A New Horse for Gloria
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
Gloria knew her foray into the world of horses was a success. She had located a great riding instructor, the wonderful and rather handsome Felipe, and had already taken several lessons. To her delight she could now post to the trot and find her correct diagonals. Felipe had told her in his heavy Argentinian accent that she was doing ‘very good.’ Her lesson mount was Gappy, a stout Appaloosa horse, named for his missing front teeth. According to Felipe, Gappy had ‘no canter’, so she had hit a roadblock in her training program. Felipe suggested it was time for Gloria to buy a horse of her own.
Felipe had offered to find her a horse for a small commission.
“It is no problem,” he had stated and smiled his most charming smile.
Gloria determined she was quite capable of finding a new horse herself and saving the commission fee.
Her friend Missy agreed to accompany her to Fobbs Farm, the most promising find she’d found to source her new horse. The ladies stepped out of the car on arrival and were immediately greeted by a tall middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt.
“Hi! I’m Gloria and this is Missy. I spoke with a gentleman called Jim, who told me you had several horses for sale that would be suitable for me.”
“I’m Jim. Plenty of horses for sale and I’m sure we have just what you’re looking for. You’re welcome to take a look around.“ Jim led them into the building. He pointed down a long aisle-way. All the horses in this aisle are for sale. Take a look and I’ll be back in just a minute.”
Gloria and Missy took up his invitation and walked up and down the aisle and checked out the 10 horses that were stalled on either side. Gloria whispered to Missy that the horses all looked small to her.
“I don’t want a little stubby legged Quarter horse,” she explained,” I want a real ‘Black Beauty’ horse.” Missy nodded. She had no idea what a Quarter horse was but she did know what Black Beauty meant. She’d seen the film as a kid.
Gloria noticed a small man pushing a wheelbarrow through the aisle-way that connected the lane they were in to more stalls on the other side of the barn. He scurried away from them before she could ask if she could look at the horses on the other side of the barn. Just then Jim re-appeared.
“Right. Let’s get started,” he said, and proceeded to the first stall door and opened it wide. A large headed chestnut horse stood in the corner with his hind end to the door. Jim smacked it on the rump and it stepped away. A white crescent in the horse’s left eye was apparent. Gloria looked at the beast. He looked small but Jim said confidently the horse stood at 16.1 hands high, just the size she had requested. Gloria wasn’t certain about the height and asked to see the horse in the aisle-way.
“This is your first horse didn’t you say,” asked Jim, as he nonchalantly threw a halter on the horse and pulled it out of the stall with his hand on the nylon halter.
Gloria knew she measured 16 hands high to the top of her head. She stepped up to the horse’s withers to check its height. Yes, it was true. The beast did stand 16.1 hands in height.
“What does he do?” she asked.
“Anything you ask of him,” said Jim, as he petted the horse on the neck. The horse pinned his ears at the touch.
Gloria asked more questions. She’d read up on this before she came. She was prepared. Missy stood back and admired her friend’s knowledge and confidence. Missy knew nothing about horses.
Jim patiently answered every question. Gloria was happy with the answers. She softened her voice with every question and began to smile back at him.
“Do you want to ride him? We have an indoor ring?” Jim asked?
“Sure,” Gloria answered. It was the first of five horses she would ride that day.
The little man had appeared again and tacked up each horse and presented it to her in the huge indoor riding arena by the mounting block. He had checked her girth after she mounted each horse and quietly disappeared. The horses seemed to like him better than they liked Jim. Gloria noticed such things. Gloria was proud of her knowledge in such matters.
Jim praised the qualities of every horse presented as she rode in circles at the walk and trot. When a horse offered any resistance Jim quickly stepped into the center of the circle and growled a quiet growl. Amazingly the horses seemed to respond well to this and they stopped their antics. Missy stayed out of the way, propped against the wall.
At the conclusion of the fifth ride Missy could see that Jim’s patience had waned. Missy’s patience and interest had also waned. It had been three hours of nonstop horses. Each time Gloria had dismounted she had made a remark against the horse. It was too fast. It was too slow. It was not comfortable.
“I thought horses had three speeds. Walk, trot and canter,” said Gloria after the last horse had been led away. She was oblivious to the fourth gate, the gallop.
“Some seem really fast and some seem really slow. Some don’t want to go anywhere. I haven’t found the one I want yet.”
Missy was disappointed. She wanted to head home. The indoor had a distinct chill now and she wasn’t sure whether it was just the dip in the afternoon temperatures or Jim’s change in manner. As time had passed Jim had become decidedly taciturn.
“So what do you think?” he asked Gloria. “ They are all good horses. Take one home and try it. If it doesn’t work out you can always bring it back and exchange it for another one?”
Gloria looked perplexed. She had done her research and knew this was a horse dealer antic to pressure the purchaser to buy. The horses she had tried seemed to be as Jim had presented them in terms of ability and height and she thought they seemed sound too. She had just begun to trust him properly.
Gloria felt she had done her due diligence examining the horses. She had felt every leg for heat or swellings and bumps. She had picked up every hoof (well most of the front ones anyway).
Disappointment clouded her eyes.
“There is nothing that truly fits me. I was hoping for something a little better looking and more elegant,” Gloria answered.
The horses Jim Fobbs had presented had all been Quarter horse or Morgan types. Most of the horses were fairly well behaved even if a little green under saddle, but none had that ‘look at me’ superstar quality. Some had homely heads with big blazes and thick jowls, while others had small pinched ears and short heads. Some were butt high with large ugly muscle mass, while others had long backs and high set thick necks.
Gloria and Missy followed Jim back to the barn and just as Gloria was about to say her goodbyes Jim stopped and turned to face her. His facial expression was one of surprise as if he had just experienced a light bulb moment.
“I do have one more horse I can show you. He is not really for sale. We don’t really want to part with him and he is a bit above your budget. But I don’t mind giving you a look at him,” Jim offered.
“I guess there is no harm in taking a look while we’re here,” said Gloria. Missy sighed quietly. Annoyed at the delay in their departure. She was hungry and wanted to get home before dark.
Jim walked across to the other aisle briskly. His strides were long and energetic.
A loud clatter of hooves was followed by a barely audible growling noise from Jim. Around the corner appeared the most beautiful horse that Gloria thought she had ever seen. The tall jet black Thoroughbred horse looked like a million dollars. His coat shined like black satin and he danced light footedly across the ground.
Gloria was overwhelmed and couldn’t hide her delight.
“Wow,” she exclaimed.
Jim tugged lightly at the leather leadshank. Its chain across the horse’s nose gave a small jingle and the horse stopped prancing and walked a few strides before he resumed his dancing.
“Let’s take him in the indoor,” Jim said brightly. “ He’s not used to these horses here and so no point in putting him on the cross ties.”
Gloria beamed as the horse exhibited his passage type trot passed her. She turned to chat with Missy, but Missy had taken several steps backward at the appearance of the magnificent beast and was miles back down the aisle.
“Come on,” Gloria said excitedly. “This might be the one!”
The black horse was elegant and well put together. Gloria could tell from all her research on conformation. “There was nothing wrong with this horse. Look how evenly he bounced around,” she thought. Jim led the horse to the center of the ring and the small man helper reappeared as if by magic.
“Grab me a longe line,” Jim told the little man. The helper already had a line in his hand. He gave it to Jim and stepped away nimbly.
“I’ll put Jesse through his paces. He has wonderful gaits,” Jim said to Gloria, his eye contact with her broken intermittently by the horse as it jigged around. Gloria stood and watched enchanted, as Jim expertly coaxed the horse out on to the longe line and snapped the coiled line on his thigh to send the horse forward. It took several circles for the horse to come down from an exuberant canter. It threw in a few bucks.
“Just excitement,” said Jim as he gave his low growl and yanked on the line. The horse spun around and faced him. Jim moved deftly to the horse’s hindquarters and growled again. The horse took off, back on the circle.
“He hasn’t been turned out today,” Jim explained. Gloria watched the huge trot and the athleticism of this superb ‘black beauty’ horse.
After several minutes of longing Jim stopped the horse and brought him to the center of the ring. The horse was puffing heavily.
“He’s not been ridden much because he was recently gelded,” Jim said, and stroked the horse on the neck. The horse snorted and stepped sideways. “ I think he’s ready for the saddle now.”
Gloria nodded. Yes. Of course she would like to try him. The helper appeared again and led the horse away. Missy moved nervously away from the doorway as they passed through. Jim engaged the ladies in conversation while they waited for the horse to reappear. The time flew by for Gloria as she asked every question she could think of about Jesse in the meantime. For Missy the time dragged on and she began to wonder if the horse would every reappear. Darkness had fallen meantime and Jim switched on lights in the indoor. They gave the huge space a warm hue. Missy sat down on the mounting block. She pulled the collar of her jacket up for warmth.
Finally the black horse reappeared. The little man helper seemed smaller than before. The presence of the horse seemed to overshadow him.
Gloria was pleased to see the horse was calmer. He stood at the mounting block that Missy had quickly vacated at the moment of his reappearance in the ring. While Gloria rode the horse Jim stayed in the center of the ring and gave her instructions.
“Jesse is a bit greener than the others you’ve tried,” said Jim, “You are doing very well with him.” Gloria was tense as she rode the horse. His gaits were indeed bigger than anything she had ever ridden before. He felt like a powerhouse of energy beneath her, and she tired quickly. As the horse wasn’t keen to walk he offered a very comfortable jig and Gloria found she could sit to this quite easily.
“I can even sit his trot,” she thought, pleased with her self. To master the sitting trot she knew was difficult.
Gloria didn’t ride Jesse for long. Jim explained it was grain time and that as Jesse wasn’t used to regular work because of his recent gelding procedure, they shouldn’t over do it.
Gloria dismounted and patted the horse with enthusiasm.
“I’ll take him,” she said and grinned at Jim. “He’s just what I wanted.”
Within half an hour Gloria had handed over the cash, received a hand written bill of sale and a promise for delivery of her new horse to Felipe’s barn the next day. It was more money than she had wanted to spend and she had to pay extra for the transport, but she was happy. Jesse was the picture book horse she had always wanted. She was pleased she had saved the money needing a vet pre-purchase exam and Jim promised the registration papers from The Jockey Club would follow in the mail.
Missy listened to Gloria’s exuberant recount of her ride on Jesse all the way home. Missy inwardly vowed never to volunteer to go out horse hunting again. She was weary but was glad her friend had found the horse she wanted. Not least because it meant she wouldn’t be asked out on a horse buying road trip again.
The first ride time approached and Felipe suggested that as Jesse was new to the barn and environment perhaps he should ride the horse in first. Gloria had found her new horse very difficult to handle in the first few days and so she happily agreed.
“Yes. That would be sensible,” she said relieved.
Felipe longed the horse. He knew Gloria had already ridden the horse and was keen to see how this magnificent beast felt under saddle but his experience had taught him to be prudent in his approach.
The big black gelding wouldn’t stand by the mounting block but Felipe was lithe so he quickly mounted from the ground. The horse trotted off and Felipe pulled on the rein to slow him down. His legs tightly wrapped around its girth. The horse responded by picking up a canter and soon Felipe found himself cantering down the long side of the arena at a fast pace. He knew not to pull harder on the reins and just let the horse plow forward. Eventually after several turns of the ring the horse slowed down. Just at the moment Felipe felt the horse was finally going to listen to his aids and come to the trot, the horse stopped hard and dropped his right shoulder.
Felipe was a good rider but he lost his seat and was catapulted over the horse’s shoulder and landed in the sand with a thump.
The horse galloped around the arena a few times and then stopped. He snorted and looked uneasy at this turn of events. Felipe marched over and gathered the reins and remounted. Gloria watched in horror. Not a word escaped her lips.
Felipe managed to stay on the horse through several more sudden stops and a few bucking episodes. Felipe then trotted the horse until it was thoroughly tired and then dismounted. The horse trembled, coated in a sticky white sweat. A discharge drained from his nostrils.
Felipe threw the reins forward over the horse’s head and led him up to Gloria and questioned her intently about her experiences during her visit with Jim Fobbs.
The more she spoke the more he sighed.
“It sounds as though the horse may have been drugged. You should have had him vetted anyway. I think he also has some sort of respiratory problem. We’ll get the vet in to give him the once over. He is too much horse for you to ride. He is a nice horse apart from his behavioral issues. I’ll take over the ride for now. I’ll need to get him trained up until you can safely ride him.” Felipe marched the horse off to the stables and didn’t wait for Gloria to answer.
Gloria sat on her chair. Mesmerized. The reality of her mistake began to dawn on her. She wondered if her ‘Black Beauty’ dream would ever be realized.
But Gloria was not one to give up. She stood and dusted off her breeches and stomped after Felipe.
“Then let’s call the vet now,” she said. She began to help Felipe by wiping the sweat off the tack he had removed from the horse.
“Here,” he said, and handed her a sponge and some saddle soap. “ You might as well clean it with this.”
Gloria sighed. She knew her future with her ‘Black Beauty’ was not going to be quite as she’d expected.
About the author: Nikki Alvin-Smith is an international Grand Prix dressage trainer/clinician who has competed in Europe at the Grand Prix level earning scores of over 72%. Together with her husband Paul, who is also a Grand Prix rider, they operate a private horse breeding/training farm in Stamford, NY.