Nicker, the Gelding Who Became Mr. Ed’s Mother

Nicker in the photo shown on Mr. Ed's wall

Nicker in the photo shown on Mr. Ed’s wall

I watched in horror as my father’s friend stuck a knife into his leg — on purpose. He’d been whittling a wooden horse as he sat talking on our front porch. I always loved watching his artistry, whether with paper and pencil or that sharp, sharp knife. Stunned, I stared in silence, amazed that everyone else didn’t seem to notice and equally amazed his leg didn’t bleed. At last, he looked my way and laughed. “It’s wooden,” he said as he thumped right above the knife. The sound was hollow. Relief flooded through me and was quickly followed by embarrassment because I’d been caught staring.

But Norman didn’t mind. When he left that evening, he left behind the wooden horse and his aging palomino stallion. Just for a month or so until he returned from Alaska. Except he never returned. Dad never heard from him again.

While I treasured the wooden carving, the golden horse was my delight. We spent hours together. Nicker was eighteen, patient and gentle. A veteran of numerous parades and horse shows, he delighted in our attention. When it became apparent that Norman would not return, Dad gelded him so we could ride him with the other kids. Nicker was still full of life and glad to be the center of attention, patiently packing those who could barely ride and galloping gaily for those of us who could.

One friend, Jimmy, suffered from the lingering effects of polio. He walked with a limp, and he could not use one arm. Nicker didn’t care. Nicker’s steadiness allowed Jimmy to keep up with the rest of us without worries. He was safe aboard Nicker no matter which gait we chose or where we went. When Jimmy’s parents moved away, I wished Nicker could go with him. Of course, I would have missed him, but I knew Jimmy would miss him more.

A few years later, Les Hilton, the trainer of Mr. Ed, knocked on our door. The studio needed a horse to play Ed’s mother. He thought Nicker was perfect for the part.

Episode 13, Ed’s Mother, aired on March 21, 1961. Ed found his mother at an old farm auction, bought her and brought her home, causing more problems for Wilber. The role called for his mother to look worn and weary. Like many horses with a lot of Thoroughbred in their pedigree, Nicker looked his age: high withered, gaunt, ribs showing above a large belly. By then he was in his mid-twenties. No matter how much we fed him, he never gained weight even though he was in excellent health. He surely could play the part of worn and weary.

Ed went to the studio each morning in a two horse trailer with his name emblazoned across its sides. Nicker rode with Ed for two days that week, quietly loading and riding the ten miles or so to where they were filming. On the set, he stood quietly until he was needed, played his role and waited again while they finished filming, then rode home next to Ed. He accepted all the lighting, cameras, filming equipment, electrical cords, and a horde of people working around him as if he worked there every day.

Nicker lived several more years, romping with us in the fields and teaching beginning riders with his steady ways. One morning, when the rest of the family was on vacation, I found him on his side, unable to rise. Apparently another horse had kicked him through the fence. Dr. Brooks responded and confirmed the awful diagnosis: a shattered shoulder. Nicker, my beloved friend, was the first horse I had to give the order to euthanize. I’d been present when others made the decision, and I knew my father would have done the same. It was agony, but I loved him too much to let him suffer when I knew he could not recover.

I’m so glad I was not alone. My friends were there. They too were young horsewomen and they agreed: this was the kindest gift I could give to him. We said our goodbyes with tears in our eyes as he gratefully drifted off to sleep.

Years later, Jimmy suddenly appeared on my doorstep. He finally had a horse of his own, a pretty, bay Poco Bueno granddaughter. But she wasn’t as well broke as he needed, so he brought her to me for help. It gave us a chance to talk about old times. He treasured his time with Nicker, remembering many details I’d long since forgotten. At the top of both our memories was Nicker’s kind generosity of spirit. He made us all welcome in his world.

None of us have forgotten our dear friend. Nicker, we miss you still.

For more about Mr. Ed:

Mr. Ed: My Childhood Neighbor

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