Lost

Chapter 2

All the horses in my life faded to grey. They galloped into a fog and I couldn’t see them anymore. I knew they were there, but I couldn’t find them. To this day I still wonder if I was lost, or if it was them.

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I do not know where Chisum went after I sold her. All I know is that the check had the name of a well-known horse trader on it. This wasn’t my worst fear for her, but it was right up there at the top. A horse trader is just a guy making a living with horses, but the nature of his business is short-term stints with the animals. His reputation is often muddied by attaching his name to a horse that, over time, proves to be something other than he said it was. His name takes the blame, but he really isn’t responsible for what the horse may have done. Given that he only had it for three weeks, and didn’t even ride it every day, errors in judgment are bound to take their toll. To most, ‘horse-trader’ is synonymous with ‘cheat’. Some are, some aren’t. I hoped the one that bought Chisum was able to send her to a good home. I turned my heart away from all other thoughts of her to keep myself from tracking the man down and buying her back.

Brittany Starritt was there at the sale that day. This is what she remembered:

“When Chisum walked into the sale pen my breath was immediately taken away. I knew how much Cheyenne loved her and in return how much she loved Cheyenne. I bid on her for as long as I could, but she was soon out of a price range I could afford. I scoured the crowd to see exactly who bought her.. it was him, a man from Texas who had been buying flashy colored fillies all day. I watched her walk out of the pen softly nickering for Shy… I don’t think anyone could have imagined what was in store for her future.

Chisum was loaded onto a stock trailer, belonging to that somewhat notorious horse trader, surrounded by 8 others; all wide eyed, unsure, and scared. Naturally very trusting, she didn’t understand why all the other were so nervous. People had always been so good to her- they had always kept her safe.”

Hours crowded together, trying to keep the fierce wind out of eyes and ears. Heads down, bumping against each other in the dark. Headlights of the passing trucks were like roaring monsters. Her heart beat wildly all night. In the early dawn they were herded into muddy pens and thrown hay on the ground. She had to fight for what little she ate; now gaunt and uncertain. Even the water tasted different. All the hot day was spent avoiding the other horses that chased and bit and kicked and squabbled over sprigs of hay and controlled who drank at the one water in the pen. Finally, a human came. Comfort at last! A voice to calm her, a hand to steady her. But that, too, was different.

“Six hours later she unloaded, the smells were different than anything she had ever smelled before. It was the strong smell of oil, Chisum was now in Texas. She was able to get a few hours of rest before a mean looking little man with a big hat and even bigger spurs came to the pen to start pulling horses to “evaluate their potential”, and show them off to some folks who wanted to see the new arrivals. She wandered right up to the gate with her head down just as she has always done for Shy; the mean looking little man roughly threw a halter on her and with a hard yank on the lead rope they were off to the roundpen. He tied her tightly to a post in the middle of the pen, she began to get nervous. He threw the saddle pad on, but didn’t brush her- Shy always made sure she was brushed first… he wasn’t doing this right! Then he threw up his saddle, everything smacked her as it landed; now she was scared. He quickly tightened up the cinch, not smoothly and easily like Cheyenne had always done- it was then that she was struck with the reality, not everyone was like her people from the Carrizo Valley Ranch. He jumped aboard and drug those big spurs right into her sides, without even thinking she began to run. Around and around she went until a sharp pain in her mouth pulled her around and with another kick of the spurs she was off again. Some members of the crowd laughed at this scared little filly running her heart out, but she caught the eye of a few. They saw she was well built, that she never once offered to buck or kick up at all- they saw her potential.”

As they rode her around in the mud she scrambled for footing, feeling the pressure of eyes judging her every movement. Another trailer ride, another new place with strange water and strange voices. What would tomorrow be like? Would the familiar voice ever return to take her home to mountain air?

A filly in a world where the unknown would become the familiar, where misunderstanding would be the only thing that wouldn’t change as time carried her into her three, four, and five year old years.

Turned out in strange pastures with new plants and new terrain to memorize. Handled by the fearful. Handled by the good-hearted, the ignorant, the prideful, and the careless. Town dogs, snakes, flies, coyotes, heat and cold. Wire cuts. Spur rowel scars on her shoulders and belly. Taught by some and forced by others to acquire new skills.

Perhaps she lived in someone’s backyard, their lawn ornament, and neglect became a new kind of mistreatment. Or maybe she wound up in some Texas dayworker’s string, or became one in an endless line of mounts on a feedlot. Maybe she served as some weekend warrior’s outlet for bottled up emotions, perhaps trail riding or maybe as a barrel horse prospect, being jerked on and cussed at. Lost and wandering through a maze of God’s image bearers, with few ever realizing their role in her life carried the stamp of the Creator’s plan.

As for myself, I was sort of lost, too. I went to learn oil painting from a fantastic western artist, but couldn’t hang with it long enough to pass the drawing stage. I then dedicated months to a novel which (still) has never seen the gleam of a publishers’ eye. I wandered back and forth and at last found myself back in Lincoln County, New Mexico. What began as a caretaker’s position at the headquarters of the old Block Ranch wound up becoming a full-fledged ranch job. For a single gal there really isn’t a better place to be. I remember thanking God daily for making me the richest girl in the world. At least horses were back in my life now. I determined never to let them disappear again. When I had to use one of the ranch horses during several days in a row of cow work, I would wonder where my little filly was and think that if she were with me now, what fine partners we would be. But I stuffed down God’s promise because, at the time, marriage and children weren’t even a desire of mine. For about a year, I was satisfied.

Then, something-or rather, someone-came along that I loved more: my husband. Our journey took us away and back to the ranches I had known growing up. After working in town for a while, we ended up in Nogal Canyon on a small hobby farm and day-worked on the side. My special horse and I were back together and still thick as thieves, but he was getting older. Though he still doesn’t act like it, my conscience would come knocking when we would put up our horses in the evening. He had earned a rest, but I didn’t have anything to ride.

We started casually looking for a horse for me. Newlyweds like us don’t have two pennies to rub together, much less enough to buy a decent horse. So we kept one eye open 24/7 for that ever-elusive ‘perfect deal’.

Made to face the wind all the way back but the air was familiar. Familiar! Mountains. Cool air. Nevermind that she was tied inside a trailer between two other clueless beasts. Nevermind the speed of the wind or the tossing and the tension from traveling the curves of Hwy 70. She could smell home.

She had learned not to approach humans, but to study them in their pursuit of her. She pinned her ears when she felt the cinch touch her girth. In the coming days she was asked to perform, to chase steers, to stop hard and turn fast. She tried hard, as always, frightened of the spur. She wrung her tail when they asked her to lope and flattened her ears when she felt them clutch the reins to demand a stop. Some men were heavy-handed and some not, but all expected the same effort from her.

Soon, another trailer ride. Turned out in another strange pasture with other strange horses. But this place was a little like home. She pawed and smelled the dirt. Familiar! She tasted the brackish water and buried her face up to her eyes in it. It tasted sweet to her. Familiar water again. Would the voice come back now, too? She couldn’t hope for that much.

In wandering clarity is rare. When lost, a lie is easy to believe. How can this be the Creator’s plan when nothing seems familiar and His voice is silent? How can He allow us to fret ourselves over finding His direction? Isn’t He supposed to be good? How can He expect us to remain strong in faith when hope is barely surviving, and we must endure the harshness of the world while we wait? The question ‘what am I worth?’ is too big and heavy to hang there, unanswered. Perhaps we want an answer more than we want the truth, so we accept lies because we take the first thing that comes along.

All I can say to those questions is that time does not hold the answer, and circumstances do not hold the meaning. To all who are lost or who have lost something, I know the bond of love is strong enough to find you. This is what I have found:

“No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8: 37-39

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{I would like to thank my close friend and adopted sister, Brittany Starritt, for sharing her memory of the day Chisum and I said goodbye and for inspiring the fictional pieces of what Chisum might have gone through. She’s an eyewitness of this whole story, who, like me, can only speculate the events of Chisum’s wanderings. The sections in italics are those speculations, and her memories are in quotations. }

Be on the lookout for this story’s conclusion, coming soon. Thank you for reading!

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