Author Lara O’Brien can be reached at 774-563-0292
Adrianne Ryan 917-434-5242
all photographs by firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information
To contact Miley.
Where to stay. The Loughrea Hotel, Loughrea, Co, Galway.
Official Website of The Lough Rea Hotel & Spa, Co. Galway
October 5th, 2015. Ballinasloe, Galway, Ireland.
After attending a travel writing workshop with Perry Garfinkel at the Noepe center for the literary arts on the island of Martha's Vineyard, students Adrianne Ryan, a photographer, and Lara O'Brien, novelist, took off on an adventure to capture the traditional horse trading world of Ireland.
We heard he was in Ballinasloe. Of course, he would be. I remembered his name from all those years ago. Miley Cash, the king of the horse traders. So we went in search of him with a hope to learn the art of the horse deal and to find out, what makes the man, a legend.
Ballinasloe horse fair dates back to the 18th century. It begins on the first Sunday in October and ends the following Saturday attracting horses and their handlers from all over Ireland, buyers and sellers from around the world, the carnival, onlookers and the curious, farmers and fortune-tellers. It remains the oldest and largest horse fair in Europe.
The six acre field moves in waves with horses of every color and size, striding to show off their cadence. There’s no fancy auctions or sales ring, just a spit and a hand shake. The buying and selling is done the age old way, through talking up and talking down, men in black suits, raincoats, and mucky boots, getting the deal done.
Among the throngs of fair goers, I saw him driving a small black pony. The pony had a white facial stripe, blinkers, and a neat gig with orange wheels. He sat proudly onboard and moved easily among the crowds. He gathered the reins together, came to a halt, and held out his hand. He had a firm shake. He wore glasses, green tweed cap, corduroys, navy blue coat, and immediately gave the sense that all was well in the world, with his steady look, warm smile, and calm demeanor.
“Jump up,” he said, waving a hand to climb on board and immediately an adventure into the world of horse trading began. With the gentle shake of the long reins we moved off into the frenzy of horse activity, as many men and men-in-the-making, tried to catch his eye with their pony or cob. They were there to sell and Miley was the man to buy.
There was a secret language of head nodding going on, that (I imagine) signals a deal in the making. He sees a horse he likes, and tips his head towards the farmer, the farmer nods, it’s more a raising of an eyebrow in response. Miley sees his horse, he’s interested. (I’m guessing here. Maybe he said, how’s your mother? Or, let’s have tea later? Who knows?) But the nodding is significant.
“Will you buy a few ponies today?” I ask him. To the untrained eye, there’s not much happening. It’s the second day of the fair and I wonder if all the buyers came the day before.
“Oh... I will,” he is confident if not amused at my question. I heard he bought 40 horses the day before.
“Where will the ponies go?”
“To Holland or England.”
“Hey, Miley,” a farmer shouts.
“Joe,” Miley says.
“Fine mare you have there,” Joe tips his head towards me and there is a ripple of laughter among the crowd of men. They turn now to see my reaction, more interested in the man-humor than selling the horses, or maybe that was part of it? I soon discover how humor and storytelling is crucial to the deal.
Miley knows faces and names. He remembers men he bought horses from going back years, who to deal with, who to avoid. After a good horse, he’s after honesty. He knows business is repeat business and by the way people step into his way, or out of his way, it’s clear that everyone knows Miley.
“How old?” he said to a youngster holding a rope-haltered pretty Connemara pony.
“He’s time yet,” and we pass him by. Miley is looking for five year olds, trained to the saddle, good breeding, sound movement, and the right price. (Around the 600 Euro mark)
He gets down from the gig and looks over a cob, he doesn’t ask to see it move and I have to assume, he’s seen the horse move before because very quickly, the question comes.
“Too strong, boy,” he tells the young man. “What’s he done?”
“He’s jumped a bit, rides well.”
“Have ye a passport for him?”
“We have,” he indicates with a nod at an older farmer making his way through the crowd.
Very quickly, very quietly, Miley takes a folded stack of hundreds from his pocket and talks quietly. Men crowd around them. Hushed words. Miley is telling a story, the farmers lean in. The owner, an older farmer is now involved and they are engaged in the story. The story is between them but everyone is part of it. The horse is forgotten. I am aware I am an outsider and don't lean in. It's not my place. There is back and forth banter. The circle breaks out in raucous laughing. The farmer and Miley look each other in the eye, Miley names a price, and while the laughter is still in the air, there is a slap of hands, a cheer, and a deal is done.
Miley pulls a large red crayon like stick from his pocket, draws a C for Cash on the horses’s rump, and the cob is now on to a bright new journey to foreign lands. They will become school ponies for kids and show jumpers at pony club level.
Miley is a fourth generation horse trader. He remembers standing in the middle of the same field in Ballinasloe as a child and talking his pony up. He learned from his father. He believes the art of the deal is in communication, by looking a man in the eye, (and there is a lot said in that look) and a firm handshake. From Birr, County Offaly, he is now based out of Monasterevin in Country Kildare with a yard that accommodates over 200 horses. The horses don’t stay long, the turnover rate at the yard is so fast, he calls it bed and breakfast, and one can see why. As he’s busy buying, he is also busy selling. The phone rings, he is putting a deal together for ten geldings, trained, 5-6 year olds for a school in London.
“Ah yeah, no problem, get the papers, I’ll talk to you later,” Miley said, in an easy exchange. Ten horses will be shipped out to London this week. His son is in the transport business and will oversee the shipping side. He has a horse truck that goes to Holland every two weeks with up to twenty horses. They are fulfilling children’s dreams all across Europe.
Young riders continue to trot their ponies around to let others (Miley) see it move. Another cob quickly catches his eye and this time the farmer is direct and pushing hard but with banter and a promise of great things ahead for Miley, if he buys his horse.
“He’s perfect for ya, Miley,” the farmer is insistent.
“Ah, I’m not interested in training them, it’s not worth the time.” Miley declines.
“This one will bring you good luck.”
There crowd gathers with the talk and the chance of a sale, a tall man with two young children the split of him join in. The boys are eager to hear the master at work, they scuttle around the outside of the circle trying to hear. Miley, instead of getting louder and shouting for a bargain the way traders do to attract attention, keeps things soft, he makes everything seem effortless.
“Do the deal,” the farmers push him. Then the rest join in.
“Do the deal,” there is a repeated mantra. “Go on Miley, do the deal.”
Miley holds the gathering crowd with a story. Now, here it is, the reason he is a living legend, why he is more than just a horse trader. He is a storyteller, first. He has a fine art in communications. The farmers lean in, and together, at the punchline, they throw their heads back and laugh. A hand is slapped and Miley has a deal.
Everyone feels good, the farmers, Miley, the kids, the crowd. Business is in the air. He's back in the gig trotting through the crowd.
Three young girls come running to offer him hot chips, (French fries) as if he is a rock star, they look up at him with respectful, doe eyes and hold out the box of fries. He takes one and puts it on the girls shoulder. “You’ve an awful chip on your shoulder," he says, and everyone is back laughing.
He makes four more deals by the afternoon. He takes two more calls about numbers, passports and transportation. He is buying and selling at the same time. It's old hat to him. He carries a modern chip detector to locate the horses information, all so very high tech for a living legend.
Then, he calls his wife to find out his email address so I can send him this story.
www.adrianneryan.com all photographs by Adrianne Ryan.