The day before I was to begin a 12-week Women’s Intuitive Riding course, I stopped to chat with a former work associate in the grocery store. “I was just thinking of you,” said Allen, “My daughter and I want to buy a couple of horses, and I asked myself, who do I know that knows horses?”
I had not seen Allen’s daughter, Olivia, in years but remembered her as a respectful, intellectually-curious young lady. And now she was a grown-up seventeen, ready to take on horse husbandry.
“Are you asking me to go horse shopping with you?”
“Count me in!” I said.
It had been six years since I had any meaningful involvement with horses, but this year, I told myself I would get back in the saddle.
So I contacted several riding establishments in February and found only closed doors. None could give me riding lessons regardless of what they had posted on their websites. I gave up.
After a long, dry summer, I decided to resume my search, and now opportunities were raining down.
“Also, would you be willing to give Olivia riding lessons?”
I fumbled a head of cauliflower, just barely catching it before it hit the floor.
“Wow! Yes! I’d love to!”
On the big day, the three of us rolled into Intercoastal to find a diminutive zebra tied to one of two hitching rails, whisking at flies. We blinked. Can this be for real?
The young proprietor, Isaiah Boyd, strode our way in cargo shorts and knee-high muck boots, his blonde hair cut summer short. Allen stepped forward, they shook hands, and Isaiah steered us towards a covered pen with at least thirty horses—mostly drafts—jostling for a turn at the hay feeders. He pulled out a kind-eyed, black draft mare and tied her to the rail.
“Look around,” he said, “I’ll be back,” and went to service a second cluster of soon-to-be horse owners.
I stared up at the mare, her massive neck and withers well above my head. Somewhere on the other side, Allen and Olivia were doing the same. I walked around the back end of the horse to find Allen grinning. “Yeah, this one’s a bit too tall,” he said.
Our criteria were as follows:
- Height: 14.2 to 16 hands (4’10” – 5’4” at the highest point of their back)
- At least one needed to be big enough to carry 200 pounds
- Between 8 and 18 years of age
- Dead broke
When Isaiah returned, he helped us choose a chestnut gelding with a white splash running down his face. “Would you be willing to take him to the barn?” he asked, while he went to catch a palomino mare. I grabbed the halter, breaking the rule about always using a lead rope.
The red gelding was placid and easy to handle, until he spotted the striped alien—the zebra—and then he dragged me in a perfect 180. I hung on, talking nonsense in that soothing tone we horse people all think works, until he calmed down enough for me to coax him over to the other tie rail. Isaiah handed me a lead rope, and I secured the poor fellow, taking note of his dinner-plate-sized feet. Then, with a flourish, Isaiah whisked the zebra away to the other side of the barn.
Later, when I asked Isaiah about the zebra, he said he paid $10,000 for him and regretted the investment. He’d bought him to stimulate sales, but the horses were all wigged out, and he needed to sell the little guy. I was sorely tempted to hand him my American Express card but knew we’d never get the other horses home if we threw that zebra into the trailer.
Indeed, after watching the red horse drag me around, Allen shook his head no when Isaiah asked if he should saddle him up. Next we ruled out the palomino because of her long back, a liability in an animal that carries you on their spine.
Apparently, we were going to be higher maintenance than hoped.
Done with the drafts, we asked if we could shop the large pen of finer-boned animals on the other end of the barn. So we marched through the barn and past the zebra.
Isaiah pointed out the horses that qualified as beginner material, and we huddled a few feet away. “How about those two?” Olivia asked, pointing towards two greys, and as she said this, the horse on the left swiveled his ears forward and began walking straight towards her. “He’s a beginner horse,” said Isaiah, “Should I bring him in?”
In addition to the grey, we picked a fine-boned bay gelding, and when Isaiah went to fetch him, I walked over to pat the zebra. The tiny beast rolled his eyes and lifted his head, mouth opening and closing, but not all the way—clacking— like a foal appealing to the mercy of its elders. A clown, I laughed.
Isaiah saddled the grey, put him through his paces, and invited Olivia to climb on. They looked made for each other. Then he hopped onto the bay bareback and showed us what he could do. Satisfied, Allen pulled out his checkbook and Isaiah loaded them up.
Olivia named the grey Gallen (Gay-lin), and we kept the bay’s given name as Buddy.
I’ve been out to see the four of them several times since, my mulch pile at home, untouched, my kitchen running on fumes. I will bake later, I tell myself, or (gasp) I could swing by the store and pick up a loaf of bread like an ordinary human.
This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff—a fairy tale of wish fulfillment—and I’m not letting wheelbarrow or apron stand between me and my new paddock boots.