Sarge came to Elaine and her sister Joyce in trade for a registered Arabian gelding. The 14.3 hand Quarter/Morgan cross was a mess. His rough, filthy coat covered protruding bones and a sagging back. His feet were cracked and broken due to lack of care, and his lower lip “hung so low, it was a miracle he didn’t catch it when he walked.”
Although the dealer told them he was 12 years old, his teeth told the real story. Sarge was closer to 28. Elaine traded in a $2500 Arabian for a horse worth a slaughterhouse price. She would never have guessed at the time, but it was a horse that turned out to be a gift from God.
The Arab had been purchased for Joyce against Elaine’s better judgment. Elaine’s instinct proved correct when, only a week later, she found herself with a horse her rookie sister couldn’t handle. It was out of sheer desperation that Elaine traded the horse for Sarge, the only horse the dealer had available for trade.
Sarge had four brands on him, attesting to his career as a United States Government border patrol horse. In a later career, he was trained to barrel race. When Elaine took Sarge on a test drive in the meadow behind their home, that training created a real problem. Sarge became highly agitated in the open field, ready to run.
Elaine had a neighbor, an experienced Western trainer, try him. The trainer said Sarge was “scary,” a real loose cannon. If she merely touched him with a knee on either side of the saddle he would jump sideways. Definitely not suited for a beginner rider like Joyce, Elaine decided. In fact, she thought, not suited for anyone to ride in an open field. Sarge was looking for the barrels!
Yet she hated to send him back to the dealer. It was quite clear what his fate would be should he return. She decided to give him one more chance. Maybe he would be different on a trail.
Although she planned to try him the next day, Sarge had other plans. He got loose and ran down a paved road. Then he veered onto a gravel driveway, ending up in a neighbor’s backyard.
It was Joyce who caught him. On the long walk back home, she and Sarge bonded. As they walked, Joyce gently explained the rules of horse behavior to Sarge. Running loose in the road was not an option. Something clicked in Sarge as he realized he had found a friend.
From that moment on, the dead look in Sarge’s eyes started to fade. He had made the choice that Joyce was his rider, his person. No one but Joyce was allowed on his back. The few times Elaine tried riding him he made it clear he wanted no part of her. He would immediately dance around, crow hop, and back into ditches.
For Joyce, the story was entirely different. He turned out to be an excellent trail horse: a real babysitter. If he lost his balance on slippery footing, he would scramble to keep her in the saddle. One time she tried to mount and just couldn’t quite get up on him. Sarge leaned into her and lowered his neck to help her make it into the saddle.
He had great patience with Joyce. She never could remember how to tack up correctly. He would stand quietly while she fumbled putting on his bridle. Sarge would glance over at Elaine, his bridle hanging askew, and let out a mighty sigh. The look on his face, says Elaine, “was priceless.”
Sarge seemed to read Joyce’s mind; he was always impeccably tuned in to her. His ears would flick back and forth while she rode him, assessing her mood minute by minute. If she were upset, he would be the perfect ride, taking not a step out of place. If she were in high spirits, he would match her with his own brand of high jinks: tail flagging, neck arched, prancing down the road with all the brio of a youngster.
Over the next two years, his back became strong and level, his weight returned to normal, his lip firmed and his coat shone. He became a beautiful liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and a sparkle in his eyes. For a horse his age, his stamina was incredible, and he had the cleanest legs of any horse Elaine had ever known.
Eventually, Sarge forgot the barrels, and enjoyed galloping across open meadows. He even won ribbons at some local hunter paces.
Sarge came to Elaine and Joyce in pitiable shape, without a friend anywhere. They gave him a loving home with the best of feed and care, the freedom to come and go out of his stall as he pleased, and buddies to keep him company.
Although he was the last horse Elaine would have wanted in the trade, he turned out to be the best horse she could have received. He was, she says, “an angel in horse clothing.”