Fate is a strange thing. It’s a word used to describe events or occurrences in people’s lives when they feel like something was unavoidably meant to happen – pre-determined even. Fate is supposedly the universe’s way of ensuring that things occur as they should. That being said, we, as humans, have an undeniable amount of control over our lives – we have the power to make decisions and act upon them, determining which direction we want to take. We constantly cross paths with new people, choosing which ones we develop friendships and relationships with. We may even insist that some of them come into our lives for a reason – and then there are little bay horses that pop up on Facebook’s newsfeed that you can’t help but stop scrolling and admire the kind eye on.
It was June 2014, and I wasn’t particularly in the market for another horse – but there he was, on the screen of my iPhone as I lay sprawled across the couch after a long day at work. The air conditioner jammed in the window frame of the small farmhouse hummed obnoxiously as I studied his plain face. There was something about it that drew me in. His unruly mane completely covered his under-developed neck, his ribcage and hips stuck out of his small frame on top of his long legs. The brief description in the ad stated he was a six-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred located three hours north. At the time, I didn’t have anything to ride other than my retired show horse to putter around on. Out of sheer curiosity, I allowed my thumbs to flutter across the touchscreen. “Hi there, just messaging you to inquire about the Thoroughbred you have for sale. Do you happen to have any video footage of him at the walk/trot/canter? How tall is he and what have you done with him?” I hit send and put my phone away.
Later that night, I received a message back saying that someone had come to look at him and he had been sold. The possibility of him was snuffed and I never gave it a second thought. At least not for the next 13 days, until the familiar “ping” notification echoed through the house indicating that an unread message was waiting. It was from a friend I had grown up riding with since my pony days, but hadn’t seen in years. It said: “I have a six-year-old OTTB gelding I just got in. Unfortunately, he isn’t working out with the two older mares here as they are running him through the fence. I’m looking to sell him for what I paid. Needs a new home ASAP. Know of anyone?”
The same photo of the skinny bay horse I had inquired about just shy of two weeks earlier was attached to the bottom of the message. Whether my heart slowed down or sped up in that moment, I can’t be entirely sure, but my immediate, illogical response was essentially, “Let me see how soon I can get there.”
Fortunately, my full-time job as manager of a full-service hunter/jumper facility allowed me to have a home for this awkward little Thoroughbred as soon as I needed it – though I suddenly found myself incredibly self-conscious at the thought of bringing him home. The rest of the horses were fat, shiny and certainly cost a lot more money than the meat price ironically attached to the scraggly horse without any meat on him. I was reluctant to tell anyone of my spontaneous plan.
At the very end of June, on an incredibly muggy afternoon littered with extreme thunderstorm warnings, my boss and I piled into the truck and drove north with the trailer. We stopped at two different gas stations along the way and I graciously handed over my debit card to fill the truck as we continued to get further and further from home. It didn’t really sink in that I was on my way to pick up a horse that I was, for the most part, extremely unsure of.
We reached the original farm where the horse was listed for sale just as the skies opened up and it started to rain. My boss looked at me skeptically as we walked toward the old barn. I had dragged her three hours north of our state-of-the-art facility to pick up a questionable horse in the middle of nowhere. We waited in the rain as they brought him out to us. He stood lifelessly as they handed over the lead shank to me. I observed my new horse – the patches of scruffy fungus on his skin from laying in manure, his dull coat, his ribs, his cracked feet, the war wounds from being picked on by other horses. He stood there vibrating, worrying about the trailer parked at the end of the driveway and what was in store for him next. It was then that we got his full story.
At the end of his racing career, he was bought by Mennonites to be a workhorse. He was a plain, small, dark bay off-the-track – ignorance led them to believe he was a Standardbred, and it was assumed he was broke to drive. His job would be to serve to as a form of transportation and to work around the farm. This didn’t go over well – and at the discovery of his tattoo, it made sense that the horse bred to run was not mentally prepared to go and pick up groceries with a buggy. A year later, he ended up at the little farm in cottage country, where they attempted to physically and mentally rehab him, knowing that it was not his forever home.
There he stood, shaking out of sheer nerves, but staying incredibly composed, completely skin and bones. Saying he had a long way to go was an understatement. We loaded him on the trailer and drove three hours home as he rode silently behind us, too scared to move or make any noise. I scrolled through my phone in the passenger seat rambling off names that we could call him. We decided on Wyatt.
I still hadn’t told anyone that Wyatt was mine. The clients and staff over the next few days were mystified at the foreign, but kind new face in barn. I covered him from head to toe in a flysheet when he went out in the field so cars driving past the farm wouldn’t gawk at the skinny little horse that stood out like a sore thumb next to the rest of our show horses. He was not the calibre of animal that anyone at the farm was used to. For the small price upfront that he cost me, I knew I would have to make up for it in his care and hours and hours of work ahead. An immediate de-worming program followed by a date with the dentist and blacksmith that first week was only the start. I introduced him to a new feed program that had to be increased slowly over time. I was unsure of what kind of training he had since the track other than being hooked up to a cart, so I started him from scratch with groundwork and lunging until he had put on enough weight to swing my leg over.
He continued to exceed my expectations, which, admitedly, didn’t start out particularly high. As he came around, he developed a personality with an incredible attitude toward his new job, which has made every day of work with him rewarding. His joyous nickers to greet his now-familiar humans have become a frequent sound to echo our barn aisles. He is, undoubtedly, grateful.
He started out merely as a gut feeling – one that I am incredibly glad that I followed. “He chose you,” is the constant reply every time I tell someone his story. I suppose I would call it fate – that whatever the reason may be, we were meant to cross paths. With his honesty and natural instincts over fences, it looks as though I have a talented jumper on my hands. He was truly a diamond in the rough. I am unbelievably grateful that this little horse came into my life and reminded me that hard work, dedication and a little bit of faith pays off. And, most importantly, to never judge a book by its cover.