Kimberly and I spent nearly two weeks worth of evenings and weekends "interviewing" potential broodmares.
"Do you, or have you ever smoked cigarettes," I'd ask the mare.
"She's not amused and neither am I," Kimberly would respond.
"Well then, that makes three of us," I'd say. "Who's next?"
This exchange took place at numerous farms, some close to home, most not. Hours of driving, gallons of gas and not a mare to be had. Well, that's not entirely true. There were a few great mares, but the owners seemingly decided to raise their prices when we arrived. I was surprised at the epidemic of high prices, considering the current economy and how late in the breeding season it was. I was starting to wonder about our odds of breeding this year.
I traveled alone to my cousin's wedding over a weekend and was at the wedding reception when my cell phone rang. It was Kimberly. I would have much rather had her with me, but after weighing the cost of air travel for both of us, she decided to stay home with the farm.
"I think I found a horse!" she exclaimed
"Really?" I was excited, but cautious. "Okay, tell me about her."
"She's a German Verband Hanoverian and a former Prix St. George dressage horse. She's bay with white socks, and her breeding is fantastic! She's in the Main Mare Book!"
"That's a good thing, right?" I asked
"Do I have to learn German?"
"Not unless you want to," Kimberly responded.
"What's her name?"
"Like the Barry Manilow song?" I asked
"Okay," I sighed. "What's the catch? What's wrong with her?"
"She can't be ridden," Kimberly answered, without missing a beat. "Mandy has a bad knee from an injury years ago."
"Other than that..."
"Other than that she's great," Kimberly said, adding "but she's a hard keeper."
"What's that mean?" I asked.
"Basically it means that Mandy needs extra TLC."
"We can handle that," I said. "How much for her?"
"Seven-hundred dollars--but Jack and Claudia want to breed her next year, so we'll split the cost."
"How does she 'feel?'" I asked. "Is she nice?"
"She feels like a sweet horse, but she's very quiet."
"You know what we need," I said. "I trust your judgment."
"All right then, I'd better get our new daughter on the trailer."
"I'm excited about this. I love you."
"I know. I love you, too."
I was grinning from ear to ear when I hung up the phone. I was standing at the reception bar, flanked by some inebriated guys in suits.
"What are you so happy about?" slurred a guy beside me.
"My wife and I--we're having a baby!"
Before I could explain, the crowd around the bar erupted in cheers, loud whoops and applause. I remember only the first few rounds of congratulatory drinks, then a taxi. Fortunately, the subsequent nausea and headache faded before I boarded the plane home. (Kids, the stunts in this column are performed by professionals, idiots and professional idiots. Please don't try this at home.)
Kimberly picked me up at the airport. When we pulled into our driveway, we continued past the house and drove straight to the barn.
"I waited to turn them out so you could meet her," Kimberly said.
After all the searching for a mare, Mandy was a sight for sore eyes. Furthermore, she was a tall sight for sore eyes.
"Wow," I remarked.
"I know, 17 hands," Kimberly said. "And you may have the honors."
Kimberly handed me a halter and lead line. Mandy put her head down to accept the halter, which I gently pulled over her ears. It would fit this column perfectly if Mandy bolted and dragged me to the pasture, or used her teeth to calmly rip the collar from my shirt and chew it up. But she was quietly polite, walking beside me to the pasture. Mandy even stood beside me after I removed her halter.
"You're home," I said to Mandy, rubbing her neck. "Go enjoy some grass."
We turned Vander and Ellie out with Mandy. By their behavior, you'd have thought Mandy had lived with them her entire life. Kimberly and I watched them graze as the sun set behind the trees.
"Mandy's a little skinny, isn't she?" I asked quietly, with Mandy safely out of earshot.
I was asked not to write about the fact that Mandy was skinny. I said I had to at least mention it. I was then asked not to make a big deal out of the fact that Mandy was skinny. All right, I said, I won't make a big deal out of it. So what follows is not a big deal.
I've never met the "trainer" from whom we bought Mandy. But Mandy's former home is not far from ours, and thus we're all part of the same group of horse owners in this rural area. The propensity for some owners to talk, gossip, pass judgment, take offense and carry a grudge is rather great. So I will be responsible--dismissing any second-hand information--and write only about what I personally witnessed and then reasonably concluded. In short, I'll try to only get myself in trouble.
In my presence, during separate exams, two vets each said that Mandy was at least a couple hundred pounds underweight. Also, when I met Mandy, I recognized her from driving past her farm several months ago, where she stood with a couple other horses in a small, fenced-in square of dirt. There were a lot of other horses, also crowded together into other fenced-in squares of dirt. I'm no expert, but it looked like too many horses on too little land. I don't know of a single one of these horses ever getting sick or dying, but the arrangement didn't look right.
But had I witnessed nothing, I could still see Mandy and clearly discern ribs, hips and a dull coat. She wasn't call-the-cops skinny, but she wasn't properly cared for either. Mandy's being a "hard keeper" simply means we have to work harder to keep her healthy. "Hard keeper" isn't a license to underfeed her. It isn't an explanation or excuse. Most importantly, it's not Mandy's problem; it's our responsibility. I am very relieved that we were able to give her a new home. She's a beautiful horse in need of some extra TLC.
I am not a perfect person; in fact it would take several columns for me to list all my faults. But, if nothing else, I can absolutely make sure that my family is well-fed. Speaking of which, I should climb down from my soapbox. I'm nowhere near running out of things to say, but it's actually time to fix dinner.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.