09 August, 2013

A Mare Named Keiisha

"I never, EVER, in a million years, believed that boarding a horse could be so difficult...and painful. There's not a part of me that isn't hurting" I told my friend Linda, as I sat in her truck, driving away from my latest boarding fiasco. Inside, I was an emotional hurricane and a wreck. Part of me was screaming in anger, the other part of me was crying uncontrollably. 'How could I have put my horse here? How could I be so stupid" I asked myself.

I had owned Keiisha for a little less than 2 years and in that time, had grown incredibly fond of the pretty bay mare. My best friend from high school, Glenn, had been shoeing horses at Ramblin' Rose, a local Hunter-Jumper stable, when Keiisha arrived in the van, along with three other horses purchased at the Carver Family Farm Auction. "Hey Glenn, would you mind staying a bit longer for me and check these guys' feet? asked Sally, the farm owner. "I wanted to start working them tomorrow morning, so I can get them ready for the big sale. I'll give you something extra, to make up for such short notice. Just watch out for the bay, she's a bit of a smart-ass. Rumor has it that the Carver's found her at one of the BLM lots. Lord knows what she is capable of and I really don't want you to get hurt. Not on my place. Not at all." she said, as she walked by, always in a hurry, on her way to doing a million and one things...all at the same time.

So Glenn led the bay mare cautiously out of her stall and clipped the cross ties quickly onto her halter. A sigh of relief escaped his lips. A little bit wary of the mare, Glenn soon learned that she was kind and surprisingly, a level-headed, smart mare, unfazed by anything that came her way.  Glenn became her biggest fan and looked forward to visiting with her, every time he went to Ramblin' Rose. That's when Glenn started to tell me about the bay mare named Keisha. "Hey Julie, I saw Keiisha today. Keiisha...you know, the new horse that I have been telling you about? I think you should check her out. Sally's been working her, trying to get her ready for the big sale. I think you might be able to score a deal with Sally. I don't think she likes her very much and would be happy to be rid of her." Glenn knew that I had wanted a horse for a long time and he felt that Keiisha would be a good match for me. I was a bit hesitant, as I knew my budget was tight but Glenn was persistent and it was time to make this dream, a reality anyway.

Keiisha, a 16-hand bright bay mare with a white star on her forehead was sired by an up-and-coming Thoroughbred race horse stallion named Last Tiger Standing and out of a BLM-adopted mustang mare named High Desert Ke-Sha. Elegant and refined, Keiisha had big, hard, black feet, clean tendons and hard, dense bone. Sally had purchased her because she looked like a hunter and thought she could be extremely competitive in the hunter classes and one of the top selling horses in her big fall sale. I liked Keiisha because she looked sturdy and dependable, with a temperament that was unflappable, just perfect for a trail horse. Her back was strong and built to carry a western saddle. Glenn agreed with me. He didn't believe that Keiisha had it in her to be a hunter. Watching Sally work with her in the ring, all the while whipping her tail from side-to-side, conveyed to Glenn how much she disliked the discipline. "Julie, this mare belongs with you. She's not made for the hunter ring. You will give her the quiet life she desires and the relationship with a human that she is craving" Glenn said.

So, with the few bucks that I had saved, I went down to Ramblin' Rose, to make a deal with Sally. An hour and a half later, Keiisha was all mine, for real. And so, I began my adventure with this really special bay mare. I couldn't afford the board at Ramblin' Rose and since I wasn't interested in showing hunters, there really wasn't a valid reason to keep Keiisha at the stable. So, I looked for a more affordable place to keep my special mare.

I met Nancy through a mutual friend. Recently divorced, she had purchased Sun Meadow Farm and catered her business to adult amateur owners like me. Nancy seemed really nice and the place was clean and the horses well-attended; plus the board was $250 less per month, than at Ramblin' Rose. Everything was going great, except that my sweet and steady horse had become a little bit weird in her stall...kind of spooky and a bit pushy. I couldn't figure it out and when I asked Nancy about it, well, she suggested that maybe, I was being too kind and I needed to be a bit firmer. "That really bugged me" I told Linda. "It should have clued me in, to what this lady is really like."

The weatherman had .predicted a picture-perfect summer day, with low humidity. The kind of day that is perfect for riding. One of the other boarders had told me of a new trail and I was looking forward to exploring it. I arrived much earlier in the day than I normally did and as I pulled into the driveway, I didn't see Keiisha. Keiisha's stall opened to the outside, with a clear view of the parking lot. Usually, Keiisha would stick her head out of the stall, when she heard my voice. So, I thought it was strange when I didn't see her looking for me. When I peeked into her stall, I was not prepared to see Keiisha, standing in half the amount of space she normally stood in, because there was a two-by-four preventing her from enjoying the full size of her box stall. "What the...?" I asked a red-faced Nancy. "Keiisha walks circles in her stall, over and over and over. She churns up the manure and the urine all together and I have to strip this stall every day. Every day! While you are off at work, I am here, in this stall, busting my back, cleaning up the mess that your mare made for me! Do you know what that costs me?"she shouted. So, that was the end of that. With a few pushes of the numbers on my cell phone, my friend Linda arrived with her trailer and Keiisha and I were off to another place, where no one would place two-by-fours in her stall.

I went to Laura's small farm next and like Nancy, she seemed easy-going and laid-back but a month into it, I realized that Keiisha was dropping a lot of weight. And so, Linda and I were off, in search of a different place, where the food was plentiful.

Stephanie was funny and a few minutes into our conversation, she had me laughing hard, with her zany stories. She had been a marine biologist, a private detective, a hair-stylist, a real estate agent, a veterinarian's assistant, a registered nurse, a massage therapist, a bar maid...I really don't think there is anything that this woman can't do. However, a few months into boarding at her farm; I soon learned that there is one thing that Stephanie did not do well...husbandry. An early afternoon visit and I found my mare being attacked by another horse, in her own stall. Stephanie would open the pasture gate and allow the whole herd to run into the barn, to find their own stalls...on their own. Some of the horses did this well, others liked to taste everyone else's ration, before finding their own stall. "How Stephanie, can you ever think this is acceptable and why would you put yourself in a position so full of negligence...your own?" I asked her. So, off we went, in search of a farm where horses are separated at feeding time.

That's when I met Loretta. She had purchased a small farm on Ridgeway Avenue and had worked hard cleaning and painting, changing what had been a sorry, run-down mess to an eye-catching, desireable stable. It seemed like a good place, even though Loretta, in her shorts and high heels, looked less like an equestrian and more like a Daisy Mae, from the Lil' Abner comics. "I know I don't look like what most people think of a horsewoman but when I was a kid, I was the state 4-H Champion in barrel racing" Loretta explained and continued, "and that's the horse that I rode." as she pointed towards an obese buckskin-colored Quarter Horse, munching on a big, round bale of hay in his pasture. Although Loretta did not have a lot of hands-on horse experience, my friend, Claudia, who was the leader of the local 4-H club, ran her training stable out of Loretta's farm. That made me more comfortable. I knew Claudia and trusted her. One of the Appaloosa horses that Claudia trained, made it all the way to a top ten trail horse award at the national breed show. That was a big accomplishment. Claudia worked hard and cared well for her horses. What I liked most about Loretta's place was the access to the trails, that lay beyond the quarry next door. It was perfect, for someone like me, who just wanted to ride long and far. I was happier than I had been in a long time. Until I got a phone call from Claudia. "Get in your car and get here quickly!" she whispered in a panic. "Loretta is on your horse and has told everyone that she bought her from you and is going to make her into her personal jumping horse." "WHAT?? Her personal jumping horse?" My blood boiling, I told Loretta what I thought of her, as I loaded Keiisha into the trailer and left.

When I met Bobby, it was obvious that he knew literally nothing about horses. He would not feed, water, muck or turn out my horse and to tell you the truth, that's how I wanted it. By this time, after moving my horse so many times, I was tired of dealing with people who never provided the level of service that they were being paid for. I wanted to control the quality and size of ration my horse consumed. I wanted the freedom to make decisions like how deeply I wanted to bed her stall, without someone complaining that it took longer to clean it. I won't kid you, it was tough keeping a horse at Bobby's farm. Whenever I pulled into the driveway, Bobby would run out of his house, ready to blurt out all of the day's happenings. After 10 or 15 minutes, I wondered if Bobby would ever stop talking and allow me to spend time with my horse. Bobby is a mentally disabled man, in his mid-thirties and unfortunately, does not have any social interaction, outside of his family and home. Bobby does not understand or respect well-defined and established borders. His parents never taught him to be respectful or considerate of another person's time.  I was really starting to get frustrated. Bobby also kept about 60 or 70 chickens, right next to the barn. Sometimes, walking into the barn was like running an obstacle course, with buckets, bags and assorted piles of stuff in my way. Bobby was a pack-rat and had difficulty throwing anything away and he was oblivious to how much space a horse needs, to turn around safely. When Glenn came to trim her hooves, I had to clear the area first, so he would have enough space to work on her feet. On other days, as soon as I had Keisha tacked-up and was just about to jump in the saddle, that's when Bobby would start smashing soda and beer cans flat. Bobby collected the aluminum for cash. "Bobby! Can you wait a couple minutes for me to ride off the property?!?! You are scaring Keiisha!" I would shout at him. And red-faced, he would apologize, "oh, sorry Julie" and then he would walk away, finding another equally noisy task. As frustrating as all of these things are for me; what bothered me the most was finding the paddock gate open, which had recently become a more frequent occurrence. On my drive to work or even relaxing at home, the mental image of a swinging open gate and a bay horse running loose would send me into an all-out panic. I would get in my car and drive all the way back to the farm, only to find Keiisha in her paddock, grazing contentedly and the paddock gate shut.

"Julie, money's tight right now and you have been really worried about the rumors that have been circulating at your job," Linda continued, "the kind of barn you desire will run you somewhere in the vicinity of $750 or more a month. Can you afford that kind of money? I don't think so. This place, warts and all, runs you $125 a month plus your expenses. I hate to say it but if it wasn't for this place, I don't believe you could afford Keisha. You need to find a way to make this work...for you and for Keiisha."

Linda made a lot of sense and the lower cost of rough-boarding at Bobby's farm did make it possible for me to continue as a horse-owner. "I thought this guy kind of creeped you out?" I asked Linda. "Well, yeah, he does but what's the choice? I would rather be creeped out all the time, if it meant being able to keep my horse" she replied.

So, determined to make it work, I committed to being a more tolerant, patient person. I promised myself that when Bobby was at his most annoying self, I would work hard to be kind. That lasted about a week. When I pulled into the driveway and saw the gate wide open and Keiisha grazing outside of her paddock, all of the commitments and promises I had made sizzled like bacon in a frying pan. Slowly, I made my way over to Keiisha, placing my hand on her hindquarter and running it softly, all the way across her back, up her neck, as my mare turned her head towards me, to acknowledge me. "What a sweet girl you are Keiisha." I said as I grabbed the cheek piece on her halter. "Thank God for you.' I said. What a relief!" as I exhaled the deepest breath I can ever remember holding in. And that's when I lost it, as the realization of a tragedy avoided, overwhelmed me. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called my friend Linda.

"Are you busy?" I asked, as I tried everything I could think of, to not start crying.

"What's wrong Julie? Is Keiisha okay?" Linda asked.

I told Linda everything and when I was finished, she was quiet...for a few minutes. I thought she had hung up on me. "Take this telephone number down. On my way to the mall, I spotted a homemade sign for horse boarding. I was going to call later, to check it out for you."

A few days later, Keiisha, Linda and I pulled into the driveway of Angelo and Imelda's home. Their small farm was located in a million dollar development of estate-like homes. Their daughter Tina had started riding at a very young age. She got so good, that she qualified for the Medal Maclay finals at the National Horse Show in New York City. Angelo and Imelda, who owned a successful furniture business, had moved to the country, to build a show barn, with a small indoor arena, for Tina to practice. I was a bit nervous over the move, as I wondered if this was another stop in a long chain of bad boarding decisions. Imelda made me nervous, as she raised show dogs and well, I have never had a very good experience with show dog people. By the weekend, I started to feel a bit better about the move, so, on Sunday, when I pulled into the driveway and I saw Imelda picking up pieces of  rail fencing, I asked her, "What's going on?" And Imelda replied, "your mare, that's what's going on."

I suddenly got sick to my stomach and was afraid to ask,"What happened?"

"Well Julie, I went to the food store. I wasn't gone more than forty minutes. I asked Angelo to keep an eye on the horses while I was gone. I had your mare in the small paddock and the other guys in the big pasture. Angelo said he felt sorry for Keiisha, she looked lonely, separated from the other horses. So, he put her in with the other horses."she said calmly, as if she had rehearsed these words over and over in her mind. I was in disbelief over what she was saying. "Well, they cornered her against the fence and she jumped it. She went running loose through the development. Some construction guys a few streets over, managed to catch her and bring her back." I interrupted her to ask, "Where is she?"

"Well, I put her in one of the stalls." as she pointed to the small barn. "You may want to call the vet. She is really cut up and her fetlocks and cannons look a little puffy" she added

I ran to the barn, calling Keiisha's name. I heard her before I saw her. I hugged  her so tightly, glad as I was to see her and in better shape than I had imagined.. She had a deep cut on her hip but there was no swelling anywhere on her front legs. From what I could see, her hind legs were equally normal.

"This is totally unacceptable Imelda. Your husband had no right to make this kind of decision and put my horse in danger." I firmly told her.

"C'mon Julie, it's all your mare's fault. She is not friendly with the other horses. I feel that she asked for it. Maybe now, she will be a bit more friendly." Imelda fired back.

"I can't talk about this with you Imelda. You are not even making sense. I don't know if you are saying all of this because you are smart enough to recognize your responsibility and you are afraid of a lawsuit but I wish you would stop talking because you are annoying me right now. I don't think I can handle boarding at your farm anymore. So, if my friend Linda can get here, I'll be leaving before the day is done. And before I forget, I want the one and a half month security that I paid you."

"Well, to tell you the truth Julie, I am glad to be rid of you. I feel you misled me. You told me that your horse was a Thoroughbred and I found out that she is a wild horse, a Mustang. I have heard how unpredictable these horses are and how crazy and flighty they can be. I see this in your mare. I can't afford to be seriously hurt and what's more..."

I was ready to explode, as my blood pressure reached an altitude I have never known before. I looked at Imelda and I realized that all the curse words that I wanted to shout at her, as I repeatedly punched her in the face, was not worth it. So, I clipped the lead to Keiisha's halter and I started walking calmly towards the street, desperately wanting to put some distance between this crazy lady and me. Imelda just stood there in disbelief with her mouth wide open. "A wild and crazy Mustang...sheesh..what an asshole." I muttered under my breath. I turned left and started to walk up the street, my sight on the pickup truck and horse trailer that just turned onto the same street that I was now walking on. I stopped and stood on the grass, letting Keiisha graze while waiting for Linda to pull up. And then, out of nowhere, Keiisha, sensing how upset I was, rested her head on my shoulder and let out a long, contented sigh, as if to say, "thanks for watching my back today."

Life is never perfect but leave it to a great horse, who has the power to mend a broken moment and from the ashes and ruins, create a memory worth savoring...for a long time.

EnJOY the happy summer,
Ralph

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