I’m reading Jane Smiley’s TRUE BLUE right now, which is about a grey horse that is quite lovely, except for his habit of occasionally spooking at something, as if he’d seen a ghost. I’m enjoying the book, because it reminds me of a grey horse I owned for a short while that behaved in the same fashion.
This happened many years ago, and I remember going to look at a grey horse for sale, and I was quite taken with him. He was a dark steel grey with dapples and a black mane and tail. Not a large horse, maybe fifteen hands, but he had a lovely head, was compact and put together so nicely that he’d turn heads. The kind of horse that was just balanced all over, so you wanted to keep looking and looking at him.
He was a little green, and was being ridden out in a field by a pretty good cowboy - a young man who might also want to buy him. I went because I knew the people involved, and I was also in the market for a new horse to ride. The grey gelding just glided across the field in a nice slow lope as several of us stood around and watched, and he had his feet underneath him at all times. I was quite taken with him, thinking to myself, boy, I’d sure like to own him, but surely this guy riding him will buy him.
Then, out in the middle of this plowed field with everyone watching, and in less than the blink of eye, the grey horse spooked at some unseen thing, jumped sideways and unseated the young man riding him. The cowboy didn’t lose his hat, immediately stood right back up again, reached for the reins and remounted, but was a little embarrassed because the horse had caught him (and all of us watching) totally off-guard.
Well, long story short, that cowboy passed on the horse, and because I was a bit prideful in those days and thought I could ride him, I bought the horse. He loaded right into my trailer, came home and settled in fine. He was easy to be around, easy to saddle and climb on, and never gave me a lick of trouble. At first.
After riding him a few weeks and finding him to be just fine, I hauled him a long ways to a big trail ride over by the ocean, and tied him up and blanketed him overnight while everyone had dinner and got ready for a the ride the next day. Sometime after dinner, for no apparent reason, the grey horse threw a little wing-ding fit, pulled back, didn’t break loose, but proceeded to kick violently at everything around him. He even connected with (and broke) the headlight of a friend’s truck, which we would have swore was out of reach of his back feet. The horse came unglued, causing such a ruckus that everyone in camp came over to see what was the matter. I didn't know.
I suspect now he was just upset at being tied up. Knucklehead. So it was with some trepidation that I got on him the next morning and started the ride, during which he was absolutely good as gold. We rode for most of the day - down on the beach, and on some great trails at Point Reyes. We even got a bit lost, and had to bushwhack through some narrow passages to regain the main trail – all the while this horse behaved excellently, and I got many comments on what a nice horse he was.
Well of course, I was pretty proud of myself that I had taken a chance on this horse and he was turning out so good. But the thought still niggled in the back of mind, that every time he shied or misbehaved, it came out of nowhere. And it was hard to relax on such a horse.
He continued to shy occasionally, from unknown spooks, and when he did, he didn’t jump in place, or a foot or two sideways. He was so nimble, so quick-footed, that he could almost spin out from underneath you, or jump about ten feet to the side with no provocation (that I could ever see.) Western people have a name for this kind of horse, and the nice version is “you coyote son-of-a-gun.” Basically, untrustworthy.
At that time in my life, I was a single mother of a daughter younger than ten, and my pride at being able to ride this horse (and to my credit, I did have a good seat and never came off of him) was balanced with imagining what might happen if I did fall off and get hurt. In other words, I was finally getting some sense into me.
The last straw came after a very long ride, when I’d had the grey horse long-trotting on some good trails down along the river, that I could ride to from our corrals. I’d given him a really good workout, and he was plain wore out, and so was I. We only had a short ride home on the side of a curvy busy road, maybe ¼ mile at most. Almost home, plain tired out, and again for no reason that I could see, this grey horse shied violently across two lanes of traffic in just a heartbeat. I was so mad I could have spit. He was not fresh, there was no provocation, and the horse seemed almost as if he’d seen a ghost. There were no cars coming at the time (thank God) but the entire scenario spun before me of what ‘could have happened’ if there had been any traffic at all.
I decided I could not take the chance of this unpredictable horse dumping me, even though he never had. What’s the old saying? Discretion is the better part of valor? Because I could never fully trust him, I decided he wasn’t worth the risk, because it felt like it wasn’t “if” I might get hurt on him, but “when.”
The dark grey horse was such a looker, I knew I’d have no trouble selling him. But he certainly wasn’t a beginner’s horse, and I’d be careful who I sold him to. I put an ad in the paper, and was honest about the kind of horse he was. A man came to look at him, took a shine to him, and the horse loaded right up in his trailer. I was quite glad to see him go, and the buyer was a pretty good cowboy.
Have you ever owned a horse that you just never trusted?
Or one that you decided to part ways with before you got hurt?