Nothing graceful or enchanted about the barn at all — nothing to suggest it housed a Fairy King, or a creature not of this world, or … something. A concrete corridor ran the length of a handful of stalls, dark as dungeons, then turned abruptly into a wash stall. I guessed that the proprietress had hand-drawn the layout for her husband, who executed the concrete block building without asking questions. She was, it seemed, far more into riding horses than the feng shui of housing them. I wanted to erase and redraw. Widen the corridor. Make everything bigger. Get some windows in. I saw through an open door that the office was directly next to the wash stall, opposite. All that paperwork and tack waiting to be blasted with the water hose stressed me.
Doug and I stepped in from a scorcher of a spring day and squinted to adjust to the sudden loss of light. The woman quickly grabbed up the horse she had for sale; he shimmied out and around the corner and into the too-tight wash stall, while my husband and I jostled around in the unfamiliar space. We were trying to figure out the limits of backing into a corner in the dark, while lifting our feet up and away from under the gigantic hooves that plodded by. When we all finally settled into our places, he and I found ourselves too close to judge the enormous animal being saddled up before us
What was that thing?
We could see his head far above, unusually intelligent, kind eyes, the way he cocked his countenance around to gather information (not “horse-like” at all) — ears at least five inches long? Neither horse nor mule, an equine crossed with a centaur, maybe? One quarter human? Moments later, we were out in a newly mowed riding ring, of sorts. I swung up on the giant and encouraged him to move out. His massive legs — thick bones connected by extra-large joints — reached into the super-long stride characteristic of his gaited breed. My husband would later comment on how strangely calm I was on such a big, young animal I knew nothing about: “You looked like you were sitting on a chair. You didn’t seem to be paying attention to him, or what he might do.” Well, I already knew he had had no training whatsoever — he only has two gaits, and the most I could ask of him was that he would go forward in those two gaits, turn, and stop. But mostly, I sensed his brain just did not work like any horse’s I had ever known, and that somehow, for some reason, within that odd framework he was not easily rattled.
The next day, my trainer and his equally knowledgeable wife drove the hour away at my excited insistence, to give him a thorough, more critical examination than I could. My trainer put him through all manner of tests for two hours, rode him, tried to make him freak out, stressed his joints, banged on his hooves so hard I winced for the horse. My trainer’s wife offered a running commentary through the process. They, too, were sure he was not drugged. In the final analysis they found him green but sound, with an extraordinarily sweet disposition. Very, very different in the way he thinks. My trainer’s wife tried to find the words. “Babified?” she asked. We all wondered if maybe he had been raised in a house, with humans, until he was too big to sleep in the guest room.
Continuing my long habit of being the Statue of Liberty of the domesticated animal world — “bring me your odd, your abused, your unwanted” — I bought him.
My horse experience is quite dated, and I don’t pretend to know much anymore. But I have always had an eye for conformation, which is really just aesthetics, defined. Form following function. And I can confidently say this about my new horse: he is a big bony bag of conformation faults. But in ways I cannot explain, they work somehow, if you’re not absolutely committed to buying a horse.
I held my breath as my high school-age daughter approached him for the first time — my young artist who inherited a concentrated version of my eye for aesthetics, the same gnawing sense of annoyance when anything is out of balance, visually or spatially. She was already furious with me for having purchased him without "consulting" her, and she was having a big old time playing up her greatly inflated sense of self-righteousness. She was cocked and ready to shoot me right between the eyeballs with a stream of angry words — she needed only to lay eyes on the new addition to the family menagerie for confirmation of the mistake she was sure I had made.
But her tight-lipped bitch-look melted instantly instead. She grinned from ear to ear, completely unaware that she was giggling out loud from time to time. “Ohhh! He’s adorable!”
So now we start the process of figuring out what, or who, he is, exactly.
To begin: His name is Cosmo, and I think he is a Jim Henson creation.