friend of mine was looking to buy a horse that could be
a backyard buddy, a friend to their current quarter
horse mare and new member of the family. She didn't want
to spend a lot of money, so I suggested we go to the
local monthly horse auction to see if we might rescue
one of the horses from a potential death sentence.
...For those of you who are unfamiliar with horse
auctions, many times the meat buyers end up taking the
unwanted animals at low prices. There are always horses
there who have plenty of life left and just need someone
to show up and recognize their value, see their heart,
and offer them a space where they can just be a loved
We found a few older
horses who seemed to be dumped at the auction but still
had life left and love to give. My friend decided to bid
on two of them.
As the auction proceeded,
the horses she liked both went to good homes at good
prices! In fact, on that day most of the horses went to
good homes! It was refreshing, actually.
Toward the end, the
wranglers herded two young bay Arab/Arab-cross stud
colts into the ring. It was clear they hadn't been
handled and were not in good shape. I didn't see them
out in the paddocks before the auction - I think they
were brought in at the last second to avoid the scrutiny
of potential buyers. They ran around the auction pen,
scared and defensive. Nobody raised their arm to place a
bid before they were run back out of the auction house.
Too small to interest the meat buyers, I believe they
went to the Mexican rodeo.
The following month my
friend and I went back to the auction yard with high
hopes. Again, she found one or two horses that peaked
her interest, so we found our seats and waited for the
bidding to begin.
The auction went by much
like the previous month. The horses she liked went for
prices higher than she wanted to pay and found good
And again, just like the
previous month, at the very end of the auction, the
wranglers herded in one young bay Arab/Arab-cross who
was too small to interest the meat buyers. I immediately
recognized him as the younger of the two we saw at the
end of last month's auction. He was frantic,
traumatized, terrified and was clearly in pain.
The auctioneer launched
the bidding at $500, and I heard people chuckle under
their breath as if to say, "Yeah...not for THAT
The price came down, and
down as buyers watched this lonely horse search for some
escape. $300...$200...$100... I felt a mixture of
disgust and anger that these people were so incapable of
seeing the beauty and will to live in this horse. I saw
it, I knew I could help him, but I wasn't there to buy a
Finally, the auctioneer
slowed down and said, "Okay folks, who will take this
guy home for $50?"
Suddenly I felt my arm shoot up into the air, declaring
to the entire crowd that my heart is the softest.
BANG! The gavel came
down, and I now owned a 2 year old Arab-cross who had
just been gelded, had no training and a terrible start
in life. It's a good thing my friend brought her horse
Like I said, I did not go
to the auction looking to buy a horse. At that point in
my life I didn't know if I would have a home for the
next month, and my marriage was going poorly at best.
But in this particular moment, nothing was more
important than helping set this horse on a new path in
I paid my $50 in the
auction office, plus tax, and bought a $7 plastic
halter. The clerks in the office looked at me a little
funny and said, "Oh, YOU'RE the one who bought that
colt. You'd better be careful. He's out to kill
I wasn't worried.
Out in the paddock yard
people collected their horses, either the ones they
bought or the ones they didn't sell. I saw my new horse
alone in a large paddock. I walked over to the gate and
stood there for a while. I just stood there, watching
him, letting him watch me, smell me, feel me.
One of the cowboys
walking by, playing with his rope, and said to me, "You
know, that colt is dangerous. He's out to kill somebody.
You won't be able to catch him...it took SIX of
us to get him in the trailer last time. You let me know,
and I'll come rope him for you when you're ready."
"Okay. Thank you." I
replied, and he walked away.
stayed quiet at the gate and started looking at what
kind of condition this boy was really in. He had patches
of bare skin where he had fallen or his hair had been
whipped away. He had scars where his mouth had been tied
shut with a wire. His legs were covered with cuts and
sores, and I was surprised when I noticed that he had
one white sock - it was hard to see through the caked
dirt and dried blood from a wound slightly higher on his
leg. All of these wounds were evidence to me that he had
been at the Mexican rodeo where horses are whipped into
a frenzy so they'll run blindly, then the men display
their skill by roping the frantic horse's front legs,
bringing them crashing to the ground.
His eyes were still
strong and bright, though. He was very aware and alive.
His spirit was so strong, totally committed to resisting
any attempt to force him into servitude. I was in love
with him already!
My sense is that this
colt refused to run. My sense is that he chose to stand
and be whipped rather than play along with the tripping,
and it landed him back at the auction. He had been
through so much, seen so much confusion and pain, and he
still emanated the will to not only live, but live free
of domination and servitude.
I didn't want to own this
horse, I didn't want to train him. I wanted to be his
We stood quietly together
on opposite sides of the fence for about 15 minutes. I
watched him as he discreetly watched me, keeping my own
mind clear, my heart open to give him the best chance to
assess for himself who I truly am, what I'm about and
whether I was here to fight him or to help him.
I opened the gate and
stepped into the paddock as if I belonged there. His
body faced away from me, and I stayed at least 20 feet
away from him. His left ear followed me until I stopped
moving my feet. When I did, he turned his head to get a
square look at me.
With the plastic halter
hanging from my shoulder, I said "Hello" silently. I did
not approach him. I did not reach out to him with my
hand. I stood still, breathing, sharing with him my
sense of relief that he had truly found escape from that
life of torture.
He let out a big breath
and refocused on me, scanning me more deeply, and as he
did, I took a half step back, letting him know that I
understand, that I intend no threat. After another five
minutes of silent stillness, I turned away and left the
The auction yard
wranglers were watching from behind the fences and
around the corners. They KNEW I was crazy. They KNEW I'd
never be able to catch this rogue, that I'd never be
able to handle him. After all, it took six of them to
I took a break, walked
away for ten minutes or so, and talked with my friend
about bringing the trailer around. She backed her four
horse stock trailer up to a wide chute area, and the
guys planted themselves up on the fences to watch the
"You're gonna need a
rope!" they assured me.
"Okay...thanks." was all
I was quite happy for
their attention, though. Call it pride or my own sense
of competition, but I wanted them to see what kindness,
communication and acceptance can accomplish.
I went back to the
paddock and walked directly in. I stepped within about
ten feet of him and showed him the halter. He turned his
head again to watch me, his feet stock still.
Silently, I communicated
to him, "I'd like you to wear this halter and follow me
up through this barn to a large trailer where there is
hay and soft bedding. I want to take you where you can
eat grass and rest with no whips and no ropes."
He felt my offer,
contemplated it for a moment and let out a deep sigh.
His eyes softened, although not in submission, and he
lowered his head in gesture of his acceptance.
I walked straight up to
him and gently fit the halter around his head. He
exhaled and licked his lips. I turned myself toward the
gate as if he and I had already done this walk hundreds
of times together. With the slightest pressure on the
halter, I asked him to come with me. The gentle release
when he responded communicated to him that trapping him
was not my intent. He followed me directly, out the gate
and up the breezeway of the auction lot holding pens.
And the wranglers watched
This young horse, my new
hero, felt a bit claustrophobic as we walked past the
holding pens, surrounded by gates and fences, shadows
and metallic sounds, but he chose to trust me and walk
with me. When we made it to the other end of the paddock
area, where the trailer was waiting, we had an audience.
But this horse and I were focused on each other. I was
focused on bringing him safely, gently into the trailer,
he was focused on not being beaten.
We walked into the wide
chute area toward the trailer, and I kept walking, again
as if he and I had done this together a thousand times.
I held thoughts and pictures and sensations in my mind
of a young, spirited bay horse traveling safely and
comfortably to a place with a large grass pasture and
the company of a young quarter horse mare. I saw the
picture of him walking gently into the trailer, I felt,
even before we stepped into the trailer, the rocking of
the trailer floor, the sounds of hooves on the trailer
floor, and the rattles you hear when it's holding the
weight of a horse. All of these pictures and senses I
held with an open heart and offered to him in
preparation of the next step in our journey. I felt how
this particular trailer, on this particular day was
destined to deliver a special horse to freedom.
Beyond any hope or
expectation I could have had, he followed me straight
into the trailer with no hesitation. No stopping to
sniff, not even a blink of an eye, and he was standing
in the trailer munching hay off the floor like an old
He flicked his ears to
let me know he understands, he's ready and it's time to
go. So without ceremony, I closed the trailer door,
climbed into the truck and headed home. At the time, I
didn't even think to say goodbye to our audience, to
talk to anyone or ask their response...all I remember
I called this giant horse
in a small body Dufresne (pronounced doo-FRANE) after
the main character in one of the most satisfying stories
I know, The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne, in the
story, was wrongfully imprisoned for over twenty years,
endured unspeakable abuse, and finally, quietly,
revealed the injustices of his jailers and escaped
through the sewer pipes to spend the rest of his days on
a Pacific coast beach.
Dufresne settled into his
new pasture home immediately. His wounds healed faster
than wounds are supposed to heal, his hair grew back and
he gained weight overnight. He was immeasurably happy to
give his attention, to learn about saddling, hoof care,
and the other more pleasant parts of how humans and
horses share their lives. Like a kid walking into a
candy store for the first time, he'd walk around the
pasture with long grass hanging out of his mouth, his
whole body engaged in a smile, born again into a
completely different world.