I've been thinking all week on what to do my guest blog on. Do I want to be serious? Do I want to be funny? Do I want to share photos? What does everyone really want to know from me? And then it came to me. What is the one story that I mention in passing that everyone always wants to know more about? That's right. It has finally come time to tell the 'How I shipped a horse for the Mafia' story.
I grew up working at a harness racing training center. By the time I was 17, it was pretty clear I had a future in horses. I was everyone's go to girl, partly because I knew my stuff and wouldn't cut corners, party because teen labor is cheap. I was the one to feed horses when their trainers were away racing. I was the one to hand walk injured equines in the afternoons after everyone went home. I frequently took charge of my boss's string of ten race horses while he vacationed in Florida. One year, my willingness to do anything with the horses landed me in an interesting position.
Down the shed row from us was a trainer named Alex. He was a tall, lanky man in his 30's with a heavy Italian accent, dark hair, and mischievous eyes. I liked him because he let me ride his horses and because he occasionally bought me pizza. He was also the first person to let me groom horses when I showed up at the farm at age thirteen, bright eyed and starstruck by the chance to be so close to living, breathing Racehorses. I guess you can say he's the one who got my foot in the door.
Alex had an owner who he wasn't particularly fond of. She was a tall, blonde woman who came to the barn wearing silk blouses, short skirts, and high heals. I couldn't stand her or the way her perfume contaminated the barn. Alex was stuck with her because he needed the money. She was stuck with him because nobody else could stand her. She couldn't tell one horse from another, but she wanted to be in charge of everything. In the end, she and Alex came to an agreement. He would continue training her horses and she would not step foot in his barn.
One afternoon Miss Priss appeared in the barn aisle. Alex screamed at her to get lost and she hollered back that he couldn't talk to her like that. In a last ditch effort to get rid of her, Alex filled an oral syringe with water and sprayed it in her face and down her designer outfit. She shrieked like a banshee, stormed out of the barn, and pressed charges for assault.
In the end, the charges were dropped when the fake tanned owner realized nobody else would train her horses. Unfortunately for Alex, the paperwork never cleared the way it was supposed to. When Alex went to visit family in Italy a few weeks later, the post 9-11 government wouldn't let him back into the country.
In the mean time, I was out having a normal life. I was out with friends watching a movie when my phone buzzed quietly in my pocket. I let it go to voice mail. After the movie, we gathered in the lobby, laughing and having a good time. I gestured wildly with one hand while entering my voice mail password with the other. Suddenly, the gesturing stopped and the smile slid off my face and splattered on the ground.
From the other end of the line came a heavily accented, gruff male voice. "Hey, Nikki," (they called me Nikki at the track), "This is, uh, Joe. I need to ask you... a favor... Call me back, Nikki."
I put my phone on speaker and re-played the message. My friends joked about my mob boss buddy. An older, wiser me would have probably deleted the message and moved on with her life, but at 17 I simply joked, "You don't say no to the Mafia," and called him back. I was told briefly that there was a horse that needed to ship to Florida (okay, I don't drive a horse trailer...) and instructed to call back when I was at the barn.
I went home that night and filled my mom in on the newest development in my young life. Without loooking up from the vegetables on the cutting board, my mom replied, "I wonder *chop chop chop* if the Mafia *chop chop chop* still uses horses *chop chop chop* to ship their drugs *chop chop chop*"
"MOM!!! Don't say stuff like that..."
The following morning, I dialed the mysterious Florida number from the breezeway at work.
"There is a horse in stall 23," Joe's low voice greeted me from the depths of my phone. "See that she gets on the trailer."
"What trailer?" I asked, but the line had gone dead. "There's no horse in stall 23..." I mumbled to myself, but I walked down to the far end of the barn anyway. Sure enough, a dark bay filly with bright eyes and a lovely, dished face greeted me. "Well I'll be damned..."
But the strange things were just beginning. I was instructed to get the Coggins from one of the farm's many vets, Dr. G. Not really sure what went into getting a Coggins, I approached the vet truck and stuttered, "I, uh, need a Coggins."
Dr. G looked surprised to see me. "Ok. What's the horse's name?"
"I... don't know."
He stared blankly at me for a moment. Then realization dawned on his face. "Oooooh... you mean Joe's horse. Yes. Yes. Let me get that for you..." He rifled through the back of his truck and pulled out some paperwork in a heavy envelope. Before I could thank him, he was gone. To this day, I don't know the filly's name.
Some time after that, I got a call from an unknown number. By this point, unknown numbers were part of my daily routine so I answered. It was Brookledge, the horse transport company. More specifically, it was their headquarters. They were calling to confirm the Thursday ship date.
I got off the phone and walked to the other side of the 40
"Hmm, apparently Brookledge has my number," I commented idly.
"O, sweetheart," he sighed. "Everybody has your number now."
Two nights before the scheduled transport, just as I was getting ready for bed, Joe called me again.
"O good," I told him. "I was hoping to hear from you. Is there anything you want me to do for the horse before she loads up? Blanket? Wraps? Name tag?"
"Whatever. Don't worry about the horse. I need you to check on the stuff."
"Stuff?" I regretted asking before I had finished. "What stuff?"
"Be a doll. Drive down to the barn. Call me when you get there."
This sounded promising. "I, uh, have to go to the barn," I called to my mom on my way out the door.
"Of course you do, dear."
No way I was driving down to the barn by myself at. I grabbed my unsuspecting best friend and we packed into my 1986 Honda Accord (with the flippy lights).
"And none of this seems strange to you?" she asked.
"I don't want to talk about it."
We got to the barn and I called Joe. He instructed me to go to the hay trailer on the right hand side of the barn. So I found myself, at the ripe old age of 17, parked in front of what was supposed to be a hay trailer in the middle of the night with only my high beams for illumination. We swung open the heavy metal doors to reveal stacks and stacks of stuff; trunks with padlocks, harness bags sealed with duct tape, and RubberMaid containers so heavy we couldn't lift them.
"This is totally a drug deal, y'know," my best friend jeered.
Joe ran me through a check list of items. It was all there. "And two bags of grain," he finished with the only normal item on the list.
That's when Bruce appeared. Bruce was the farm's resident drunk. I never saw him without a beer in hand and his speech was slurred at best. On the days when he had to sober up to go to the races, he'd end up in the ER going through withdrawl. They'd give him a beer and send him on his way. So here's Bruce at 11pm, swaying slightly and wearing his little footy pajamas with the butt flap. I kid you not. And he tells me I can't take the grain because he paid for it and it needs to go to his horse, a claimer who once won a race at 99-1 odds. I was about to get in a tug of war with him, when I realized my life had just crossed the line into Ridiculous and let it go.
The following morning, Brookledge called me.
"We're very sorry, Nikki," the woman on the line told me, "but we've run into a quarantine issue in upstate New York. We won't be able to make it until Friday."
"No problem," I told her, then called Joe to fill him in on the changes. He didn't seem concerned.
Minutes later, I realized that I would be racing Friday and wouldn't be at the barn to meet the trailer. I panicked briefly before calling my best friend again.
"Is this about the Mafia horse?" she asked when she picked up.
"Yes it is, and stop calling her the Mafia horse!"
To make a long story short, my best friend came through for me and me the trailer while I was at the track. I spent the day on pins and needles, unable to sit still. My best friend assured me that it had all gone off without a hitch. The horse and all 'her' stuff got on the trailer. Nobody said two words to my best friend. They had pulled out of the driveway and gone on their merry way. Bruce was left behind, still clutching his bag of grain to his chest.
A few days later I got a call from Joe. "The stuff got here. Thank you, Nikki." I didn't ask about the horse.
Some time later, Alex came home and asked me, "Did Joe call you?"
"Yeah. I took care of it."
Alex breathed an audible sigh of relief. I walked away.
I have Joe's number saved in my phone as 'The Mafia' so an older, wiser me can ignore any future phone calls. I just like to think that if I ever need a favor... I know a guy.
Dom's blog: A Collection of Madcap Escapades
Dom's photos: DeviantART Gallery