, and when he was done all of the animals sat there, their lunches untouched, their jaws hanging open.
And then, they cheered. And they stamped their hoofs and their paws and their feet, and the called for an encore. Percy really was a fantastic dancer, and from that day forth he never had to hide it again.