Sunday, August 25, 2013

Missy, A Diamond in the Rough

Well, we did it!  They all said we were crazy.  But we did it anyway!  We sold our house in the city and moved from Wisconsin to Arkansas and bought a farm!  My husband and son had already left for our new home to start the new job and the new school.  The youngest two girls, both home schooled, and I were left behind to finish up selling the old house, packing up the old life and saying goodbye to the old friends.   We all hoped to make many new ones soon!

Some of the new friends we were looking forward to getting to know were the four legged kind.  My husband and I had both always dreamed of country life, but had never been able to afford it.  Now, after 20 years of marriage and city life, we were going to be farmers!  No one was more excited about this then our middle daughter, who, at age 13, was going to get her first horse.  Our oldest was off to college.  Our son, a high school junior, had no interest in animals at all, and our youngest was only two.  But our middle girl was going to get the horse of her dreams.  At least that was the plan!

I had had horses as a teenager, but left them behind when I got married at age 20.  I hadn't ridden since.  I was beyond excited that soon, I would be teaching my daughter, who had only ridden a horse twice in her life, about the joys of owning one of her own.   And so, I set out to find her dream horse - that first best equine friend, that Misty, Justin, Black Beauty of a long flowing mane and tail horse for my little girl.  And while I was at it, I certainly planned on finding one of those for me too!

I started searching the internet and since I was still in Wisconsin, packing up the old house, I looked at horses for sale in both states.  Besides, my sister was there and she had a great eye for horses and I trusted her judgment.   So together, we checked out several nice prospects.  We even went through with a few failed pre-purchase exams.  Eventually, I found a horse for myself and had her shipped to Arkansas. 

While sitting up late, searching the horse classifieds one particularly cold January night, I found an interesting AQHA mare located a couple of hours north of me.  I called the owner but things didn’t sound too promising.  The mare was a former show horse the woman had bought as a new trail riding prospect only weeks before but was now too afraid to ride.  I really liked this mare’s pedigree though, and since this new owner had very little experience with this particular horse, I asked for the name and number of the previous owner, which she happily gave me.  After speaking with the mare’s previous owner, who happened to be a professional horse trainer and riding instructor, I started thinking I might be on to something.  The previous owner made it clear to me that this mare was well trained and suitable for my beginner daughter and that the problems her current owner had with her were the current owner’s problems, not the horse’s.   It was a bit of an odd situation, but I decided to make the drive and go see the horse for myself.  

Well, they say timing is everything and in this situation it turned out to be a wrench in our plans.  As my sister and I headed north, the snow started to fall.  An hour later and we were in a white out blizzard.  The two hour drive turned into three.  By the time we arrived at our destination the snow was a foot deep, the wind was blowing viciously, and the cold had set in.  I’m sure the mare’s owner must have thought we were nuts to come see a horse in those conditions, but it was our last chance.  I would be leaving just days later for an extended stay in Arkansas. 

Bracing against the wind and clutching our parkas tight around us, the owner, my sister and I trudged through the snow down the driveway to her barn.  We opened the barn door and then slammed it shut again as quickly as we could.  I looked up and noticed two creatures in the run-in area, a small pinto gelding and a woolly mammoth.   My eyes scanned the rest of the barn area looking for the beautiful mare I imagined must be the owner of that superstar pedigree I had seen on the internet, but I didn't see any other horses.  Hmmmm.  “What’s going on here,” I thought, as our host walked up to that woolly mammoth and started putting a halter on it.  Surely this was not the mare I was here to see!  I’d never seen more hair on an equine before in my life!  And she was huge!  She seemed nothing short of gigantic standing next to the 14.1 hand, slightly built gelding.  No wonder this lady didn't want her.  She was hideous!

Well, we’d come this far, and through a blizzard no less, so I made the best of it.  Yes, I rode that horse, in a blinding snow storm, in the freezing cold, on the icy driveway.   After about 20 trepidatious steps, (the horse clearly realized the conditions were unsafe) I dismounted and walked back to the barn.  We spent a little more time fiddling with the mammoth, checking her teeth, picking up her feet, marveling at how long and thick her beard was, and then my sister and I left.  Another 4 hours in deadly conditions and we were home.  Safe.  Thank God.

Over the next few days, I couldn't stop thinking about the mare.  Missy was her name and yes, she was hairy and huge.  But she was also gentle.  Her owner had finally explained to us that it was Missy’s size that intimidated her and that she had bought that slight little gelding for herself instead.  She’d only trail ridden Missy once when she realized the she was not the horse for her.   I had a big long list of reasons why I should pass on this horse but the biggest one was that I just had not had a chance to properly ride her.  She wasn't cheep either.  This was before the horse market took a nose dive and Missy’s asking price was…ahem…a lot!  But the words of her previous owner/ trainer kept coming back to me.  This woman had no motive to steer me wrong and I believed her when she said that Missy would make the perfect horse for a beginning rider.   My sister liked her too.  After much hemming and hawing, we decided to take a chance. 

So we ordered the vet check and when Missy passed, we purchased her and had her shipped to our farm in AR.  I kept telling Ted and Katelynn what a great horse I’d found, but the look on their faces when Missy finally walked off the transport truck ensured me that I still had some convincing to do.  It turns out though, that Missy did all that convincing for me.  Over the next few months, in the warmer climate, she lost all her woolly mammoth hair and revealed her true beauty.  That first summer, my daughter won 1st place stock horse mare at halter with Missy at the county fair and over the next couple of years went on to win many other ribbons on that big, surprisingly beautiful, gentle mare. 

Beautiful Missy in the spring.

But that’s just the beginning of Missy’s story as a member of our family.  We've owned her for almost 8 years now and she has certainly earned a permanent place in our pastures. Eventually, Katelynn moved on to another horse and now is off to college.  Our youngest took her turn learning on Missy and is also now riding other horses.   Missy has taught both of my daughters and several of their friends and even Daddy, how to ride.   She’s had a couple of beautiful foals for us.   She’s been in parades and given “pony” rides at petting zoos.  She’s been climbed on and doubled on and taken swimming.   She’s gone camping with us and taken all of us on many wonderful trail rides.  And you know, she never did grow back her woolly mammoth coat of hair.  I guess in the mild Arkansas winters, she just doesn’t need it.   She was big and ugly the day we got her but her true beauty, both inside and out, was just waiting to be discovered.   She was a diamond in the rough that turned into a gem - a shining jewel of a perfect first horse.   I can’t count the number of times people have said to us, “That horse is worth her weight in gold!”  And we all agree wholeheartedly!  Thank you, Missy, for just being you.   No other horse will shine so bright in our memories for years to come.
Kate and Missy at their first horse show, the 2004 Pope County Fair

Kate and Bailey Miller riding Missy at a Wrangler's 4H Club playday. 

Kate on Missy at the County Fair. 

Missy, standing perfectly square and perfectly still while six year old
 ClaireAnna dismounts for the Goat Undecorating class at the county fair. 
Missy and ClaireAnna a few years later at a barrel clinic.
Missy wasn't very bendy, but she tried her best!

I wrote this essay about Missy a couple of years ago, but never published it.  Today, we are laying Missy to rest, after three years of COPD.  She's come to a point where her quality of life is low and we don't want her to suffer any longer.  We are so sad to say goodbye to her.  And so grateful to have been blessed by her for so many years.  
Run free, dear Missy!  
We will always love you.  

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