Christine: The plan was simple: Get a free horse, train it a bit and then sell it for a nice profit. What could go wrong? Find out in this episode of Barn Stories.
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Laurie: Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I'm Laurie Prinz, editor of 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: If you’ve ever taken on a project horse, you’re going to really like this episode. In it, a young woman accepts the offer of a free horse, expecting to put a bit of training on her then sell her for a tidy profit. But, as so often happens with horses, nothing goes according to plan. Not only does the mare look much different than she’d imagined, but her training progresses in a way that makes selling her seem difficult, if not impossible.
Christine: The pony, named Cowgirl, isn’t rank or dangerous. She’s just very…particular. That’s a quality I can appreciate in a person as well as a pony, although it’s easier to admire in a horse someone else is trying to train and sell. The quandary this woman faces will be familiar to anyone whose project horse hasn’t turned out as they expected. And while I don’t want to give too much away, her solution to this problem will also be familiar. And heartwarming.
Laurie: Let’s listen to “Best Deal Ever,” written by Larissa Hurst and read by Taylor Autumn.
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Taylor Autumn, reader: Did I want a free horse? She was a 2-year-old pinto, I was told, possibly in foal to a registered Paint stallion.
Well of course I did. Granted, I already had four horses of my own, but I could easily manage another. I was a poor college student, always on the lookout for a way to make a buck. My plan was simple: get the free horse, train her and then sell her---and if she was pregnant, well that would be two for one! Besides, I’ve always been rather impulsive, so no one was surprised when I agreed immediately to take the filly, with no further questions asked.
Just two days later I was driving my truck and trailer out to get her. In my imagination, of course, I’d already painted a picture of a dazzling, tall horse, raven black with cloudy white patches, piercing blue eyes, and a long, wavy mane and tail.
That vision vanished quickly when I pulled up to an overgrazed lot where a man held the grimy lead to a lanky, 13-hand pony with the worst parrot mouth I had ever seen. She was pulled along reluctantly by the man leading her from the pen. When she finally reached me, I saw the many tangles in her ratty mane and tail. But her two soft blue eyes were staring at me curiously.
Putting on a rather fake smile, I took the lead rope from the man’s hand; he told me the filly’s name was Cowgirl and that she was hard to catch, so the halter and lead were always left on her. Working together, we swapped her old halter for the new one I’d brought. Expecting a tug of war like the one I’d just witnessed, I turned to glance at her, clucking from my mouth. To my surprise, she was right there with me before I’d even tugged on the line. I stepped into the trailer, and she followed me readily. I thanked the man for letting me have her and walked back to my truck in disappointment.
My grandparents had gotten word of my newest addition and came to see her. I knew right away Grandpa wasn’t pleased. To him she was just a sorry pony, one I might be lucky to get $200 for once she was broke. But Grandma liked her. She has always been rather cautious around horses, but she warmed right up to Cowgirl. Perhaps it was because the filly was so small that she wasn’t intimidating, but I like to think maybe Grandma saw something the rest of us had so far missed.
I gave the filly a few weeks to settle in, and as she gained weight, her coat became glossy and her body developed more proportion. Her personality was friendly—I had no troubles caring for her. She turned out not to be in foal.
Finally one evening I decided it was time to start working with her in the round pen. I had performed the “join up” exercise many times, and I knew it was a good way to earn the little filly’s trust. With only a coiled lead rope in my hands, I stood in the center of the pen, waved my arm and clucked to send her away. Upset and stressed at my aggression, Cowgirl bolted around the ring at a gallop. But she kept flicking her inside ear at me and she leaned her body in toward me, signs that she wanted back in the herd.
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Taylor: After a few minutes I turned sideways and relaxed my shoulders, adopting a more passive stance. Without missing a beat, Cowgirl galloped over and stopped inches behind my shoulder. Her nostrils flared, and I could feel her breathing on my neck. I didn’t turn around to look at her or utter a sound. I dropped my head and relaxed slightly and took a couple of steps forward, my ears straining to detect what she would do. I heard her bare feet padding softly on the grass as she followed me.
A smile crept over my face. In my previous experiences with this exercise, the horse would generally stop when pressure was removed and stand there, considering whether to accept me as a leader, before either walking over or wandering off. Cowgirl hadn’t even paused before she came running to be with me. That was my first sign that this little horse was something special.
I started training Cowgirl, getting her used to being handled all over, picking up her feet, and sacking her out with a blanket. I could hold her head in my arms and she would practically fall asleep. I got her used to a saddle and bridle, and I sat on her bareback. She behaved perfectly at every step, so I went ahead and listed her for sale.
Soon I had a caller and arranged a meeting with a man who said he was looking for a calm horse for his daughter. Well, I thought, Cowgirl was exactly that. But as soon as the man reached to pet her face, she pulled back in alarm. I couldn’t believe it. I reached to touch her forehead and she didn’t move. I apologized to the man, telling him that perhaps she just needed time to warm up to strangers.
Several people suggested that I have Cowgirl handled by more people before trying to sell her again. This sounded good to me. Soon, I had a friend come out to work with her. We are very close, practically sisters, with very similar personalities. But when I asked my friend to put a blanket on Cowgirl, the little mare acted like she’d never seen one before. With the mare getting more anxious, I stopped the process, walked over and took the blanket to put it on her myself; Cowgirl stood quietly. I had a variety of experienced trainers and riders try to work with her, too. But it didn’t matter who it was, Cowgirl never seemed to want to accept anyone but me.
I had read books and seen movies about horses and owners sharing an unconditional love and understanding. But those were works of fiction, and I’d never believed it ever really worked that way in real life. Yet the more time I spent with Cowgirl, the more I began to think that maybe it really could. Whenever I went out to the pasture, the little mare would leave the herd to follow me, and she obeyed my every request without hesitation. Working with her I felt like a real cowgirl, speaking the language of horse—every equestrian’s dream.
Each day I fell more in love with those blue eyes, and I truly believe Cowgirl was falling in love with me. After only six months, we are bonded for life, and she’s not going anywhere. How could I possibly sell her?
They say the best things in life are free. I believe it.
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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 EQUUSBarnStories@gmail.com.
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The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network, LLC.
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