Crystal always had a weakness for babies. Not when they were tiny, with milk dripping from their whiskery muzzle as they peered from under their mother's tail. Crystal didn't fall for them when their baby coat began to fall away to reveal their true color either.
Crystal fell for the weanlings who raced in a wild herd around her. Her tender heart went out to the rowdy little boogers who were still sure the world was theirs.
She loved their curiosity and timid gestures of friendship. Crystal even loved the mischievous nips and carelessly thrown kicks from impudent colts and fillies who had no thought of halter, bit or saddle.
Which is how Crystal ended up with Fallon.
Fallon was slim-legged and delicate. She was a fairy-like filly with big eyes and a dished face. The little filly with a deep chestnut coat was a surprising stand-out from her solid boned, coarse headed brothers and sisters.
Crystal had said she was done with babies. She had bought her good Arab/Quarter gelding, James (his registered name is Bond, James Bond), as a yearling and had invested heavily in his training. He had become a solid minded citizen, but not without a lot of work, patience and money.
"Next time I'll buy a broke horse," she swore, "for what James cost to train I could buy a good one."
Of course that was before she met Fallon.
Crystal bought her and then kicked herself in the butt pretty regularly for doing it. When she brought her to me for training as a two-year-old she kicked herself in the butt and started writing checks too. Oh well.
Fallon broke out fairly easy, except for only running backwards for the first three or four rides. She was flighty and sensitive, but showed a lot of promise. Crystal took regular lessons and kept up with her filly's progress.
When Fallon turned three we started her rein work and a little bit of cow work. She was capable and willing with enough spook and blow to keep her interesting.
Crystal took her out on the trails and worked through many of Fallon's fear issues. It was starting to look like Fallon would make a decent show horse.
I got to show Fallon for the first time in the spring of her 4-year-old year. She looked at her cow in the herd work and ran a clean and decent reining pattern. She handled the chaos of a NRCHA, AQHA, NRHA combined show and was calm and relaxed about being stalled for the first time. She out-scored Sonita in her reining. Crystal was happy, excited and proud.
Her little filly had the makings of a competitive cowhorse.
One night I got a late call from Crystal.
"Hey Crystal, what's up?" I asked.
"Fallon's colicked. The vet is going to do surgery," Crystal's voice was shaking and I could feel her pain and tears through the phone.
"How can Norm do surgery? He's not set up for it. I'd think he'd send you to Littleton Large," I said.
Our vet was great and reliable but had a mobile practice. I was a little confused.
"I couldn't get a hold of Norm, so I'm using one of the boarder's vet, Dr. Death" she told me..
Of course that wasn't his real name, or the name Crystal gave me. It was the name this clown had earned after several botched cases where the only common thread was a dead horse at the end of the story. He was notorious for jumping into colic surgery.
I became very still.
"What's wrong?" Crystal asked.
"I think surgery is pretty drastic, I'd sure want Norm to look at her."
"I don't know what to do, he's prepping right now."
Interfering with a client's choice about a serious issue like this one is a treacherous road. As her trainer I knew I could influence Crystal easily. If Fallon died because I stopped her from operating on her filly it would weigh on my shoulders for the rest of my life. I stayed silent, trying to decide what to do.
"What would you do if it was your horse?" Crystal almost begged.
The panic and pain in her voice tore me apart. Crystal was my friend. Friends say what they feel, at least the good ones do, even if the outcome isn't ideal.
"If it was me, I would load my horse up and head for Littleton Large, I would trust the vets there to help me make an intelligent choice. I would feel safe there," I said in a rush.
"But Dr. Death said she could never survive the trip!"
I could tell Crystal was crying now.
"Crystal, why did you call me?" I asked as gently as I could.
"I don't really know," she said.
"If you called me because you have a gut feeling this man shouldn't operate on your horse, than go to Littleton Large. If you called me because you've made your decision and need support than I'll come out there and help you."
Crystal took Fallon to Littleton Large. The veterinarians listened to Fallon's gut, did some blood work and told her surgery might give the suffering little horse a 10% chance of survival.
Crystal had Fallon put down that morning. She told me she was done with babies.
Two years later, I was at the barn, saddling my second shift of horses. Crystal was hanging out, grooming Sonita for me and visiting.
"I've been thinking," she said.
There was something about her voice that gave me pause. I turned around and looked at her.
Crystal's eyes were huge, her face pale and strained. She tangled her fingers in Sonita's mane. Sonita jerked her head up and pinned her ears.
"I think I want to buy Sonita," she said.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
Crystal drew in a deep, quavering breath, "Yes. I'm sure. I can give you a down payment now. We're taking out a loan. I can pay off the balance when you get back from the Worlds."
Good enough. I had sold my horse.