Friday, May 14, 2010


The one who asks, will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the person who knocks.—Luke 11:10

Alright, alright, I can see I have to get this show on the road and tell you what happened.

Mr. Hart gave me the horse. That’s right. Gave him to me. For nothing. A ten thousand dollar horse. Who does that? Yeah, people give horses away. I have given horses away. But it’s usually because they have a problem or the owner has a problem. Not for no reason. Old horses. Rescue horses. Rogue horses. Not valuable horses who would incite a bidding war if put up for auction. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like God was giving me this horse because of everything I’d been through and now this, the worst of all, with my mother. Not that any horse could take the place of my mother. I would go out there and shoot them all in the heads myself if it would bring my mother back for just one hour.

But the joy I felt… How can you feel such joy and sadness at the same time? The joy doesn’t take the sadness away, but it lessens the load a little. It gives you a rest from the sadness. And not just because I got the horse and could have fun with him. Yes, there is great joy in that. But also because someone, some stranger, could be this kind. The idea of it! How could a stranger be this kind? Every time I thought about what this man was doing for me, my heart welled up.

The timing couldn’t have been better. When Mr. Hart told me to come and get the horse, I happened to be planning to go and visit my mother but was considering postponing it because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to drive that far by myself. No biggie. I’d been back and forth to Jersey a number of times since she got sick. I could wait another week or two to go up there. But I was afraid Mr. Hart was going to change his mind and not give me the horse. People at the stable, his friends, people who knew Lowdown, were up-in-arms that he refused to sell him to them and I was scared they would work on him and get him to change his mind before I got there. So I went right away, driving ten hours by myself pulling the horse trailer, sick as a dog, with irritable bladder and an inability to back up and therefore terrible anxiety about getting myself into a predicament where I would need to. It wasn’t pretty.

Oh! If I would have waited one more week to go up there it would have been too late! All these years trying to find the horse, crying over him, and his owner tells me to come and get him during the last week my mother had any lucidity. If I would have waited one week longer, just one week, she would have never known I was there. But she knew. I stared into the bluest, saddest eyes I had ever seen, took her beautiful face in my hands and she said my name.

“Debi, Debi, I love you so much.”

“I love you too Ma. I’m here.”

I sang to her. I sang a song she used to sing to my daughters. “You Are My Sunshine.” I sang it softly and didn’t care if the nurses could hear and didn’t know if she could hear, even though her eyes were open. She was in such agony… When I stopped, there was silence. And then she said, amazed, “You hear that?” Like she couldn’t believe it. Like it was an apparition.

And she cried to me. Oh, the suffering! If only we knew what she was going to go through… It is barbaric. It is unbearable when I think about it. You know what, I can’t even talk about it now. I am too sad. I often have to distract myself or else I can’t take it.

So let me get on to something good.

I was surprised when Mr. Hart didn’t ask me to sign anything when I took the horse. No contract to return him if I didn’t want him anymore, no agreement to keep him forever, no promise to send money if I ever hit the lottery. Nothing. Nada. He gave him to me free and clear. I didn’t expect to get the registration papers. But he gave me those too. I recognized Lowdown’s baby picture stapled to the top of the document a little dog-eared around the corners now but just as cute as ever. I figured, well, he won’t include the transfer report. If he includes the transfer report, I can reregister Lowdown in my name and if I was a bad person, I could turn right around and sell him.

When I got home and was going through all the paperwork, I saw that I was right. No transfer report. But that was because I didn’t need one. The registration papers were still in my name! There it was—Owner: Debra Van Cleave! Mr. Hart never changed him over! All these years he was still mine in my heart—I had no idea he was still mine on the papers too.

What amazes me is that Mr. Hart completely trusts me. He doesn’t even know me and yet somehow he can tell what kind of person I am. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because when I sold him Lowdown seven years ago, I attached a note to his papers saying that if he was ever three-legged lame or old and broken-down and unwanted, please don’t send him to the sale—he would always have a home with me. Maybe it is because I tried to keep in touch with them from the beginning. Or maybe God whispered in his ear. I don’t know.

What I do know is when I look at that horse out there now, I think of my mother. And I feel good.

It has become clear.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Gift from God

Here’s the thing. A few weeks after we bought Steel, just long enough to get attached to him, I got an e-mail. (The time it takes me to get attached has shrunk proportionately in relation to how aware I’ve become to all the abuse and neglect in the horse world.)

The e-mail was from Lowdown’s owner!—the palomino Paint I’d been crying over!

When I’d tried to find Lowdown a couple of months earlier, I called the person, the broker, whose name was on the old advertisement we’d dug up on him. It was probably a disconnected number by now. At the least, he’d be long sold. But maybe she knew where he was. It was worth a try.

A woman picked up. It was her. She told me that Mr. Hart didn’t sell Lowdown after all and he was still being boarded at the same place I’d left him seven years ago! I cried to her as well. She was a little cold. She didn’t say, “There, there now.” I sniffed and asked her to tell Mr. Hart I was trying to reach him. But he never called. I figured he didn’t care. Or she didn’t give him the message. Just in case, because you never know, I tried one more thing. I sent a letter by regular mail in care of the stable. I figured if it came by the U.S. Postal Service, they’d have to deliver it to him or break the law. But I still didn’t hear anything. So I resigned myself to the fact that Lowdown was lost to me. Then I went out and got Steel and tried to put it out of my mind.

Now there was an e-mail from Mr. Hart. I was shocked. I was scared to open it. I said, “Kurt, I’m not opening it…”

Many scenarios swirled through my mind. OhmyGod, was Lowdown okay? OhmyGod, was it possible he was for sale? And maybe even more importantly, was it possible that I could afford to buy him if he was? He’d have to be missing a leg or at least an eye for that to happen. I sold him for more money than I could ever imagine paying for a horse. That was one of the reasons that, when we had to sell one horse back then because we had no room, I choose Lowdown. Even though he was my own personal riding horse, I knew I could get the most money for him and truth be told, we could really use it. Plus, he was the only one without any issues and so would least likely be at risk. Harley could easily fall into the wrong hands. One false move and he’d have a heart attack and jump sideways ten-feet, perhaps buck or even fall down in sheer terror if his rider’s voice was any deeper than, say, a fifteen-year-old boy’s who had just begun to shave.

Anyone could do anything with Lowdown. He was born old. As a two-year-old, (a two-year-old!) he actually helped me get my confidence back after I had the bucker. I rode him all over the place—we went trail riding in the back of Great Adventure’s safari park where the lions and bears were caged and he practically waved as we moseyed by. We went team-penning every Friday night. We learned how to barrel race together. We were in parades, strategically placed right in front of the fire engines because of someone’s sick idea of a joke but Lowdown couldn’t care less. All the other riders on unruly, nervous horses were incredulous—“How old did you say he was?” The chances of someone messing him up and creating a problem horse who would switch hands many times on his way to the sale (i.e., slaughter) were pretty slim.

And so he was the one to go and I regretted it every day for the last seven years.

Was it possible I could get him back? Now I was in Virginia and had acreage. And though I was on what I call “full-horse-overload” with the stupid retired horses, and the new horse Steel, I didn’t care. Additionally, don’t forget, we got laid off last year with no warning and had to scramble to start our own flooring company— Considering the economy, we’ve been doing great. But it hasn’t been easy. Then, with my mother being sick, we‘d been going back and forth to Jersey every time you turned around, and every time we did, it was a big project, and expensive, because someone had to take care of all the animals. The last thing I needed was two new horses in the mix. But if there was any way I could get Lowdown back, I would. My heart was beating hard in my chest when I opened the e-mail.

Mr. Hart told me he was thrilled when he got my letter and thought it was a gift from God. He actually said that. He had been worrying about what to do with Lowdown because his daughter had lost interest some years ago but Mr. Hart loved him as much as I did and didn’t want to just sell him to anyone. Though people offered him even more than what he paid for him, including a friend of his, he didn’t feel their reasons for wanting him were good enough. He said he was so happy to find out that I was still interested in him. He asked me to call him.

I started jumping up and down. “Kurt! Kurt! I might be able to get him!”

But how? This was crazy! I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

Kurt said, “Don’t worry; we’ll get him somehow.”

This is one reason I love this man.

You may want to sit down for this. I sold Lowdown for ten thousand dollars. I’m sorry but I think that’s an insane amount of money, certainly way out of my price range. Unless he had something physical going on now, Mr. Hart would probably want at least what he paid. Though Lowdown was older now, he was surely even better than when I sold him. He had been in training with an Olympic trainer and doing some jumping. They did English equitation with him and western pleasure. At this point, he had pretty much done it all. What I didn’t do, they did. So he was not only gorgeous, but he had a variety of disciplines under his belt. The perfect all-around horse.

I e-mailed back and assured Mr. Hart that, yes, I was definitely interested! But I warned him that the money situation was “modest,” for lack of a better word. I fantasized that maybe he’d have mercy on me and let me have him for five grand and even though that was also a lot of money in our world, we would manage somehow. Kurt said we’ll charge it. Or we could make payments. Maybe, if I started playing real quick, I could hit the lottery or at least sell one of the children. They’re awful cute. And the little one is quite neat. The big one is messy but she can cook like no tomorrow.

Anyway, Mr. Hart e-mailed me back. “Call me,” he said. “Money is not an issue.”

That is when I felt God on my shoulder...