“Oh, no, that will never work.”
I had called Anna to discuss the idea of going to the auction to look at ponies for Colton. She was less than enthusiastic.
“I’m surprised you would suggest it. With your experience with horses, Marge, you must realize a pony for a blind rider isn’t something you can just pick up at an auction. A mount like that needs extraordinary training. Peaches came from a facility that specializes in training horses and ponies for the handicapped. With over thirty animals in their training program at the time we purchased Peaches, she was the only one they had with the proper temperament and extensive training to work with a blind rider.”
“I realize you won’t be able to pick up a finished therapy horse at auction, Anna, but Cler . . . er, I mean Clara thought you might find an inexpensive animal that would be a good candidate for training to work with Colton. It might be cheaper to find a pony at auction and then send it to that facility for training, rather than purchasing a fully trained animal from them.”
“Hmmm. Well, it might be worth a look, but I’m not getting my hopes up.”
“Of course. But it might just be a fun night out for us. I haven’t been to a horse auction in more than 15 years, not since I moved here from New Jersey. And I know that Clara and the others would love to go.”
What I didn’t tell Anna was that Cleric, or Clara as Anna and Colton knew her, was adamant we attend the auction. Cleric knew without a doubt there would be a pony at the auction that would make the perfect mount for Colton. Cleric knew, because Colton’s deceased pony, Peaches (AKA Mystery), had told Cleric this in a dream. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/
* * *
Wednesday afternoon, on the way to Anna’s farm, I reminded my characters to address each other by the names they had chosen when we first met Colton and Anna. Sitting in the front passenger seat, Cleric nodded. “I am to be Clara, Dragon is Drey.”
From the back seat, my Gypsy chimed in. “I am Rocky, your Foreman is Tor, and your Young Hero is Cab, correct?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/
“Yup. It’s very important you remember that. And also remember to act as if you didn’t just fall out of a manuscript of a novel set in a medieval world. There will be things here tonight you may not have seen before but try not to gape. You need to fit in, to act as if this isn’t your first rodeo.”
“Rodeo?” Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “I thought it was an auction.”
I sighed. “It is, it is. It’s not my first rodeo is just an expression, meaning that the person saying so has experience in whatever situation they are discussing.”
“You mean we are to act as if we regularly attend horse auctions in this modern world.” Dragon, or Drey, nodded sagely. “Do not worry. We will not forget.”
When we arrived at Anna’s farm, she was already behind the wheel of her shiny pickup, with a sturdy stock trailer in tow. I beeped and waved, and she put her truck in gear and moved slowly down the driveway. “Anna knows where we’re going, and we wouldn’t all fit in her truck, so we’ll just follow her.”
“Is Colton coming?” Cleric craned her neck to try to see the passenger’s seat of Anna’s truck.
I shook my head. “No, he’s staying home tonight with his aunt and uncle. He isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”
At the auction, Anna was directed to the parking area reserved for vehicles with trailers, and we were pointed toward a large dirt field filled with trailer-less cars and trucks.
“Wow!” When we caught up with Anna, I was the one looking around as if I had never seen a horse auction before. “This is a lot bigger than I had expected.”
“You did say you’ve been to horse auctions before, right?” Anna led the way toward the office, where she and I would register and get our numbers, allowing us to bid on any animal we fancied.
My characters and I followed along. “Oh, yes, many, many years ago. I used to go to New Holland and Doylestown in Pennsylvania a few times a year, as well as Bunchy Grant’s, the Roosevelt Sale, in northern New Jersey. I even attended the pricy auctions at Front Royal in Virginia a few times. But most of the auctions I attended were little rinky-dink local affairs, where you could find the twenty-five-dollar-ponies. I don’t know how many of those auctions are still in existence.”
“Twenty-five dollars for a pony?” Anna’s jaw dropped. “You must be a lot older than you look! Ponies have never been that cheap in my lifetime!”
I laughed. “It was rare to actually get one for that price, but we still called them that, the twenty-five-dollar-ponies. They were the ponies nobody really wanted. Some were half-starved, some hadn’t seen a farrier’s rasp or a curry comb in years. Some had serious conformation or health issues, some were just too nasty to make a good child’s mount, and some looked like they were old enough to have been the colt that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.” I tilted my head, remembering. “Occasionally a real diamond in the rough could be found among them. But not often.”
Anna nodded. “Oh, I agree that you can pick up real bargains at auctions. But I still don’t understand the name for the ponies. Why that amount? Why twenty-five dollars?”
“That was the usual cost back then to adopt a dog or cat through the local shelters. Calling them the twenty-five-dollar-ponies indicated that the only good place for these unfortunate animals was a shelter or rescue facility.”
Once Anna and I had our numbers allowing us to place bids, we beckoned my characters to follow as we headed to the stalls and pens to inspect the ponies. We had arrived early enough to allow plenty of time to look before the bidding started.
Stepping into the first barn, myriad odors tickled my nose. The sweet fragrance of fresh hay and molasses feed mingled with the rich smell of well-oiled leather and saddle soap, masking the faint stench of animal urine, manure, and sweat.
The ponies stalled in this barn were well groomed animals, with excellent confirmation. They looked fit and healthy, and they stood calmly as their handlers snapped lead lines onto expensive leather halters bearing brass name-plates.
“These ponies are the cream of the crop. They have good pedigrees and impeccable show records.” Anna held up one hand and rubbed her thumb over the tips of her index and middle fingers. “You better have a lot of cash on you if you plan to bid on any of these.”
My characters were impressed. My Foreman and the lads walked over to several stalls to give the ponies a closer look. I gave Cleric a surreptitious glance, but she pursed her lips and gave a slight shake of her head. I guessed her dream pony was not among this group.
After examining all these ponies, we filed out of the barn and walked by some paddocks where ponies were being presented to potential buyers. Cleric studied them carefully, paying particular attention to a flashy pinto that was touted by her owner as “. . . an all-around pony. She rides and drives. She can go all day on the trail or bring home a slew of ribbons from the show ring. She’s gentle enough for any child, but when under the hand of an experienced rider, she has spirit.”
Cleric watched the pinto for several minutes before giving me another almost imperceptible shake of her head.
Behind the paddocks, we entered a second barn. This barn had less of the fragrant odor of fresh hay and sweet feed, and none of the rich leather smell. The stench of animal sweat and waste was heavier.
The stalls in this barn were larger, and each held a number of ponies. None had the flawless confirmation or impeccable grooming obvious in the occupants of the first barn, but as I looked them over, no red flags went up in my mind.
Anna confirmed my evaluation. “Most of these ponies would make good family pets or first ponies for a new rider. Some are a bit long of tooth, some haven’t seen enough groceries recently, but they all seem sound and quiet and should go for a decent price.”
We spent about an hour inspecting these ponies, but Cleric’s disappointment showed clearly in her face. The pony of her dream wasn’t in this group either.
“Are there any others?” My Gypsy also looked disappointed.
Anna frowned. “There might be a few in the pens out back. The auction management usually keeps any studs back there, away from the mares. They sometimes put problem animals there as well. I doubt there would be any ponies there that would be suitable for Colton.”
“May we take a quick look anyway? Mayhap we will discover something unexpected.” Cleric was already heading for the back door of the barn.
The pens were a shock. In contrast to the high-end animals in the first barn and the perfectly acceptable animals in the second barn, the ponies in these pens were not going to garner many bids. I heard several ponies coughing, and a quick look in the first two pens revealed two ponies with ringbone, another with a huge knot on its knee, several with splayed feet, four that were cow-hocked, and two with ewe necks. Not one of these ponies was groomed, few had seen a farrier recently, and many were far underweight. Several dirt pens were occupied by a single stud pony, not one of which should ever have been considered breeding material. The twenty-five-dollar-ponies still existed, I realized sadly.
Further back, in a grassy pen, a group of ponies huddled tightly together, some rolling their eyes in fear at the large pony standing at the other end of the small enclosure. In that far corner of the pen, a shaggy blue roan gelding had his back to the others, his ears pinned back, and one hind foot cocked and ready to kick out at anything or anybody getting too close. He stood, head hanging, lower lip protruding in an almost human sulk.
We approached the fence and I was about to comment on the sour-dispositioned animal when Cleric broke into a huge smile. “That is him! He is the one!”
We all gaped, first at Cleric, then at the pony. Anna snorted. “You have got to be kidding!”
What is Cleric thinking? Could this sorry creature possibly be the pony that Peaches (AKA Mystery) told Cleric to find for Colton? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.