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The Filly Was a Nightmare

Some men cherish a few hours in their workshop on a Saturday afternoon.  One began that way and ended with me buying into a nightmare – a two-year-old standard bred filly named Shilo Fantasy.

On that fateful Saturday, there I was contentedly working on a project in my basement workshop.  Just before lunch, the basement door opened.

“Honey,” my wife Judi called out.  “Elsabeth’s on the phone.  Her and Keith are at a horse show.  They want us to meet them, see the horses and maybe have lunch.  What do you think?”

I was expecting to be told it was lunchtime.  Her question was not an invitation. No amount of whining would deter Judi from dragging me away to meet our friends.  I was not overjoyed.  Growing up on a farm had filled my quota for stinking horses and cold breezy barns.

We arrived to a half empty parking lot.  A surge of hope!  Could the horse show be over?  Wishful thinking.  Moments later we came upon Keith and Elsabeth.  Their enthusiasm was in high gear as we toured the barns, dodging horse ‘exhaust’ to view the winners of the standard bred show.

“Come on!” Keith said excitedly, our barn tour evidently over.  “The auction’ll be starting soon!”

‘What!’ I thought in alarm.  ‘Oh no!  Surely not!’

Judi’s bright hazel eyes lit up with excitement.  There was no mistaking what she had in mind.

‘Damn,’ I thought.  ‘I’m hooped!’

The three others charged off toward the auction arena, filled with excited anticipation.  I sauntered along, underwhelmed, struggling to mount an exuberant front.

After finding a seat high up in the auction arena, Elsabeth and Keith agreed on what horses they would bid on.  The auction went on . . . and on.  A few times, Keith and Elsabeth got close to buying a horse.  Each time they dropped out.  Then along came a horse named Shilo Fantasy.  Keith was excited.  It was obvious he wanted her.  Chances are other bidders sensed his excitement right away.  Keith went at the bidding subtly at first, and then with more exuberance as bidding intensified.  Soon, Keith was bidding openly.  Up went the bids.  Up . . . up.  It was fun.  I mused that watching other people spend thousands of dollars at auction sales had a great future as a spectator sport.  Then it was over.  Holy smokes!  Keith had won the bidding!  There was lots of excitement to go around.  They ended up paying one of the higher prices that day.  Keith kept saying the horse was well worth it.  Judi and I had no idea. No matter.  It was their business.

When the excitement subsided, Keith turned to Elsabeth:

“I forgot my cheque book,” he said.  Elsabeth shrugged.  She didn’t have one either, she told him.  Keith turned to me.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a cheque on you by any chance, would you?” he asked. “I’ll get you the money on Monday.  That okay?”

It was not often our chequing account could manage a hit of that magnitude, even temporarily.

“Sure,” I said.  Beads of sweat burst out along my hairline. “No problem.”

“Hey,” Judi piped up, gazing squarely at me.  “Why don’t we buy half of the horse?”

Then she promptly turned to Keith.

“You’ll only have to give us back half of the money,” she said.  “You okay with that?”

“What?” I answered, incredulous.  She was talking to Keith now.  I guessed our martial decision-making had reached a conclusion.

“Good Lord!” I said more loudly than intended.  “What in the world do we want with a race horse?”

But events were unfolding, irreversibly as it turned out.

Keith turned to Elsabeth.   They exchanged nods, and then smiled.

“Sure,” Elsabeth said excitedly to her close friend Judi.  “We can go to the races together!  Won’t that be fun?”

“Hey, partner,” Keith said, turning to me.  He reached out his hand.  There was a look of mischievous delight on his face.

‘You buggers!’ I thought, and then added a few silent admonitions.

The deal was done.

Our first few months as co-owners of Shilo Fantasy were a pleasant surprise.  The beautiful horse displayed a spirited personality.  She ran exceptionally well in standard bred races at home and in a few other cities.  Standard bred racing involves horses pulling two-wheel carts called sulkies with drivers. We had a good driver and a good trainer.

Shilo Fantasy made it clear she liked being out front.  The perky little mare would shake her dappled grey head as she fast-trotted strongly up through the pack to the front, her nostrils flaring.  And she’d stay in front.  We loved it, and so did she.  After a win, we’d take Shilo Fantasy to the winner’s circle for pictures.  She’d prance around leaving no doubt that she was mighty proud of her self.  Through the rest of the season, the grey and black filly won more than her share of races and came second or third in even more.  Her future and ours as owners looked promising.

Then everything changed.  By early fall, she’d begun to lose momentum for some unknown reason.  We convinced ourselves a rest over winter would return her winning ways come spring.

First time out in the spring, Shilo Fantasy surged immediately to the front of the pack.  We were ecstatic.  The four of us, plus our collective offspring and a scattering of friends formed a loud and exuberant cheering section. She was back! The Shilo Fantasy we knew and loved was in fine form.   She was in the lead three quarters of the way around the track.  Suddenly, her pace broke to a trot and then fell back to a fast walk, then a walk, and then a slow walk.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.

‘What’s this all about?’ we wondered, embarrassed and frustrated.

Weeks turned into months of veterinary bills.  Nothing could be found to explain her ‘flaming out’ at the three-quarter turn.  Shilo Fantasy raced again, and again. And always she came out strong, often leading the pack, and then fizzled out somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way around the track . . . every single time.  The vet bills kept mounting, as did barn rent, feed bills and training fees.

We four owners finally had to accept that any hope of glory for Shilo Fantasy was, after all, nothing more than an elusive fantasy.  She was aptly named.

Before that second season ended the now humbled owners of Shilo Fantasy made a gift, to a retired farmer Keith knew and liked.  The gent promised that Shilo Fantasy would live out her life providing sulky rides to the many youngsters and their friends who visited the kindly grandfather’s farm.

Copyright  2012 By James Osborne   All Rights Reserved

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This entry was posted on April 14, 2012 by in Collected Short Stories.

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