If Rapidan was a joker by night, keeping the resident in the barn apartment up all night, he was perfectly nice during the day, while I was at work. I didn’t get much time to mess with him, though. I was just reaching the inevitable shit-hits-the-fan portion of one of those horse-jobs where everything goes wrong all at once, when the too-good-to-be-true management gig suddenly becomes, in fact, too good to be true, and you are responsible for everything.
“You want me to pick up the kids from school?”
“You want me to drive the RV to the mechanic?”
“You want me to pick up an American Warmblood mare that you just bought online? And she’s in North Georgia?”
It was the trip to North Georgia that did me in. My boss was a psychologist who seemed to have majored in Manipulation and minored in Passive-Aggressive Belittling of Employees. She did her doctorate in Bad Equine Decisions, buying her thirteen-year-old daughter such interesting specimens as the Dutch Warmblood who had previously been a member of a World Equestrian Games team, but who now ducked out of approximately three jumps per course, and not one but two stallions who had to be gelded for sheer intractability. The girl was sweet enough and a decent rider – although, since she rode with one of the top hunter trainers in the country, she should have been an amazing rider – but spoiled out of her mind. Despite having five horses, she felt she needed another one.
Her mother, somehow thinking that this stable-full of six-figure horses with their best years behind them and with bad habits deeply engrained were investments, obliged her by going online, finding some sort of horse eBay site, and buying an American Warmblood.
I looked over her shoulder at the computer screen.
“She looks like a Quarter Horse,” I said uncertainly.
“She’s a Warmblood,” my boss insisted. “She even has a German name.”
I looked over the paragraph. “She’s practically an appendix Quarter Horse,” I insisted. “Her sire is a Thoroughbred-Paint and her dam is a registered Quarter Horse.”
“It says ‘Warmblood’ right here.” She jabbed a finger at the screen.
“It says ’American’ Warmblood.”
So here I was, driving into the mountains of Georgia to pick up a fifteen hundred dollar appendix Quarter Horse. I didn’t care how nice she was. I didn’t care if she was jumping puissance walls. I knew of at least three horses of similar breeding within two miles of the farm, all priced under a thousand dollars. We lived in Ocala. Why would I have to drive anywhere to get a cheap horse?
The magical American Warmblood mare was located on a gravel path off of a dirt road, on a hillside that made me dizzy. The woman who came out of the trailer, the woman who bred grade horses and gave them German names to imply that they were Warmbloods, informed me that my boss’s payment hadn’t cleared yet and I couldn’t have the horse. I’d driven six hours. There was no place to turn the trailer around. I was on a mountainside and I was afraid of heights. I was nineteen years old. I nearly cried. She went into the house and called my boss and cut some sort of deal with her.
The mare, a little fifteen hand chestnut with absolutely no remarkable qualities about her, climbed into the trailer without ceremony. The seller made some perfunctory hand-motions to assist me in backing out of the gravel path without hitting any trees or rolling down the mountainside, which I appreciated, and with a wince as I hit the last final bump before we got to the main road, I made my escape.
It wasn’t until the trailer nearly jackknifed for the third time, as I was slamming on my brakes in serious I-75 traffic, that I pulled off into a gas station and saw that that last bump had ripped the electric plug out of its socket in the truck’s bumper, and that the plug had been dragging on the road’s surface and worn down to a nub. I had no electricity in the trailer. No brakes and, as the sun sank toward the flat horizon and I was still at least three hours from home, no lights. This was bad. My life, and the grade mare’s, were in serious danger.
I drove back to the farm at fifty miles an hour, in the right-hand lane. It took me five hours. Semi-trucks helpfully blew their airhorns and flashed their brights at me to let me know that my trailer had no running lights. I bit my lip and drove on. I got home at eleven o’clock at night, unloaded the grade filly, and put her in an empty stall. No one had put hay or water in her stall; no one had left a note to say if the other horses had been fed. I gave everyone hay and went home.
The next day, I started looking for a new job.