The Misfit Mare

In the 1964 Christmas classic, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Rudolph winds up on the Island of Misfit Toys because none of the other reindeer would include him in their reindeer games.

So too with Ginger, a small bay Morgan mare. Upon arrival at the equestrian center, Ginger was placed with the other trail horses, but they refused to accept her into the herd. Their refusal was violent, lasting, and Ginger found herself a home in the main barn, where she was befriended by the twenty year old Shetland pony Sugar. Sugar is adored by all horses who meet her, as she provides unconditional love to all she meets. And so Ginger made her first friend.

Ginger, having made this friend, was extremely protective of her, challenging any horse who came near Sugar. To say that Ginger was quirky is an understatement. By the time I arrived at the barn, Ginger had a serious attitude problem. We used her on trails only at last resort, as she would pin her ears, toss her head, and otherwise express her displeasure. She was, in short, an extremely unhappy horse when I met her. I wanted very much to see what I could do with her, but my manager at the time pronounced that Ginger was her project horse, and forbade me from working with her.

Two months passed and the manager threw up her hands – Ginger’s problems had only worsened. On a day the manager had off, I took Ginger into the round pen. Many people have heard of “horse whispering” or natural horsemanship. The idea is simply to work a horse in a round pen until they relinquish the leadership role to the person. Hugh Jenkinson watched as I worked Ginger that first time. Ginger was so angry, had so much venom built up inside her. Hugh kept voicing his concern as she raced around the ring, expressing all of her rage, expressing it by kicking out at me, rearing in front of me, striking at me. Horses don’t require words to scream.

Eventually, it was all out of her system. She came over to me, quietly, her sides heaving as she gulped for air. I talked to her, and she put her forehead to my chest, and I stroked her ears, listening to everything she had to say. We stayed like that for a long time. Just as horses don’t require words to scream, they also don’t require a voice to cry.

From that day forward I worked with Ginger everyday. Almost immediately, she came to love these one on one sessions. Looking back over the last two years at the barn, I can think of no memory more gratifying than that of Ginger, racing towards me as I called her name, coming from the far back of the pasture flat out, a blood bay blur against the green grass. She ran to me knowing no treats were in my hand, knowing that a training session awaited, a session with both discipline and approval. Ginger, however, was an extremely intelligent mare, and very little correction was needed. She learned quickly and drank up the praise as fast as I could pour it on. Ginger had made her second friend.

Ginger

Ginger, with her very favorite rider, Bryce.

Over time Ginger’s attitude continued to improve, and eventually she blossomed into an excellent trail horse, a horse who found a niche carrying children. Adults could wear on her nerves, and she remained a quirky soul with definite opinions, but no horse was more trustworthy with a small child on the trail. She understood vulnerability, and she was protective of it. She also understood mistreatment, and she had no tolerance for it. I never put a rider on Ginger that I suspected might be rough on her.

After working day in and day out with the rest of the trail horses for two years, the decision was made to put Ginger in with the herd a few months ago. To Ginger’s delight, this time she was accepted. She was low man on the totem pole, to be sure, but she was a part of the group. Her pride in this fact was evident, and we all celebrated with her when she earned the right to eat with everyone else. She was finally allowed to play the reindeer games denied her for so long.

People and horses either click or they don’t. Ginger and I clicked right off the bat. In my first week at the barn, I found Ginger scratching out her tail. Whatever was itching her was ferocious, as she was rubbing herself raw and bloody. Alarmed, I went to her head and said, “don’t move, Ginger, I’ll be right back.” I ran to the utility room to grab ointments and cleanser and ran back. Ginger remained frozen, right where I left her, waiting for the help that I had promised. She had been blessed with a gorgeous, thick, glossy black tail. I felt it was a travesty that half of it was gone, and made it a special mission to encourage it’s re-growth.

Ginger’s tail was halfway grown out when she died on Thursday, August 24th, of a severe bout with colic.

Ginger was a beautiful bay Morgan mare, possessed of good looks galore and a personality that defied categorization. She could lay her ears back and deliver nasty looks with the best of them, but she could also curl her head and neck around you, looking into your eyes with hers, impossibly large and black, slowly blinking in loving contentment. I understood her, and she me. We both understood the Island of the Misfit Toys, and that mutual understanding brought us both a great deal of peace and happiness.

The Trail Ride -or- The Day I Almost Killed One of My Best Friends

Yesterday, my friends, I went on a trail ride that will live on in infamy as the single greatest cluster to have occurred at our fine equestrian center.

It began more than a month ago, when Mr. Jones came by the barn. He was asking if he and his friends could park here. They were all going to “car pool” down to an Atlanta Falcons game, the “car” was a gigantic luxury coach bus they’d rented, and it needed room to turn around. We said sure they could do that, and Mr. Jones added that his son, his wife and three kids were coming for Thanksgiving and they wanted to ride horses on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. We said that’d be great.

The Falcons game arrives, and again Mr. Jones mentions the ride. They wanted a ride for four, but Ginger has been out with an abcess. They amended the ride to three adults and two kids for a pony ride. He says, “make the reservation for after lunch.” Then gets on the bus and leaves. Well, “after lunch” really isn’t too specific, and we’d already booked one ride in the early afternoon. I begin a game of phone tag with Mr. Jones that goes on forever, and he’s clearly annoyed by it. Which, in turn, annoys me. Finally, we connect and I book him for noon.

Now, a month goes by. Our schedule becomes so complicated with families booking, canceling, re-booking, changing their schedule, on and on, you’d need a flow chart to follow it. And also, three days ago, Butter’s arthritis flared up to the point she was put on stall rest.

Now, we have a black book in the office where rides are scheduled, and a giant erase board calendar on the wall outside. Somewhere in all that hullabaloo, that Jones family disappeared.

On Saturday we started very early. I had two pony rides, given two one hour lessons, ran to get lunch, because we had the Whitakers at noon, and when I came back – there were Joneses. There for the 11:30 ride. (11:30??? I have no idea where that came from.)

OHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO….. Says I. In that deep, distorted-by-slow-motion sort of way.

Melissa and I go into frantic mode.

Melissa

Melissa, aboard Gigi, leads a trail ride. This one did not involve a near death experience.

There was much confusion and chaos, but ultimately we ended up with the little girl on Lady, the brother on Scout, the dad (a complete novice) – on Gigi – our new horse who had never been ridden EVER by anyone other than a very experienced rider, and the mom on Ginger.  Please do not call PETA on us. Melissa and I debated it long and hard, and Ginger had not been limping, she was six weeks out from her abcess, and so we put a boot on her and off we went.

Melissa and I are on foot.

I lead the way, with Lady behind me, and I have to set a wicked pace so the horses don’t get too jammed up – they need to be properly strung out. Plus, I had adrenaline on my side. Right as we’re leaving the arena, me in the front and Melissa in the back with the dad and Gigi, Melissa says, “can you do this by yourself?”

I practically yell, “NO. I need you with me.” Melissa laughs, “I’m not sure I am going to make it.”

I start cursing Melissa in my mind. What the hell is she doing? Trying to abandon me with these four complete novice riders, most of whom have never even sat on a horse before. I was angry. And so I walked faster. Now, I am short, but when I want to walk fast, I can hustle. So we’re flying along this trail, it’s an hour long, a lot of hills. And I mean HILLS.

We get halfway around. Now, we did this trail THE DAY PRIOR. What is in our way? A gigantic tree that has fallen across the trail during the night. It was semi-rotted, but truly a massive tree. At least 14 inches in diameter. We couldn’t walk over it because of the limbs and because that trail is like a gulley – the tree had fallen, hit the other side, broke in the middle and sat there making a V shape. I told Melissa to stay with the riders, that I was going to move it. I go over there and try to move it. There is no way. But I think, maybe I can break off enough limbs that they can walk over. So I am struggling with this, and Melissa says, gruffly, “you can’t move it so stop trying.”

 Nobody tells me I can’t move a downed tree. It is what I do.

I grab a limb and haul one end off, but I can’t let it go or it’ll roll back into the way. So everybody has to pass me while I am holding it in place. The mom was seriously freaked out. 

We continue on, and as Melissa led the group past the tree, she wound up in front and now I was back with the dad and Gigi. And he starts going on and on about how wonderful she is. He’d only ever ridden his sister’s Appaloosas, he said, and they’d thrown him twice. Gigi was a “babydoll” he said. Which made me smile. 

He also said he knew his dad was furious about the reservation problem but that he’d talk to him. 

We’re getting kind of close to the end, and kind of close to the end is one gigantic mother of a hill that goes straight up forever and forever. Melissa stops and says, “you’ll have to take the lead.” I’m thinking she needs a break from setting the pace, so I take over and march up the hill. Now, once you get to the top of this hill a bad thing happens – it keeps climbing. Not nearly as steep, but you don’t get a break. So I am climbing and climbing, head down, just doing it. This goes on forever. We finally reconnect with the main trail. The dad says, “I guess we lost somebody.”

What? I say.

“Yeah, Melissa’s not there anymore. I guess she got tired.”

Everything inside me freezes – MELISSA IS SEVERELY DIABETIC.

“Can you do this by yourself? I don’t think I can make it.”

Code words from a diabetic trying to tell her friend that her insulin pump isn’t working. What does her friend yell back?

“NO. I need you to come with me.”

I THEN REMEBER I DON’T HAVE MY CELL PHONE.

I tell the family Melissa is a diabetic and the father offers me Gigi. I say that’s okay, and I run as fast and as hard as I can back down the trail. There is no Melissa within 200 yards. I come back, and tell the dad that yes, I will take his horse. I would have rather had Lady, but I couldn’t take the horse from the little girl, Ginger was hurt, Scout had a little boy on him – only Gigi makes sense. But Gigi is young, green, and extremely herdbound. EXTREMELY herdbound. She’s only been taught one thing – walk on a trail.

The dad offers me his helmet and I decline – I remembered he was wearing a large, and that’s too big for me, and I can’t take a helmet off of anybody else. I don’t adjust the long, long stirrups, because I am figuring I am going to find Melissa and put her up on Gigi and she has such long legs.

I dramatically tell the dad, “I need you to lead your family back to the barn!” It was very Last of the Mohicans.

And off Gigi and I go, and bless her heart, she gives me no problem. Except she’s definitely freaking out on the inside, wondering what’s going on, feeling my tension, but I just keep telling her what a brave mare she is, and she believes me. We run back to where we last saw Melissa – there’s no Melissa. I cannot figure out where she could have gone. I run up the big long steep hill, and at the top of that hill is Petey the Mule’s pasture. He belongs to a neighbor. We race to the top of the hill, and Petey appears, spooking Gigi, who rears and wheels.

Now, you could say I fell off, but I think it is more accurate to say I made an emergency dismount.  I landed on my feet in any case, and took this as a sign that I needed to go ahead and shorten the stirrups.

I get back on and decide to head to the gatehouse. As the crow flies it’s not far away, and I figure if Melissa realized she was in trouble, she may have gone there. In any case, I can ask for help. Between Gigi and I and the gatehouse is woods, Petey’s pasture, and manicured landscaping that lines the drive to the gatehouse.

Unbelievably Gigi is incredibly brave and generous about wading through woods, snaking along Petey’s pasture, and putting a good number of hoofprints into the landscaped hillside.

We then go trotting right down the middle of Cleo Chapman Highway, as I am hoping the guard will see us and come out. That part was actually kind of cool. Our gatehouse is very grand, and I thought that this must of have been what it was like coming up to a big estate before there were cars.

Anyway, fantasyland aside, the stupid guard sees us, but won’t come out. So Gigi and I have to go through the gate like a car. I tell him what’s going on and circle while he’s making calls. Gigi doesn’t mind the traffic too much, but not getting anywhere, just circling, is making her antsy.

Finally the guard finds Melissa – she’d regained consciousness and cut straight through the woods towards the Equestrian Center, and because she had her cell phone, was able to call Hugh the maintenance man for help, and he had come and gotten her. She was okay.

So, there is nothing for it but to hoof it down Cleo Chapman Highway. We have ten minutes before our next ride, and Gigi and are I needed.

We trot along the side of the road for about a ½ a mile. Everybody who passes us waves, like oh look! Isn’t it nice to see a girl out for a ride on her white horse! And I wave back like, yeah! The last hour and a half have been fantastic!

Gigi and I arrived on time, and after a brief break, where Melissa and I strangely spent about ten minutes laughing hysterically, we took out an incredibly uneventful ride with the Whitakers, who had kindly allowed their ride to be bumped back to one.

 The end.

Charron’s Shamrock

Foaled on St. Patrick’s Day in 1974, Charron’s Shamrock came into this world with an indomitable spirit, a head full of sense, and a strong sense of self. Rocky, as the bay gelding was known, came into Becky’s life when she was only 13. She instantly knew that this was the horse for her and made no bones about it. After negotiations and a lengthy battle to get Rocky into the trailer (a battle that would be repeated innumerable times in the coming years) the little bay gelding arrived at Becky’s home in Kent, Washington. Although only 1/8 of Rocky was Quarter Horse, the rest being Arabian, Rocky had a rear end that wouldn’t quit, beautifully correct legs, and though he also had a steep shoulder and a short neck, he had enough sass to make up for it. He was a wonderfully balanced individual and incredibly athletic – Rocky could, and did, do everything.

But before he got around to doing everything, there was the issue of making Rocky into a believer. There was the first halter class, wherein Rocky reared, there was the threat from Becky’s father regarding Rocky’s penchant for breaking free from the lunge line and tearing through the backyard on the way back to the barn, there were a multitude of lessons to be taken from Don Maelstrom and others. But eventually, Becky and Rocky’s relationship was forged into something indelible, with all the strength of tempered steel. Bad behavior in the ring transformed into winning ribbons, willfulness turned into willingness, and within a couple of years, Rocky and Becky had created what all riders aspire to find – that centaur-like connection between horse and human. Becky only needed to think it and Rocky did it.

Rocky

Rocky in his later years.

Eventually Becky set off for college and the now seasoned campaigner was loaned to her younger sister, Carrie. Rocky became her first show horse and together they had great success. Time moved on, Carrie got her own horse, and Rocky accompanied Becky as she finished college, became a teacher, moved to Georgia, back to Kent, and finally back again to South Carolina. It was here that Rocky found his final home, a lovely haven owned by Barbara Jiminez. Rocky was turned out with Copy, Barbara’s retired hunter, and life was good for many years. He had a clean, warm stall, green grass, good company, and a most important job – teaching Becky’s daughter Courtney how to ride.

At 26 Rocky developed a bladder stone that required surgery. If the surgery was not performed, he would eventually have to be put down. Becky searched the area and discovered Bonnie Brae Equine Veterinary Hospital, now Tryon Equine. Newly founded, Rocky would become Bonnie Brae’s first patient. Post-op, Rocky developed severe complications, going septic. Becky spent every moment at Rocky’s side, willing him to get better. And then Rocky began to founder. But Rocky was a fighter, and he was given time to see if he could somehow make a miraculous recovery. On October 13th, things began to turn around and he eventually made a full recovery. His framed portrait still hangs in the hallway of Bonnie Brae. Another two years passed, with Rocky picking up the accoutrements of old age. But despite Cushing’s Disease, trouble with his epiglottis, and other ailments Rocky was still Rocky – tough minded, determined, intelligent.

Finally, his front feet, for so long perfectly sound, began to turn on him. Dr. Hay, who had performed the bladder stone surgery on Rocky, drove from his practice in Columbus, NC to Greer, SC to put Rocky down not long before Christmas in 2002. Rocky, however, had other ideas, and was too defiantly alive to be taken that day. Dr. Hay said, “that truck made the trip once, it can make it again.” By the day after Christmas, Rocky was ready, and this time it was Dr. Bebe Freer who made the trip. With Barbara, Carrie, Becky and their mother, Irene, beside him, stroking his grey mottled face, Rocky left us. The next day dawned a lesser world due to his passing.

Truth Be Told

About Truth Be Told

Fifteen-year-old Zan Edgefield’s life is a simple one. For ten years she has called a small Southern town her home and Gillian Watson her best friend. Equestrians, they share a dream to reach the top of their sport. They spend their days trudging through school and their afternoons schooling their horses—until the night Zan wakes to the sound of panicked knocks at the front door. It is Gillian, unable to speak, her face a mess of sweat and tears. Zan gets her friend a glass of water, returning to discover she has disappeared into the night. The Edgefields call the police, who deliver the impossible news: Gillian was murdered, her body found at 11:33pm—half an hour before she knocked on the Edgefield’s front door.

Hagen, Gillian’s troubled step-brother, is charged with the crime, leaving the Watsons with a daughter dead and a son to blame. He was found sobbing in his parked car a block away from the crime scene, his face scratched by fingernails. When the murder weapon is discovered in the trunk of Hagen’s car, it looks like an open-and-shut case. Zan alone knows that Hagen is innocent, thanks to Gillian’s continued midnight visits. Now it is her mission to exonerate him—a difficult task for anyone, let alone a teenage girl acting on a tenuous psychic link with a silent ghost.

Stoic, tenacious, and armed with an inky black sense of humor, Zan struggles to expose the truth before Hagen is convicted. She finds that small-town hatreds run deep, and sometimes those who are sworn to uphold the law are just as happy to break it. Consumed by Gillian’s desperate desire to see her family healed, Zan loses sight of just one thing: She is getting ever closer to the actual killer—a man who is ready to kill again.