From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Auction Madness

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.

James Joyce

We had just moved into a new split-level in Dayton in the late fifties when my husband, Witt, suddenly decided that our two children should grow up on a farm where we would raise Welsh ponies as a profitable sideline to supplement his public relations business. So we traded in our house for a fifty-acre farm, and Witt went to Maryland where he bought a young registered Welsh stallion from a breeder. Then he purchased two imported Welsh mares, one already in foal, from a breeder in Ohio. This, he announced, put us squarely in the pony business.

We would not go into Shetlands, he said, because they had just become expensive toys, while the Welsh pony was somewhat like a small version of an Arabian horse and made wonderful mounts for older children.

A year later, Witt decided that we weren’t building up our herd fast enough and we needed another Welsh mare. Since business commitments were keeping him tied to his office, he suggested that I go to the annual fall Maryland Pony Breeder’s sale at Timonium. There, he said, I could buy another fine Welsh mare already in foal. When I demurred, pointing out that I had never in my life bid on anything at auction, he cagily pointed out that it would be a splendid opportunity for me to visit my sister and her family in Washington, D.C.Witt said he was certain I could buy a mare in foal for $1,200 or less.

A cab dropped me off at the Timonium sale barn on a humid autumn evening to the sound of one hundred ponies nickering plaintively into the night air. Sitting high up in the bleachers where I could see and feel the throbbing, sweating mass of ponies and people below, I began to sway dizzily and I wondered whether I could last out the sale. I had planned to arrive early enough so that I could carefully examine the Welsh mares in their stalls, but the taxi had become ensnarled in traffic and I had only a few minutes to look over the ponies before the sale began. I had decided that there were only two bred mares with pedigrees that would mesh with our stallion’s. I would bid on these if I could muster up the nerve.

Welsh ponies were selling like untarnished gold nuggets at a fire sale that night. It took me only a few minutes to realize that Witt had underestimated the amount I must pay to get a good Welsh mare. When one of the two mares I had spotted earlier was led into the ring, I had no more than wet my lips to enter the fray before the bidding had zoomed well over the $2,000 mark. The same thing happened when the second mare came in.

I was enormously relieved. I had been expunged from the bidding by prohibitive prices and now cut loose from my mission with impunity, I could sit back and enjoy the rest of the sale.

The relief was so great, in fact, that I became drowsy. It had been a long, heady day. The flight from Ohio early that morning and a joyful reunion with my sister and all those new children. Then the champagne cocktails at the luncheon meeting with the other Welsh breeders at a Baltimore hotel.

I was swaying dreamily to the auctioneer’s sing-song, when something caught my eye and my head snapped up. A girl was running dramatically into the ring with the most dazzling pony I had ever seen, a tawny chestnut mare with enchanting yellow dapples dancing and glittering over her body. Her luxuriant mane shone blindingly white under the harsh barn lights and her tail shimmered and flowed behind her like a wedding veil. Great amber eyes that matched her dapples flashed through incredible white eyelashes. Her limbs were as fine as antique spoon silver.

All my life I have heard tales of persons who lost their heads at auctions. I had never believed them until it happened to me. I was hypnotized. My lips opened and I found myself bidding, once, twice and yet a third time. And then the bidding stopped. For a moment, the barn seemed eerily quiet and then the auctioneer banged down his gavel. The mare was mine for $1,000. My head cleared and I drew a long, gasping breath. I gazed one last time at my mare as she was being led out of the ring. She was beautiful beyond description. There was no doubt of that. There was only one thing wrong: She was a Shetland pony.

As this stunning fact washed over me, I shivered and tried to shake it off, like a dog shakes off water when he comes up the bank after swimming in the creek. I didn’t have time to think about it now. I had other things to do. I followed my mare out of the barn and back to the stalls. I prevailed upon the seller to take her back home for several days until I could send a truck for her. Then I went around to the cashier’s booth and wrote a check.

Back in my room long after midnight, I understandably tossed about for a way to break the news to Witt that the mare I had purchased was not a Welsh mare. But whatever I conjured up as my end of the conversation, the only reply I could ever come up with at his end was, “You bought a what?”

Wearily I picked up the telephone. I knew he was waiting for my call. May as well give it to him straight.

“I lost my head and bought a Shetland mare.”

As I heardWitt’s voice, it seemed to reverberate from peak to peak over the Appalachian Mountains that separated us. I held the receiver away from my ear. I really didn’t need the telephone to hear him.


When Severn Poppet backed daintily out of a trailer and twirled around on our driveway, the children had been hanging on the fence for hours waiting for her. I had made a deal with a young neighbor who owned a horse trailer to make the trip to Baltimore to fetch her.

In the meantime, our seven- and four-year-old had worked themselves up into a frenzy of anticipation. They had always been a little frightened of our Welsh ponies, too spirited and too large for them to consider as pets, but Poppet’s name alone gave them visions of a pony cut down to their size. Now, when they finally saw her, I knew she exceeded their wildest expectations. Their eyes became as round as bright coins, their hands reached out awesomely to touch her gloriously silky mane and tail, to stroke the unreal yellow dapples that seemed to ripple under her skin.

Watching their joy, I suddenly felt very guilty. I had obtained this pony on a selfish impulse, not consciously thinking of my children at all. Without realizing it, I had brought home the touchstone pony of every child’s dream.

After countless trips to the barn that night for one more look at Poppet, each time returning with bigger stars in their eyes, Stoyer and Liz finally dropped into bed exhausted, undoubtedly I thought, with yellow dapples dancing in their heads. Witt went back out to the barn to turn out the lights for the last time and when he came in he reported that the children had bedded Poppet down with so much straw that she was floating in it right up to her white eyelashes.

As he reached up to put the flashlight back on the shelf, he muttered something to himself that I couldn’t quite make out. It sounded like, “To heck with it. Kids that happy ought to be worth something.” He never again mentioned that I had complicated our breeding program by introducing Shetlands.

At the giddy moment when I had outbid everyone in the sale barn for Poppet, I was oblivious of the premium that was riding with her. She was carrying the foal of a much beribboned Shetland stallion; I had purchased a bred mare.

At least I had done one thing right.

Carrie Young

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