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Monday, September 17, 2012

Living with Horses; the Lead in

Greetings friends,

I hope that you didn't think that I had quit writing this blog because of the gap between entries. I have been on the computer very little in the last couple of weeks, which was quite nice after spending most of my waking hours for the last few years virtually tied to the keyboard with Mensa business.

I have completed several long standing projects during this time and read a stack of books. It feels great to get more balance in my daily life again.

Mr S. just had his 87th birthday on the 15th and we took him to lunch along with his son Jason and D-in-L Fran who drove in from California for his special day. He enjoyed himself and happily told the same stories over and over again. We also took him shopping at Walmart and he got to look at nearly every aisle in the store which he really likes.

I was able to help place three rescue animals in new homes in the last two weeks and I am happy to report that they are thriving with their new families. No, they aren't puppies or kittens, they are snakes! Two red-tailed boas and a ball python. Reptiles need love too. And like puppies that grow up to be "dogs", they can get rejected or even harmed by people who should not have pets (or children). New beginnings aren't bad.

Today's writing entry is the first installment in a multipart tale from 1971. The entire story is fairly long (for me) and is quite complex so I will continue it each week and you will see the events unfold as I lived them.  Please have patience, this is just the beginning.

Living with Horses, the Lead in:
A lot of graduating high school seniors take trips to far flung places after their diploma is handed over; Hawaii, France, Australia even! I was no different when I graduated from George P. Butler High School of Augusta, Georgia in June of 1971. The U.S.Army was waiting for me in September, as I had enlisted via the delayed entry program to get the school that I wanted and I had three months to enjoy civilian life before I was off to Boot Camp. So naturally I chose to go to Warrenton, Georgia. Never heard of it? Not many people outside of the state had.

I was working for a medically retired Viet Nam veteran; an Army Captain who got on the wrong end of a VC rocket and lived to tell about it. He was scarred up all over his upper body, had lost an eye and I'm not sure what else... a bit of gray matter probably, but at eighteen what did I know anyway.

We were hauling horses for people all over the South in their rigs or ours, depending on what they wanted. It was a transport service for people who didn't have the time or the inclination to move their expensive livestock around, but did have the money to pay to have it handled for them. We hauled race horses, show horses, breeding stock, rich people's pets (polo ponies), whatever horse business it was, we would get them there on time. The boss quoted them a delivery date and time and we would be there or it was free, (and the Boss didn't do FREE) so we made it on time, every time. Word got around about our dependability and soon we had three teams of two drivers each working 24/7 to make it happen. Business was good.

I was doing this before I even got out of school, in fact I parked a truck and trailer with four horses in it across the street from Bell Auditorium where we graduated, on the day of graduation.

But like so many things that develop too quickly and without good research and planning, the whole operation was in a constant state of delicate balance; if anything goes wrong, it's over.

Before you jump to any conclusions, no we didn't have any wrecks or hurt any horses. I did have some interesting times; flat tires on I - 285 around Atlanta at rush hour, and getting off on the wrong exit near the stadium and realizing that I was so very white in a very angry neighborhood... on a bad night to come calling, or even getting held up in Georgetown, Washington, DC and surrendering all our phony credit cards; which we carried for just that eventuality. If anyone used those credit cards it "red flags" immediately with "Call the Police, stolen cards!", but the twenty out of my pocket was real, so at least they could get a couple of quarts of beer while they waited for the cops to come and bust them.

None of that had anything to do with the demise of this very lucrative operation at all. And we always delivered on time, so it wasn't that either. So what was it?

Ego. A battle of ego's between two medically retired Army Officers; my boss the Captain, who had gotten blown up, and his old boss the Colonel, who had cracked up.

The Colonel was the money behind the operation; he bought the rigs we drove, and he attracted the high dollar clientele that we did business with. A lot of people did word of mouth promotion of our service and it worked like a champ. The Colonel was convinced that he was an officer in the Civil War in a past life and served under the "Great One" himself, Robert E. Lee. He was a bit of a loony, but I can't say that he was wrong. I don't remember being there myself, but whatever works I guess. He was also filthy rich, (by inheritance), and a snobbish type who didn't associate with common folk if he could avoid it.

The Captain was from poor white folks who lived on the fringe of the community and never had two nickels to rub together, but he was trying to make up for that, and was succeeding in the money end. Where he was failing miserably, was the attitude and ego department. He was becoming more important, more influential, and less rational, with every check that cleared the bank; and they all cleared the bank. Not a bouncer in the bunch, ever. Then he got too big for his britches.

He and the Colonel were going at it over the telephone when I walked in from my latest run. Nothing that I overheard sounded like friendly greetings or expanding business opportunities, but I also had a show to get to so I didn't linger to find out what was going on.

I was showing one of the up and coming young Appaloosa stallions in the bossman's herd in Western Pleasure and my usual trail ride competition horse in the Trail Class, both with a much better than average chance to win and continue to grab points for increasing the breeding value of his horses. So I left for Conyers, GA, (which is just outside of Atlanta) and I had to hurry.

When I got back that night and was taking care of the horses, (and yes they both won) the boss came out smoking a Cuban cigar; something he only did when he figures that he has scored a major financial victory, and that worried me.

He announced that "we" had broken off relations with that greedy S.O.B., the Colonel, and from here on out we would do business on our own. "We don't need that old crippled psycho anyway!" he ranted as he leaned on his cane and squinted his remaining eye, which he couldn't see much through because he refused to wear his Army issued prescription glasses.

I felt that cold sinking feeling in my stomach and when his wife loaded the kids in their car and left, "to visit her mother" who lives in Tampa, in the middle of the night... well, it didn't sound like pay raise time to me.
His first order of business was to stop all endurance rides and shows, saying that there was no immediate profit in them, so they will have to wait. That move cost us about $300 to $500 in non-refundable entry fees for the next events that we had already paid for and committed to; something which does not endear you to sponsors or team members from other locations who were depending on you (me) to "be there" and, he took away my fun! I was the rider involved.

Next we had to move six horses to an undisclosed location, because they might not be "safe" at the ranch. Safe? Safe from what? Or whom?

We didn't have any local Indian tribes on the war path this week, too wet for burning and the Piggly-Wiggly had some pretty good sales going on, so pillaging was out of the question; too much work for what you'd get from a bunch of broke white folks.

No mountain lions to speak of and I hadn't run across many coyotes in east Georgia, like, ever. Which brought me to the question; what kind of hallucinatory drugs is this boy on?

I should have known it right off, it was a simple deduction and I blew it. We were hiding horses from the Colonel because he owned most of every horse there, and he was going to claim his percentage and sell them. They had both contributed money to the purchase of really good breeding stock and jointly owned every horse there, by a 75/25 split in the Colonel's favor. If he could find them that is.

Three of the other drivers quit on the spot when they were told about splitting from the Colonel, the other two were out on a run and didn't know yet. But I didn't expect them to stick around either. It didn't matter much to me, I was leaving in September.

The telephone was strangely silent; it usually rang constantly, but hadn't jingled once all morning. When I picked it up to make a call, it was dead. The Colonel's money turned it on, and the Colonel's money turned it off just as quickly.

We had the horses loaded before noon and had gone over the plans at length. I had the one ton truck and the four horse trailer, and the boss's brother took a day of leave and was driving the raggedy old pickup with a really shaky two horse with a fake tag hanging on it. It was a used car lot cardboard tag with mud smeared all over it to hide the print, but it looked good, I guess. We departed at the same time and went in opposite directions and the boss took off walking through the pastures to join up with his brother, near the interstate. He had made a big production of standing out front and waving good-bye to us as we pulled away, and then went through the house and out the back and down the hill. I was glad that I didn't have to ride with the guy; he would probably want to stop and "recon" over each hill on the highway, just in case. Paranoid or careful? I didn't know for sure, but it did make me wonder what I was getting into.

The destination was the same for both trucks, a parcel of land (owned by the brother), of some 120 acres near Warrenton, Georgia, which I assure you is only close to being a small town, it wasn't big enough qualify for that... at least not in 1971.


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