Friday, May 13, 2011

Remembering Rose

The excitement in the old truck was nearly palpable. After nearly 15 years of waiting, I was headed to the upper corner of the state to check out what might become my very first horse. All my father had told me was that he was a 4 year old Appaloosa gelding and from that little bit of information my imagination took off. I pictured myself galloping through green fields aboard a wildly spotted leopard, or leaping fences on a bright, glossy horse emblazoned with a big blanketed rump!

We pulled into the old farmer's drive and his son directed us towards the barn. The yard was littered with old farm machinery and rusting car bodies that were rapidly being swallowed by weeds. Numerous dogs ran rampant around the property, barking and fighting amongst themselves. I tried to keep my feelings to myself...not everyone was well off and times were rather hard.

"He's back in here." the son said, leading us into a tiny, ramshackle barn. Crowded in with my family (there were 5 of us in total, even my brother had come along to see what all the excitement was about) I couldn't get a good look at him, just barely catching a flash of chocolate colored hide. "We put him in with the filly since we're a little short on room." he explained. He slid open the stall door and grabbed the colt's halter. Like a flash the little red filly rocketed out of the stall and tore off across the property. "Oh don't worry about her." he said. "She's always doing that."

I turned back to the colt and felt all my dreams shrivel and disappear. Gone was the thought of riding a flashy, wildly spotted horse through fields or over fences. What stood before me, tossing his head and jerking on the lead, was a hideous parody of Appaloosa...big, heavy coarse head with a mottled roman nose, small piggy eyes buried in pink speckled flesh, sparse mane and even more sparse tail, seeming to hold a whopping 4 hairs. And to top it all off...two tiny nickle-sized spots marked his haunches, that was all. Determined to make the best of the situation, I reached out to scratch him on the cheek. He yanked his head up and away from me, tightening his lips in what seemed like disgust.

"Oh don't worry about that," the boy drawled, "he's like that with everyone at first. He'll warm up to you in no time." He led the colt outside and tied him up. The wan winter sunlight did nothing to improve his looks. Suddenly there was a pattering of hooves and the little filly came careening around the front of the house. She was a bright cherry red bay with a ridiculously long winter coat that was fluffed out in the cold. It caught the light and she seemed to be surrounded by a bright red glow. She suddenly realized we were there and she skidded to a stop, snorting in surprise. Once she was sure she had our attention however, she pirouetted like a dancer and floated in a beautiful trot back out to the front yard, tail flagged like an Arabian. She paused and looked back at us over her shoulder, making sure we were still watching before she spun once again and pranced back towards us. Halfway there she spun yet again and floated off around the house. I stood mesmerized, caught up in the spell of the little red filly.

 "That's just Rose," he informed us, "she's the last foal we had. A little on the small size." My entire family, even my very non-horsey brother, were mesmerized by this little horse! I heard the son clear his throat and we all rather guiltily turned back to the ugly gelding. My sister and I exchanged a look, neither one of us was very enthusiastic about the boring, bad tempered brown colt when the flashy little filly was dancing around the front of the property.

"Now he's still pretty green," the son said, "but he's got a good walk and trot going and he's a nice trail horse, even goes through water."

"That's nice." I heard my father reply. "How about that other one? The little red one?" Apparently even my father wasn't impressed with the colt!

"Oh she's too young for your girl. She's only about 2, this gelding is what you're looking for!" was his answer. It seemed as if he was pushing us to believe that this coarse little colt was just every girl's dream horse. He started to saddle up the gelding and I watched as the colt again wrinkled his nose and flung his head up, sidling away from the tack. At least he took the bit rather well...with a head toss of course.

At last the colt was saddled and the boy hopped up on him. He headed down the driveway at a plodding pace, the gelding's nose held up and sideways. My father glanced over at me and I did my best to appear excited since I had waited so very long for a horse of my own. Apparently he could tell how unenthusiastic I was since I saw his expression soften.

Little Rose decided to make an appearance at just that moment. She flitted around the ugly colt, weaved in and out around the unruly dogs and side passed through the rusted hunks of cars. She also kept at least one eye and an ear trained on us at all times. She tucked her nose to her chest, shook her head, bucked on the spot...anything to keep us looking at HER and not the colt! According to my father, from the look on my face the filly was already dancing her way into my heart.

The son had coaxed the gelding (with much kicking, clucking and slap with the ends of his reins) into a jarring trot and headed back towards us. The colt still had his head held to the stars and his nose cranked to the right, lips tightened and eyes glaring. The boy yanked him to a stop in front of us and hopped off.

"So...what do you think?" he asked, a big grin plastered on his face. "He's a little rough but with more training he'll even right out."

"Well," my father replied. He glanced my way, I suddenly realized that I could be saddled with this unruly colt if my father gave his ok. Unbidden tears came to my eyes and I turned away, staring at the lovely little filly still dancing around the front yard. "Well, we'll have to talk it over as a family." came my father's voice. "What can you tell me about that filly? Seems my daughter really likes the look of her."

My head spun back and huge grin split my face at his words. Suddenly I forgot about being cold, about the ugly colt and the ramshakle farm. The thought of owning Rose was a dream come true!

"Oh, she isn't for sale." came the reply.

My dreams crashed to the ground, smashed to bits by his words.

"Yeah my dad wants to keep her 'cause she's the last foal out of our good ol' mare that we just sold." he said. I stared at the ground, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. I willed the tears from my eyes and tried to swallow the lump that appeared in my throat. The boy looked at me and cleared his throat, uncomfortable in sudden silence. "but hey, I can ask him if he'd sell her. Sure you don't want to try out the colt though?" he asked.

I never did step up on that colt. Rose was bought that very day, that old farmer said he had watched everything from his house and said he knew when a horse chooses it's rider and that Rose had made it pretty darn clear who she wanted to go with. It's so hard to believe that all this happened nearly 20 years ago. Everything about that day is emblazoned in my mind...the way the snow had melted away except for a few stubborn patches in the shadows, the way the wind whipped the horse's manes, the smell of the barn, the sun glistening off the old chrome bumpers of the cars, the staccatto rap of Rose's hooves on the gravel driveway. It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step....this journey started with a flying, floating trot.

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