Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Grey Horse

by Linda Benson

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?


lmel said...

I currently own a horse that, at first, I had quite a bit of trepidation about riding. After working with him, and learning to relax, and become more attuned to his behavior, I haven't given up hope. He's tossed me a few times, but it's all been part of his learning to deal with a new environment. He's an OTTB, with limited exposure to the big wide world, but we improve with nearly every ride. He's made me a stronger ride (hang on!) and taught me a lot about OTTB behavior. And I love him to death.:)

Linda Benson said...

That's great, Imel. Sounds like you and your horse are bonding, and that's wonderful.

Part of the reason I sold the grey horse all those years ago was because I was working full-time running a business, raising a daughter by myself, and did not have access to any kind of arena to work this horse. I probably shouldn't have bought him in the first place, but well, I did, and sometimes we make foolish decisions. I don't know if he ever turned around and made a good horse for anyone, but I hope he finally found his "person."

Sounds like your OTTB has found his "person" and I hope your bond just gets stronger. Good riding to you!

Laura Crum said...

I enjoyed your post very much--is that your grey horse in the photo? If so, I can understand why you bought him. My boarder, Twister, looked a bit like that when he was young (though not so pretty headed) and we all oohed and aahed over his color. Unfortunately most of those those dapple greys fade to white as they get older--which is the color Twister is now at fifteen.

Yes, I had a similar experiences. I once gave away a very nice horse who was prone to unpredictable bucking fits--and for the same reasons you sold the grey. I had a little child and I realized it wasn't worth it to me to get hurt. Like you, my horse never dumped me, but I thought he would, eventually. He could buck pretty hard. Unfortunately my horse turned out to be a boomerang horse. I gave him to a friend who could deal with the bucking, and he made a nice horse out of this bay gelding--but the horse got hurt due to no fault of his own and was never going to be rope horse sound again. Since he would still buck from time to time he couldn't be given to those beginners who only want a walk/trot horse. My friend was going to euthanise him--and I took the horse back to be a pasture ornament (I still own him--he's turned out in a friend's pasture five miles from my house). So I TRIED to get rid of my problem horse. It just didn't stick. But I do understand/agree with the fact that there are horses we sometimes shouldn't keep--the downside is too great.

Laura Crum said...

I meant "Yes, I had some similar experiences". Should re-read my comments before I post them (!)

Linda Benson said...

Hi Laura - No, that's not a picture of the horse, but it's pretty close to his color. This all happened twenty-something years ago, and I'm not sure if I even still have a pic of him. He was not quite as keen-headed as the horse in the picture, but he did have a nice, kind eye *snicker* and a pretty head. He was a quarter horse, and although you find lots of grey arabs, not as many quarter horses.

The man that bought him was going to use him on a ranch, and I can only hope that lots and lots of riding and work might have finally made a horse out of him.

Sorry you got Twister back like that (and what an apt name for him.) I don't even remember the grey horse's name. I know I called him something, but forgot over the years. I've never forgotten the names of my good horses, though.

Anonymous said...

I had a palomino TWH that I'd bought for my husband. Drop-dead gorgeous, super smooth, nice on the trails, but there was something just not right about him. He'd spin and bolt quite randomly, and although my husband could hold on, it wasn't fun. I worked with him a lot, and he did it with me too, and I never could figure out quite what would set him off. We sold him to an experienced endurance rider who thought it was great fun to ride "sipping champagne" while her friends got jostled to death on their Arabs (her words, not mine!)

Laura Crum said...

Linda--Actually Twister, the grey horse on my place, is my boarder, and a very good horse. My problem bucker was/is Danny (a bay), who was/is a sweet horse in absolutely every other way but the bucking fits (I know, its sort of a major problem in a riding horse). Danny was cinchy in an odd way, which made him quite unpredictable to ride, but he really was sweet otherwise. This is why I stepped up to give him a home.

Couldn't have you thinking Twister is a stinker--my friend Wally, who owns him, would be upset at the idea I was maligning his good rope horse.

Linda Benson said...

Anonymous - it's funny, isn't it? If the horse in question is really pretty, we tend to give them more of a chance. Because we so WANT them to be good. Glad you found a new home for the horse before either of you got hurt, and who knows, maybe he'll behave differently in different circumstances. Hope so. But often it's better to just not take a chance.

Laura, sorry I got your horses mixed up! (I should proof-read my posts LOL) Twister is the good one, Danny is the bucker. Got it.

Gosh, reminds me of another horse I had when I was a teenager, who was quite cinchy. I'll write about him one day, too. ;-)

Alison said...

Love your post, Linda! Reads like a good story. Sometimes I think those super athletic horses are the most worrisome because they know they can unbalance you in a second. I had a spooky mare, but it was always when she was in heat. UGH. Hated that!

Linda Benson said...

I agree, Alison. When a really, quick athletic horse is also spooky, it can potentially be a dangerous combination, even for a good rider. I'm trying to remember how old this grey horse was, and I think he was about seven. The perfect age to start developing some sense, I thought - but alas, it seemed to evade him.

Dreaming said...

Like Alison, I enjoyed reading your post, which was so story like! You do have a way with words! A friend of mine says that at some point in our lives we reach the age of 'mortal reasoning' - when we realize we can get killed by doing something; riding horses, working on a roof, skiing - you name it! It sounds like you hit that 'age' when you decided you had to let go of your beautiful grey stinker!

Linda Benson said...

Ha! Dreaming - you have a way with words, too! Yes, I reached the "mortal age" when I realized I could get killed on that "stinker." Looking back over my life, it's a wonder I didn't get killed by some of the horses I rode. I guess that's where that other expression comes from: "Pride goeth before a fall."