We got a pony. He’s too good to be true. This is the one that I’ve been looking for since Kelly outgrew her first pony, Minnie, five years ago. He’s dead quiet which is really surprising since he’s seven-years-old. I looked at his teeth and confirmed that. He’s about seven.
I keep thinking he must be drugged because he’s too good and quiet. I’ve had some quiet horses before but never any this quiet. I got him from a horse trader but that doesn’t mean anything. Kurt and I got three of our best horses from a horse trader. Nothing wrong with being in the horse business. Who wouldn’t want to sell horses for a living? It’s much better than plumbing supplies or insurance. But they do have a reputation for doing bad things like unloading bad horses on unsuspecting buyers. In my defense, I didn’t know he was a horse trader until we got down there. This one was exactly within my traveling range—two hours south into North Carolina.
I asked the horse trader—let’s call him Gus—what he knew about the pony. In the ad, he was described as green but suitable for an advanced beginner. I wouldn’t have necessarily agreed he was green. I could tell he had a lot of handling—nothing bothered him. A tractor trailer that suddenly roared by didn’t make him flick an ear. A dog ran up behind him and he didn’t blink an eye. Gus’s boy (that’s what he called him, “the boy,” though he had a mustache and was old enough to have boys of his own) got on him bareback with only a halter and a lead rope and he was a perfect gentleman. He was handled alright but he had no professional training; that was it. He didn’t turn well and didn’t know how to back or neck rein; that kind of thing. So I asked Gus if he knew what the pony had done in the past and he said, “Nope, he’s just a good old country pony.”
At least we got him on the trailer and were on the way home before Kelly named him. She is calling him Apache. He’s another Paint, but this one is better than the last. This one is a black-and-white Paint and he’s beautiful. He’s perfect for Kelly because he’s 14 hands high, small enough for her to crawl on him by herself but big enough that by all rights, she can ride him into her adulthood. And with him being so well-behaved and quiet, after doing a little training and making sure there’s nothing bad going on under the hood, I could have her riding him in a couple of weeks. He is perfect. And so I started to worry. Is he drugged? Is he lame? Something must be wrong. I got him too cheap.
I was glad John the blacksmith was coming the next morning after we got him because John is also a horse trader and he knows about drugging. Not that he’s ever done it himself. Only the bad guys do that kind of thing—the ones who stand down in the ring at the horse auctions instead of sitting in the bleachers like the rest of us and who call out, “Sells one hundred percent sound!” when a horse goes by who obviously has a big knot on his leg like an egg and who is missing an eye and maybe the other leg.
Plus, the pony needed his feet done. They were short but they were all broken off and ragged. The angle was wrong and I was concerned he might have had a club foot, but thank God, John ruled that out. He told me a couple of the signs of being drugged and the pony may or may not have them. When you start scrutinizing and worrying, you think you’re seeing all kinds of things.
Me: OhmyGod, why is he laying down?
John: They’re all lying down, it’s naptime.
Me: His thing was hanging out last night for a few minutes. (The penis of drugged horse will hang out of its sheath because he is so relaxed.)
John, laughing: They all come out now and then.
Me: What about that lip? Doesn’t it look looser than normal? His lip is drooping!
John: His lip is fine.
John said he didn’t think the pony was drugged but I’d know for sure in a couple of days when it wears off. Or a month if fluphenazine was used. Fluphenazine is an anti-psychotic drug they use for schizophrenic people, but some horsemen give it to horses because it calms them down and makes them focus. It is illegal in the show world and to use on racehorses. John said they don’t use that one very often because it’s expensive and its results are unpredictable, so I shouldn’t worry. Now I’m worrying that he was just trying to get me to stop worrying.
Let me add two really stupid things we did that I believe give me the right to worry. We thought we saw a little mark on the pony’s neck, in the triangle spot where shots are given, but we didn’t say anything. Kurt pointed it out to me and we bugged our eyes at each other when Gus’s back was turned and whispered. But we didn’t ask him about it. We were too polite. Hey, what’s this? Are you drugging this horse? What an insult. Gus probably would have chased us off his property with a shotgun. The last thing we, as Yankees, want to do is offend people. We have a bad enough reputation as it is. And so I think we go overboard in the other direction. We go out of our way to be nice, to prove we are not that kind of Yankee. And therefore, though we also have a reputation for being slick and street-smart, which we are, we sometimes ignore our instincts and our experience and become the ones who get burned. Besides, the pony had lots of little marks on him. It was a balmy evening and the bugs were swarming. We forgot about it.
The other stupid thing we did was we paid cash and didn’t get a receipt. Kurt even asked me if I wanted one! But no, I was so high on the deal we just made for the perfect pony that I said, “Naw, we don’t need one,” shrugged my shoulders and he didn’t press it. I guess he was high on the pony as well. On the ride home, realizing what a serious mistake we might have made, we reprimanded each other—if one of us messes up and does something blatantly stupid, the other one has to catch it!
Our only saving grace is that after we were all loaded up and were ready to pull out with our pony we got no receipt on from a horse trader in another state whose last name we were unsure of, Gus stopped us and said, “Now if there’s any reason you don’t like him, you just don’t get with him or something, you can bring him back and I’ll find you something else.” I keep telling myself, he didn’t have to say that. We were happy and it was a done deal. We were leaving. We were practically out on the highway. If he was trying to rip us off on this pony, he wouldn’t have said anything.
The next day after John the blacksmith did the pony’s feet, I thought I saw him limping but I couldn’t be sure. The day after that, I thought I saw it again, but I still couldn’t be sure. He’s a lazy pony and I don’t know whether that’s because he’s just so mellow or something’s wrong but we couldn’t get him trotting long enough for me to be able to tell whether or not he was really lame. I was about ready to have a heart attack running alongside of him in the blazing sun, dragging him along, trying to look back at the same time to see if his head was bobbing and if it was, which foot it was bobbing on. So on the third day, I threw him in the round pen and I got Kurt to help me watch. It was hard to get him going. I could tell he’d never been in a round pen before and my lunge whip, ten million years old, is missing the long cord on the end that you use to make a popping sound to move the horse forward. But I finally got him trotting long enough to get a good look and he wasn’t limping.
“I told you, you’re seeing things.” Kurt said. “This pony is fine. If he was limping, which I doubt, it was probably because he just got trimmed. But he ain’t limping now.”
“I know. You’re right,” I agreed. “It’s just that he’s so nice! It’s too good to be true! Why would someone sell a nice pony like this?”
“Maybe their kid outgrew him?”
“But why didn’t they sell him to someone they knew? Why didn’t they keep him for the grandkids? We kept Minnie. No one parts with the nice ones.”
“Maybe they didn’t want to feed him till they have grandkids. Maybe they got out of horses. Maybe they needed the money. I don’t know!”
I could tell he was getting mad so I promised to stop worrying.
However, when we took him out and gave him a nice cool bath, I started up again. He was so well-behaved, I couldn’t believe it. The only thing he did was raise his head a half inch when I went up by his face with the hose. Otherwise, he stood stock still and let Kelly scrub him all over. How could he be so nice and he wasn’t double what I paid? Even down here, I would expect to pay more for a pony like this and if I brought him up to Jersey right now without clipping a hair off his nose, I could get four times what I paid!
Kurt asked Kelly if she wanted to sell him. I never saw a dirty look like that before.
The fact is, I will not be able to sleep until I get the vet out here to take a look at him. Being that he’s a good old country pony he probably hasn’t had his teeth floated or his sheath cleaned anyway and so I made an appointment for the vet to come and do a whole bunch of stuff including a lameness exam. I will also ask him about drawing a vial of blood to hold in case the pony suddenly goes crazy in a month and I need to prove he was drugged and that we didn’t do anything to him. That’s a common tactic of dirty dealers—“Oh, you must have messed him up. He was fine when you got him.” So I’ll ask the vet to hold some blood.
In the meantime, I will try not to look a gift horse in the mouth.