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Lady Gold, continued ...

He smiled, went into the pen and gestured to me.

I tried another question. "How old is the mother?"

He hugged the gold mare around her neck, patted her, then opened her mouth and looked at her teeth. He let her loose, looked up at me and with his finger drew a "15." He pointedat the colt, then raised two fingers.

I wondered. Was that two days, two weeks, two months? I didn't know enough about foals to tell the difference. Later I figured out he must have been two weeks old.

I went down the steps, up the alley between the pens and climbed over the pipe rails into the pen with the old man. It was the first time I had gotten into an auction corral. Just then a wrangler ran up. "Get out of there. You'll hurt yourself!" I climbed out and went back up on the catwalk.

The thin gold mare intrigued me. I could count her ribs. Her flanks were hollow. Her pasterns were weak. No problem. By now I knew how to fix weak pasterns. She had major assets. Her wide-set, clean, straight legs said she was a bulldog type Quarter Horse, just like Dudley. She looked like she had worn her hooves down to the quick, which told me she'd been living on the range. I figured she wouldn't have a hissy fit if a jackrabbit burst out of a bush in front of her.

On the other hand, her pasterns were so weak that she was resting on the heels of her hooves. When she moved, she looked like it hurt.

A few minutes later the old man joined me on the catwalk. He cupped his ear and leaned his head close to me to hear my greeting. Struggling to converse, it soon beecame apparent that his English was as bad as my Spanish. He told me that he was from a tiny village on the eastern plains of the state, near Tucumcari. He was a broken-down cowboy, there for the show, not to buy or sell.

Then the auction began. The girls and I climbed midway up the auditorium that forms a half circle around the ring.

A big brown gelding pranced into the ring with a rider on his back. Dennis Chavez hoisted himself up to stand on the lower metal rail of the ringside. He turned and addressed the crowd. "That's my horse. I swear he's sound. My partner and I had a dispute over who owned him. So we agreed we'd sell him at auction and split the proceeds."
The gelding went cheap.

Then a little Navajo boy and girl rode their Shetland ponies bareback into the ring. They dismounted and pulled off their bridles. The ponies sold for $150 apiece. The kids climbed out of the ring with tears running down their cheeks.

Eventually the gold mare shambled into the ring. The steel gate clanged shut. A wrangler cracked a whip at her. She circled slowly, her head hanging down like the Indian pony of the "End of the Trail" statue. Her colt whinnied piteously from the other side of the gate.

At the auction, if someone wants to buy a horse to ride, they bid on a per head basis. But if the auctioneer decides a horse is good only for meat, he opens bidding on the basis of the price per hundredweight. If a meat horse sells for "$50," that means the buyer pays $50 for every hundred pounds, or 50 cents per pound.

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© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.