Life

A Christmas Story

flickr/JenniDouglas

The essence of the mythical Pegasus is alive in every horse, no matter how big or how small they may be. We can either be lifted to our greatest heights, or like Bellerophon, kicked right back down to earth should we be too arrogant. Where then are our greatest heights? They exist in Olympus; Olympus is in the mind and heart. The Pegasus factor can point the way to feeling them.

Back in the mid 1970’s, we were living in South Central Jersey. We had a 3-year-old chestnut quarter horse filly named Rosie who was a granddaughter of Gold King Bailey. We were schooling her as a trail-pleasure horse. She was very easy going and a treat to school. She never objected to anything.

We were rough boarding her at a facility that offered large grassy paddocks with open sheds. She was fairly happy, but a bit lonely and so we decided to look for another horse as a companion—one that my husband John could ride.

On one of our trips to shop in Trenton, we saw a weather-beaten sign posted by the end of a driveway: HORSE FOR SALE…$400. At the time horse prices were high, as slaughtering horses had become very lucrative. Quite often, there were overnight raids at any facility that had numbers of horses and a quick getaway. Horses were a hot commodity. So, $400 for any horse in good flesh was really cheap. We knew there must be a reason that this owner asked so little, but we thought we’d check this horse out anyway.

Knocking on the front door of the house, we were greeted by a thin, tallish, middle aged man with graying temples in his dark hair. He leaned on a four pronged cane and he had a cast on one leg. We introduced ourselves and he extended his hand saying his name, Joe Garafallo. We asked about the horse and he became very animated, telling us how this horse was a smooth ride, and he reined beautifully. He called to his teenaged son to come out and demonstrate the horse for us.

Mr. Garafallo told us that the horse was an appaloosa gelding whose spots had roaned out leaving him white. The spots were only visible when he was wet. As the young man led the horse out of his stall we could clearly see that the horse had some draft blood flowing through his veins, as so many appaloosas did many years ago. It showed in his big bones, fairly big feet and somewhat coarse head with a slight roman nose. He stood about 15.2 hands tall. The man told us that he was “late cut”.

His name was Christmas.

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Tacked without any problem, Christmas was led into a small field adjacent to the stable. We followed not too far behind. The boy mounted him easily as Christmas stood stock still. The youngster then asked him to canter up the small field and back a few times. This handsome white horse was super responsive, his movement beautiful just to watch. He truly was “poetry in motion.” The horse came to an easy stop and the boy dismounted.

“You want to try him?” Joe asked, turning to me.

Although some part of me was still a bit wary, I mounted what now seemed like a dream horse. He was wonderful! His movement was as smooth as glass. He had a soft jog with a rocking chair canter. In reining him, every request was fulfilled with barely a touch on the reins. I was sold, but I still couldn’t believe the price.

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As I dismounted, the man with the cane had a smile on his face. I couldn’t resist asking. “Why are you selling him so cheaply?”

Joe Garafallo adjusted his stance and then looked away. “He was my horse and I can’t ride him no more. He paused then turned his eyes to the ground. “I just want him to get a good home.”

I looked over at my husband and he nodded his head and then he spoke. “Can we give you a fifty dollar deposit?” The older man hesitated for a moment and then agreed.

That was good. We needed a couple of days to get the money together and to arrange shipping.

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On the way home, we were struck with wonder at our good fortune and surprised that nobody had scarfed up such a nice horse before we came along. In the back of our minds, there was a niggling feeling that something was amiss. It was Just a feeling that this offer couldn’t be valid.

A few days later, we were ready to conclude the deal. The balance of the price was covered and we’d asked our young farrier, Bobby, if he knew someone who could ship for us. He had access to a Thoroughbred trailer from a breeding farm where he was a contract farrier. Of his many good qualities, Bobby had soft hands and a kind manner with horses. He was trustworthy in all the ways that truly counted to us.

Everything was set!

It was rush hour as Bobby backed the trailer into Joe Garafallo’s narrow driveway. The noise of cars passing on the road set a deafening hum. Joe hobbled out of the house, his son at his side. Both father and son looked nervous. My husband counted out the three hundred and fifty dollar balance, putting it into Joe’s outstretched hand. Joe pulled a bill of sale from his pocket, handing it to my husband.

Then Joe spoke, almost under his breath. “One more thing…This horse don’t load.” We stared at him in surprise.

“I’m tellin’ ya’ he don’t load!” Joe’s voice had climbed a notch. We still didn’t respond. “C’mere…” Joe led the way to what remained of a tiny quarter horse trailer, parked behind a shed. The top was bent and skewed. The ramp was hanging by one broken hinge. We could see the divider was smashed to ruin and the right wall had divot marks that looked like they were pounded in with a large sledge hammer.

Joe’s son looked away embarrassed.

“HE DID THAT!” Joe was near shouting when he pointed at the trailer. “AND THIS!” He hissed as he pointed at his cast, tears forming in his eyes. He quickly pulled himself together. “Well, he’s your baby now…” He turned and hobbled back into the house, leaving his son standing there.

The young man was uncomfortable, but he felt compelled to speak. He wanted us to understand. His eyes went from my husband to me.

“Christmas is a good horse…You seen that. But my dad tried to make him get on that trailer one day. We were goin’ to a trail-ride out of town and Christmas wouldn’t load on the trailer.”

As I dismounted, the man with the cane had a smile on his face. I couldn’t resist asking. “Why are you selling him so cheaply?”

Looking at how big Christmas was and how small the trailer was, that he refused to get on the trailer was no surprise.

“Dad got a lunge whip and started beatin’ him. When that didn’t work, he brought out a two by four and hit him with that. He dropped the board and tried pushing Christmas from behind. Chris went part way into the trailer and then he just kinda went crazy.”

The boy looked away. That event had obviously shifted his view of his father to very vulnerable in ways that he couldn’t explain.

Geez. The guy tried to push this horse into the trailer from behind? Was this guy nuts?! Hmmm, so that explained the low price. The man couldn’t even take Christmas to a sale.

We told Bobby the story. A slight smile lifted the corners of his lips. “Bring the horse out.”

Bobby waited as the boy brought Christmas to him. The boy hugged Christmas around his neck, lightly patted his shoulder and then he handed Bobby the lead as he held back tears. Bobby spent a few moments stroking the horse’s neck, speaking quietly to him. Christmas’s eyes softened.

Bobby put the lead into my hands and then he went back to the trailer. The ramp was already down. Bobby moved the divider to the left, then turned on the inner light and opened the side door. He took the horse’s lead from me once more. He started walking the horse toward the open trailer, his left hand holding the lead, his right hand planted lightly on Christmas’s neck. At the base of the ramp Christmas snorted and balked. Bobby let him go back a few steps and then he let the lead have some slack. He spoke quietly and stood waiting for Christmas to relax. He stroked the horse’s neck once more.

Soon enough Bobby led Christmas toward the trailer. Christmas put one foot on the ramp, then another and in what seemed like a very few seconds, he climbed the rest of the way into the trailer. Bobby put the tie on his halter and Christmas went to pulling strands of hay from the net in front of him. The ramp was secured, the front door closed and after a quick look at a calm Christmas, Bobby hopped into his truck.

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We were on our way back to the farm. We’d gone from a possible disaster to a small triumph with Bobby using only softness and an understanding of Christmas’s fear of tight spaces. We breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled out of the driveway behind the trailer. Both of us were feeling a high in that sense of relief.

At the farm, Christmas was unloaded without incident. Rosie, our quarter horse filly, was bossily squealing as Bobby led Christmas through the paddock gate. She was overjoyed to have company at last. There would be no more running the fence line at the sight of any other horse. The platinum hero would be with her most of the time.

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Christmas was a sucker for Rosie and every other mare. Turned out with a larger herd later, he stepped into the middle of “disputes”, befriended the lowest on the totem pole and for so much of what he was, mares simply adored him. Maybe that was his nature. Maybe it was because he was late cut, I don’t know, but it made him interesting to observe.

There are many stories about Christmas. He was very intelligent. He was one of those horses that found latches and locks an amusing challenge and he was a jokester who enjoyed tricking the unwary. That was his way of relating to confinement. He was nobody’s fool and he let us know that he could escape any time he wanted to.

Pegasus is always ready to teach us to find our way in humility. He looks like any horse that lets us know that if we drop the arrogance, he’s perfectly willing to take us to those high places. Olympus is in us. Pegasus knows the way there, even when we don’t.

 


About the Author

ca-ginart

From showing English and Western, working at the racetrack and even carriage driving in New York City, C.A. Ginart has done it all. She is the author of the book, In the Absence of Fear: All Things Are Possible.