Of Monkeys and Horses (Volume 73 (again!), May-August 2000)
(I spent a lot of time in the spring and summer of 2000 looking for a companion horse for my horse, Rabbit.)
Sunday, July 9, 2000
Jeanne had told me that the place mentioned in the Horses for Sale ad is the large Arabian/exotic animal park at the corner of Highways 67 and 50, which I pass every time I go to Lake Geneva.
It's billed as "A Day At The Farm." They have dog day care, performing animal acts, hay wagon rides, etc. The proprietress is Dana Montana, owner of the infamous "Sugar Shack" male stripper club.
I navigated the long gravel drive and parked past signs stating the park was closed.
I saw these sights:
A young guy parked in the driver's seat of an empty hay wagon hitched to a team of Belgians; a miserable looking Bengal Tiger lying on the cement floor of a small double-walled wire enclosure; a man giving a talk to a group of about fifteen people in front of the tiger's cage; in the distance, two African lions in a small, boring enclosure; a large cage containing two ferrets reclining in hammocks; a short, frumpy blonde woman with a small, dark monkey on her shoulder speaking into a walkie-talkie. (The woman spoke into the walkie-talkie, not the monkey.) A few horses grazed in the far distance.
I carried the ad up to the least occupied person, the Belgian team driver, who pointed to the blonde woman and said, "That's Dana Montana, ask her yourself."
She turned out to be friendly enough, I guess. She kept calling me "Val." "What are you looking for, Val?" "How much are you looking to spend?"
I told her my upper, upper limit was $1,800 - for an older, well-broken horse - but I'd consider young ones as well.
"You should have called, all the horses are out on pasture." When I told her I had called, she said there was a day when the phones were off the hook.
She said, "$1,800? I could have you look at Vanessa. She's broke to ride, six years old. I had her for sale for $3,500 and Wade (here she pointed to the man giving the talk about the seemingly abject tiger) thought I was crazy; she should go for at least $4,000. But I want her to go to a good home so I'd be willing to let her go for $2,000. If you want to wait a few minutes, the show is almost over, then Wade can take you out to the pasture."
The whole time we talked, the little capuchin monkey stared at me suspiciously and curled himself around Dana's shoulder and head as tightly as possible. He had a tiny, shriveled head but I swear to god, he looked just like Richard Harris in Camelot. He kept cocking one eyebrow at me; he had a wrinkled forehead and a very intense gaze. The resemblance was uncanny.
Dana mentioned that Vanessa will put her ears back when she's in her stall because that's her space she's protecting. I didn't react much but I had already written the horse off. I said $1,800. Didn't she hear me? Ears back - now there's a red flag...still, I thought I'd go take a look since I was there.
Wade was "nice" but yet another annoyingly strident and opinionated "horse expert." He dissed Monty Roberts, panned John Lyons, scoffed at round pens, promoted the use of spurs. He's basically a circus trainer. He trains "liberty horses" - those horses who canter around a ring eight or fifteen at a time with no riders.
We hopped an ATV out to the pasture containing Vanessa and two other horses.
Two horses ran up to us to check us out. "These two are friendly," I said, "is either one of these Vanessa?"
"Don't go anthropomorphizing," Wade cautioned. "They're not being friendly, they're being aggressive. They're checking you out, they wanna know why you're in their pasture."
Vanessa ignored our arrival. She showed no interest in us. I asked if I could lift her front leg. Wade did it first, then I did it.
We talked for five minutes or so while she grazed.
I said, "May I pick up her hind leg?" He nodded. I started with my hand on top of her butt, ran it down her leg to her hock, at which point she kicked out. I stepped back. In case I hadn't gotten her message, she turned her butt toward me and kicked out at me with both hind legs. I could have gotten seriously hurt.
Wade blamed me. "Well, she hasn't been handled in four months, she didn't know you were there, you just grabbed at her leg..." What shysters! If I did something wrong, perhaps I could accept the first kick, meant to shake off my hand. But the second double-leg kick, after I stepped away, just revealed Vanessa to be a problem horse with a rotten attitude. I know they were just trying to palm off an icky, ruined horse on an unsuspecting buyer.
I merely said, "Well, I'm not interested." To myself I added, "I wouldn't take that horse if you gave me $2,000!" She's probably been abused - it's obvious she hates people. Who would take that on when there are so many nice horses available? Vanessa is a bitch - a big, bay bitch of a horse. It's probably not her fault - but she was awful. $4,000 - my eye!
During the time Wade and I were looking at Vanessa, a little foal had been born in the barn. I got to see a five to ten minute old foal! It was still all crumpled and wet. The mom, a white mare, stood at the back of the stall, bloody red placenta still hanging from her vagina. She looked shell-shocked. I praised her and her little baby for a few minutes; then I left.