Friday, February 4, 2011

Finding Maggie

About a year ago....

February 4, 2010
I usually enjoy my work at Greenhawk in Moncton, but today, I'm anxious to get out of the store. At 3pm, I'm drumming my fingers on the desk behind the cash, anxiously waiting for my co-worker to arrive to relieve me. When she does, I dash out the door-- giddy with excitement.

The twenty minute drive to the barn is unbearable. When I finally arrive, I shout a brief hello to Murray in his paddock, then continue straight down the path into the barn. Murray's stall and my locker are directly ahead inside the main door, but I turn left down the isle. I walk to the last stall on the left. Inside, a fat, black mare glances up at me from what's left of a pile of hay. Maggie was dropped off just a few hours earlier. She seems reasonably content in her new, albeit temporary, surroundings.

I started seriously looking for a second horse in early January 2010, when it looked like we really might be buying the farm. After all, I couldn't let Murray move here without a friend.

I knew exactly what I wanted:
-A horse big and strong enough to comfortably carry Dave
-A horse kind and quiet enough for Dave to work around
-A horse that is fairly young, not an old ready-to-drop-dead retiree
-A horse that's an easy keeper (no thoroughbreds this time around)
-And above all, most importantly, the horse has to be cheap

I spent hours and hours scrolling through classified ads on Atlanic Rider and scanning the "livestock for sale" column on Kijiji. Most of the horses within my price range (about $1500) were retired or unsuccessful standardbred racehorses, oddly bred draft horses, or quarter horse crosses of questionable backgrounds and training. But there were a few which stood out:

Mid-January 2010

The horses in most of the ads are easy to cross of the list, but there are two big draft crosses whose ads I click on several times a day. They're nice looking horses, who seem to meet all of our criteria-- except for the price. They're both priced above $3000. At first, I tell myself there's no way I'm willing to spend that kind of money on a "companion horse" for Murray (and Dave). But both of these horses are well-schooled, and would probably make good mounts for me (as well as Dave)-- I could compete at jumper shows and in events with either one of them. Looking at their ads in that light, I convince myself that either horse would be a worthwhile investment.

I hemm and haw for a few more days though before finally contacting the owners. Both horses have just been sold. Strike one. I'm disappointed, but part of me knows that neither horse was really what I was looking for, and that paying that kind of price would have put a serious strain on my ever-shrinking savings.

A few days later, another "horse for sale" ad catches my eye. It's for a Canadian mare. She's smaller than I would ideally like, and priced a bit above my limit at about $2000. In my experience, Canadian horses are generally strong, kind and friendly, so I don't rule her out, but I don't make any effort to contact the owners either. I troll the ads for a few more days, and I don't see any other horses which meet my criteria.

I casually mention the ad for the Canadian at the barn where Murray is stabled. Roxanne, a very talented young rider, immediately speaks up. "That's Nelly", she says. Nelly is owned by a friend of the family, and Roxanne had spent quite a few hours on her back. Both she and her mother are very fond of the horse. They say she's energetic, but safe, and think she'd make a great companion for both Murray and Dave.

That night, January 14th, Roxanne e-mails me pictures of Nelly. Dave instantly likes her. I decide to call the owners the next day.

The next morning, I fire up the computer and scroll through the ads. I can't find the ad for Nelly. I e-mail Roxanne for the family's contact info. She gets back to me with the bad news. Nelly was sold yesterday. Strike two.
It's back to the drawing board, so Dave and I decide to take a field trip.

It's a cold, but sunny morning and Dave and I are on our way to Amherst to see "Roger". Everyone in the horse world knows Roger. He makes a living buying and selling horses of all sizes, colours, and quality. Many end up in good homes. Many are eventually loaded onto a trailer and "shipped to Quebec" (which is a Maritime euphemism for being sent to slaughter).

We pull into a long driveway tucked down a lane behind the Walmart in Amherst. It's our first time here. In the minutes before Roger arrives to greet us, we glance around at a series of barns-- some very old, others quite new. Soon, a stocky, heavy-set man with a round, weather-worn face appears and we introduce ourselves to Roger. He tells us he has about 100 horses on the property. A few of the nicer looking ones belong to his daughter. The rest are for sale.

Roger is friendly enough, but he wastes little energy on words. He walks with us past a manure-covered paddock housing 15 or so particularly thin and unhealthy-looking animals. These unfortunate individuals, many of whom are unwanted retired standardbred racehorses, are due to travel to Quebec the next day.

We march morosely past them through the snow to a large field filled with several dozen much healthier-looking horses, many of whom are gathered around a large round-bale. A few are big draft horses, or draft crosses. One Clydesdale in particular catches Dave's eye. He's a massive animal, well over 17 hands high. We're told he has very little, if any training. Dave likes him, but there's something about this horse's expression that makes me wary, and he's just too big and too green for my liking. We're there for an hour or more. All of the horses we see are in need of good homes, but they're either too big, too small, or too green for our needs. We finally leave, telling Roger that if we don't find anything within the next few weeks, we'll be back to check out any new stock that trots in.

It's now mid to late January. I'm getting desperate. We haven't settled on a closing date for the house yet, but we know it will be sometime in mid-February. I will stay in Moncton for another few weeks to clear out and clean up our old house. But by the first of March, I'll have to leave. The problem is, I don't want to move Murray to our new home without a companion. I also don't want to move there without him. I need to find a horse...soon.

January 19, 2010

A few days after our trip to Roger's, I come across an ad for the perfect horse-- probably even better suited to us than Nelly would have been. "Trigger" is a plain-looking chestnut quarter horse crossed with something or rather-- likely a "Heinz 57". Attached to the ad is a link to a video of a seemingly inexperienced, adult, male rider trotting and loping around on him. The horse responds well and seems unfazed by the rider's slightly bouncy hands and unbalanced seat.

"Trigger" is for sale on Prince Edward Island, so I ask my good friend KK whether she knows anything about him. She does indeed know the horse. She says he's had experience as both a trail horse and a lesson horse. He's big enough for Dave, yet small enough that children won't be intimidated. She tells me he's perfect. And the price is right too.

It's Wednesday January 20th. I e-mail Trigger's owners. I'm working all week, but I set up an appointment to see him on Saturday. I spend Friday night dreaming about our perfect new horse. Saturday morning dawns bright and cold. I bundle up and drive off toward the Island. About a half hour outside of Moncton, my cell phone rings. It's Trigger's owners-- well, former owners. They sold him last night. Strike three.

Monday January 25

For what seems like (and probably is) the millionth time, I scroll absentmindedly through the latest "horse for sale" ads on Kijiji. One ad, just posted, shows a cute-looking Percheron x Quarter horse mare. I click for more information. There's not much more info at all, just a phone number, but I've got a good feeling...a really good feeling. I call right away. A woman answers. I tell her I'm calling about the horse for sale.

"Which one?" she asks.
"Um, the Percheron cross--a mare?"
"Oh," she says kindly "you must mean Maggie."

My heart skips a beat. My brother-in-law's dog had been named Maggie. She was one of the most kind, and beloved animals I'd ever known. We fell in love with our dog because she could have been Maggie's twin. The fact that this horse shares a name with what had been such a wonderful animal has to be a sign. This is our horse. Unfortunately, "our horse" is in Oxford, Nova Scotia. I'm working at Greenhawk all week, and teaching riding lessons most evenings.

"If she hasn't sold by the weekend, I'd like to come see her".
"Ok," says the kind voice on the phone. "I'll tell my husband, Ron, he's the one who deals with all this."

I'm on pins and needles all week. I check the ad on Kijiji everyday to make sure it's still there, and that the word "SOLD" hasn't appeared. On Friday I call Ron to confirm our appointment. "She's still there?" I say, with every finger and toe crossed. He tells me she is, and gives me directions to their modest farm.

Dave is home for the weekend, so we drive together to Oxford to meet Maggie on Saturday. When we arrive, we're greeted by an excitable, though friendly, young german shepard type dog. Soon, the dog is joined by Ron, a smiling, grey-bearded man in coveralls. He leads us to the barn where Maggie is tied in a straight stall. She has company in the form of a miniature horse, two massive Belgians, and two even more massive percherons. Maggie's a Percheron quarter horse cross herself, but she looks like a pony beside these gentle giants.

I walk into the narrow straight stall beside her. Her ears are forward, and despite the close quarters, there's no sign of aggression or anxiety. We bring her into the isle for a better look. She stands quietly while I run my hands through her thick, but shiny black coat, and down her legs. There's some swelling down the inside of her right hind. Her hooves clearly haven't been well cared for. Two of them are cracked from toe to coronary band, and large chunks are missing from all four.

Ron tells us Maggie was a PMU baby shipped from Alberta as a filly. At the time, she was sold to an older gentleman. Just two weeks ago, that man traded the now 7 year old mare back to Ron-- who has considerable experience with draft horses, but not saddle horses.

He tells us Maggie is broke to harness, but has never been ridden. He says she is gentle, though can be a bit "sharp" sometimes (meaning she occasionally has a stubborn streak). He's got too many horses right now, so she's been spending nights on his horse trailer, alongside his mini-horse (who looks like a dog beside all these drafts).

He leads Maggie outside into the bright sun. Despite her crumbling hooves, she walks just fine. He tries to trot her down the icy driveway for us, but she only manages to waddle a few steps before it becomes too slippery for both of them. It's almost impossible to tell for sure, but I convince myself that she seems sound.

I like Ron, he doesn't give us a sales pitch. He just answers our questions, seemingly honestly, and he sits back and waits for us to come to our own decision.

I look at Dave. He likes black horses, and he's been insistent that he wants a horse with big bone, something with substance so he can feel secure in the saddle. Maggie, with her elephant-eyes and docile temperament has won him over...and me too.

I'm a horrible negotiator. I don't even know where to start. I tell Ron we're interested, but that I'm a bit worried about her hooves. He drops the price from 12 hundred to 11 hundred dollars. I think some more. I tell him we don't have a trailer, and I wonder whether he could bring her to Moncton for us (it will cost at least $100 for me to hire someone else). He agrees, and says he can bring her sometime during the next week. I write a cheque for about half the cost.

Dave and I drive away both pleased and relieved with our decision. We've never, ever regretted our choice, and Maggie has become a much beloved part of our family.

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