The small black pony was so wet and bedraggled it was hard to tell the difference between head and tail. Finally one swished so I put the mauve halter on the other end.
“Sorry about the purple halter, boy. It was donated.”
He slowly plodded behind me, one small black hoof at a time dragging through the muddy paddock. Slurp, plunk! Slurp, plunk!
He climbed in the trailer and we headed home. Neither he nor I had a clue how timely his arrival was.
I settled the muddy ball of black hair in a stall decked out with other donated pieces of mauve equipment: bucket, stall chain and name plaque, when Julie called me to the office.
“Jim, how’s the new addition?” she busily filed the myriad of papers commonly found on her desk top.
“He’s dirty but seems quiet enough,” I wouldn’t know if the pony was suitable until I got him in the ring.
“What’s his name?” she reached for the index cards and grabbed a purple one. Everything was color coded in her world. Purple for the ponies.
“Pistol Pete,” I replied.
“Cute,” she smiled as she wrote his name down. “How high and how old?”
“Well according to his former owner’s he’s twenty-five but his teeth say thirty.” For a horse that’s old but ponies live longer. And besides they mellow with age. “He’s pretty small,” I continued, “barely eleven hands.”
Julie looked at me, her brows scrunched together. “That’s...what...less than four feet?”
“Correct, forty-four inches to be exact,” I stuck my hand out like a level and guesstimated where his short back reached.
“If he’s that little how useful is he for the program?” She was back in paper pusher mode. “We can’t afford to keep every unwanted pony that’s tossed our way.” She now donned her number-crunching hat.
“True, but ponies are mighty strong for their size and eat less than their larger cousins.”
The shrill ring of her phone interrupted us.
“Hello, Oceanside Therapeutic Riding Society, Julie speaking. How may I help you?” She continued to shuffle papers as the caller explained the nature of their enquiry. I rose to leave, she motioned me to sit. “Uh huh, yes, we serve spina-bifida clients. Oh, that is young.” She reached for a post-it. “The Program Director is here. We’ll discuss your daughter’s case and I’ll get back to you.” She recorded the name and phone number. “Thank-you, bye.”
“How young is ‘young’?” I asked knowing Julie had a hard time saying no to clients weather they fit the guidelines or not. She rarely, if ever, considered the finite nature of the resources at my disposal such as volunteers, ponies, equipment, or hours in a day.
She looked at me, violet eyes glistening. The horses and ponies may be expendable but not the children, never the children. “Three.”
I raised my eyebrows as high as I could over my baby blues.
“You know the minimum age is five.” I looked away, not able to hold my conviction to the rules against the force of those violet pools. “Normal children don’t ride at that age.” I couldn’t believe I said that. First of all, what was normal except the setting on the washing machine. And second, I was practically born in the saddle and Julie knew it.
I glanced back in time to see a salty streak down her peaches and cream cheek. I didn’t need to hear the “Please, Jim.” I saw it plain enough.
“Tomorrow at 11:00 am.” I left while she made the call.
The Tyrians arrived at 10:55. Desiree, was cute as a button. Big brown eyes and golden ringlets topped with a tiara. Her tiny legs, encased in braces, were hidden under mounds of lilac tulle. Numerous little girls came to the barn but never one in a princess gown.
I showed them around but Desiree never said a word. I wondered if she could talk.
Finally we came to Pistol Pete’s stall. His head, complete with mauve halter, was now clearly distinguishable from his tail.
“Mommy! Look! My pony!” she cried, “I knew he’d be here.”
We walked toward Pete. He nickered. It was the first sound he’d made.
“Look,” Desiree said, “We match.”
Even though Pete and I hadn’t had time to see if he really fit, I knew in that instant he did.
As for rules, they’re just guidelines, aren’t they?
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