Caveat Emptor

"Now, boys, this team is broke, stone broke!" The auctioneer's chant and banter swell from loud speakers. A pair of geldings prance, stepping high, nostrils wide. "Now look at those arching necks!" he sings, to sell "an honest team." Handlers make them dance

from rows of holding stalls - hitches, teams, or singles; Belgians, blond and red sorrel; Percherons, black, white, or dapple gray. Stinging whips prompt their legs and screams as bidders press against the steel corral. He hawks them "choice" or "two times the money,"

Paints, Shires, or spotted mules. "That mare's a little stringy, boys. The gelding's short in air. Now, does that filly show or what?" His smoke-filled voice urges, warns. He wears a diamond ring, string tie and western shirt with silver buttons on his cuffs, a white Stetson hat.

In the stalls owners brush and file, plait manes with ribbon, bunch the tails, and spray the new-shod hooves a glossy black: there, the ornamental harness, the smile pleased with itself, knots and galls, vials of secret color, needles in the neck.

"We'll sell that filly open, boys. The vet- checked mare's in foal. That gelding, boys, eighteen hands! He's what it's all about!" The rhythm coils, explodes, to aid, abet. He'd tease Lazarus from the dead: he toys with men. As weathered Amish hands sprout

reins like living sinew, teams strung tight as violins, step tempered figure-eights across the ring. The English love parades, matched horses, patina and lavish weight of patent leather harness, chrome highlights, stitched and raised designs. Smoke pervades

the air, stings the eyes of six-month colts, Clydesdale fillies, Suffolk mares. "That stud is only green broke, boys. The bay mules drive and back, hitch or swing. The stilts that yearling wears for legs are in his blood. Give me five thousand! Only fools

would let that horse go by!" His wry voice strokes and dares as seeking hands of men read horses' flesh as blind men cipher braille; and there behind the gates, in drumming noise and promises, buckskin, bay and spotted roan, black, white, and sorrel queue for sale.

"Boys, that hitch of nine will have to go, brothers, mothers, sons, and full sisters, the ones you've waited for all afternoon!" Ringed in shadows, handlers whip them through, creatures from storybooks: destriers, pullers of hay carts beneath a russet sun.

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