My eyes were twinkling as I listened, unashamed to be eavesdropping on my husband’s conversation. My cousin was telling me about green smoothies or something of the sort, and I, quite thankful for my dark Aviators at the moment, barely heard a word. Behind me in the parking lot of the church, my husband was on the phone with one of his old high school buddies.
“Well, I sure appreciate it man. Yeah, Wes said you might want to sell her, so, how much do you want for her?”
I did my level best not to turn around and stare.
“Ok. I think I can do that. Yep. When?” his voice was so casual, so even. And my own, inside my head, was straining for composure. I fidgeted and sniffed. Someone asked if I was cold, and I nodded. It was the end of November, after all.
But I wasn’t cold. My heart beat so fast, I was trembling. The drive home dispelled the mystery like wind clearing the fog.
My uncle had been lion hunting with my husband’s friend, who had brought along a pack horse. They were riding mules that day up in the rock piles we call mountains here in Lincoln County, but he brought this horse. When asked, he said he had bought her from a local horse trader, but didn’t like riding her because he had to peddle her everywhere.
And the first chance my uncle got, he told my husband about this horse. Told him this little gray mare was tough. Told him she was scarred up, especially her hind legs. Told him she was about six years old. He said he figured she’d make a good riding horse for me, and suggested my husband call about her. He is one of this state’s revered horsemen, one from the old school; a man who has handled horses every day of his life, and loves them, and hasn’t forgotten a single one.
Within five minutes of hearing all that, my husband was on the phone. Not the romantic type, he dispensed with all ceremony on the drive home.
“Honey, I bought this horse of Ronnie’s for you, if you want her. Wes said she looks like the filly you used to have. But if you don’t like her we can do something different. This’ll have to be Christmas for you, though.”
All this time, I was just excited that he had been talking about a horse on the phone. I had no idea it could be…
It couldn’t be Chisum. I knew that, deep down, but the idea stuck in my head. How naive would you have to be to even imagine that a worthless filly sold years ago would end up back in your hands this way? You would have to be a horse-crazed, Hallmark-movie preteen girl to believe that sort of hogwash. Not that I didn’t have the utmost faith in my uncles’ judgement. I did. Did I? Oh boy. This was going to be an interesting few days until we went to see this horse.
Driving up to the barn, I spotted the gray horse tied to a trailer. I snapped a picture through the windshield, too embarrassed to do that after I got out.
I was nervous. The suspense was choking the breath out of me and I popped the door handle so fast, Cody hadn’t even stopped the truck yet. Trying not to look like the a’fore mentioned preteen, I walked slowly up to the gray horse to look her over.
She was only wearing one shoe. She was in what we call ‘using shape’, fit for sure but looking a little hungry. Her winter coat was fuzzed up in the chilly wind and she eyed me right back, narrowly. She stood square on all four feet but her head would move as I walked around. Her ears twitched when I talked. I reached out to pet her neck and she flinched a bit, and pinned her ears ever-so-slightly. I looked at her legs. There were scars on both hind legs, but the one that mattered was a close match. A scar can take on a whole new look over time, depending on the way it heals or if it is subject to re-injury. It was hauntingly similar in location and size, but the shape was not exactly the way I remembered.
There were other scars. The opposite hind leg had a big scar on it, too. There was one that ran down the inside of her right foreleg the length of her forearm. There were spur rowel scars on one shoulder and on her belly, some on her face, and one scar on her ear from something. Those ears! They were so much like Chisum’s. Big, long, and fuzzy…showing her mother’s traits. But this horse was nothing like Chisum should have been, I told myself. But maybe, I thought…
We listened as the owner described what she was like to ride, and told us he only wanted $500. She was lazy, ‘witchy’ acting, and sour and while a more valuable horse is worth the time it would take to correct this behavior, in this case, the old phrase “There are too many good horses in the world to mess with that one…” sort of fit.
I stood at a distance and watched her. She hadn’t moved except to turn and look at us. There was nothing of the big-eyed innocent filly in that look. It could be her, but it probably wasn’t. I was disappointed that this didn’t turn out to be a Hollywood-worthy reunion, truthfully, I had hoped for that. Still, the merits of having a good-looking young horse to work with were enough for me. We brought her home.
It was cold in the canyon that evening and all the horses were hungry. We were throwing out alfalfa and I carried a flake passed her pen. That’s when she nickered at me. My head snapped in her direction, and she perked her ears at me and snorted. I knew her voice. I knew in that moment that it was Chisum. The ears…and that voice. I ran in and hugged her around the neck and she quickly broke away and walked off. She was home at last. She didn’t know me. I knew it would take a while. Obviously, she had been through enough to have some stories, if she could talk.
Within the coming days, Brittany and her husband, Lee came and saw her, and Brittany was one hundred percent convinced it was Chisum. My sister, my mom, and of course, my Uncle Wes were all sure. My dad didn’t think she was the same horse, and of all people, he wanted to believe she had come back. There was reasonable doubt and plenty of questions unanswered. I admit to you that I made a choice to believe it was her. And yes, I wanted it to be true very badly. There will always be room for doubt, but right then, I chose to believe. I had fought the cynic within myself for long enough. Now it was time to embrace faith.
I was excited to have time to ride her, just knowing that she and I would be magic. But she was just like we had been told. Sour, witchy…switching her tail every time I asked for anything, ears pinned back from the time I caught her to the time I turned her loose. She would do everything I asked, just begrudgingly. She was well-broke and handled decent, at least. As long as I left her alone and didn’t correct her, she was ok with me. I was not ok with that. My Black Beauty was actually Ginger in disguise, and all I could do was wait patiently and hope she would come around if I treated her kind.
I could have fudged the real truth just to make you feel warm and fuzzy. What I really hope you’ll see is how great my God is. By the time we are done with this story, I pray you are certain that my God, our God, the God of the Bible…is good. Because what happened next was the ride of my life.
The ‘final’ chapter is coming this Saturday! Stay tuned.
All but the first photo are taken in Nogal Canyon at the Apple Valley Ranch, a magical place where miracles and good things happen all the time. Special thanks to Rick Edmisten for opening his heart and world up to a horse he knew nothing about. I’ll forever be grateful for his generous heart, because without his approval of us taking on another horse, there wouldn’t have been a reunion at all.
Special thanks, too, to Ronnie Eldridge, Wes Smith, and of course, the hero of the whole story in this chapter: Cody Landry. You’ve all played an irreplaceable role in the healing of my heart and the life of a horse.