Friday, May 23, 2008
The good old country pony reared on me. Two days later he was out of here. My friend from the north, who knows nothing about horses and thinks I’m a barbarian for riding them, said, “That’s quite extreme, isn’t it?” Not the fact that he reared on me. The fact that I gave him away for doing it. But I can’t blame her for thinking that. Apache had been coming along very well. Even my daughter Jamie said, “He reared one time and you gave him away?”
“One time” being the key words here. I hear it in my head, a wise old man’s warning, a smart mother’s admonition, “That’s all it takes is one time.” I have no patience for dangerous acts of rebellious ponies. Even if it was only once. Maybe if Apache was for me. Maybe I’d chalk it up to being caused by one of many things that might have been wrong, or that I might have done wrong, and keep trying—I was too easy on him and he thought he could get away with it. Ponies test. It’s their job. Or maybe he needs his teeth done and his mouth hurt. Or maybe I put too much pressure on him because he’s so dead quiet—it would be easy to assume he knows more than he does and he couldn’t comply, so out of frustration, he took a tantrum instead.
But, excuses and reasons aside, he wasn’t for me. He was for Kelly. I was riding him to make sure he was safe for her. I was riding him for just this reason—to make sure he wouldn’t do something dangerous like rear or buck when he got a bee under his bonnet. It took me eight months to find this out. Kurt kept telling me, “Let her ride him!” But my gut kept saying no. I made jokes about how I wanted him for myself. He was so easy to ride. Easy on. Easy off. Just grab him. He stays put wherever you place him. You don’t even need a halter on him. I was even thinking about hopping on him bareback, something I haven’t done since I was a kid.
But he had that little stubborn streak. It was nagging at me like how a hair feels on the back of your tongue when you’re not quite sure that it is there. It’d been a long time since he pulled a combo but I had the feeling that he wanted to. It took me two years to let Kelly ride Doc. And that turned out to be two wasted years because Doc never does anything wrong. I’m one of those nervous mommies. I wouldn’t let Kelly eat hot dogs until she was ten-years-old because it’s on the list of the top ten choking foods. Well, I let her eat them because I didn’t want her to be on the list of kids-at-school-who-get-picked-on, but I watched her like a hawk. I hovered over her while she was chewing and one time, when she made a funny face, I jumped up, knocked my chair over and prepared to perform the Heimlich maneuver. “Mom!” she rolled her eyes. “I just licked my lips!”
Horses are dangerous enough animals in the best case scenario. But I had to admit that two years was a little ridiculous. And so I stepped it up with Apache. I called my sister in New Jersey whose daughter is older than Kelly and told her, “Get Erin down here ASAP. I need her to ride the hell out of this pony.”—there’s nothing better for getting a good broke horse than having a tough kid ride him all over the place. I hurried up and started riding him every chance I could get so he would be ready for Erin to take over when she arrived. And then he reared.
I thought he was going to go over backwards on me. We teetered up there for long enough for me to think about the little girl out in Oklahoma who was just killed on a horse who reared and flipped over on her but it was probably only a split second. I didn’t even have time to drive him forward. The minute his feet hit the ground, I jumped off, whacked him, and called for Kelly’s helmet. I got back on him so he wouldn’t think he got away with it and walked him to the round pen. I got off him again and worked him from the ground. But I was doing this for the new owner. I already knew it was over. I wasn’t keeping him. There was no point to ever get on him again because I was never going to let Kelly get on him.
Talk about flipping, Kurt flipped his lid when I told him I was going to give him away. He said he’s tired of giving away horses and selling them for less money than what we paid for them. But I am painfully honest. I could never sell Apache to someone and not say that he reared. Even if he reared only once in eight months. The buyer who would be attracted to this horse would be someone with kids because he’s so dead quiet. I’d have to say it. And buyers would think it was worse than what it was. They’d think he was a rearer, when the truth is, he may not ever do it again.
My honesty is the reason I wasn’t able to sell Doc when I tried to unload the old guy a few years back. One of the reasons I wouldn’t let Kelly ride him was because I was afraid he was too big for her and so I decided to sell him and look for a pony. He was twenty-one at the time and could have passed for twelve. Most sellers would have thrown away his papers and said he was younger (hence, all the older horses for sale who do not have registration papers) but not me. I also told them every little detail. Once he tried to kick the dog. He did it one time when Pup-Pup ran up behind him when he was eating but now they think he’s a kicker. Sometimes he’ll walk away from you when you go out to catch him. Now they think he’s hard-to-catch, when the truth is, all you need is a piece of baling twine to go get him and it’s never taken longer than a few seconds. He’s a little arthritic. Now they think he’s three-legged. I guess I can’t blame them for thinking the real story is way worse than what it is. Because the truth is, horse sellers have a bad reputation. They’re about as bad as car dealers. But God rewarded me for my honesty. Doc didn’t sell and Kelly started riding him. She’s been riding him all over the place ever since and he is a bombproof wonder horse. But he’s getting up there in age and Kelly wants to ride him harder than I think he deserves. I’d like to retire him soon. Which is why we bought Apache, the good old country pony.
I gave Apache to my friend Karen who is an excellent horsewoman and a good home. Whatever she does with him, will be the right thing. But I still felt bad. I started second-guessing myself. Should I have worked with him some more? He only did it once. He’s so nice. And he’s gorgeous. I really liked him. And he liked me. When Harley chased him, he ran to me and hid behind me like I was his mommy. I felt like I betrayed him. Was he scared in the new place? Should I have given up so soon? What kind of cowgirl am I anyway?
Then I got a message. My friend’s daughter, Amber, who is one of Kelly’s best friends, had a bad accident. The two of them learned to ride together. In fact, I have a picture of them right here on my desk, riding double on Minnie when they were just four-years-old. And now Amber, a little tiny thing at barely sixty pounds, got hurt. Her horse reared up and flipped over on her. My friend Sissy, her mother, held her limp daughter in her arms and tasted fear and dread like no mother should ever have to experience. Across the country, I stepped into her shoes and my heart started beating out of my chest.
Later, I couldn’t help thinking about how coincidental the timing was and this message that I had been given. If I had any second thoughts, after this, I know I did the right thing, listening to my gut. Because all it takes is one time.
Amber Markus is out of the hospital now and on the road to recovery. She is a tough cowgirl and is in everyone’s thoughts and prayers from Oklahoma to New Jersey and Virginia.