The HouseSitter

Specializing in peace of mind for you and your pets.

The Gray ~ The Beginning 

Once upon a time,  while I was attending an equestrian school in California,  I over heard a Grand Prix competitor/trainer say to a client,  “When looking for a new horse, ask him to do something you know he will not be comfortable with, then pay attention to his reaction. ”  This advice stuck with me as much as "keep your heels down".

Many years later while working for a small animal veterinarian in Colorado a friend of mine called the office, “Ya gotta come see this horse with me! He is a three year old paint cross just east of Denver.”  

I replied very quietly, “I am not in the market for a horse.”

She pushed on, “He is a gray paint and they only want $500 for him. Just get out of work early, they will not mind and come look at this horse with me.”

I admitted to never having seen a gray paint, told her I would ask if I could leave early and would call.

In the car I dialed her number to ask when and where she wanted me to meet her. When I clicked the end button driving east I started to run through my head all the reasons this was a bad idea.

Never mind,  I don’t have $500 to spend on a horse. Never mind, I don’t have anyplace to put a horse, never mind I don’t have the money to board a horse, shoe a horse, buy tack for a horse, feed a horse. Never mind all these things. The big problem was I had only been out for a ride twice in the past three years, one of those times I was in so much pain the next morning I could not breathe. The saddest reason this is a very bad idea: I don‘t ride anymore.
It didn’t take me long to convince myself I was going look at a horse my friend was going to buy. I was going to look, not ride, not buy, just look.

We pulled up to a double wide trailer on an amount of acreage, mostly dirt, with a chilly wind blowing from the west. We could see several paints out past what looked like a barn. A good ole old boy of about 65 stepped out of the house, about the time my friend’s husband turned the car engine off.

The first thing he said after we were all introduced was “I am not selling this horse as a broke horse.” The old boy repeated this line intermittently while he threw a saddle on and bridled the youngling. He told us “they” had ridden him a few times, had him “in the hills” at least once. He waved his hand out toward the other horses saying “that is his mother out there”

I barely listened to him, my mind continued to run all the reasons I should not be here about in my head. For those of you who do not know… I have been riding since I was five. I rode professionally for eight years, everything from hunters in New York, jumpers in California,  to taking out guests at ranches in Colorado and Oregon and riding polo horses in Del Mar, California.  

There was a point about three years ago; my body, at the young age of 27, could no longer handle riding six to eight hours a day. It started with dizziness and headaches. The headaches continued
while the gods saw fit to add back pain, pain which truly felt like a dagger between my shoulder blades. It was a constant chronic pain.

I had three doctors, a chiropractor and a massage therapist tell me, not only would I have to stopped riding I would never ride again. Indeed, I was not in the market for a horse.

When the old boy had a saddle and bridle on the youngling my friend glanced my way. I am sure I had a look of terror on my face with eyes wide waffling between the person I once was, that chick who would crawl on any horse just to see what would happen, and the person I had become, "oh god oh god, I don’t think I can". I may have mumbled “I am not in the market for a horse.”

While my emotions were wreaking havoc on my face my friend’s husband put a foot in the stirrup and swung his leg over the baby horse’s back.

I am unsure if my friend’s husband asked for a trot but trot is what he got. The baby horse was what we call a paddler, instead of picking his front knees up he was moving his ankles in a circle, the result is very little bounce to the trot.

I was busy taking in his color, mostly white with huge patches of gray on his chest and hips. His mane was also both white and gray. He had huge brown eyes and seemed to be paying attention to every little thing. Good thing too, cause suddenly a German Sheppard appeared from no where, wrapped his teeth is the baby horse’s tail and pulled. The horse didn’t even filch much less react. I don’t know if this was a game between the two of them or… or what. When the horse didn’t so much as acknowledged the dog’s existence the dog turned loose and disappeared.

I stood there with my mouth open wondering if the whole thing was a figment of my imagination. My friend grinned at me saying “Bombproof”.   It means a horse you could set a bomb off near who would not react.  It is a grand thing in a horse because they are huge, powerful and they think but not always do they do it well.

When my friend’s husband brought the horse back she looked at me. I did a half turn of my head to say “I am not in the market for a horse.” She crawled on him next.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the horse anymore, the old boy selling him kept repeating “I am not selling him as a broke horse.” My friend’s husband was keeping the old boy entertained. I was just standing there dreading when my friend would bring the horse back, I truly did not know if I had it in me to climb on the critter.

My mind started to wander to a horse I rode in Oregon. He may have been four or five, I asked someone one day why he was never ridden. They said he belonged to one of the office people and he had scared her trying to cross water one day.

The next evening during dinner I asked the owner if she would be willing to let me ride him. Her fear of this horse showed on her face, I don’t remember if she said yes or no, all I remember was her saying “Do not take him near water, do not ride him alone and do not let him hurt you.”

Yeah, back in the day I was both immortal and invincible. I grinned at this chick, the horse was not going to hurt me, it can’t be done.

His name was Tascoa, he was a palomino something, with more character that any two horses should have. For weeks every time I asked him to canter he would buck, he paid attention to every little thing, he had the most comfortable gates when he was not bucking.  He was huge fun! I rode him the whole summer, that fall she sold him. Yes, this little gray paint reminded me of Tascoa.

My friend stopped the gray next to me, she looked at me for just a moment then she was on the ground handing me the reins.

I turned the horse around to walk down the lane a bit. I needed to be away from my friends and the current owner. I suggested to the horse he stand still long enough for me to place a foot in the stirrup. That was exactly how long he stood still. Echoes of past instructors surface in my mind every time I allowed a horse to walk off before I am settled in the saddle. It never has been one of my pet peeves.

The paint trotted of a few steps while I found the stirrup for my other foot. Once  settled in the saddle I suggested he stop, I was pleased when he did…it didn’t last half a heart beat but he did stop, then was in motion again, trotting. I tried a few times to get a walk out of him, nothing doing. No matter,  it was just a suggestion any who.

At the end of the lane I saw an electric fence along a farm road to the right. I asked the baby horse to go in the direction of the hot fence. I heard the owner behind me bellowing “That fence is hot! Did you hear me? That fence is hot!” I ignored him.

The baby horse however decided to listen to the owner. He stopped dead about six paces from the hot fence. Can’t blame him, he knew it was hot and didn’t want to get zapped. I think horses can either feel the electric field or smell it, either way many of them know when a fence is hot or when that same fence is off.

I asked the baby horse to take one more step, just one past the point where he thought it was safe. His first reaction was to take a step back with the owner behind us repeating his warning. It was only a single step back and not done in a hurry. I whispered to the baby horse, “I know the fence is hot, I know you know the fence is hot, but if you have it in you to trust me…take just two steps.” I gave him a nudge with my heels. That silly baby horse took three steps forward and turned to stone. I smiled while saying “thank you”. I asked him to back four steps ended up with closer to two steps and a spin so his tail was to the hot fence. He prolly figured he had done what I asked now he was going to do as he pleased.

I wasn’t half way back to the owner when he started howling about the fence again. I quietly said “Yes, I heard you so did your horse. Did you see him decide to trust me not to get him in a situation we could not handle?”

My friend bought the horse on the spot. A week later, my grand father died, he left me some money. When I came back from the funeral I bought the horse from my friend. I started seeing an acupuncturist, she cured my pain. It was akin to magic.

I rode that little horse almost non stop for ten years, until he was hurt beyond repair when someone where I was boarding him did something stupid.  Never did name him, we called him “The Gray”. I can tell you without a doubt the “Do you trust me” test works. That little horse never once refused to do a single thing I ever asked of him. He truly and completely was the coolest thing on four feet.
10.22.2010 ~This story has been online for several years. Last week, The Gray died, it was  sudden, without warning. I am very sad I will never have the joy of spending time with him again.  I have to keep in mind all the wonderful adventures we had. I have ridden nine zillion horses, he truly was the most amazing individual I had the pleasure to play with. I will miss him til the end of my days.

Copyright © 2012 Aperry. All rights reserved.