Copyright © Judith Shaw
Diana and I were waiting for Frappuccinos at our local Starbucks when I saw this ad stapled to the bulletin board:
Charlie Granite, 10 y.o. registered quarter horse, 15.1 hh, chestnut w flaxen mane and tail. Ropes, cuts, has cow. 100% sound. Thinks he’s human. $15,000. Genuine offers only. St. Albans VT. 05478. Tel: 393 7252.
“Wow!” I said to Diana. “That sounds like my kind of horse. I’m on it! Borrow your cell?”
“St. Alban’s Animal Control, Dave McWilliams speaking. How can I help you?”
“Hello? I’m calling about the quarter horse. . . . Wait—did you say Animal Control? I must have the wrong number.”
“You callin’ about Charlie? Charlie Granite? You got the right number. I’m lookin’ to sell him. You interested?”
“I might be. He sounds perfect.”
“Perfect? Well, maybe . . . depends on what you’re lookin’ for. He’s a horse of a different color, that’s for sure.”
“I thought he was a chestnut. The flaxen part is a little unusual, but.”
“No, lady. I just mean he’s a real special animal.”
“Why is he for sale? Are you getting out of horses?”
“Not exactly, just out of Charlie. He’s a great horse. I’m not the right owner. Can’t tap into his full potential (at least, that’s what he tells me).”
“Sorry, I didn’t quite hear that.”
“Never mind. You coming up to have a look? I’ll need to let him know.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. How about Saturday. In the afternoon?”
“Come to my office, 579 Lake Street. You can follow me to the barn.”
Animal control wasn’t hard to find, just off the main drag on a dead-end street. We walked into the office and saw an apparition: tall, stringy guy in super-tight jeans, Poncho Villa mustache and (I kid you not!) a ten-gallon hat. He was standing behind his desk, so I couldn’t see his boots.
“Good morning, ladies,” he said. “Which one of you wants to see the man?”
I stepped forward. “I do. My name is Cecily Harwood. This is my friend, Diana Burke.”
He stuck out a calloused hand. “I’m Dave. Pleased ta meetcha. Let’s get going. He don’t like waitin’ around.” The Texas accent was growing thicker by the second. Should I tell him he was in Vermont or just go with the flow?
He got into his F150, and we got into my little Prius. Diana had warned me not to bring the trailer. Check out the horse first.
We followed him to a typical rundown Vermont farm. Faded paint, dilapidated fencing, a general air of disrepair. Except for the barn. It shone in the afternoon sun like a new penny.
A chestnut horse watched us from a turnout yard. He was beautiful.
I got out of the car too fast and bonked my head on the doorframe. Diana followed more slowly and gave me a funny look. “Are you okay?”
I rubbed the stars out of my eyes and nodded. “Let’s go see him,” I said. She looked at me again, shrugged, and led the way to the barn.
“I want the redhead!” I stopped dead. The horse shook his head and pawed the ground. “Not you, missy,” he said. “The other one. She complements my mane.” He arched his neck and preened.
I looked at Diana, who was staring at the horse. “Did you hear that?” I whispered.
“Hear what?” We walked closer, and I put out a hand. He shoved it away with his head. I moved closer to do the horse hello thing, breathing gently into his nostrils. He flattened his ears and lifted his lip in disdain.
“Don’t you understand English? I’m not a gentleman and I don’t prefer blondes. I want the redhead.”
Dave walked over and gave him a slap on the neck. “Cut it out, Charlie. These ladies have come to see you. They’ll think you’ve got no manners.”
I took a deep breath. I must have hit my head harder than I thought. “This is Charlie Granite?”
“’Fraid so. He’s a little fresh today. Maybe I should get on him first.” Dave took a halter out of his pocket and fastened it around Charlie’s jaw. Then he clipped on a lead rope (where had that come from?), opened the gate and led the horse into the barn. Charlie went quietly enough, but he kept turning his head to keep an eye on Diana.
Dave tied Charlie to the wall, took a small metal hook out of his back pocket and excavated his hooves, prying a pebble out of his off fore. Then he put the hoof pick back, grabbed a broom and swept up the mess.
“Charlie’s very neat,” he said. “He can’t abide a dirty barn.”
As Dave tacked him up, Charlie kept staring at Diana, who started to fidget. I was getting pretty pissed off. He was going to be my horse, right? Why wasn’t he looking at me?
“What you plan on doin’ with this horse?” Dave asked.
“Oh, you know,” I said. “Trail riding, a little cutting, maybe a few quarter horse shows. He has to be able to do a bit of everything.”
“Been riding long?”
“Not so long,” I replied. “Only about six months. So any horse I buy has to be really broke.”
Charlie snorted again. “In your dreams, girl,” he said silently. “I get to choose my partner, and you’re not it.” He looked at Diana, who just looked blank.
Dave shrugged his shoulders. “I told you,” he said. “In the ad. He thinks he’s a human.”
He mounted and settled himself in the saddle. How do men do it? It must be uncomfortable as hell, but Dave looked anything but. Charlie moved off smoothly and showed his paces. Walk, trot, canter, rollback, canter, turn on the haunches, flat gallop. He finished with a sliding stop, nose to nose with Diana.
Then it was my turn. Charlie wouldn’t stand still, and both Dave and Diana had to hoist me onto the saddle. I sat quietly, took a deep breath and exhaled, giving him the signal to walk. He heaved a huge sigh and stood still. I asked again. Nothing. He was rooted to the earth. Dave handed me a crop. I raised it to give Charlie a tap, and he turned his head to look at me, ears pinned, teeth showing. “Don’t even think about it, girlfriend.”
I know you’re not supposed to actually kick horses (they tend not to like it), but I was fed up and booted him in the ribs.
When I woke up, a nurse was wiping my forehead with a cool, moist towel. “Feeling better, dearie? You gave yourself quite a knock.”
Diana and Dave were standing near my bed.
“You didn’t even make it to the barn,” Diana said. “Just bumped your head getting out of the car and collapsed. You’ve been out for hours.”
They looked at each other. “I called your mom and told her you’d be okay. You need to spend the night here. I’ll hang with Dave, and we can drive home tomorrow.”
I croaked something even I couldn’t understand. The nurse held up a glass of water, and I sipped through a straw. I tried again. “What about Charlie Granite?”
Dave and Diana were holding hands. “I’m going to buy him,” she said shyly. “Charlie insisted.”