They had nothing. Not a dime to their name. They had lost their business, and soon they would be losing their home.
But that brown and white paint sure was beautiful. And fiery. Every time they drove to the barn, he was out in the paddock. Snorting, bucking, rearing, and tearing around like a horse possessed.
Frank and Dee Mancuso had come to the barn so that their daughters, Deanna and Theresa, could take pony rides. Deanna, who was 11, quickly outgrew the pony rides and wanted to go for a trail ride. City Island, had two trails. One went north along the Hutchinson River Parkway and then came back, the other went south along the parkway and then returned.
Deanna got to go on her trail ride. She liked it.
As she and her father, Frank, continued to come to the barn, they grew to like horses a lot. But they both liked Paints the best.
And they couldn't help looking at that beautiful wild paint in the paddock.
The Mancusos had owned a boatyard. It began with big dreams and ended up a nightmare. They'd bought it in 1987, and lived on the property. In 1991, they had to abandon it--it was contaminated with Agent Orange. It was a huge loss and bitter disappointment. No one had bothered to inform the Mancusos when they bought it. No one seemed to care that, not only would it wipe them out financially but it would also sicken all of the family.
They were devastated, frustrated with the powers that be, and feeling rather hopeless. They needed something, some kind of change in their lives.
Frank and Deanna told Dee about the horse. "Ma, you have to go look at this horse," Deanna would say.
One day, Dee asked Frank what the horse's name was. "$2500." was his answer. Horses at Jim Martyn's barn didn't have names. They had prices.
The family was clueless about buying a horse. They didn't know how horses were supposed to behave, or what you would look for when purchasing a horse.
Dee's father knew how much Deanna and Frank liked the brown and white paint.
He wanted to buy the horse for Deanna, a parting gift for he was dying of cancer.
But he didn't have any money.
Frank wanted the horse, too. He saw how much his daughter enjoyed the horses and he wanted her to have one. It would be nice to have something positive in their lives after all they had been going through.
So Deanna tried riding the Paint. She was small, and a beginner rider, and he was a lot of horse. Too much horse for her, most people thought. But she still wanted him.
Somehow, Frank came up with a $100 deposit for the Paint. Jim would allow him to make time payments. Jim was not too worried that someone else would want the horse. Everyone thought the Paint was crazy. Besides, two people had bought him, and quickly returned him.
The Mancusos didn't realize that the horse was much more difficult than a new horse owner should ever take on. He was so beautiful and so wild, such a contrast to all they had been dealing with. So the whole family chipped in. Frank, his mother, Dee's mother and father, all contributed. It took two weeks, but they raised the $2500.
The Mancusos now owned the four year old Paint.
The Paint was so wild that his halter had almost grown into his face. No one dared remove it because they would never be able to get it back on his head again.
Jim's barn was mainly a sale barn and hack stable, so they moved the horse to a place nearby in Eastchester, a place run by Marie DiSalvo. It was a fun place to be. Marie knew a lot and was wonderful with Deanna and Theresa. There were lots of kids at this barn; it had the family atmosphere that the Mancusos wanted.
There were cowboys at this barn, too, men who were there from dawn till dusk. They wore long coats and cowboy hats.
Frank had raced funny cars at one period of his life. Nitro is the fuel that makes funny cars go. The paint horse was fast, very fast. So he was named Nitro.
Unfortunately, Nitro was very uncooperative and became more so as he lived at the new barn. He wouldn't let Deanna brush him pinning his ears and threatening her. He tried to bite people, and kicked an instructor. Once when Deanna tried to ride him, he just stood in the ring for an hour and wouldn't move, reducing her to tears.
The cowboys at the barn all tried to ride him. Everyone thought that they could ride him, that they would be the one to be successful. Their tactics were rough, their attitude that they would tame that bronc. Nitro dumped them all.
The advice from everyone was the same. "Get rid of that horse." The more people told Frank that, the more stubborn he got. He would not get rid of Nitro. He knew what fate was in store for the horse if he was sold.
Besides, under all the gruffness, the horse was sweet. Sometimes when Frank went in his stall, Nitro would lay his head on Frank's shoulder and snuggle.
Finally, one trainer, Raoul started to make some progress with the Paint. He seemed to know how to get into the horse's mind. Unfortunately he could be severe at times. He used a wire noseband on Nitro. It did do the trick, for Nitro was now at least controllable under saddle, no longer a running, bucking bronc.
Deanna worked hard with him. She patiently practiced what Raoul taught her for hours. She would walk Nitro directly at the rail, where he would have to turn left or right. He would choose one direction and Deanna would praise him, and let him think that whatever direction he chose was exactly the one she wanted.
Still, he wouldn't let her brush him or spend time with him in his stall, things the other kids could do with their horses. Nitro would bite, kick and strike if you went in his stall, particularly if there was food involved. Nitro was extremely defensive about food.
One day Deanna rode in a clinic. The clinician chose Nitro, who looked so beautiful standing there, to use as an example. The clinician acted irresponsibly, running his crop across an unknown horse. Nitro protested violently, kicking out and just missing the instructor.
"Get rid of this horse!" he said.
Frank wasn't about to get rid of the horse, but he didn't want his daughter getting hurt either. So he decided to take Nitro over.
He found another horse for Deanna, an old and grubby but very kind black and white Paint. Snickers was headed for the meat truck. Instead he came home with the Mancusos. Now Deanna had a horse she could groom and take to shows and do all the things the other kids did.
Frank was a rank beginner, too, but, he took on the wild horse with the patience of someone who's spent a lifetime with horses. A bit of the horse whisperer, a part of Frank that he probably didn't even know existed, resided in his soul. He spent months doing nothing more than leading Nitro out to some grass and letting him graze.
He would also sit in Nitro's stall, sit there for hours. Nitro got used to his presence and started to play with him. He would grab the zipper on Frank's coat and pull it up and down. If Frank wore anything with strings on it, Nitro would grab the strings and pull them out. It took months, but Nitro began to accept Frank. He learned that this human meant him no harm.
Frank also learned to ride Nitro. At first he would do nothing more than walk. He didn't know how to stop Nitro, so walking was the only safe gait.
One day, Frank was asked to join some of the cowboys who were going on a trail ride. Frank told the cowboys he wasn't sure if he should, He only walked, he told them.
The cowboys assured him that that was all they would do.
They were a ways out on the trail when the cowboys took off galloping. Nitro naturally took off after them. Frank could barely stay on, grabbing the horn of the western saddle in desperation. He had never ever cantered, never mind gallop.
The trail make a sharp turn, and the cowboys turned with it. Nitro didn't. He kept running, flat out, right onto the Hutchinson River Parkway. He and Frank plunged head first into traffic. Frank was sure he was about to die.
Somehow, Frank didn't die.
Everyone said "That horse is crazy."
There weren't many people at the barn who liked Nitro; they were all afraid of him. He had to be kept in a separate stall, away from everyone else.
But the man who took care of Nitro, the one who cleaned his stall and brought him in and out, loved him. "This is the best horse in the barn," he told Frank.
Frank had faith in his horse. He didn't know what in Nitro's past made him so angry. He could tell the horse had been lied to, learned not to trust, and that was something he and Frank had in common.
Frank did know that he needed to learn to ride. He began spending time with an elderly man at the barn
Mr. Lipper was from Israel, and was in his 80's. When he lived in Israel, Mr. Lipper depended on a horse for his livelihood. In his day it was quite common. His family used their horse to haul junk. Mr. Lipper had learned a lot about horses.
He was good company for Frank, and taught him a lot.
As Frank learned to ride, Nitro's good qualities started to emerge. Barring the first episode, Nitro turned out to be a wonderful trail horse. He became very steady and reliable. Dee, another brand new rider, could take Nitro out on trail and he would not put a foot wrong with her.
Nitro's sense of humor also began to shine through. Frank would tie knots to secure Nitro to something, or in something. Nitro would untie them. Frank could tie knots with the best of them. After all, he'd owned a marina. He tried them all: bowlines, square knots, the toughest knots he could come up with. Nitro untied them all effortlessly.
Once Frank took Nitro in a "sensory" clinic. The idea was to get horses used to all kinds of things so that they would be unflappable. Nitro already was. Balls were thrown at him, he had to walk across a blue tarp, firecrackers were set off, he even had to walk through fire. Nitro did it all without batting an eyelash.
Nitro had never had an equine friend. He had to be turned out alone because he would attack whatever horse he was put out with.
Snickers changed all that. Nitro accepted him instantly and they became fast friends. Nitro respected, and learned from, Snicker's wisdom. The old horse had a very calming effect on the young one.
When the Mancusos had to abandon the boatyard, they had moved to New Rochelle. They wanted to escape from this horrible episode in their lives, and had started looking for a house to rent in Dutchess County, Millbrook was a horsey area with a well kept, never ending trail system (no running into traffic here!) so they had been looking there. They'd been looking for a while,
It was a good thing that they'd been searching, because they suddenly had to get out of the New Rochelle house, with only three days notice. Frank's mother had just died, and he didn't even have the money to give her a funeral. They were only too happy to get out of New Rochelle.
Miraculously, a place in Millbrook became available just when they needed it. It wasn't just a house, either. In the back yard sat a three stall barn.
The Mancusos, Nitro, and Snickers all moved into their new home, leaving behind the pain and tragedy of the past few years.
Now they could sit on their patio and watch their horses in the paddocks. LIfe had definitely improved.
One day Frank noticed that, instead of grazing, Nitro and Snickers were standing next to each other, not moving. Nitro had his head across Snicker's back.
Frank went to investigate. He discovered Snickers with his foot through the wire fence. Had he panicked or pulled back, he surely would have suffered a severe injury. But Nitro wouldn't let him. By placing his head across Snicker's back, he calmed him and kept him still until help could arrive.
The sweet horse that Frank had had glimpses of was coming more and more to the surface.
One day Frank and Nitro were, as they loved to do, racing through the trails. As they came to the top of a hill, they encountered some loose gravel. Slipping, Nitro's feet were jerked out from under him. He fell fast and hard, landing on Frank's leg. Nitro was up in an instant, quick to get off of his rider. Frank took a long time to get up, badly injured.
Nitro waited, patiently. Frank couldn't walk. He finally managed to drag himself onto Nitro's back. Nitro carried him home carefully, mindful of Frank's injuries, not heeding the blood that was pouring from his own legs.
Frank had had tremendous patience with Nitro, giving him time and love when anyone else would have quit. Nitro responded. He has become Frank's good friend, Although for most people, he is still a challenging ride, the bond between Nitro and Frank is strong. There's a difference in Nitro's attitude when he sees Frank, when he hears his voice. Ears that had been pinned back prick forward, eyes soften.
One day Snickers was down. No one could get him up. Frank pulled and tugged, but it was no use. Was this the end for the old man? In desperation, Frank got Nitro from his stall. He asked Nitro to get him up. He was amazed when Nitro bit Snickers hard on the withers and Snickers jumped to his feet. Nitro had finally found a friend, and he wasn't about to lose him!
The Mancuso family had been at their wit's end. Their whole lives had been totally uprooted, they had lost everything.
One spirited brown and white Paint, a Paint who almost lost everything, too, caught their attention. Nitro gave their lives a whole new direction, he was "the glue that kept them all together." The brown and white horse drew them to horses. They came to live in Millbrook where they could keep horses. Deanna chose a career in the horse industry. And the Mancusos started a barn where the whole family pitches in and where they love to be.
Frank says, "I don't know what would have happened to us if it weren't for Nitro. We didn't know where we would go, what we would do. Nitro showed us the way."
Part of the mission of the barn is to rescue abused horses. For in rescuing those who are unwanted, we often find ourselves.