A clatter of hooves as the unhappy horse spins, whirls, races from one end of the dark trailer to the other. Metal booms as he does not stop in time and crashes hard into the wall.
Opening the gate, the gelding flies out like Pegasus about to take leave for the sun. His coat gleams fiery red and his sweat soaked blonde mane flies matted and wild.
Not the horse you thought it was going to be, is it.
That was Cisco, the kid. My first horse trade when I was 15 years old, snot nosed, green as a gourd but put together with a certain basic wile that was going to take me a lot of places in the years to come, not all of them bad.
"Get him out” I told the trader, “Lets get a look at him. We have stocks if you can’t get him back in, we’ll load him up for you.”
The guy reluctantly agreed, still looking around for something resembling a responsible adult. He really liked the look of my own red gelding standing saddled nearby and a thought may have been passing through his mind that he would end up owning him.
Once out, the little sorrel was shaking but calmed by the moment. We tied him to a nearby tree, didn’t occur to us to wonder if he’d stand tied or not, what horse wouldn’t?
We discuss that this horse is about 8 years old, broke to the bone, no papers to prove one way or another. I crack his lip to have a look. That should have told the guy something, that I knew how to read a tooth, maybe but he was still not paying attention. He was busy looking for the adult to make the deal.
“Give you three hundred” says me. That was actually $20 more than I had but I figured my guardian would spot me the other $20, he pretty much gave me what I wanted when the other one would let him.
The guy stares at me quizzically. “Horse is worth three times that” he replies shortly.
You have to know this is 1975, rural Northern California and three hundred is a fair price for a horse in those days, some horses, and $900 a fortune.
I shrug, okay thanks, have a good one. I go to mount my barrel racer that we raised and I would not have sold for any amount, nor traded not even for a cool looking flaxy maned, all over chromed number like what he had.
“Hey, hey! Wait a minute!” I stop, look back. He’s scowling. “Aren’t you going to get your dad for me to talk to?”
“Won’t make any difference, I do the horse dealing around here.” He stares at my skinny little self in disbelief.
“Well fine then. Help me load this thing and I will be on my way.”
I glance at the horse, now standing with one leg cocked up, half asleep. “He looks pretty happy right where he’s at. I got that $300 for you, seems about right to me for a horse you can’t load in a trailer.”
“Nah, I ain’t interested!” The guy is getting a little mad now. “Where’s your stocks, let me load him up and I will be on my way.”
I shake my head. “I think I said, if we don’t want him, we will help you load him. I DO want him, so I am not going to. Load him yourself or leave him here.”
About then, my guardian came strolling down the lane, fetched by one of the neighborhood kids we sent as if I was going to buy a horse, he probably should know about it, plus, he had the money. Was mine, from selling my May Day mare but I didn’t exactly get to carry it around.
Visible relief floods the trader’s face. Finally someone he could make sense to. He outlines why he’s here, had heard we had a nice horse we might want to sell, and he’s interested. Might even throw his in on a trade if we had cash to boot.
I am grinning, kid enough to really be enjoying what I knew would happen next.
“Ter?” My guardian, Everett asks me, “is that what you had in mind?”
“Heck no. The horse we had for sale, I sold last week. That’s why I offered you the $300, mister, it’s what I have to give.” I cast a quick pleading glance at Everett. I’d sold the mare for $280 . . .
He sputters. “She said she’d help load him if I got him out for you . . . her to see. I did and now she won’t!”
Everett’s turn to shrug. “I think she wants the horse. $300 is what she has to spend, sir, so either accept my daughter’s deal or load up and get on your way.”
The guy stares at him, then me, back at my guardian who smiles. “It’s up to her, she does the horse dealing around here.”
Muttering things that are not polite to repeat in a family friendly blog, the trader accepts the deal. He doesn’t ask for his halter and lead rope, nobody did in those days, they went with the horse.
He pulled out in a rattle of angry tires and we never saw him in our part of the world ever again. Cisco became my trail horse, key hole champ and all around good buddy. He did eventually learn to load and ride in a trailer, home made, topless two horse at that. It never occurred to me to give up trying.
Flash to two days ago. Rattle of hooves, panicky horse whirling and spinning out of a trailer. It’s Royal this time and he is rejecting his brand new to us stock trailer that has replaced the hated two horse.
I watch him shaking my head. It wasn’t the trailer before and it isn’t now. I knew that then too but it was a trade I was willing to make to find a way to help him deal with his troubles without getting either of us killed in the process. Now, it’s time.
We are on our way to Kip Fladland’s first in his winter series of three one-day clinics and by God and all that is holy, I am going to get that horse to stay in the trailer long enough to get him there.
Charlie comes down, he pressures from the rear, I am in the trailer trying to lead him in, side door open in case he goes ballistic when we close him in as Mark, on the gate is ready to do. We are not messing around. He’s in, gate slams, he spins and I am out so fast I barely see him trying to come out beside me. I slam the side door in his bewildered face. Only then I realize I probably scared him more right there than any other thing on the planet.
Charlie says “dang you are QUICK Terri, you bailed right out of there! Thought you might stay in a minute and pet him a little.”
I have seen what those freaked out hooves can do to strong metal and have no intention of allowing my body to get in the way should that be Royal’s reaction to his capture. I look in warily. He’s not happy but there’s no war going on. I open the gate, toss the lead gently at him to see if he will fire at it out of reaction. When he doesn’t, I am in, and petting him. We both breathe.
He hauls fine to the clinic. Kip has me turn him and back him out of the trailer, telling me to look for some respect from him in the process. Dana operates the gate and the horse wants out, but he lets me do what I want to do.
I expect him to be nervy, jumpy and weirded out by the way we loaded him and his unhappiness in general.
That horse didn’t show up. A calm, quiet eyed fellow was in his hooves. A horse that was willing to try when asked, who settled his flinches and boogers, what little there were, in the morning groundwork.
A horse that I could see when he dragged a foot awkwardly in the sand was responding to my poor timing, not any problem he had. A horse that when jerkily pulled on when I got unhandy tolerated my mistakes and didn’t get flustered or upset with me.
A horse that melted into my hands when I got it right in the saddle, that leg yielded off the barest of cues, that wanted to be wherever I wanted him to be.
We had maybe the best ride of our lives. Again.
Loading up was imperfect but only took two of us. Unloading in the stormy snowy wintery wind was less perfect than that, but me by myself and a horse that does not give up. And neither will I.