So just how does one end up with a herd of four horses when you start out saying “I’m getting a horse!” Maybe I should start from the beginning…before we owned 200 acres in North Florida. In the aftermath of the real estate downturn around 2010, I decided it would be an excellent investment to buy a lakefront property near my alma mater, Auburn University. There were deals to be had on Lake Martin, and I was headed up to “shop”. With an appointment with a broker scheduled for the following Friday, I get a phone call from my then 83-year-old father. “I need you to go with me to Madison this week…what day can you go?” Now this was an unusual request, as my father had been leasing a hunting camp up there in North Florida for about 15 years. Women had not been encouraged or invited to go to this hunting camp. So why now? I told him I was busy this week…traveling up to Auburn and all, so how about next week? No, he wouldn’t hear me, and insisted I was needed in Madison BEFORE I left for Auburn. It’s your 83-year-old father…so you go. I tell my husband, Matt, “I have to go to Madison on Wednesday this week with Dad.” “Really? he asked. Think I’ll go with you guys”. Hmmm. On the three-hour trip up, they were like kids in a candy shop. Something was definitely up. Long story short, they had already picked out a 200 acre neglected farm, and I was just along to write and sign a contract, BEFORE I could find a property on Lake Martin. I got hoodwinked.
The property consisted of 80 acres of timber, 80 acres of pasture, and 40 acres of live oaks and woods with an old house on it. The next two years were a lot of clearing and house cleanup. It was a “guy’s” project. The gift was that it gave my Dad, a retired orange grove and land owner, a chance to again be on a tractor and enjoy watching the land transform and come to life again. Huge live oaks that were barely visible began to emerge as 25 years of neglect was cleared away from them. That was worth the “bait and switch” right there…watching my Dad enjoy the property. Within two years my Dad’s health began to fail, and he passed away after heart surgery and a brutally long period, in which he never recovered. After his funeral in January 2013, just over two years after purchasing the property, I was up for the weekend with my family and was standing at the kitchen window gazing out at the 80 acres of beautiful Coastal Bermuda pasture and really missing my Dad. Matt asked me if I was going to start coming up for some of the weekends now that the house was livable and our youngest would be going off to college in the fall. I turned to him and said, “Yes…because I’m getting a horse.” Not knowing anything about horses, he thought this was a fantastic idea! Would give me a reason to come and something to do at the farm! Poor guy, he had no idea what this meant. I felt a tad guilty, knowing what he was unknowingly walking in to, but then remembered how we had come to own this property. All guilt vanished and the journey began.
So the first horse shopping yielded two fine creatures, Pretty Boy and Dizzy. I had to explain to the husband about horses being herd animals and shouldn’t be kept alone, so we were getting two horses, not just one. “Oh,” he says, and looks somewhat concerned, which I just chose to ignore. There was a lot to learn with those two, and I came to realize that they were not quite the horses I would want to put inexperienced riders on. Oops. So I started the search for the third “babysitter” horse. Now I did try to explain all of this to my husband, but he just didn’t see the “need” for a third horse and would change the subject and say something like “maybe later”.
Of course, I found the perfect horse, Ernie. Ernie lived in Tennessee and was to be delivered in a few weeks. Plenty of time to break the news to the husband…until the transporter called and said he was making a delivery in South Florida the coming weekend and could have Ernie there on Sunday. This was Wednesday and we were driving up Friday. Plenty of time to explain. Somehow it just never seemed to be the right time.
Saturday yields tons of rain. Tons. This is a problem as I need our caretaker Joey to mow the second pasture so I can keep Ernie separately from the herd across the fence until they are acclimated to one another. I ask Joey on Friday, without any further explanation of course, if he can get the second pasture mowed by Sunday. He agrees to do so as soon as the rain lets up. The rain does not let up. Early Saturday morning I am over at my neighbor (and horse trainer) Barbara’s house. She is conducting a small horse clinic for a few of her students and has invited me to come and observe. As it is pouring rain, we are gathered at her kitchen table drinking coffee. I am thoroughly enjoying her students who are ladies my age and have gotten back in to horse ownership later in life like me. We are laughing about our horse escapades and I confide in them that I have a horse coming tomorrow, and I haven’t told my husband yet. They immediately burst into laughter and tell me to join the club! Apparently most husbands of horse gals just don’t quite get the need for multiple horses and it is commonly necessary to have them just show up. This made me feel so much better…for a while.
Throughout Saturday and early Sunday I am receiving text messages and pictures from Rodney the Horse Transporter’s wife, showing me how well Ernie is traveling and updating me on their arrival time. The rain finally turns to a drizzle, and at my constant nagging, Joey gets the second pasture mowed. We are standing under a shed and he asks what was the big deal of getting the pasture mowed? I tell him it’s because of the third horse who will be here in about 30 minutes. “THIRD HORSE?!” he exclaims, and quickly announces that he is getting out of there before Matt finds out. I grab him by the collar and tell him he is not going anywhere because I need him to be there so Matt doesn’t kill me. With that we both burst into uncontrollable laughter. Just then my husband comes over and says what are you two up to anyway? “Well”, I say, I was just telling Joey here that I needed the second pasture mowed so we can put Ernie the new horse there when he arrives…in about ten minutes.” At that very moment a huge semi-horse transport is pulling into the front gate. I run over to greet Rodney, who immediately unloads Ernie and asks where to put him. I point to the second pasture and Rodney, not missing a beat, jumps into my golf cart and ponies Ernie to the pasture gate. I pay him and he is off. Horse transporters are on a deadline and don’t mess around. I like Rodney. No time for lengthy discussions. Matt comes up to me and is basically speechless. Here’s the best part. Ernie is a beautiful Buckskin and the friendliest horse on the planet. We drive into the pasture and Ernie comes galloping across the pasture to greet us and sticks his head into the cart right at Matt’s chest. Guys love Ernie. I think it’s the “John Wayne had a Buckskin horse” thing. Thank goodness. My husband didn’t say a whole lot until he said, “That’s a nice horse”. I got real lucky.
Oh yeah, horse number four, Bear. You see, in my world, four horses is the perfect number. You ride off on two and the two left behind are content because they have each other. It’s a herd thing. Not to mention I needed another “babysitter” horse, or that he looks just like my first horse, Little Man. You understand…and this time I told my husband in plenty of time. The week before. And that is how I ended up with a herd of four horses.