When I was 22 I bought my first horse.
She wasn’t the first horse I owned – and in fact I still owned Jubilee at the time.
On the other hand, this was the first horse I had ever seen on my own, evaluated, decided to purchase and bought with my own saved money, no help from the parents.
A friend of mine had picked her up at the auction a few months before. She was a leggy chestnut, probably 15.2 or 15.3, maybe two or three years old, although she looked much younger. She didn’t have any papers, but she had long, long, thoroughbred legs and a dishy little arab face with absurdly big, sweet, warm eyes. Something about the way that she was built let you know she still had a lot of growing to do, and that when she was done she was going to be something.
Everything she did was dainty, feminine, and well thought out. She moved like a ballerina, never setting a hoof wrong. She was graceful, and beautiful.
Most importantly, she had a brain. You could actively see her thinking. There was something almost eerily human about her expressions.
From the moment my friend brought her back from auction, I suffered from a deep sense of jealousy. I wanted that filly. I NEEDED that filly. She was perfect – if you overlooked the fact that she was a little lame. It was hard to say exactly what it was – some days she was sound, and other days she was completely off in her front.
After watching my friend grow increasingly frustrated for a month or two, I made my move.
Two hundred and fifty dollars later, she was mine.
I borrowed a friend’s trailer to go pick her up. When I saw the trailer, I was less than amused. It was a ridiculously tiny, two horse trailer. Rusted and short, it looked like it was built for ponies. Still, it was a trailer, and beggars couldn’t be choosers. I knew it was dangerously too-tiny, but I did it anyways. I figured it would take us quite a bit of training to get her to go in something that small, but she seemed like she might be willing. I set aside an entire afternoon to work with her and drove down to pick her up.
She walked right in.
I couldn’t believe it. I put on her halter, walked her to the trailer to let her sniff it, and she just ducked her head and wandered right in. Disbelieving, I snapped the chain and closed the gate behind her. I didn’t tie her head, because it was a long trip and I wanted her to be comfortable. Smiling, I went to pay the money. I chatted for about 5-10 minutes beside the trailer before shaking hands and turning to head out. On a whim (and because she was MINE, finally MINE) I went to go check on her.
I hadn’t anticipated her being so thin or so flexible. In her curiosity to know what was going on outside the trailer she had twisted her head around to look over her back, and was promptly stuck. The divider kept her from being able to straighten and the height of the trailer kept her from flipping it up and straightening it.
She was bent double like a pretzel, with her chin resting securely in the center of her back, her neck doubled completely in two. I tried to keep calm, but inwardly, I was freaking out – at any second, I knew she would explode and would snap her neck. I held my breath.
She stared at me with a pleasant, amiable expression. Hello. Can you give me a hand?
Moving quietly and quickly, I unhooked the butt rope and opened the trailer doors, fully expecting her to explode backwards.
She stared at me, eyeballing the exit. May I?
I walked into the empty stall beside her, and applied a bit of pressure to her chest, clucking twice.
She took two steps back, enough so her neck had the room to straighten out. She heaved a big sigh and gave a big shake, like a dog drying off.
She was half in, half out of the trailer, and standing there calmly. It was unreal. I gave a gentle tug to her halter, clucked twice…. And she stepped quietly back in. It was crazy. How could she be that smart? I tied her VERY well and took her home.
Personality-wise, I’ve never met a sweeter horse. You could tell someone had taken the time with her. She had a little bit of issues with boundaries that needed to be reinforced, but that was it. Even her ill behavior was endearing. I would sit in her stall reading books, and she would stand by me, sniffing, licking, whuffling my hair. Once, as I was engrossed in a particularly exciting section of a book, I completely lost track of what was going on around me. Lost in the world of words, the book sucked me in, the world fading into oblivion as the hero…
There was a hoof on my book, right where I was reading.
I jerked up in surprise – and there she was, one leg lifted, hoof covering the book carefully, feather light, like a cat placing its paw on your arm for attention.
I laughed and shooed her off, then went over to groom her. Maybe I had to discipline her for her behavior, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t earned a little love.
The problem is she never got better – she was always lame in her front. First it was her front right knee, then both knees…. The vet said that she grew too much, too fast. Severe osteochondrosis lesions. There was nothing I could do. Something about excessive growth and poor nutrition as a foal… to be honest, I didn’t really pay attention. The only thing I heard was that she would never be sound. Surgery might make her more comfortable, but it wouldn’t ever heal. She’d never be rideable. She’d never be sound. At most she’d be comfortable and a really sweet pasture pet.
I gave her a couple of months, hoping for a miracle, but it never got better.
I was 22 years old and making $8 an hour. I already owned one horse. I tried to find her a home as a pasture pet, but no luck.
I should have put her down. But she was just, SO sweet.
I think every person has those moments in life where they would give anything, everything, to be able to turn back time and change a decision. You could go back to that pivotal moment and make the right choice, and change what you did, and be a better person.
You wouldn’t know the burning, secret shame of bad decisions.
I wish I had put her down.
Instead, I took her to auction.
I knew way less about auctions than I know nowadays, but I knew enough. I wasn’t fixing a problem. I was passing it onto someone else… or worse.
It was an absurdly hot day. By ten o’clock I was sticky with sweat. The auction yards didn’t have any watering troughs, so I let her drink out of my McDonald’s cup.
I couldn’t meet her eyes.
She was one of the last horses to go through. She went for $125. I didn’t check with her new owners, because I didn’t want to know.
I left without saying goodbye.
I really, really should have had the balls to put her down.