Well, I don't know how to choose which of my three beautiful boys was the first: they all arrived together 18 months ago, while I was shopping for some sheep.
Yes, I know that in JULY it's hard to mistake a miniature horse for a sheep, despite what they look like right now!
And the story gets even sillier, as I actually bought their CART AND HARNESS, and the horses just came along after that.
Here's how it went:
It was May 2003. I had been taking riding lessons at the stable where my boys are still boarded today, and my back and hips were suffering horribly from riding. (Arthritis -- I am never going to be much of a rider, I'm afraid.) On top of that, my old sluggy gelding, CJ, a big horse, had to retire from being a school horse because his eyesight was going. He was in his late 20's, very balky with everyone except me, and would just stop and stand there in the training ring with everyone else -- he never made a complete circuit of the ring without stopping in his entire last year that I know of as long as anyone other than me was in the saddle.
Anyhow, I was hopelessly devoted to him, warts and all, and he rewarded my love with a willingness that was just astounding. But he couldn't keep on doing the school stuff, it was just too hard on him at his age. So off he went to retirement as a paddock companion horse to an antsy young harness racer, and I decided to quit riding and go into sheep.
My teacher, Mary Anne, put up with this notion for a couple of weeks, and even helped me look for a few sheep and investigate what it would take to get started, all the while with me showing up at the barn to clean a few stalls, babysit a couple of the infirmary cases, do minor repairs, drag the pasture, and the like -- pretty much anything I could do to still hang around.
She then asked me to make a special point of looking after the minis: there were three of them, and their companion miniature donkey, Joshua, and nobody much bothered with them. They had been given to the equestrian centre a couple of years earlier by a neighbouring couple who had had to retire from their own farm because the gentleman was losing his eyesight. Mary Anne said the minis missed their folks, and were getting lonely and depressed because no one looked out for them specially -- all the kids around just wanted to ride the big horses, and no one wanted to stick with the minis.
I couldn't even tell them apart at that point, other than knowing the donkey because he looked so different!!
About a month later, I was not only able to tell them apart, but had quite fallen in love with them, and they had begun to look for me at the gate in the evenings when it was time to come in.
The sheep weren't panning out: I couldn't find any I liked well enough to buy around here, and besides, my job was taking me away from home a lot, so I'd have to find someone to "sheep-sit", which was also proving difficult. The minis already HAD qualified horse-sitters in an environment which was familiar to them already.
On top of all that, one of the minis was sick, runny poop and dehydrated off and on like a roller coaster, and I was worried to death about them. So while Mary Anne and I were talking about all this, I said, "Too bad I can't afford to buy three horses, or I'd just buy the minis off you, keep them here, and get on with life!"
She said yeah, too bad, but since she wasn't allowed to sell them -- they had been given to the stables with all their tack and whatnot provided they wouldn't be sold on -- it was a moot point anyhow.
Things went on like this for another couple of weeks, and then Chevy came into our lives. Chevy was a former harness racer who had been abandoned in a field by his owner when he stopped winning enough races. He was starving, nothing but skin and bones, and the owner of the field had repossessed him from the owner due to an unpaid debt of some kind, and was preparing to take Chevy off to the knacker to get whatever money he could out of the poor horse.
Mary Anne was driving by when she saw this guy out in the field with this poor broken down horse, and stopped to see what the heck was going on. She was actually on her way into town to get her Chev truck rear axle repaired, but when she heard the story, she asked the guy how much the knacker was going to pay for the horse. He named a figure, and it was ten dollars less than the amount she had in her purse -- to pay for the repair to her truck. She offered the cash to the guy, went home, hooked up her trailer, came back and got the horse loaded and home into a stall, and called the vet. Oh, and she named the horse Chevy.
I showed up as usual the next morning, and she told me the whole story, of course. I offered to lend her the money to repair her truck, and she said, "Well, we could do that, or I could sell you a very nice buggy and some harness to decorate your country estate with. And if you like, I could GIVE you some buggy horses to go with the stuff you are buying."
I just goggled at her, kind of bewildered -- I had no idea what she was on about. Then she said, "Well, I'm not allowed to sell the minis. But I CAN sell their gear, and I am allowed to GIVE them away to a forever home if one comes along. And I hate borrowing money from a friend, and your sheep game isn't going, and this seems like it might just work all right for all of us."
SO, I bought the cart, and the horses came along after it.
And here we are. And Candyman got better, and then Lucky Man got whatever that was, and then they traded it back and forth for a few months, and we got them wormed a couple of different ways, and had blood tests done, and got their teeth fixed, and bought them some blankets and rain sheets to make this winter a bit easier on them, and here we are.
Chevy not only got better, he THRIVED under Mary Anne's care, and when he started running the fences with his tail flagged and his neck crested, we figured he was well enough to go to his new adoptive home, where he is now throwing beautiful foals that Mary Anne and I would each give an arm and our eyeteeth for if we thought we could fit any of them into the school.
And all three of the minis and Joshie the donkey are in the pink now, fat and sassy, and Lucky Man is teaching my godson Mark (who has learning disabilities and had very low self-esteem until Lucky Man showed him that there was something in this world that he too, could be really good at) all about horses and horse showing, and Candy Man is enjoying being a retired driving horse who goes to the seniors homes and hospitals to cheer people up and get petted and treated a lot, and young Dancer is now into his first level of serious training -- he wants to be a really high class liberty horse some day. And maybe even learn to drive like Candyman and Lucky Man can.
And here we are, and that's how I got my first mini, right after I got a cart.
PS. I was given two Shetland sheep in June this year -- they were someone's HOUSE PETS, can you believe, and were they messed up!! After about $500 worth of vet bills and a lot of work, we got them set up in a nice pen with a run in shed AND a tiny little barn all their own to live in. They are both blind due to early malnutrition, but they are as sweet as pie, and talk and cuddle with me or the minis whenever they get near us. And they are producing the most gorgeous fleece I've ever had my hands on, and love living as real sheep in a real pen with a real barn of their own. And here we are.
My husband used to say that his next dog was going to be a turtle...