Do I really have a horse??

So the last three days have been a serious rodeo. This is part one of three….

On Sunday, Mary called me and said, “Hey, if you wanna go look at this horse that’s a four-hour drive away, today is the last day I will have free for a couple of weeks.” I hadn’t planned to go horse-shopping that day (having spent the previous day shopping), but Kim gave me her blessing.

There were actually two horses that were possible lookers. One was north and the other was east (both about the same distance). I called the one that was east (a dapple grey Percheron gelding—be still my beating heart!) and talked with a very nice older man who sounded kind of a lonely. Despite email hinting that the horse in question was broke to ride, he said he didn’t know whether the horse was saddle broke or not, but that he was well-trained in harness. “He’s a good hawrse, though. You’ll like him.” But I need a horse that I can ride. “Oh, he’d pick it up quick. He’s a good hawrse. You’ll like him.” I really don’t have time to train a horse. “Why don’t you call the people in Missouri I bought him from? They can tell you if he’s broke or not. He’s a good hawrse. You’ll like him.” Okay, I’ll call them. “Good. He’s a good hawrse, though. You’ll like him.” <eye-roll>

So, we headed north to check out a palomino Belgian mare (very pretty, trained to drive and ride, 16 years old). The seller was dealing cash only, so we scrambled trying to figure out how to come up with that much cash on a Sunday. I thought to call my credit card company, and they told me no problem. Just use an ATM or go to any bank that’s open (and yes, there are bank branches open on Sundays—usually ones inside a larger grocery store). Having dealt with the cash issue, Mary graciously brought her horse trailer along.

Kim fixed us a little goodie bag of snacks and off we went. We stopped at an ATM in Salem and made sure that I could get cash from my credit card. Yep, it worked! Things went swimmingly until north of Kelso, when we started hitting heavy traffic. (On a Sunday??)

Traffic continued to get worse, and the traffic report from the iPhone wasn’t encouraging about the route ahead. So we got off I-5 in Chehalis and got on to a 2-lane state highway. Even though it would have a lower speed limit and more turns, we figured it wouldn’t be any slower than I-5 and that it would be much less frustrating. I think we were right, but it still took us almost six hours to get there, which is about 90 minutes longer than it should have taken.

We rolled up to a gravel driveway with no name and no house number (after driving past it once). We followed our noses past ramshackle outbuildings and rusting trucks and tractors (and a pretty white Percheron gelding—a good sign!) to… a big gravel parking area in front of a ramshackle barn. Said parking area had the following around its perimeter: three beat-up trailers (as in, house trailers), several semi tractors (as in, big trucks), numerous beat-up cars and pick-ups (along with a couple of newer ones), and various piles of junk. Mary and I looked at each other and wondered a) how we were going to get turned around, and b) what the hell we were doing here.

A 20-something year-old guy walked over to greet us, and turned out to be the seller’s grandson whom we had seen in the videos of the horse. He seemed nice enough. He led us into the ramshackle barn, which was rather dungeon-like. We walked down a low-ceilinged side aisle, with rows of dark little stalls on one side and an almost-as-dark arena on the other. Mary and I looked at each other again, shrugged our shoulders as if to say, “Well, we came this far….”

Then we caught sight of the horse in the arena. She was just as pretty as the photos. There was a steady stream of people kind of roaming around not seeming to be doing much. Some were in the arena, some were off in the shadows of still another side aisle with stalls. It was odd. But the horse was nice.

We got acquainted with the horse, checked out her ground manners (excellent), and watched her longe. Mary longed her, too, and we were pleased with what we saw. She looked a little long in the hooves, and the seller said it had been about 8-10 weeks since she was trimmed (“She got missed when the farrier was out.”) and that they had trimmed her up a bit today, “so she might be a little tender.” Her backs looked pretty good, but her fronts each had cracks and were a bit bell-shaped. But she longed just fine at the walk and trot (the arena wasn’t big enough to canter in, and it was getting dark outside).

They saddled her in a big western saddle. They didn’t have a bit and bridle big enough, so they improvised with a halter and lead rope. The grandson got up on her and rode at the walk and trot. She moved well, so Mary got up next. She rode well enough for Mary at the walk, but actually gave a little buck when Mary tried to get her to extend her trot—much to everyone’s surprise. A canter was out of the question in such a small arena. The mare was doing pretty well for a horse that had been ridden only 3-4 times in the past year.

It was my turn to ride next. She was a nice size: big and tall, but not so tall that I couldn’t mount from the ground. She was very comfortable to ride, with a smooth walk. It was like pulling teeth to get her to trot, though, and she was very tender on her left front at the trot. After a very short trot, she was tender at the walk. She stumbled a little a couple of times, too. She did forehand and haunch turns for me, much to my surprise (she tried sidepassing for Mary, but was a bit too rusty). I got off and we cleaned out her hooves, as the footing packed in pretty solidly. I got back up on her and she seemed to be better. I tried to trot again, and eventually got what I asked for. Her trot was very smooth—a nice western lope—but she was quickly tender again, and then clearly sore even at the walk. So I hopped down, and did a more thorough inspection of her feet. Her soles and frogs were not sensitive to hard finger pressure, and her pasterns didn’t feel especially warm. Her front soles had clearly been shaved down, which made me wonder if their amateur trim job had maybe trimmed back a bit too much sole.

Mary and I stepped outside to talk things over. After about 20 minutes of debate, we agreed that she was a good fit and came up with terms for an offer with a trial period. We went back in and haggled with the seller for a good 30-45 minutes before settling on a price of $2400 and a ten-day trial with $500 of the purchase price non-refundable in the event of a return during the trial. This was a little more than I wanted to pay, but it was pretty close.

Then the fiasco of the ATM machines began. The seller’s husband was kind enough to drive us into town so we wouldn’t have to deal with turning the trailer around a second time. To make a very long two hours much shorter, I will provide the following summary: my credit card company neglected to tell me that there was a $1200/day limit on cash advances, my credit card’s anti-fraud measures kicked in, and the ATMs all had daily withdrawal limits of $500-800. After two phone calls to my credit card company and visits to four different ATMs (as well as a trip back to the seller’s place where I had left the PIN in Mary’s truck), I still didn’t have enough cash. Mary pulled out her maximum allotment from her back account, and we were still $800 short. Frustrated, we went back to the seller’s place to negotiate.

The seller was waiting for us in one of the dilapidated trailers. I’ve seen worse living conditions, but not recently and not in a major metropolitan area. <shudder> I suggested PayPal for the balance, but that didn’t go over well, as they didn’t use it. The seller said she would take a check for the balance, but I hadn’t brought my checkbook because the seller said cash only. Mary saved the day by writing a (technically hot) check for the difference.

While we had been gone, the seller had been hand-writing out a sales agreement because I had forgotten my blank one at home and she didn’t have a working printer to print out her own blank copies. She didn’t have a copier, either, so she made two handwritten copies. She didn’t spell well, so the two copies weren’t perfectly identical, but they were close enough and in agreement on all the fine points. Her idea of a ten-day trial started that day, even though it was almost midnight by then, so I really got a nine-day trial, but I didn’t feel like quibbling by then. After counting the cash at least six times, we finally all agreed on how much cash was there (after a very poor wisecrack by the seller’s husband about just getting his gun and keeping the money—zoinks!—quickly shushed by his wife) and signed the paperwork.

They asked if we had brought a halter, and we said, yes, but it wasn’t big enough for the mare. Somewhat reluctantly they supplied us with a beat-up halter and lead rope. The mare was skittish in the parking area and calling back and forth with her pasture buddy (the white gelding I mentioned earlier, who turned out to be a 30-year-old grey that they had retired). Mary had brought a hay net, and we persuaded them to part with a flake of hay for the road, as she hadn’t had her supper yet. She was a bit reluctant to go in the trailer, but once she saw the hay, she was no trouble. We squeezed her in, closed the door, said our goodbyes to a somewhat tearful seller, and hit the road.

We were tired, hungry (no supper), and head-achy. I texted Kim and Jenn the good news, and Jenn got a stall ready for her. After a couple of wrong turns, we got on the road to I-5, got on the freeway, tried to stop at an IHOP only to discover it was closed (!) for the night, and finally ended up at Denny’s. After having breakfast for dinner and getting some caffeine and Advil at the gas station convenience store, we were feeling a lot better and headed for home.

Periodically on the way home, I would say, “That’s my horse back there! Do I really have a horse?” Yes, Mary reassured me with a grin. Before long, she was doing it, too.

It was five in the morning when we rolled into Abiding Acres. We had stopped by my house to get my truck and a sleeping bag. I was so tired that I didn’t trust myself to drive home safely from the barn. We unloaded the mare onto grass. Every horse in the place was instantly alert and interested in “the new girl” and the whinnying began in earnest. I led her to her new stall, but she did not want to walk across the gravel driveway. It took a bit of persuading, but she eventually walked on. We got her tucked in, and she immediately glommed onto the fresh flake of hay in the stall.

Mary headed home, and I collapsed on the tack room couch with my sleeping bag. What an incredibly tiring day. But rewarding! “[S]he’s a nice hawrse. You’ll like [her].” Indeed!

To be continued…

About Mike

Michael Heggen is a horseman, maker, and thinker who lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife, Kim, and "three to eight cats". He stays quite busy riding, driving, and caring for their three horses, Boulder, Shasta, and Bob. Among other things, Mike has been a fencing coach, police chaplain, computer consultant, aspirant to the diaconate, computer salesman, box boy, carpenter, computer technician, typesetter, church youth leader, copy machine operator, and network administrator. His other interests include juggling, reading voraciously, and (pretty occasionally these days) cycling.
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