Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Graduate Riding School welcomes Jack!

(from GRS blog)

So the purchasing of my instant favourite schoolie was an adventure and a half! Grab some popcorn and settle in...

My incredible personal shopper Rebecca and I hopped in the Beast early Saturday morning and headed off Waterloo way to Carson's Auction.

How many issues can you see with that statement? Well the intuitive amongst you might have realized that my personal shopper loves to shop, so who knows what might get bought? Then there's the Beast, which if you've been reading this for any length of time, you will already know is somewhat temperamental. Waterloo? What can I say - never been there, no opinion, no idea where I was going. Auction? -- I've never been to *any* type of auction, much less a horse auction. And my friend who has the most knowledge and skill to assist with this process? About 8.5mths pregnant and therefore unable to come play. hmmmm put all that together... No problem!

So we're in the beast and it starts! Woohoo! Step one down. But it doesn't have a whole lot of gas, so we do a loop around the paddock (to save me having to 3-pt turn the trailer) and hit up the gas station. Then return to the barn for a forgotten item. Then start out again.

Between two sets of directions the drive there was actually rather uneventful. Soon enough we found ourselves deep in Amish country (literally saw more horse n buggy combos than vehicles -- first time I've ever had to wait at an intersection for a break in buggy traffic to turn into the road!) Will admit I was a little disconcerted by the preachy billboards. Started to feel like I was in the southern states. But nothing tragic. Missed the first entrance, but pulled in the 2nd and navigated around. Got led to a parking spot by a very determined man in a fully tricked out orange kaboda mini-beast. Took me three tries to park straight cause I was so distracted by that :) hahaha ah well.

Go in and get registered. Make friends with the happy secretary lady. Now the catalogue was online, so I had a printed copy with me. Of the 115 or so horses, there were two I was really interested in and 3 other "maybes". Along with a few that simply didn't have enough info in their description to either qualify or disqualify them.

So time to go find them. We wander into the horse pens and get hit with quite the oder. Ugh. I pretty much live at the barn but my eyes watered. Quite the difference between a cattle barn and a horse barn... Or whatever else usually lives in there. Yikes. But sobeit -- horses in there today. Almost immediately find one of my top two. He's the size I want. His legs are clean, although both front feet had pretty serious quarter cracks. He's quiet and friendly. And there's a big sign on the door saying he won't be ridden because owner is at a Christmas thing. Really? I think if I were trying to sell my horse I'd at very least bribe somebody *else* to go show it for me. But sobeit. Whole bunch of empty stalls - we were fairly early. One kid tacking up and hopping on a little grey horse (15.1ish) that was super quiet. He wasn't on my list, but I definitely noticed how reasonably he was behaving.

So we go to the riding area and the first horse I see is the other of the two I was interested in. His owner is chatting to some people about him, so we strategically evesdrop for a bit. His legs, also totally clean. Sweet. One hoof has a rather large hole in it. Question that - "oh it's an abscess that popped". I'm thinking I've never seen an abscess pop like that. But keep my thoughts to myself smiling and nodding but then she continued "he did it right when we got him, it's finally almost grown out. Next trim he should be fine." Ok now that makes more sense. How long has she had him. "Oh about a year." Alright then, all the pieces fit now. So she hops on and rides him around. He's quiet - you have to understand this ring is complete CHAOS. I can't think of many horses you could put in that ring and not have them have a meltdown. And sure enough, several were. Half the ring is being used for people showing their horses and the other half is being used for the tack and equipment auction, complete with auctioneer with microphone. So he looks good. I steal a phrase from R and ask her if he can take a joke. (as in student loses their balance, moves the wrong way, etc). She starts bouncing around on top of him, all limbs flailing around. He doesn't even blink. Ok, good pony. Good BIG pony. He's a solid 16.1hh squared. Seriously you could set a table for four on his back.

Half paying attention to the grey I'd seen being tacked up as young girl was now riding it around the warmup area. Not fancy or flashy, but definitely quite and sound. Wander up and watch the auction process for a bit. Picture a 30m x 30m square - one side has the announcer's booth and the in/out areas. The other three sides are surrounded by bleachers. In the middle are the items up for auction and three or four Amish men watching the crowd as spotters for any bids. It was fast. And loud. And highly entertaining. There were two announcers -- the actual auctioneer complete with the traditional unintelligible rapid-fire speech and a second speaker who spoke at normal rhythm trying to up-sell the products. He was particularly amusing when he got into selling items he clearly knew nothing about :)

So we leave that adventure and go back to wander the pens a bit to look at the horses that have since arrived. R found somebody she knew so they chatted a bit while I looked. Found two more of my "maybe"s and rejected both of them. One on the basis of ridiculously wrecked legs for the age she was supposed to be (well that and if I brought home another chestnut tb mare somebody might commit me to a local asylum) and the other one wasn't going to be athletic enough. 5th one I didn't find.

We had some time before the horse sale started so we went and sat in the warm cafeteria area for a while. Eventually decided we'd go to the Beast and pick up the Coaching Cape (to the uninitiated this would be R's horse's cooler that I regularly borrow to wrap around me while I teach - but Coaching Cape sounds so much more interesting!). This was great except that when I hit the remote unlock, nothing happened. Frig. Forgot to unplug the radio fuse. Beast is dead :( Tragic. Unlock Beast manually (and I'll tell ya, it's a LONG climb across the middle to unlock the passenger side! :) find the items we needed, test-start Beast -- it didn't even pretend to try to start. Decide we'll worry about that later and head back to the auction.

We get ourselves seated and settled in -- they're running late so the tack auction is still going on. Soon enough the bleachers are packed. We're entirely surrounded by Amish kids (I have to admit to being rather fascinated by their culture). On Rebecca's side seemed to be all one family, and their Mother was with them. On my side they were either all brothers or friends -- I got the friends impression but I could be wrong. All boys. The mom of the one family was the only adult woman we saw. There were a couple teenage-type girls selling baked goods by the cafeteria, and other than that just tons of boys everywhere. These kids were the best behaved children I've ever seen. Youngest wasn't much older than toddler stage and went up from there. They sat still quietly longer than R and I! hahaha Although the one sitting next to R was seriously entranced (and trying not to show it) by her iPhone. hahaha he's clearly going to be the rebel of the group :) One thing I found sort of interesting was three or four of them in the 10ish range (keep in mind that guesstimating ages is NOT a skill I have - but they were wearing the "kid" hats rather than the teen/adult hats :) had copies of the catalogue and were diligently writing down what everything sold for. I'm not sure why or what that was about, but I will admit to having been very curious about it :)

So the hats -- the kids all had blue hats that were flat and had a button at the top front and flaps that covered the ears. The teens/adults had the bigger black hats. Except the one teen who was either rebelling or missed the "no white after labour day" rule and had on a straw hat instead. Other than that, everybody was dressed identically. And all ages seemed to be having a really good time.

So while the kids were watching some of the dads were bidding, older teenage types were showing/selling horses, and some were involved in running the auction. It was the ones showing the horses that caught my attention. Fearless, athletic, and could ride. Really ride. Amazing how good riding is good riding regardless of where/how you learned -- definitely grew up on horseback, probably never had a lesson ever, yet their equitation would win any medal class instantly. Says something about form follows function eh? That being said, there was a lot of showmanship going on that you would *not* see in the show ring *g* Several times they climbed up so they were standing on top, or slid back behind the saddle and off the rear end of the horse. A few times they walked underneath the horse (big drafty types). But the one that really terrified me was the guy who felt the need to demonstrate how calm the horse was by going underneath and then between the hind legs. Not only did this require some interesting contortions to make it happen, but that's just a bad idea all around. He survived though, laughing the whole time. There was another one who vaulted on a 16+++hh horse who we're pretty sure wasn't broke. First, I would give a whole lot to be able to vault like that. 2nd, he got bucked off in the first 30 seconds, landed on his feet and then just hopped back on. Lasted slightly longer the second time *g* Don't approve of the cowboy method of backing a horse, but have to admit I had a good laugh as the horse got the best of this game. Another one I'd never seen before (and from the announcer's commentary, nobody's seen before :) one guy rode in on one horse while driving another (so picture a horse pulling a cart, but instead of a person sitting on a cart driving they're sitting on another horse). For sheer horsemanship ability it was a pretty impressive display. I'm not sure it has too many practical applications, but it was sort of interesting to watch.

Anyways - I wasn't really there looking for a driving horse. The first one came through was my second choice horse (this was the one that wasn't ridden). I bid half-heartedly for a while, and stopped when it got high. Nowhere near my budget for the horse for the day, but I really wasn't sure about the horse (had a good rep online and a history of being a schoolhorse, but somehow just something I didn't really like...) and my enabler wasn't enabling which I took to be a bad sign, so that caused me to hesitate for a bit and he who hesitates gets a different horse. Or something like that So that horse went to somebody else. But what an adrenaline rush. hahaha was *not* expecting that at all.

We watched some of the drama of the earlier paragraph for a while and then another one came through that I really liked. It was ridden by the same girl as my first choice horse and when I checked my catalogue he was one I had flagged -- it was the invisible 5th horse that I hadn't found. He didn't meet his reserve price, so when they left the ring, I followed and spoke to the owner for a bit. Told her I was interested in another of her horses, but if I didn't end up getting him, I'd meet her reserve price on that one. She seemed pretty happy about that.

A little while later the horse I really wanted came through. I had an "official budget" of what I'd like to pay and the "real budget" of what I was willing to go to. When we hit the official budget, the person I was bidding against had dropped down to $50 increments in their bids, so I figured they were nearly done. They stopped a couple hundred before my "real" budget. So I got him. But was it ever fast. Wow. Half the time I didn't know whether I had the highest bid or the other guy did! hahaha So we didn't stay to see the super quiet beginner horse. Bitterly cold and out of $...

Went back to the pen and talked to the owner for a bit. Asked her if she might be able to boost the truck. Nope - her truck was attached to her very large stock trailer; she wouldn't be able to get in where we were. But she said she'd find somebody. Kewl. Went to the office and chatted with my new secretary friend for a bit (there were several people there, but I kept ending up talking to the original one). Tried to pay for horse. Over daily withdrawl limit. Boooo. Visa has a charge attached, so call bank to get them to up the limit for a day. Sit on hold for a while and eventually get somebody who does it for me "available immediately". Great! Try running card through again. No go :( So we decide to give it time to register and go get lunch. I called to confirm I could take the horse home - no answer. Ah well. Try to pay again. Still doesn't work. Booo. End up paying surcharge to put on visa so as not to waste any more of their time. Not happy with my bank about that.

So next challenge... The Beast. Who didn't like my choice in radio station and so went on strike. *sigh* Now my usual system when stranded out in farm country is to find some reasonably cute young man with a nice big truck, smile and ask for assistance. And it's usually reasonably successful. Even when you're buried under 18 layers of snow clothing and might be mistaken for the Michelin Man in a photo lineup. Except remember where we were stranded. A significant portion of the population arrived on horseback or in buggy pulled by horse. Tricky. So I went back to my new secretary friend and begged her assistance. She flagged a girl she knew who was passing by and got her to take me to someone who might have a truck. She didn't seem toooo thrilled about it, but did as asked. And sure enough the guy she brought us to was entirely willing to help. Got in a nearby big truck and drove over. Hooked up cables and.... Nothing. *sigh* The inside lights turned on and that's about it. So I thanked him for his time and figured we'd be waiting for CAA, but no, he took this as a personal challenge. Left cables on for a while and the dash lights were getting brighter, so that's a start. Once we even got a sputter of engine noise. He then deemed the cables were an issue (now we've boosted said Beast with these cables more times than I like to count, but admittedly the last time it was this vehemently against starting switching cables made a difference so why not? Sure enough, new cables and another couple tries and my new friend revived the beast! Sweet. Merry Christmas to us!

Sat and let it run for a bit. Then had to figure out what to do to get the horse. I drove kind of over by the door, but left beast and trailer parked where they were blocking several people, so R babysat the beast while I went in (that way it could also keep running!). Put shipping boots on the horse much to the amusement of everybody around and the bemusement of the horse. This is not the kind of place where horses wear boots. No sign of owner anywhere. Return to Beast and put in a slightly safer location for loading. Then back to the horse. As I was leading the horse out there was a person checking sales receipts, so that was good. Was feeling a little concerned about just taking the horse away but that let me know that's pretty much how it's done...

Walked past the other horse I had half bid on, trying to load. What a nightmare. He was having absolutely nothing to do with it. They had him blindfolded and *still* couldn't get him near the trailer. Have to admit I smiled an inside smile at that scene and gave my big teddy bear of a horse (whom we named Jack) a pat. I had no idea whatsoever if he'd load yet, but at least I wasn't dealing with that one. And when we got to my trailer? He saw the hay inside and didn't even hesitate. He was in and munching in seconds. Faster even than Sienna loads. I was pretty thrilled at that. hahaha

Drove home, still not sure anybody would be expecting him, but I knew there were lots of empty stalls (this is where I'm moving in Jan 1!) and I had permission to bring him there, so I figured we'd sort it out... Got an answer when I was about two minutes away. Perfect. All good till we drove in. The driveway is downhill. And it's snowy. And the beast is still full of lumber. And Jack is not exactly a lightweight. The gate was open, but not quite enough. We opened it the rest of the way with the beast and the mirror. Thankfully the mirror is meant to fold flat. Very very scary. Only sliding at like 5km/hour but still, not being able to stop with horse loaded behind is a whole lot of no fun! Fortunately friction won the battle and we stopped before we ran out of road. Jack's still hanging out quite as can be in the back. Go get his stall ready, offloads like a pro and settles in in seconds. He was very thirsty. Drank two buckets of water! But otherwise just made himself at home. He's huge and fuzzy and totally sociable and just generally a giant teddy bear. And when I rode him the next day he totally made me laugh. And when my student got on she had the same reaction. He's going to make a pretty entertaining event horse :)

And that just *might* be a new record-length post!

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