Tracey is very involved with wild mustangs; this last month, she got a young horse to train and is doing very well. Steve Holt! is the horse’s name and he seems very mild-mannered and calm.
As I was watching the video about her work with Steve Holt!, I got to thinking about my first horse.
When I was a little girl, a million years ago, I was horse-mad as so many little girls were (and are – I have a granddaughter that is horse-mad!). I had not read “The Black Stallion” yet, although I have since read them avidly. But one night I had a dream about having a black horse and I called him “Sundown.”
Later on, I discovered the Black Stallion books; when “Fury” came on TV, I watched that religiously. I was addicted to horses, especially black ones, from early on, but never had a horse of my own. We moved too often, my parents said – we did not have room or have the time or money or (always) some reason for not having a horse.
I never even RODE a horse, for real, until I was in seventh grade! Then we had access to a riding stable – the place where horse-mad children went to ride for an hour once a week. I had a favorite horse that I would ride. No, she wasn’t black – they didn’t have any black horses there! But she was a horse and she was MINE for an hour every Sunday afternoon.
Once we moved to South Dakota, my dad retired from the Air Force and we were FINALLY in a spot where I could have a horse, but there were always (again) reasons why NOT to have a horse.
It was not until I met Norm that I could actually see my dream of a horse being fulfilled. His father was a rancher! His family lived on a ranch! HE was a rancher!
I had always said that I would grow up to marry a rich rancher. Well, I married a rancher (rich was not in the picture). When we visited the ranch (an hour from our home), I was allowed to ride Tomahawk, an old “Indian” pony that was a fantastic cattle horse. When we went out to gather cattle, I was told to “hold on to the saddle horn; Tommy will do the work and he will turn so quickly that you could fall off!” Well, they were right! However, I often rode Tomahawk around the place just for the joy of it.
But soon Norm said I could have a horse! We went to a horse auction in town to look at horses and hopefully find something for me that would be “safe” – “reliable” – and best of all (to Norm’s way of thinking) “cheap!” My younger brothers-in-law came to help us pick out just the right horse for me.
If you’ve never been to a horse auction, it’s a really great place to go to see horses. Or, at least it WAS – I don’t know if they have auctions like that anymore. The stockyards that normally held cattle were filled with horses of all sizes, ages, colors and conditions.
And how do you pick out a horse that you can’t ride or even really touch? Norm liked this horse, Roger liked that horse; Robert said this was the perfect one, Curtis said THAT was the perfect one.
But the one that caught my eye and held me there was a wild pony who was running around his pen and looking like he might jump out any minute. And, thrill of thrill, he was BLACK!!!!! Solid black with just a spot on his head and (looking closer) a small bit of white on one foot. Be still, my beating heart!
So, while the others went looking and picking out, I stayed at the black’s pen, talking to him, telling him that HE was MY pick! Norm said he was too wild – I said we could tame him. Norm found out he had been raised in the southern badland area of South Dakota and had not been broken or even worked with. I said – good – he’d be unspoiled. Norm said I needed a second or third choice in case he went too high. I said – ya, ya, whatever – he’s the one!
We went inside to the auction ring to watch the other horses come in. Norm kept saying “this one?” “Nope, we’ll wait for MINE.” And finally he came in – all rootin’ tootin’ and flying around the ring, eyes white and a real WILD man! No one seemed to want him but me and we got him for the grand total of $57!! (I remember that price well. It was amazing to all of us!)
Norm and the others stayed to watch the end of the auction, but I went back out to spend time with my very first horse. My OWN horse!!! And what a beauty he was, too. I told him that his name was “Sundown,” and talked to him while waiting for the others to come to load him up.
Because Sundown (Sunny) was so wild, the boys were the ones who loaded him in the pickup (all cowboy pickups had – still have – stock racks on them) and took him home to the ranch. There he stayed in the corral so that the boys could get a halter on him.
Now, that was a fun experience. Sunny had only been handled by men and had been frightened by men. I sat in a feed bunk to watch while they tried to rope him for the halter. He kept putting his rump to the rope (smart horse), but finally ran up to me and put his nose under my arm! So someone handed me a rope and I put it on his neck, then *I* put the halter on him. The boys said – “Okay, he’s yours, then!” and left me alone with him. Norm was the only one who would come down, except for Curtis, who was (at that time) just about ten years old. I would go down to feed Sunny and sit and talk to him. He allowed me to pet him, and then I was able to lead him with the halter rope and start grooming him. One afternoon, my heart in my throat, I slipped on his back as he was standing by me. He started to walk and we walked around the corral as we got used to me riding him.
Soon Norm gave me the bridle and I taught Sunny how to wear it with no complaints. I had a saddle – Norm came with me to watch as I did the saddling (right stirrup on the saddle horn, Tracey) and agreed that, for the most part, I was to do the training. However, I preferred riding Sunny bareback.
Sundown was three-quarters Welsh Pony and one-quarter Appaloosa. I cannot find (at this time) a picture of him, so you will have to take my word for it. He was beautiful! Inside and out – he loved me as I loved him.
I rode him, cared for him, loved him for several years. However, he developed a problem that could not be cured. He had been sold as a gelding (neutered horse). However, there had been a “goof” when he was gelded and he ended up being “proud cut.” This means, in simple terms, that he thought he was still a stallion, but wasn’t. Some “proud cut” horses get mean around other horses if they can’t “perform” and Sunny was starting to chase the other horses. He even ran one of the valuable ones through a fence, which was a big “no-no” at the ranch. We had a vet come out to anesthetize him and try to fix the problem but the vet could not promise that it was “fixed,”
And sure enough, it was not. My father-in-law said that we could not keep him at the ranch if he was going to continue to fight the other horses. All kinds of solutions were offered but Sunny had to go. We were going to take him to town and board him there.
However, I refused to not be honest with anyone who boarded horses and no one would allow him on their place.
The only solution that Norm could come up with (besides buying a place of our own, which was NOT a solution for him) was to sell him. Again, I refused to lie about Sundown’s situation and we were having a difficult time finding anyone who would buy a “proud cut” horse. We found a man who was known to be honest in his dealing. He said he could find a home for Sunny “back east” where he could be boarded safely away from others. Sunny, for all his smallness, was a good jumper and this man said he would sell him as a prospective jumper and see that a girl or woman got him. But he would not buy him; he would just do a trade-in.
So I agreed to get another horse (a mare, this time) and let my heart-love go. I can still remember leaving Sunny in the same sales barn that I found him, whinnying to me as I walked away. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
And so my experience with my own wild black stallion was at a finish … but I will never forget Sundown and the pleasures and joys he gave me. I was an inexperienced rider; he was an unbroken horse. We taught each other a lot and I will never be the same because of him. Wherever you went, Sunny, my heart went with you. I still miss you and love you!