Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Horses Named Buster and Other Unsuitable Purchases
When Kurt and I started looking for our first horse after I hadn’t had any since I was a kid, I declared, “I want one with a little spirit. I like ‘em with spirit.” Ha! The first one I bought, but who never actually set foot on the property, was a black Quarter horse named Buster. That should have been a clue right then and there. Oh, he was beautiful. And he had spirit all right. Luckily he failed the vet check and after chasing the seller for two weeks for my money, I felt a weight was lifted. I knew when I was trying him out, when he was prancing down the road with smoke coming out of his ears and fire coming out of his nose, that he was too much for me. But my pride wouldn’t let me admit it even to myself. Fear was not what I remembered having as a kid. Who gets happy when a horse fails a vet check?
The next one was just as suitable for a middle-aged woman getting back into horses after twenty years. Basically a beginner. This one was a two-year-old Paint mare I bought at the horse auction. At the time, I thought, “This is good—she is really slow and mellow, not like Buster at all.” In fact, the owner had to drag her by the lead rope and tap her on the butt with a crop just to get her to walk down the aisle even though I was kicking till I was blue in the face. Later, when I got a few more years under my belt and I thought about it, I realized that she wasn’t slow and mellow at all. She wasn’t even broke! She didn’t know how to walk with a rider on her back—that’s why the owner had to drag her—and the only reason she didn’t buck me off was because I wasn’t on her long enough. But I didn’t know that at the time. Plus, she was so pretty. I gave the seller half the money and promised to come back with the other half before the sale started.
Luckily, depending on your perspective and if you count that no real damage was done, Kelly had a little mishap with Thrush X and had to be taken to the hospital where she got an endoscopy and a lollipop and which caused us to be late getting back to the horse auction to give the seller the rest of the money. Even though I somehow had the presence of mind to call to assure him we weren’t standing him up—we still wanted the horse, please don’t put her in the sale, we were simply delayed in the emergency room making sure our daughter didn’t have third degree burns on her esophagus but I was sure everything was going to be okay and we’d be there lickity-split—even though I told him all that, he sold her at the sale that night. I also had to chase that seller for two weeks to get my money back.
While I was chasing those two sellers, I bought a third horse. So technically, I owned three horses now since none of my money had been returned. And we didn’t even have a barn yet! Who knew I’d find so many nice horses so fast? Kurt was building the barn himself. I told him he better get hopping. This new horse I found was a sensible buy. This was one that even Jamie could ride. And Jamie didn’t even know how to ride.
Dancer was a plain, ordinary sorrel. She was nice-looking but she was nothing special. One of the boarders from the stable down the road was selling her. The kid had lost interest. Key word being “kid.” I went and tried her out. She was perfect. We loped all around the arena, turned this way and that way, and even jumped a little cross-rail though I am western and know nothing about jumping. She was easy-going and quiet, well-mannered and willing. Even the vet was impressed with this one. She stood sleepy-eyed while we looked her over, one back leg cocked in the sand. He nodded his approval. “Now you’re talking,” he said. She passed the vet check with flying colors and Kurt finished the little barn he was building just in time to take her home.
Where she promptly went berserk.
Dancer bolted around the corral for two days, crashing into the fences and banging into the walls of the barn. Slivers and splinters flew, nails popped out. She introduced me to the combo. That’s where a horse rears, bucks and whirls all at the same time. She tried to bolt. She balked. She spooked. She was dangerous to ride and I dreaded trying. One time when I was saddling her up, even though I’ve always cinched up slowly and carefully, she reared, broke the lead rope and fell over backwards. The crash was so loud, Kurt came running out of the house. My neighbors, all experienced horse people, were sure it was me. Or my saddle. They came over with their advice and their saddles and cinched her up themselves. But she blew up on them too.
I was starting to suspect that Dancer was drugged when I bought her. What else could it be? How could she have changed so much? How in the world could a child ride her and I couldn’t even lead her through the yard without her spinning around and lifting me off my feet?
This was right around the time of the new trendy thing called “horse whisperers” and the phenomenon of an old training method, repackaged and reintroduced called “the round pen.” Since I was a middle-aged, middle-class woman newly back into horses who had a problem horse, a little money to blow and the determination to fix her because…“I love her,” I was the perfect mark for gimmicks like training halters, motivational sticks, tie-rings, videos, clinics and anything magical that was akin to the snapping of fingers but that worked for no one except the person selling the idea or product. I even, I admit, bought a book by Pat Parelli, desperate for the secret. The cure.
But nothing worked.
Now some of you experienced horse people might be rolling your eyes right now and saying, perhaps smugly, that Dancer obviously had a pain issue going on that caused her to be such a freak and you’re waiting for me to come out with it. But I can assure you that it was not the case.
When I called up the people at the boarding stable and cried when I told them the trouble I was having, they said they had another boarder who would love to buy Dancer. I didn’t even have to ask them. I was surprised it was so easy, hence blowing my theory that they had drugged her or hid something sinister about her, right out the window. Otherwise they wouldn’t have offered to take her back. They would have been glad to be rid of her.
Long story short, Dancer went to another child. That’s right. A kid. A little boy who did hunters and jumpers. He won all over the place on that little sorrel mare and the last I heard there was talk of the Olympics and someone offered his parents a lot of money for her but they said no way. They knew a good thing when they had it. I didn’t feel bad about it. I was happy for the horse (and the kid). A problem horse is at risk and she obviously had no problems now. So was it me?
The only conclusion that any of us could ever come to was that Dancer had spent most of her life at that busy boarding stable where there were thirty other horses and people coming and going and she had never been alone before. Or ridden anywhere except in an arena. At my house, she lived by herself and the only place I had to ride was on trails. I didn’t have an arena or another horse to ride with (I’ve since created a herd. And an arena to go with it.) and she went crazy like I would go crazy if someone transported me to a place without, say, books and paper. Or spaghetti.
Next time I will tell you about the fourth horse. The bucker.