Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Fool's Choice

Thursday, April 1st, 2010
Thirteen years ago today, I got my first horse. Perhaps the fact that it was April Fool's should have given me some inkling as to what I was in for.

I'd been searching for a horse for months. Here and there, I found horses I was interested in, but none that I really liked. The one horse I adored and truly wanted to buy was not for sale. I had pretty much given up hope, when one Sunday evening, I received an unexpected phone call.

The voice on the other end of the line was that of Stuart Appt. A local farrier, he'd been hammering shoes onto the hooves of the horses at the Fredericton Pony Club for years. As kids we were frightened of his gruff, no-nonsense manner. But as teens, we learned that behind his rough exterior, there was a weathered horseman with a dry, witty sense of humour.

On top of being a farrier, Stuart was also a horse trader. He regularly hauled his six-horse trailer to Ontario, bought horses cheap at auction, then came back to New Brunswick to sell them. Stuart was a born salesman, and we often teased him that he'd sell his grandmother if she were still alive. He never put much effort into denying our claims.

My conversation with Stuart that night was pretty short:
Stuart: "I'm on my way back from Ontario. I've got a horse here I think you'll like. It's a 16.1 hand bay thoroughbred. Interested?"
Me: (too shocked to know what to say) "Yes. Definitely."
Stuart: "I'll drop it off at the club when I pull into town in the morning. You can try him out for a few days."
Me: "Um, Ok."

I don't think I slept at all that night. When I got the call the next morning that Stuart had arrived at the barn, I dashed over there as quickly as I could. When I got there, Stuart was leaning against the rails of the indoor ring, a ball cap pulled low over his bald head, a piece of timothy dangling from his mouth. A tall, thin, chestnut gelding was wandering the indoor ring, suspiciously sniffing the walls and dirt.

Me: "I thought you said he was bay?"
Stuart: "A bay? No, he's a chestnut. He's got a really nice long stride on him."

I tried to hide my disappointment. I'd always dreamed of showing a bay-- a horse with a reddish brown coat and striking black legs, mane and tail. In my fantasy, the horse also had flashy patches of white on its face and legs. Now, here I was, looking at a plain, copper coloured chestnut horse without a single white hair on his body. But buying a horse on the basis of colour is foolish, so I shrugged off my disappointment and tried to find out more about the skeletal pile-of-bones standing warily in front of me.

Me: "What's his name?"
Stuart: "Murray."
Me: (quizzical look on my face) "Murray? Really? Did you make that up on the way here or is that really his name?"
Stuart: (with a definite gleam in his eye) "Sure that's his name. Would I lie to you?"

Oh well, his name's even less important than his colour.

Me: "What's his story? Where did he come from?"
Stuart: "He's about eight years old. I bought him yesterday afternoon from a trader who bought him yesterday morning. Don't know where he's been or what he's been doing. He's got a nice big stride though."

At that, Stuart left, with me promising to call him once I made a decision-- and him claiming to have another buyer in the works if I wasn't interestd.

I walked into the arena to take a closer look at the gawking, gangly, skeletal creature in front of me. I could count his ribs. His hip and shoulder bones poked out like those of a jersey cow. His legs were crooked, his back long, his neck sunken. He could have been a poster boy for poor conformation. I clapped my hands and jumped toward him, chasing him into a tired trot around the ring. He was loathe to move too fast or too far, he looked exhausted, and he was coughing (no doubt a bit of shipping fever), but he did have a lovely, long, smooth stride.

I tried lunging him. He cowered against the arena wall the moment I picked up the whip. I also tried leading him over a few small jumps. He stopped and refused to jump at all. Hmm...and I was hoping to compete in jumper classes and on cross-country courses.

"Murray" was shy and nervous. Anytime anyone came in the ring, he kept one eye and one ear sharply focoused on them, always acutely aware of the tiniest movement. It was clear he wasn't a trusting horse. The "common-sense" side of me kept voicing concerns about what I was seeing, but something about his worried, pleading eyes had captured my attention, and I made excuses for his less-desirable qualities. Then, something happened that endeared him to me forever.

It's mid-afternoon. Our coach is getting ready to give a riding lesson to an enthusiastic four-year-old, pudgy little girl. The little girl, in her excitement, runs through the barn, arms flailing, out to the indoor arena...the arena where a tall, shy, under-the-weather thoroughbred is loose in a strange, new environment.

It takes me a moment to process what's happening, and then I start to sprint after the young girl. But it's too late, she's already crossed the arena, and flung herself at this towering animal. She expresses her joy at seeing this new horse by squealing jubilantly, wrapping her arms AND legs tightly around his front leg, and pressing her face into the lean muscle just above his knee. At any moment I expect to see Murray spin and bolt in fright-- many horses, even quiet old school horses would. I have visions of the child being trampled and crushed beneath his scrambling, panicky legs.

But that doesn't happen. Instead, Murray stands stock-still. He turns his worried, anxious eyes downwards. He lowers his head and presses his muzzle warmly into the girl's soft, curly hair. I approach slowly, cautiously. I pry the child's clinging body from Murray's wobbly leg. Murray tentatively looks at me, and I look back at him, truly grateful for his patience.

The next day, April Fool's, I call Stuart and give him my answer.

Thirteen years later, Murray has proven to be the most challenging horse I've ever ridden or worked around. He's frustrated me to the point of tears, and he's amused me to the point of belly-aching laughter. And I have never, not for one single moment, regretted the choice of my April Fool's horse-- not even when I watch other riders floating by on their calm, quiet, beautiful bay horses with their flashy white markings.


  1. great post Melissa. happy Anniversary to you and Murray.

  2. wow...made me tear up. Happy Day to you & your beautiful Murray Melissa.

  3. So glad you shared that story with us. I enjoy your colourful, descriptive writing.

  4. A beautiful story about Mr. Murray McFlurry.