Given the rise in the price of hay in drought-stricken New Mexico, I have taken to chanting, “No more ponies, no more ponies, no more….”. The phone call must have come during a chanting session. A vet* we’d known for twenty years had come across a 16 hand thoroughbred gelding, ten, give or take a year.
The sentences in that voicemail that broke my resolve were as follows: “This gelding’s well put-together. He’s kind. You can scoot under his belly and between his legs. I think he’d make a great children’s hunter. He needs a rescue.”
I quickly began to develop a husband-friendly strategy. If This Vet calls, the gelding must be worth considering. Probably won’t like him anyway. Even if we don’t need another horse, if This Vet’s right, I know I can find him a good home. We need a reliable, calm trail horse for guests.” And so on.
The clincher was, “You can come with me.” My husband always smugly assumes he’s better than me at saying “no” to new animal units. (This, despite the fact that we have 17 horses, 3 dogs, 3 cats, 8 hens, all acquired during our twenty-six years of marriage.)
A couple days later we negotiated a miles-long washboard dirt road, arriving at a tidy adobe house replete with small horse pens. Most were filled with plump, satisfied-looking quarter horses, clearly in use.
And then there was the pen in the back. Standing on dirt, so hard-packed it might as well have been asphalt, was a rather dejected-looking brown thoroughbred. Even my horseman hubby could see that beneath that wormy, nicked-up, nutritionally-challenged hide lurked a well put-together thoroughbred desperately in need of a second, or perhaps third, chance.
A kind eye sealed the deal. Almost. It was a brief test-ride that satisfied the husbandly concerns—that the ankle-jewelry from this gelding’s past racing and mountain trail riding careers might compromise his use for other performance activities. Or that “Cheater” (I know, I know) might prove psychotic. Thank goodness my spouse concluded, “not”.
I quickly redubbed him, “EarlyBird”. I can’t remember why.
For the first month, EarlyBird received full spa treatment. And doctoring. First, wormer, then an aloedine bath followed by mane and tail treatment. Next was a visit from our farrier, then a visit to the equine dentist for an oral exam and float which confirmed two things. One, whatever feed EarlyBird was offered over the past several months could not have made it successfully through teeth that hadn’t been maintained in a series of blue moons. And two, EarlyBird was, as represented, ten years old. Or so. We formulated a weight-gain plan.
I started test-driving EarlyBird about a month later. He exhibited all my favorite thoroughbred characteristics and within days was lodged firmly in the one-of-my-most-cherished-of-all-time-horse columns. True, he “knew” nothing, and followed his nose like a two-year-old. But kind, curious, and willing EarlyBird proved, and nine months later continues to be.
My hubby was impatient for the day I might find Early that long-awaited perfect home. I reasoned as hunt season approached, “Just think how much more valuable he will be if he’s huntable. Honey, are you listening? I’ll keep it low-key, second field for the season. Promise.”
Four months later, EarlyBird proved adept in first field. He often serves as my mount for hound exercise mid-week. And last Saturday, I couldn’t help choosing him for my first day drag-whipping along with a more experienced staff member of our hunt.
Though fit for the job, three hours into this hunt on a roller-coaster fixture of small steeply graded hills, Early was tired, as was I, when the hounds finally picked up that hard line. The fields had long since ridden back to the trailers and rather than chance getting lost, (or suffering a self-induced blow to my ego), I decided to stay on, gallop up and down the hills, and relish the hounds giving chase.
EarlyBird was giving his best when he caught his right hoof and tumbled. He hit on his right; I hit on my left. By the time my fellow drag-whipper returned my gelding to me, I was rather shamefaced. Though I hadn’t hit my head, I was hearing voices, particularly my husband’s. “Since when do you gallop down hills?”
I remain ever-thankful for an assist back on my pony, to whom I issued a profuse apology. But for a scrape along his side, EarlyBird appeared to have suffered no injuries. For this I am extremely grateful.
As for myself, the three to four mile ride in the rain back to the trailer gave me more than enough time to contemplate my hubris, the nagging pain in my hip, and the considerable worth of the once-scrawny, forgotten thoroughbred gelding, quietly packing me in.
In the heat of the chase, I’d dismissed what I love most about thoroughbreds in general and EarlyBird in particular. They give their all, all the time. True to his breed, Early continued to respond to my leg urging him on, despite being done for the day. He waited for me to ask him to stop. And I failed to do so.
My husband assures me that EarlyBird is 100% physically-speaking. He no longer asks when EarlyBird will be going to a new home.** And I have high hopes that when I’ve fully recovered from a fractured sacrum, EarlyBird will have forgotten his stumble and forgiven my poor decision to continue riding unabashedly after hitting both human and horse bottom.
My bad. I’ll do better next time, EarlyBird. Promise.
* All human names have been omitted to protect the innocent and the guilty.
** Yes, we’re still married.