The Horse Bug


Twenty-Four Years Earlier

It was a hot summer day. With our windows wide open, my mom and I drove down the road in our Volvo, with a borrowed horse trailer attached, headed to the auction yard. We were going to rescue a horse. This was definitely different. Since Dad died, my Mom would accommodate me, but this time she thought I was nuts. The new farm only had enough room for some cows and chickens, but a horse; I’d wanted a horse for as long as I can remember. At sixteen years old, it had been my dream, but now it was going to become a reality.

My friend Steve called me and said, “Mathew, I found the perfect horse for you. You better get down here to the auction yard fast to rescue her, or else she will be sold to a meat buyer!”

We hastened our speed and pulled into the yard to meet Steve in just enough time as the number attached to the butt of this mare, number twenty-four, was read by the auctioneer. Luckily there weren’t a lot of people there when we started the bidding. Across the way, we noticed a haggard old man, a killer buyer. This poor mare, from what we were told, was only there because her owners, a husband and wife, had died. They were local Arabian breeders. This mare was probably one of their best broodmares. She didn’t look too bad. She was known to produce beautiful foals. My mom told me that she could give me the fifty dollars she had set aside. Steve was from a farm down the street. He had horses all his life. The bidding started on number twenty-four, Steve whispered and suggested twenty-five dollars. I confidently yelled out,

“Twenty-five dollars!”

“Who bid thirty-five dollars, thirty-five dollars?” cried the auctioneer.

Without hesitation the guy across the way bid thirty-five dollars. It was the kill buyer. We looked at each other. We couldn’t let this guy get that mare. We bid another ten dollars. Without a higher bid, the killer buyer was already up to fifty dollars. There was silence as Mom looked at me. The auctioneer’s eyes moved from me to the kill buyer.

With determination, my Mom blurted out, “Seventy-five dollars!”

We couldn’t believe it! The haggard old man stared at the floor and didn’t answer.

The auctioneer yelled out, “Going once, going twice, sold for seventy-five dollars!”

My mom was as surprised as we were. We just sat there for a moment. Did that really just happen?

Steve accompanied us to the corral. There she was. We all looked at each other. The realization of what we’d done has just set in. Now what?

“This is a great horse, Mathew. When we get her back to your place, she’s going to need some groceries and some tender loving care.” Steve said, reassuring us. He continued pointing out all the great qualities of the mare. He took her lead and loaded her into the trailer.

This was really new. Since Dad died, it had been hard for Mom and me. The two years of fighting cancer finally took my dad. There were many visits to the hospital and to the doctor. Ironically, we spent more time together as a family during those two years because before Dad got sick, he was gone on many tours with the military. Not having Dad around had been tough. Primarily, the reason for moving from the big city to the little town of Alfalfa, east of Bend, Oregon, was to keep me out of trouble, Mom thought. It was a little hay farming community, surrounded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acreage. There was a run-down, two-bedroom farmhouse that needed a little bit of fixing up, just big enough for Mom and me, with two or three outbuildings, a little barn with a couple of stalls. The fencing was all right, but it needed to be repaired. My bright idea to get a horse, especially this quick, came at a time when we were not prepared. With no experience, we hadn’t even gotten any hay yet.

For the new horse’s safety, we put her in one of the stalls, temporarily, till we could fix the fences, and Steve loaned us some hay. Because Steve was going off to college, I was basically left on my own. Mom had very little knowledge of horses. I remember my father reading the book, The Black Stallion, to me when I was very young. Living in the middle of Los Angeles California, the closest horses were at Hollywood Park Racetrack, a few blocks from where we lived. My older sister took me, before dawn, to see the race horse’s morning workouts. The feelings were almost indescribable as I soaked in the sights and smells surrounding me. There in front of me, appearing out of the mist was a strongly familiar sight: powerful horses as if I’d witnessed this before. I sold newspapers at the track, so I could watch the races. I really had the horse bug. There was no chance to have a horse back then. Now here we were with this beautiful and mysterious Arabian mare in our barn. It was getting late. Steve and I put some hay in the stall and gave her some water. I hung around for a while, making sure she was okay. The ordeal at her previous owner’s ranch and at the feedlot auction yard took a big toll on her emotionally and physically, but she showed great courage. I wanted her to get along well. Mom suggested since it was so hot that I would stay in the barn and sleep on some hay next to her stall.

Mom said, “You know, I gave you that extra twenty-five dollars. I’ve got a lot of work to be done around here. You can work it off. Okay?”

I responded, “All right, Mom, I sure do love you. I think Dad would be proud of what we’re doing right now, the work would be a good distraction. I always felt he was around in spirit.”

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