“Are you looking for a horse?”
The question jarred me from my thoughts like a friend hollering my name. My farrier, Mike, didn’t look up from his work, as he filed the circumference of my mare’s hoof. I had to register what he had just asked.
“Well…” I fumbled for words, “It depends on what kind of horse it is,” thinking that if it’s a one-eyed, three-legged Tennessee Walker I would probably decline. Mike sat Sophie’s hoof down on the pavement and stretched up.
“He’s a Thoroughbred, actually an ex-racehorse.” Mike unscrewed the top of his water bottle and took a swig.
My interest perked. At this point in my post-college life I had gotten married, paid off 85% of my student loans, held a secure job, and had started a small savings fund for a horse – the grand total of which was $500. However, from perusing the equestrian ads in Virginia, I found that $500 would buy me a 2-month half-lease on a green hunter or I could purchase an unbroken mule. Neither option made my heart go pitter patter.
“Tell me about him,” I inquired.
“He’s 16-hands, a fairly big guy. Probably 16 years old. I bought him for my daughter and she rode him for about 2 years then lost interest. He’s been eating my hay ever since.” His drawl made the “I” into two syllables.
“What did she do with him?”
He thought for a moment. “She took lessons on him for a while, and started learning
how to jump, but she never got high into jumping.”
I made a mental note that the gelding had to be kind to tote a beginner around. I was interested, but without consulting my husband, Tim, I didn’t want to make any promises.
“Well, I’d have to talk to my husband, but I’ll let you know.”
Mike moved on to trimming Sophie’s left hind, and I silently mulled through all of the excuses I could come up with not to go look at this Thoroughbred, knowing full well that $500 would scarcely clear a vet check. Mike’s voice interrupted my internal argument.
“Honestly, Lydia, you could come look at him and make me an offer.” He sighed, “I just want him to go to a good home.”
Hope stung my heart — an offer with no specific dollar amount tied to this horse! He was in my price range. I told Mike that I’d talk with Tim and let him know.
Three weeks later, Tim and I leaned on a white board fence sizing up a well-built chestnut gelding. His mane was overgrown and a heap of flies shrouded his face. Flies were always worse with cattle around. I watched as the gelding sidled over to an Angus heifer and rubbed his face on her flank.
To his credit, Tim was the one who had convinced me to go look at him.
“We’re just checking him out,” he had said over the phone. “There’s no harm in looking, and if we like him, it’s the right price.”
Now, as I peered at the gelding, Copper, who thought he was a cow, I realized that I had my work cut out for me. Mike opened the gate and we walked into the field.
“I can’t tell you the last time he’s been in a halter,” Mike stated as he latched the gate behind us. “He hasn’t been handled in 5 years.” The plot thickened with every moment.
Tim and Mike waited as I walked up to the big chestnut. Copper’s eyes watched me from a grazing position. He seemed to be registering me as much as I was him. When I got close enough, I stepped to his side and held out a hand.
“Hey big man,” I cooed, and his head raised in response. “Whatcha thinkin’?”
His white snipped nose stuck out to smell me, then he turned and continued grazing. I moved closer and began to rub his whither. He skittered away a few steps and turned to assess me again. I watched him think and his eyes were soft and kind with a hint of curiosity.
I approached him again and this time he stayed put, allowing me to run my hands over his flanks and crest. I slipped the lead rope over his neck and guided the halter over his head.
As I hand walked and trotted him, his ears never stopped flicking as he listened to me. I watched as 5 years of rust flaked from his memory and he remembered what it was to be a horse.
At times he was spazzy, but he always calmed down. Overall, I was impressed. He had a great brain, hardly any signs of wear and tear from his racing days, and at some point in his life he had been well-trained. He was the epitome of a project and I had all of the tools to dust him off and polish him up.
Before leaving, we shook hands with Mike and reassured him we’d be in contact.
In the car, Tim turned to me and asked, “So…do we have a horse?”