by Laura Crum
I don’t know about you guys, but I hate selling horses. When I was younger, I kind of enjoyed the buying/selling routine, especially buying. Like many people, I suppose, I always hoped that the new horse would be the perfect, special, just-right one. I didn’t mind selling, thinking that I would find a horse I liked better than the one I was letting go. But this all changed as I got older.
Now I’m far more careful when I buy, knowing that I’ll want to keep the horse forever. And as for selling, why I just don’t. I’m tormented by the thought of the horses I sold when I was younger. Horses that I had trained myself, that I owned for many years in a few cases. I never once sold an old horse that had given me his best years (thank goodness), but I did sell several horses in their prime. And I wonder now if some of them ended up at the killers. I’ll never know. It haunts me.
So, any more I don’t plan to sell horses. The two that we re-homed in recent years both went for free to a very good home who has promised to retire them when their riding years are done. I trust these people and I also keep in touch. I feel fine about these horses. But selling, not so much.
Still, two years ago, when my friend and horse partner Wally bought a black horse that he thought he could use for a backup heel horse, I agreed that we’d sell the horse if he didn’t work out. Wally boards his horses with me, but I couldn’t take Coal, the black horse, at my place, as all my corrals were full. So Wally boarded him with our friend Mark, a young horse trainer/team roper, in exchange for Mark getting to use the horse.
Coal was/is a pretty horse—absolutely solid shiny black, very refined. More refined than I would prefer, actually, he looks more like a TB than a QH. He is taller than I like at 15.2 (I like 14.3 or shorter, thank you very much). Coal was nine when Wally bought him and sound and gentle and very smooth gaited—and cheap. I rode him four or five times in the arena and agreed he was a nice riding horse. He had the smoothest trot and lope of any horse I’d ever ridden, I think. He carried himself in a nice frame and was a very polite, obedient horse to ride. I thought that if I lost the use of Sunny or Henry, maybe my son and I could use Coal as our backup. Wally thought he could use Coal if he lost the use of Twister.
So we went along for a couple of years. Mark roped on Coal and trail rode him and mounted lots of people on him and the horse did OK. He didn’t turn out to be a very good heel horse, though, and Wally didn’t like him. This last summer Wally began lobbying to sell Coal, and, of course, I protested. I just don’t like selling horses.
But I had nowhere to put the horse and no time for him. One horse is all I can keep ridden these days. In the end I agreed to take Coal on a trail ride and make up my mind if I really wanted to keep him as a backup for Sunny and Henry. So last weekend I did that. And sadly, he flunked.
We went on a very easy ride, a logging road that winds up from my uncle’s place through the redwood forest to the top of the ridge. Its an up and back. Takes about two hours at an easy place. About five miles total. Its pretty steep in the first mile up the ridge. But good footing.
I had promised to take my son’s friend for a trail ride, so I put the friend on Sunny, my son rode Henry, Wally rode Twister and I rode Coal. Coal was a touch cinchy, which I knew about—no problem, though. He looked at stuff from time to time but for the most part walked with his ears at half mast—very slowly. Now Sunny is not a fast walker, but Sunny, Henry and Twister all outwalked Coal—quite dramatically. Still I wasn’t really bothered. I trotted to catch up and Coal had a lovely trot. Smooth—seemed absolutely even. We made it to the top of the ridge with me thinking the horse was OK. I didn’t love the way he walked so slowly with his ears flopping—both Sunny and Henry, though not fast walkers, walk alertly, with their ears up. Its easy to see that they enjoy trail rides and like looking around as much as I do. Coal, however, gave me no sign that he was enjoying this expedition. And then we started back down the ridge.
Right away Coal’s already slow pace slowed further—to a snail’s pace. He also, rather alarmingly, began taking “bad steps”, where he would suddenly stumble. We fell further and further behind the others. I remembered Mark telling me that Coal was not a good “downhill horse.” Now I could see what he meant.
I didn’t want to hurry Coal, and I could not tell what was causing his problem. So I just asked the others to wait periodically. My horse Sunny also walks (in my eyes) quite slowly downhill, but Sunny was leaving Coal in the dust. I had the sense that Coal was uncomfortable, and he became more so when the hill got steeper. I was uncomfortable riding him. As soon as we got to a level spot I trotted him out and he trotted absolutely even. Whatever was bothering him, it wasn’t an easily detectable lameness. But I knew for sure I wouldn’t be using this horse as my trail horse.
We made it back to the barn in time, and everybody had a lovely ride—except me. I was sad about Coal. I knew I had to tell Wally to go ahead and sell him, and I just HATE selling horses. Coal is in many ways a very nice horse—he’s just not a good trail horse. It would make me feel awful to think that he came to a bad end because I didn’t keep him. (For those who think I’m paranoid here, I have just known too many horses that were sold to a supposed good home that ended up somewhere not good at all.)
But logic prevailed. I told Wally to go ahead and sell Coal. I just asked that he do his best to be sure the horse went to a good home. We agreed that he shouldn’t be sold to be a rope horse or a trail horse, as he clearly wasn’t enthusiastic about these events. And Wally told Mark to find the right sort of a home for the horse (giving our conditions).
Now there’s every possibility this story will have a happy ending. Coal may get a home that is far better than the home I could possibly have given him. And I have to admit, there is no way I want to ride Coal on the trails. But still…I worry. What if? What if years later I realize that poor black horse ended up at the killers, or starved to death. And this happened to some horses I once knew and liked. They didn’t belong to me (like Coal) and they were sold, and I only heard much later what happened to them. It still bothers me.