[Christine] What would you do if you found out a special horse you’d sold had ended up in a bad situation? In this episode of Barn Stories we find out just how far one woman goes to bring her mare back home again.
[Laurie] Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I’m Laurie Prinz, editor EQUUS magazine.
[Christine] And I’m managing editor, Christine Barakat.
[Laurie] This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.
[Christine] We’ve searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you’re new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.
[Laurie] This episode features the kind of scenario that weighs heavily on the mind of anyone who has ever sold a horse: Is he going to a good home? Will he be happy and well-cared for? What if he isn’t? How will I even know?
[Christine] These worries are the hallmark of a horse keeper with a good heart. Fortunately, most sales end up with all parties, horse included, being very happy. When it doesn’t go well, however, stories like this one—a mare tracked down not once, but twice by a former owner to be rescued from sketchy situations—emerge.
[Laurie] For about as long as we’ve been at EQUUS we’ve periodically heard from readers hoping to find horses they’ve sold and lost track of. We’ve always done what we could to help in these searches, but I don’t think we’ve ever heard an outcome. That makes this story especially satisfying.
[Laurie]I agree. I don’t want to spoil the ended, though, so let’s listen to “Finding Athena,” written by Tara Flewelling and read by Taylor Autumn.
[Taylor Autumn, story reader]
My life with horses began with a car accident. A tractor-trailer made an illegal lane change over the top of my 1980 Ford Pinto at 60 mph in December 1988. I tried to swerve out of the way, but my little car got wedged under the trailer’s wheels, and I was knocked unconscious when the passenger door was smashed in all the way to the driver’s seat. My car was dragged a quarter of a mile, sparks flying, with a full tank of gas that did not ignite.
Miraculously, my dog and I walked away unhurt. But the accident led to a life-changing wake-up call. It was time to buy a horse. I had wanted one my whole life, but my parents’ mantra—“Horses are too expensive”—meant that I had been waiting until I was through college and established with my own salary to get one. Now, I was only halfway through my self-financed education, but I’d just learned that life could be over at any time, and I was ready to stop deferring that dream.
A few months later I stumbled across a “Horse For Sale” ad that had been misplaced in the condominiums section of the local paper. It was fate: The 2-year-old Arabian filly advertised turned out to be just what I wanted. I had little money, yet I was able to work out a deal to pay $500 in installments for the filly, and with further searching I found a cattle ranch where I could board her in exchange for some stall cleaning.
I named the bay filly Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. She was the culmination of a dream, my very own Black Stallion in the form of a half-tamed, spirited Arabian mare. That ought to have been the beginning of our “happily ever after” tale, and for the next 13 years, it was.
But by 2002 I had doubts that I should keep her. Athena was 15 years old and had a lot of life in her. However, I had moved on to riding another breed that was kinder to my aging body, and Athena was used mainly as a guest mount. She was ridden infrequently and spent most of her days out in the pasture. And—oh, the stories we tell ourselves to justify our decisions—I had bought into the line that “horses need a job to do.” So I set out to find someone who would appreciate what my mare had to offer.
A buyer appeared and Athena was sold. I believed it was for the best. I would have one less mouth to feed, and Athena would be the focus of her new owner’s love and attention. And I comforted myself with the thought that I had sold her with a “right of first refusal” clause. If anything went wrong I could always buy her back.
All went as I’d envisioned until Athena’s new owner stopped responding to my e-mails and letters. By the time I tried to contact the barn, she was gone. I felt so ashamed that I’d lost track of my mare that I did not even tell my closest friends what had happened, until one day one of them “discovered” Athena in a coworker’s pasture.
I was ecstatic that my mare had been found. I drove down to see her, and I learned that the current owners had purchased her from the boarding barn. Apparently, the person I sold her to had either fallen behind on her board payments or for some other reason had surrendered the mare to the stable owners. Athena appeared to be happy and well cared for where she was, and I told her current owners that I wanted her back should they ever tire of her.
I was relieved—Athena was in good hands, and I would be able to step in to provide her with a retirement home should the need arise. Once again, I was wrong. Sometime later I heard through the grapevine that my mare had been sold to a man who planned to breed her. However, Athena’s ownership records on file with the Arabian Horse Registry were never changed. This time, the mare I never should have relinquished was really gone.
Athena haunted my dreams. For years I ran advertisements to find her, and I regularly canvassed Internet sales sites, sending questions about any horse close to her description. I also kept her posted on my own Web site hoping someone might recognize her and respond.
My fears about her fate grew as the years passed and the economy plummeted. Did she die in a slaughterhouse? Did she die in a cruel sport? Was she still alive and loved by someone who just hadn’t bothered to update her registration papers?
I hated myself for having ever let her go. I had made such sacrifices to get her into my life, and she had been my bedrock as I’d recovered from the emotional toll of the accident and gotten my life with horses on track. And then I had let logic and practicality overrule my love for her. The sense that I had betrayed an old friend weighed heavily on my conscience. As the calendar rolled over to 2009, I finally began to lose hope that I would ever see my mare again.
Then I got the phone call I’d been waiting for. I did not know the caller, but she knew Athena and, more important, knew where she was and wanted to know if I would take her back. I was told that Athena was very thin, and Animal Control was going to seize her soon, but if I wanted her, the caller would go get the mare that evening on the promise that I would take her.
I was soon on the road to retrieve my old friend. I told myself over and over on the way that I would not have an emotional meltdown upon seeing her. The mantra helped, because I did manage to control myself when I finally met the mare I’d sought for so long. But then the woman who had made sure I got Athena back commented, “It is just like Black Beauty. She is finally going back home to the person who love her most,” and I just wanted to sob.
Instead, I gently caressed my mare, sent her a telepathic “I’m sorry” and promised her that at least her story would indeed end like Black Beauty’s. Athena was finally and permanently coming home.
[Christine] Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you’d like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at [email protected]
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The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network.