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My dream horse

Both Darby and owner, Marty Metzger, growing long in the tooth together in 2004. Darby remained a versatile riding horse into her early 30s.
Photo courtesy Marty Metzger

“Congratulations! You just bought yourself a horse!” exclaimed the man sitting behind me. With a simultaneous happy slap to my back, he proclaimed I’d just committed a cardinal sin of the horse auction world. But before trotting down that bridal path, let me back up a few strides.

After selling my previous horse a few months earlier, I accompanied the owners of the barn where I boarded and worked to a registered horse sale (Appaloosas, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds and Paints) in Lebanon, Penn. The Booths, Susan and David, were about to begin an Appaloosa breeding program and had spotted a few young stallion prospects and some mares they liked in the sale catalog.

This was October 1979 — pre-Internet times — so it was a nifty paper catalog sporting gloriously turnable pages with adequate space to jot down notes. It could even handle triple duty as a fan and/or fly swatter.

My copy grew badly dog-eared before we ever set out from Ohio. I amended pre-printed details about horses I fancied by adding rating stars (one, two or three, based on description and/or photo). I had high expectations because I was going to buy a dream horse!

Arriving in Lebanon early on sale day, Oct. 6, my friends and I walked through the barns to view our catalog favorites in the flesh. Susan and David set off to locate potential breeding stallions while I headed the opposite direction in search of a perfect performance horse.

Scratch off, scratch off, scratch off…

By the time I’d finally pared my top choices down to about 10, my pen gave up the ghost and the sale began. Run, run, run! The auctioneer’s chant was already in full-throated swing as I clumsily crawled over people in the stands to join my friends.

Susan and David bought a big bay mare before any of my wish list horses entered the ring. But as each eventually did, I rejected one after another. Too pricey, too green, too flighty, too something or other; and so on.

Just after I’d crossed off my best and final hope, the Booths won the bid on their top pick, a gorgeous black 2-year-old stud colt named Mighty Mango Bar. His bloodlines traced to many top horses including Go Bay Go, Mighty Bright and Three Bars.

“Hey, we’re going down to his stall to talk to his consignor. You coming?” Susan asked me.

Of course not. I was far too preoccupied grumbling and sulking. I’d been positive I would be leaving this sale with my new horse, my dream horse, in tow and I’d failed badly in completing my mission.

Plus, I’d just removed my glasses and tucked them into their case, which I then zipped into my shoulder bag. This snap decision, I must point out, rendered me virtually sightless at any distance beyond the tip of my nose.

So? Nothing was left for me to see in the ring anyway. All my flaming bright, star-rated hopes had been extinguished. Remaining sans glasses and seated way high up in the bleachers, I sullenly slumped in rebellion against a cruel and heartless universe. Woe was me. Until mere seconds later when… Hark!

I heard the distant auctioneer beg, “Folks, all this horse needs is an introduction to fences.”

Fences? I like jumping. I ride English. Wheeee!

Up flew my impulsive hand, bidding only God knew how much for a horse I couldn’t see. I hadn’t even heard its initial description as it entered the ring.

Was it a gelding? A mare? A stallion? What breed? Color? How old was it? How tall was it? Was it sound? Broke to ride at all? Any fatally-trampled humans in its recent past?

I broke into a cold sweat while mentally commanding every body part to not so much as twitch while the auctioneer rattled on another sentence or two. His voice sounded miles away. All sound seemed muffled. Glassless, I couldn’t see; and now I couldn’t hear, either. Certainly somebody would top whatever ridiculous bid I’d thrown in, right?

Wrong.

WINNING

“Congratulations! You just bought yourself a horse!” barked that gregarious, slap-happy stranger behind me.

No, no, that just couldn’t be! My budget topped off at exactly $500. What if I’d bid $1,000, $2,000?

A panicky tear or two ran down my cheek as I crawled over (and apologized to) people. I wobbled off to go ferret out the pig-in-a-poke creature I’d just acquired. What if it was crippled, crazy, or just plain crappy?

I was so badly shaken that I could barely make it to the stalling area. At least I’d had the presence of mind to put my glasses back on. Better late than never. And “Mr. Nice Guy” behind me had quickly shared what he thought was the critter’s consignment number, #113.

Then, on a stall just ahead, there was that identifying number. Hot tears now poured out as I peeked in. A big, blurry form with its head buried in the feeder stood calmly munching hay. My heart, on the other hand, was anything but calm, and pounding out of my chest.

I swiped at my eyes a few times trying to clear my vision. Stop crying, fool, and take your medicine! Following a deep breath, I slid the stall door latch open and approached the mystery equine.

Up rose a lovely, red-varnished white head, which connected to a long, elegant neck, which led to high withers, wonderfully sloping shoulders, and a beautifully firm back. Beneath all this perfection were four clean and sound black-stockinged legs that pushed the whole majestic animal up to a towering 16-plus hands tall.

The magical creature stood placidly as I continued making my way around it, inspecting here and there as I went.

My dream horse! Who could have dreamt any dream horse could be this dreamy?

Rather than risk a glance under its tail, ducking my empty head under its belly, or jacking its jaw open, I simply read a catalog page on the stall door to learn its story.

This actually was a Dream horse! Registered Name: Dream Baby Bar. Dream? Was that a sign?

Sex: Mare. Age: 5. Consignor: Martha Hoff. Wait, what? Martha! That’s my given name, and not a very common one on the best of days. Another sign?

Right about then, a middle-aged woman walked up and asked if I’d just bought her mare. Yes, I told Martha Hoff, apparently I had. Not wishing to appear rude (or as stupid as I’d been) I asked her to clarify how much my winning bid actually was.

“Uh, yours was the only bid,” she sheepishly advised. “I didn’t leave a reserve, so that makes Dreamer all yours!” she smilingly added.

Superb! But how much did I owe the sale barn? Come on other Martha, please don’t keep me in suspense.

She glanced at her catalog. “Your bid was…”

I braced myself. Auctioneers generally elicit a high opening bid, sometimes equal to or far more than he thinks the animal could possibly bring.

Dream’s now-former owner informed me, her new owner, “Your bid… was $500. Congratulations. You got a great horse for much, much less than she’s worth.”

What?! I only had $500 to spend. Not $510, not $525, just $500. I’d bought my dream horse, sight unseen, not knowing the bid, for the exact amount I had!

Catching up later with Susan and David, I delightedly babbled on about Dream, my dream horse. They told me about their new stud colt, who they were calling “Go Go”, and the mare they’d also bought. We went out for dinner and then to the motel where we’d spend the night before tackling the next day’s long drive home.

I already knew horses called Dream, Dream Girl, and Dreamer so I wanted something fresh and different for this Dream horse. Way too excited to sleep, I lay awake almost till dawn, especially pondering what I’d call my new girl.

Her registered name, which I never really liked, was Dream Baby Bar. Hmm. Could I dredge anything out of that? Nothing came to mind. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Call her Baby? Nooo. Her dam’s name was Imbodens Dove, so… Dove Bar? Uh, no thanks. How about Barbie Doll? Heck no. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Add sleep deprivation to major stress, hysteria and panic. Oh yeah, I should be in fine fettle for the ride home.

TICK-TOCK

Dream mare’s sire was Jockey Club registered as Gee Sam. So how about Gee Whiz? Gee Samantha? Geepers? Jeepers? No, no, no, no. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick… Aargh!

Wait. Use the D from Dream, ar from Bar, and by from Baby. DARBY! My dream horse’s name would be Darby! Darby, my dream horse. Success! Nighty-night.

The title “dream horse” always fit Darby as perfectly as that famed fairy godmother-gifted slipper fit Cinderella. Perhaps because she was bred and originally trained by another Martha? It was as if I’d owned gorgeous Darby from birth and started her myself. Impeccable manners. Energetic but tractable and compliant in every way. Sound as a rock. Versatile. And with an extended, floaty trot to die for!

I showed her in English and Western classes, placing in most. I eventually gave kids lessons on her. The year after I bought her I bred her to Go Go and she produced a gorgeous filly. As with Darby, I kept that baby, Dreamango Chelsea, her entire life.

We had many unusual adventures, including Darb and then 3-month-old Chels being left stranded in Iowa by a fellow-boarder who was supposed to bring them to me when I relocated to Colorado. He never reimbursed me the $600 I’d paid him “in advance to repair his trailer” (which should have been a flapping, blood-red flag); plus he “lost” some of my personal stuff and furniture he’d agreed to tote along in the bed of his pickup.

Turned out a wheel had flown off his dually at 75 mph! Other drivers honked and frantically tried to wave him over. He thought they were just being friendly because he was hauling horses. By the time he finally figured something might be wrong and stopped, the rig’s axel was bent.

The idiot somehow straggled into the first random horse property he saw, towing his seriously gimpy trailer containing my precious horses. Luckily, the place was owned by an honest woman who hauled Darby, baby Chelsea, and my remaining possessions the rest of the way for a fair price. A blessing, as the company I’d worked at for 12 years had closed and I only had two months of unemployment benefits left.

Darby remains the brightest star in my expansive sky-full of dream horses. My wonderful girl lived to be over 33-years-old, ironically dying on my birthday. Sleep well, sweet dream horse, until we ride together again, and forever. ❖

— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at ponytime47@gmail.com.


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