Connoisseur at Large™: A Horse, of Course

  • Jack Smith

The doorbell rang, and the Connoisseur opened the front door to find his old chum Smedley at the threshold. He looked as if he might burst with excitement. “You’ll never guess what I’ve just done,” he exulted, rubbing his hands together in glee as he bustled through the foyer toward the bar.

“You’ve bought your daughter a horse,” the Connoisseur responded.

Smedley’s jaw dropped. “That’s right! How did you know?” he asked, dumbfounded, while his host poured two glasses of sherry.

“Just a wild guess,” said the Connoisseur, surreptitiously inventorying his friend’s outfit. Smedley was togged out like some haute rustic fantasy, in Wellington boots, cord slacks, a tweed hacking jacket, and a tie adorned with little stirrups.

The Connoisseur knew the signs: His friend had become Equestrian by Proxy. It hardly mattered that Smedley had never been much of a horseman and, in fact, couldn’t tell a martingale from a lead rein. He could now embrace the trappings and mannerisms of the mounted elite with temerity. Quandra, his wife, would sport a sterling silver horse and rider on the hood of her Range Rover. Smedley would permit himself to be seen in muddy boots on errands around town—“Just back from the stables,” he would explain. His office and home would be festooned with photos of costly horseflesh and, of course, Daddy’s little darling in hard hat and jodhpurs. Later, with any luck, there would be ribbons. All this, without arousing a scintilla of derision. Au contraire, they would point to him as a man of substance, affluence, and pedigree—all because he had a daughter who rode.

Speaking of whom, Daddy’s little darling would be riding in a pony club event a few weeks hence, and “I thought maybe you could give her some pointers,” Smedley said.

The Connoisseur suppressed a groan. His own standing in the horse world, such as it was, was based on the flimsiest of circumstances. Years ago, as a young airline executive, his responsibilities included presenting the Prix St. Georges trophy at East Coast dressage shows. For some reason, this gave rise to the presumption that he, too, was an accomplished rider—an impression he was loath to discourage. This perception was reinforced at a preshow cocktail party at the Myopia Hunt Club, outside Boston, when an earnest-looking horsewoman bustled over to inquire, “Oh, I hope you can help me. At what age should I begin jumping my hunter?”

Any number of humorous ripostes (“You look old enough to me”) came to mind, but this was neither the time nor the place. Fortunately, the Connoisseur recalled an old New Mexican ranch hand’s response to every far-fetched question about horses: “It all depends on his mouth.”

“Oh, of course,” she answered gratefully, before rushing off to repeat the Connoisseur’s words of wisdom to her friends, who eyed him from across the room with new regard.

So of course, he told his friend, he would do what he could. Over time, however, Smedley became increas-ingly scarce. Occasionally he would call to report that he had bought a van, or that he had to take the horse to be shoed, that he had to travel to a distant hunt club for another weekend event, or that he’d thrown out his back while loading the van with hay.

Nevertheless, Smedley’s travail paid off the night of the big show. Smedley and Quandra held hands and dabbed at their eyes as their daughter trotted and cantered around the ring.

A few weeks later Smedley stopped by again with the latest update on his daughter’s equestrian career. “She’s decided she doesn’t want to ride any more,” he said, disconsolate.

“What? She’s lost interest in horses?” The Connoisseur was incredulous.

“No, she’s decided that what she really wants to do is carriaging.”

The Connoisseur could read his friend’s mind. They would need separate van, truck, and storage space for the carriage. Instead of one horse, there would be at least four, which had to be stabled, trained, and fed.

“How much are those horses going to set me back?” Smedley lamented.

He was asking the right man. “It all depends on their mouths,” said the Connoisseur. 

Photo by James Lipman
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