Seville, My Ishmael
Seville was a beautiful Arabian stallion. He gave me much joy and much pain. Yet he was much more in my life than just a prized possession, or even the financial disaster that he turned out to be.
The American Saddlebred horse had always been our first love. I got my first one in the seventh grade. Madam Stark was the light of my life until John and I got married, even though she did rear up and fall over backwards on me and break my pelvis. I missed most of the eighth grade because of this.
After I met John in high school, we acquired together a beautiful black Saddlebred gelding named Peavine’s Artistic Denmark. He had been a five gaited, then a three gaited show horse of a sort and then became a jumper before he became our trail horse complete with roached mane and set tail which was also roached (like a mule’s). We kept him until John joined the army. Desperate to sell him before he left to go to basic training, John decided to sell him at the Saturday Night Sale in Birmingham Hide and Tallow. It was under the viaduct on First Avenue. Good horses would go to individuals and dude ranches, and sadly, others would go for the “killers,” dog meat. As we had no access to trucks and trailers, John rode Denmark all the way from Shades Mountain to First Avenue South, right through the middle of downtown Birmingham. Before the sale began, John sold him for $35 to a farmer for his children to ride.
There were lots of Saturday night horse shows in Alabama in those days and I had been watching the beautiful Saddlebred show horses perform since I was very young. Quite naturally my affection was for them, so when John and I got back into horses after our children were born it was with Saddlebreds. After several prosperous years at Heathermoor Farm we went through some hard times and couldn’t sell our horses. John was depressed about it and I prayed that God would give him something to encourage him. During this time the Arabian horses were being marketed internationally in an amazing way as “living art.” There were wonderful tax advantages to this industry. Since the Arabian was raised in many countries, great tax deductions could be had for traveling anywhere if you were in the Arab horse business. The major financial magazines were declaring that investments in Arabian horses were a good bet. So we began to look at these quaint little horses and John got very excited about the financial prospects. I looked at these horses with him, but my heart would yearn for our rangy, high going Saddlebreds.
Then some other eager entrepreneurs came up with a new twist. The Arabian horse was beautiful as “living art,” but as performing show horses they were not nearly as exciting as the Saddlebred. Breeding Arabians to Saddlebreds might give this ancient breed more action and greater size.
Thus the National Show Horse breed was established. For five thousand dollars Arabian stallions could be nominated to the NSH stud book and their foals out of American Saddlebred mares would be National Show Horses. This amazing marketing program was catapulting this new breed into the limelight.
This seemed to be the answer to our problem. Breed our wonderful Saddlebred mares to nominated Arabian stallions and sell the foals for fortunes! How could we do this? We didn’t have that kind of money. To buy our own stallion would cost thousands of dollars that we didn’t have. Then one day the impossible happened.
A commercial horse van was traveling through Birmingham on its way to Scottsdale, Arizona, a thriving center for wealthy people totally caught up in the Arabian horse fever. On board was a little bay mare belonging to an important investor in the Arabian horse market in South Carolina. The little mare was en route to one of the very most important personages in the Arabian business who resided in Scottsdale, Arizona. The mare had fallen in the van and wouldn’t get up. Frantic, the driver got the Birmingham phone book and called the first horse vet he could find. It happened to be our vet, a most unusual lady who doctored only horses. She worked closely with my husband on some very interesting cases involving “slinging” horses with broken legs and getting a horse out of the hay loft of a barn where it had climbed up a long twisted ladder-like staircase and other such exotic cases. Naturally she called John to help her with the downed mare.
They were able to get the mare, Fireglow, into our trailer and hauled her to a comfortable stall in our barn. Soon after contacting her owner in South Carolina, John agreed to haul the mare for a very handsome sum of money to Scottsdale as soon as she recovered from her injury.
The trip to Scottsdale was quite an adventure. John had wanted me to stay home because he was going to drive straight through and get back home quickly. Feeling like we were in desperate need of a vacation, I prevailed on him to let me go. We traveled into the night until we couldn’t go any further, then we got a room in a little western motel. After we had unloaded Fireglow and walked her around in the dark night of the parking lot, we put her to bed in the two horse trailer. We had never had a horse in our care that was worth so much money, $500,000, so we backed the trailer up to our room door, planning to be gone before morning light and somebody saw us.
After interesting breaks and wonderful conversations with very different and interesting folks at pre-dawn and midnight hours in fancy truck stops, which were all a totally new world to me, we finally arrived in Scottsdale. We found our way to the palatial stable where Fireglow would reside, which was the wing of an elegant home where her new owners lived in style. The hall of the stable- it could not be called a barn- literally opened with sliding glass doors into the living room of the mansion. There were oriental rugs and chandeliers decorating this connection of the horse abode and human one.
Residing in the stable was the first of this establishment’s National Show Horse herd, a not so elegant American Saddlebred mare. She was to be bred to one of the man’s magnificent Arab stallions in the beautiful horse palace. We were not able to see her out of the stall because the brushes were all in the sterilizer. Oh my! What would these folks have thought if they had seen the community unsterilized brushes Fireglow had been groomed with in an ordinary barn with rats and cats living in it.
The next morning we began our vacation at Fireglow’s expense. Thoughts of this new venture in the horse business came at a very critical time. I was strongly feeling John’s depression, though he would never talk about it because he never complained. Only I did that. He was feeling his responsibility to provide for us and didn’t know where the money could come from. He was hoping we had found the answer.
I was the one who was complaining, thinking God had led us to a dead end in our walk with Him through the adventures of Heathermoor Farm. In the several beautiful days ahead we traveled to the Grand Canyon, the beautiful snow covered mountains near Flagstaff, Arizona, and the exotic desert landscapes nearby. These days were certainly planned by God as the classroom for some important teaching from Him that I desperately needed. I was reading from the book of Job. I, like Job, was arguing with God about our circumstances. We had tried our best to live by faith on this adventure, but the foundations of hope and supply had seemed to dry up and I had begun to deliver questions and accusations to God. As I saw the majesty of His creation stretching out before me, in the quietness of being away from the everyday turmoil, I began to ponder it. I began to hear Elihu’s dissertation to Job about the majesty of God revealed in the creation, and the righteousness of God in His dealings with us, if only we would see. Then the light began to dawn on me through the fog of my rebellious thoughts when God began to speak from the whirlwind to Job, and also to me, “Who is this that darkens council by words of knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.’”
I went home with the beginnings of a much needed humility and a new realization that I was not the Almighty and that surely “His ways were not our ways and His thoughts were not our thoughts,” and His ways were indeed past our finding out. Yet I still had much to learn.
It seemed we had really connected with the solution God had given us for our financial predicament. Our adventure with Fireglow had put us in touch with some of the very top people in the Arabian horse business. We had an open door to look at many fine horses and many different angles of the business. We thought the most efficient way was to buy our own stud, so we went looking. Never telling anyone that we had no money. After all, wasn’t God our source and hadn’t we been on this path before God had given us the magnificent Saddlebred stallion, Rex?
Our prayers seemed to be answered miraculously when my sisters wanted to sell some family land. We were presented our share. By trading some of our mares in addition we had the money to buy the stallion we wanted. A miracle seemed to have taken place! I prayed for the wisdom to know if we should spend the money in this way. As the scripture said, “Everything must be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses.” God had always spoken to me by causing the general Word of God to suddenly become the Rhea Word to me. The Scripture would light up like a neon sign (figuratively) when He was speaking it to me. This time however, the verses that I found didn’t have that charge and I never found but one seemingly confirming scripture, and I was stretching that one. Yet, hadn’t I prayed for something that would give John hope? Hadn’t I been willing to sacrifice my heart’s desire to give him this opportunity? Hadn’t the circumstances worked together supernaturally? Even though the business advice we had received had been favorable, the “peace that passeth understanding” failed to “mount guard and garrison around my heart.” I turned to the way of the flesh and my own understanding. So, El Paso Seville came to Heathermoor Farm and we hailed a new day of prosperity.
For the next two years things went great. We collected many expensive stud fees from Seville. We had many beautiful colts from our Saddlebred mares. We had all sorts of deals going with Arabian enthusiasts. Then suddenly the market dropped out of the Arabian horse business. A year later another blow befell us and we were forced to move the location of Heathermoor Farm, but that’s another story. Then John died. I was left all alone with Seville, his colts and other horses. My nieces and I went on with the business of teaching riding lessons and training horses for our many young riders.
Seville was a beautiful stallion which had cost us so much, and I enjoyed watching him. But, he was totally useless to me and I could not sell him now. One day I was lounging him watching his graceful movements, admiring the muscles rippling under his sleek mahogany side when a voice spoke to me, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son.” I pondered it for some weeks. Then the same thing happened again. The truth began to dawn on me. Seville was my Ishmael. And, he was literally an Arab too!
Many years ago, God had called Abraham to leave his father’s house and go to a land he would give him, where he would make of him a mighty nation. Many years went by and Abraham was eighty-five years old and still did not have a son. His wife Sarah gave him her maid hoping to produce the long awaited son that she had failed to conceive. From this union came Ishmael. But God appeared again to Abraham thirteen years later and told him that Ishmael was not the promised son, but that the son through whom his inheritance would come would come from his own wife. Abraham was over a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety. The main artery running all through the Word of God is forever sorting the way of the promise that comes through faith from the works of the law or the natural way of doing things.
God had given us our first love, the American Saddlebred horse, but we were in a hard place and we had taken matters into our own hands. We had tried to do the practical thing even if it wasn’t what was really in our hearts. We had forgotten that we had asked God years before to teach us to live by faith alone. We had forgotten the promise which always comes through faith. Faith is the title deed of substance yet unseen. The enemy of our souls has his way of laying unusual circumstances in our path, but at their center they contradict the Word of God. We had done as Abraham did long ago when he too had tried to make the promise come by his own plan, the natural way that was at hand. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death.” With his aged wife’s encouragement he tried to bring about God’s promise through Hagar, his servant. The promise comes when the entire natural is against it, when Abraham and his wife were way past the natural time of producing a son, the produced one.
And so I had to give the beautiful and expensive stallion away.