Archive for the ‘Horses’ Category

“If at first you don’t succeed…”

Black and White Print--more contrast

“After Work Cocktails”: A pencil drawing I did sometime in 1962-64, while I was majoring in art at Southern Methodist University. It is copied from a liquor advertisement in some magazine and is one of the best pieces I ever did. The ad drew me to it by its interesting balance of light and dark areas, the way forms were created by shadowing. That was what I emphasized. Framed, the drawing now hangs on a wall in my small study, constantly reminding me of the talent I hid under a bushel.

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© 2015 By Bob Litton

When they design the urn for my ashes, the potter should paint upon it the following title: “Bob ‘The Trier’ Litton” just to record the persistence with which I have tried to drop this blog. I grow weary and self-critical when I constantly check out my stats page; it’s a downright juvenile habit.
I tried to discontinue “The Vanity Mirror” again just recently: You might have noticed the big “Goodbye” at the end of my last post. As was the case in some of my prior efforts, the aim was to withdraw from my computer and take up pencil and pad to resuscitate, if possible, my sketching talent. I was not very hopeful, for I have allowed that talent to lie unused for so long that it has nearly atrophied.

I have a small sketchbook in which are page after page of the same composition: a frontal view of three men on horseback with polo sticks in their hands; they are so close together that the viewer is bound to assume they are about to have a collision in the next pounding of a hoof. My “model” source is a now yellowing photo that I cut out of a newspaper years ago.

Previous attempts at copying the image were so disappointing that I set my pad aside and returned to other occupations, including this blog. These recent drawing efforts, however, have shown some improvement — enough to be encouraging.

But another, rather odd, factor has entered to help me stay on track: the fun of analysis. I have read too many Sherlock Holmes stories and seen too many SH movies for there not to have been a residual effect. And, like Dr. House, I analyze virtually everything, often when I shouldn’t, according to one of my brothers. However, in the present case, that habit has worked toward my benefit: It has given me a way of enjoying pencil-pushing apart from any aesthetic pleasure I might derive from the products themselves. I will try to explain.

Firstly, I noticed years ago when an artist friend sketched the same picture I am working on how his eyes switched back and forth, frequently, from the photo to his own drawing, and how he never seemed to draw a line longer than what he had viewed. I admired his ability to do that and doubted my own ability to emulate him, for my tendency is to glance at the subject, depict some of what I had seen and then ad-lib into a longer line, maybe even more lines, relying upon memory or what I reasoned should occupy that extra space. I believe that now I have conquered that ability at least slightly; and — who knows? — it might be a skill that can be developed further, like a bicep.

Proportionality is another element that now fascinates me — the struggle to realize that I am trying to reduce a 7×10-inch image to one of 5×7. I developed a proportioned grid, but it did not help because of the small dimensions I was working with, so I returned to free-hand drawing. It is quite difficult to maintain a consciousness that the line I am now drawing on this page is not to be the same length as that rider’s shoulder; it needs to bend sooner. And those horses — all three being reined toward a left turn — are leaning somewhat; their shoulders, withers and heads should indicate that. Speaking of heads: I noted the varying degrees of fore-shortening among the mounts’ heads. Although hard to achieve, the challenges of such effects are fascinating to puzzle over and then pull off.

The faces of the riders are just as difficult to render, especially the one in the middle because he is grimacing as though he were grinding his teeth. The sketchy result too often makes his face look like the grill of a 1940-era Ford. I’ll save that one for my final stage of deliberation and action.

Have you grabbed my point yet? The intoxication of determining my areas of weakness — my flaws — and problem-solving have surpassed any aesthetic goal I have. Those impulses are helping me finish something (I hope) that I might not have otherwise.

Subject matter is a problem for me, too. As a child I loved horses and wanted one very much; but I was a poor city boy, and having a horse was an impossible dream. Now I am next to indifferent toward horses, yet I must concede that there is something attractive about them as art subjects: I wish there wasn’t. I feel we artists have concentrated on horses too much and over-long. The same is true of the human figure.

What is there about the bodies of humans and horses that causes them to dominate our art? I suppose it is because, for one thing, we are intimately connected with them; and, for another, their musculature is often prominently displayed. Perhaps I should add that humans and, to a lesser extent, horses can do things other creatures cannot. However, the various apes and monkeys are quite capable of various activities, too, but we don’t draw them very much. Strange!

Perhaps I am committing an etiquette gaffe in publishing this blog before finishing the polo drawing, but I just wanted let you know I am still alive, sitting on the fence of abandoning my blog or slogging onward. If I ever finish the drawing I’ll publish it.




What Spurs Cowboy Poets?

Cowboy Dude Poet

I like this portrait photo (even though I didn’t take it) because of the extra-dude style dress and mustache, and because the poet looks both glad and anxious as he is about to step out onstage and present his compositions before a roomful of mostly strangers.

PHOTOS CREDITS: Microsoft Office Clip Art
TEXT: © 1997, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: Next Friday and Saturday (February 27-28), Sul Ross State University here in Alpine will host its 29th annual “Cowboy Poets Gathering”. There are a few other similar gatherings, notably at Elko, Nevada, and Lewistown, Montana—both of which antedate Alpine’s by a year or two.

Although I claim to be a poet, I have never attended any of the several recitations and musical events associated with the event, which has drawn attendees from around the world. Over the past decade, however, I have gotten up before dawn to go down to “Poets Grove” each of the two mornings to chat with the cooks and drink some of the coffee prepared over one of several wooden fires in holes dug in the ground. By the time the breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy and orange juice is ready, a very long line of hungry participants and attendees has developed. My early arrival entitles me to a place at the front of the line.

Back in 1997, while I was a reporter for the Alpine Avalanche, I wrote the following article. One of my interviewees was then-Ward County Judge Sam Massey; I had known Sam before he became a county official, when I was editor of the Monahans News. The other locals in the article I knew only on a greeting basis.

So, you are probably wondering why I never went to listen to their poems. Well, the answer is two-fold: (1) although when I was a young boy I had  wanted to grow up to be a cowboy, somewhere during my maturation I resigned myself to the fact that I lived in the 20th and then the 21st centuries, while the cowboy fantasy I had fostered belonged to the late 19th century; and (2) I associated (perhaps erroneously) all cowboy poetry as being of the same caliber as that composed by Robert Service and Edgar Guest, and I wasn’t interested in gagging. But those folks enjoy writing it, reciting it and hearing it…and they have a right to enjoy it. Perhaps you will, too. Anyway, please enjoy the article below.
— BL

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What makes a cowboy — or cowgirl — poet get involved in writing and recitation? Since the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering is coming up this month, we decided to ask a few of them for the genesis of their interest.

Some got into poetry as an offshoot of their music interest. That is certainly true of Alpine’s Mike Stevens and Karen McGuire. “I got started in cowboy poetry because I moved here in ’90 and it was happening,” says Stevens. “Mostly, being a musician, I got in just to play. I realized some of the songs I was doing were old cowboy songs instead of folk songs, especially Blue Mountain. After I sang it here, Buck Ramsey came out with an album with the title song My Home It Was In Texas — the first line from Blue Mountain. The song’s really about a mountain in Utah — pretty old, obscure song.

“The ‘Gathering’ was just another musical, fun outlet. After I had been around it a while, I wrote a poem. Actually, it was easier than writing a song because you don’t have to write the music.

“I admire some of the really good poets. To me, Joel Nelson is the best. He and his wife, Barney, started the ‘Gathering’ in ’87, one year after the Elko, Nevada, thing started. I like Joel’s subject matter, and his delivery is unaffected and impeccable. Breaker and the Pen, about the first person dealing with any horse, is a favorite.”

Karen McGuire has been participating in the “Gathering” ever since it started ten years ago. She participates along with her mother, Nessye Mae Roach of Fort Davis, and recites as much of Nessye Mae’s poetry as her own. In fact, reciting cowboy poetry and singing traditional cowboy songs are pretty much of a family vocation. “My sister, Linda, writes,” says McGuire. “Bunny (another sister) hasn’t written any, but she sings with us. She has a beautiful high tenor voice. My son, Chisum, writes a little bit, too.”

McGuire wrote her first cowboy song — The Cowboy’s Three R’s (roping, riding and rambling) — when she was a freshman in college.  “It’s just a part of me,” she says. “I’ve been writing songs and poems since I was little.”

Although Stevens has composed several songs over the years, he’s written only two poems thus far.  “I wrote about my first experience on a big ranch — the o2 — shortly after I moved here,” he recalls. “The o2 was pretty wild then — wild cattle.

“It was a new experience for me because my background had been in arena roping and horse shows. My father being a cowboy, I grew up roping calves, but they were in a pen. We only had a hundred and sixty acres, so it wasn’t like you gathered them.” That first poem was called o 2 A Maverick. “At that time there were a lot of mavericks down there spread over about two hundred and seventy-five thousand acres,” he says.

Stevens’ other poem is about his father’s saddle, made in 1948 by M.L. Leddy of San Angelo.  “It was a big event when it showed up at our house,” Stevens recalls. “He still uses it, probably his dream saddle. It’s been well taken care of. You can tell it’s never been thrown in the back of a pickup.”

McGuire’s subject matter is basically the same as other cowboy poets, only shorter. “They write longer, ballad-type poems,” she notes. Primary themes are the love between a man and a woman, the cowboy’s love for the land, and his animals. “It’s always more about honor and respect when they’re out riding rather than how good they are at what they do,” she explains. “The only time I’ve heard a cowboy brag was when he was talking about his horse. They like to see their animals shine.”

As for the versification styles, Stevens says thus far he has been writing in a “uniform” rhymed style because that’s the way he writes his songs. “I like the other styles, more like free verse,” he says, “but you have to hone those skills. I have more of an idea of the music I want to do than the poetry. At this point I’m just happy to mimic the styles of others.”

As for McGuire, she is satisfied with the take-it-as-it-comes approach. “I’m always looking at the words, if they come from the heart,” she says. “I think most of the cowboy poets don’t look to see how it’s going to rhyme. It’s just something that needs to be said and it flows right out — just a story that needs to be told or a memory that needs to be recalled.”

McGuire says she usually recites about three poems a session. Three of her favorites, which she will probably recite at this “Gathering”, are Just Another Rider, a poem her mother wrote about her own teenage years near Big Lake; Vaquero Puro, a poem by Chisum about Ben Morrow of the McIntyre-Morrow Ranch; and an untitled poem of her own about the stick horse and the pony of her childhood.

“One of the things I like about the ‘Gathering’ is that they have a session for young people,” says McGuire. “I think it’s important to keep that going because the young people can show their abilities and talents, and it’s a good way to insure that cowboy poetry will stay alive for many years.”

A cowboy poet with more experience than either Stevens or McGuire is Wickett rancher Sam Massey. He came to Alpine on business in 1987 and saw the sign about the “Gathering” in front of Sul Ross. “I stopped in to see what they were doing and enjoyed it,” he recalls. “I wrote a poem on the back of an envelope on the way home and said, ‘I can do that!’ and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Massey has written seventy to eighty poems since that first “Gathering” ten years ago and is a regular reciter.  “I missed it only one year,” he says, “and my daughter read my poems then, so I was represented.”

Massey, who says he spends about fifty hours a week ranching and fifty hours serving as Ward County Judge, is a son and grandson of ranchmen. In fact, Massey’s grandfather spent his early years cowboying and raising horses for the U.S. Army. In 1917, he bought his first ranch in Ward County and established the town of Wickett. Both grandfather and father bought, renovated and then sold ranches in several states, mostly Texas and New Mexico. Both also ventured into other occupations during drought years. “My dad droughted out in the ’50s and had to sell the cattle and go work on a pulling unit in the oil patch for about ten years,” Massey recalls. “Then it started raining in ’57 and ’58, and he went back to ranching.”

During the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, Massey’s grandfather would drive his Model T truck from Wickett to Fort Davis, pick up a load of apples, and carry them to Midland to sell. “They had to take the apples out of the truck when going through creeks and carry them up the hill and go on,” says Massey. “It took a long time to get to Midland.”

Such experiences provide much of the material for Massey’s poems.  One of his favorite poems is about his father’s adventure with the Davis Mountain Orange Juice. “My father and I went on a Hereford tour in the Davis Mountains,” he recalls. “At an early morning breakfast he got into a bunch of Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys. “Being a teetotaler, he didn’t realize what it was.  He drank about five or six ‘orange juices’ (he thought) and came over to me and said, ‘That Davis Mountain orange juice is a sure cure for rheumatism!’”

Massey describes his poetry as ‘gentle stuff’ — family and the ranch, stories that have been passed down through the years from family members and friends, and personal experiences.  “What I write about is generally not as wild and woolly as some guys do. I don’t write about wrecks — like getting a roped calf tangled around a tree. Wrecks do happen, but I try to avoid them and when they do happen I don’t like to tell about them, although I do enjoy hearing the other fellows when they tell about them.”

A favorite poem — both for Massey and for his audiences — is one called Trailer Lights.  “It’s about a poor guy who is trying to haul his stock down the highway at night after being out on ranch roads for a long time,” Massey relates. “Everything is shaken loose on his trailer, and the lights won’t work and he ends up getting a ticket.”

One he wrote about his wife relates her episode with a rattlesnake in the yard while Massey was away from the ranch. “She was afraid to get close to him,” he says. “She took a shovel out of the pickup and threw it at him and cut his head off. I end it by saying I think it’s kind of neat a lady can take care of herself when she needs to.”

Although Massey recalls some prosody terms from his college years, he resembles Stevens and McGuire in that he doesn’t worry about complicated rhyme schemes. “I do it all sorts of ways,” he explains. “A lot of it is rhyming the second and fourth lines of a stanza, but some of the best poems I’ve done is rhyming the first and second lines of a three-line stanza and then having the third  line of the second stanza rhyme with the third of the first stanza:

It’s a wonder to me, A mystery, you see, Why stock trailer lights won’t stay lit. We patch ’em with wire, Change bulbs then in ire, We watch ’em burn bright when they sit.

Massey doesn’t claim to be a cowboy in the sense that most cowboy poets are. “I’m a good ranchman but only a tolerable cowboy. I don’t ride as much as these real cowboy poets. To me, that’s work, a tool of the trade. I’ve got a poem about how the cowboy doesn’t make much money but he’s free  to do what he wants to, while the ranchman is married to the bank.”

Like Stevens and McGuire, Massey says he gets as much or more out of the camaraderie at the “Gathering” as he does out of sharing his poetry. “I enjoy the fellowship and the fact that it’s not competitive — no awards given,” he says. “You can enjoy everyone, from the amateurs to the professionals.”

I like this photo, despite the hidden face of the poet,because it appears to show him in a dramatic gesture, like he's really got his heart into the performance. Also, the  mesquite tree and bright sunlight in the background resonate as a Texas scene, although it could be in New Mexico.

I like this photo, despite the hidden face of the poet, because it appears to show him in a dramatic gesture, like he’s really got his heart into the performance. Also, the trees and bright sunlight in the background resonate as a Texas scene, although it could be in New Mexico.

— Alpine Avalanche, February 13, 1997


NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it. Thank you for reading. BL

A Day at the Vera Lewis QH Breeding Farm in Donley County

   The top stallion on the farm now is Goldfingers, whose titles include AQHA Champion; National High Point Steer-roping Stallion; World’s Champion Heeling Horse; and High Point Halter Stallion of Nebraska in 1976.  He has serviced 80 mares this year on the Lewis farm.

The top stallion on the Lewis farm in the mid-1970’s was Goldfingers, whose titles included AQHA Champion; National High Point Steer-roping Stallion; World’s Champion Heeling Horse; and High Point Halter Stallion of Nebraska in 1976. He serviced 80 mares in 1977 on the Lewis farm.

© 2014 Photo and Article By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READER: This article was published in the summer of 1977 in the Clarendon Press, a small weekly newspaper in Clarendon, Texas, a small town in the Texas Panhandle. That was my first news-reporting job, and it was brief because I was not really prepared adequately for the responsibility, minimal though it was. The periodical’s name was changed to The Clarendon Enterprise soon after I left because orders for books intended for the Clarendon Press (in England) too often were received there. The town of Clarendon was friendly and pretty, and the air was sweet, which makes me regret that I had not done a better job and stayed there. I am leaving the verb tense and other time-related elements as they were in the original article, because to change them would be too confusing. Just make believe you have just arrived in a time machine. — BL

“You better grab the twitch, Jimmy. She ain’t gonna like this,” said Burl Hollar, 32, as he plugged a shearing machine cord into an electrical outlet.

The sorrel yearling filly tossed her head nervously as 19-year-old Jimmy Stewart brought two small steel rods, connected together like a pair of pliers, up toward the yearling’s head.  He patted her nose briefly and then clamped the rods around her nostrils. Hollar stuffed a cotton tassel into her ear and started trimming the hair growth within the ear of the young horse.  After finishing both ears, Hollar trimmed and curried the mane.

“She’s never had this done to her before,” Hollar explained. “That’s why we had to use the twitch. After she gets used to the shears, we won’t need the twitch anymore. I put the pompon into her ear to prevent hairs from falling inside and starting an infection.”

When the haircut was completed, Stewart led the prancing yearling into a sandy pen within the breeding barn, tied her halter to the back wall and then turned a hose on her at slow speed. The filly obviously wasn’t used to water either.  She tensed her muscles, flared her nostrils, whinnied and stomped about as much as the short halter’s length would allow.  As her hide wetted, gleaming highlights gave depth to her musculature.  Her eyes were at their widest, and short wheezing noises came from her flaring nostrils.  All the vitality of Nature seemed concentrated in that one being.

“This is her first bath, too,” Hollar said. “We’re getting these yearlings ready for a sale in Ruidosa Downs this coming Labor Day.”

Burl Hollar is the stallion manager and resident trainer on Vera Lewis’s 160-acre horse breeding farm in Ashtola.  He’s the archetypal trainer: tall, lanky, affable and patient.  He wears high-topped boots with his jeans stuffed into them and a red baseball cap while working.

Hollar loves horses enough to take exception to any suggestion that horses are less intelligent than cows.  “I guess what they mean by that is that a cow wouldn’t damage itself like a horse will,” Hollar said. “A horse will run straight into a fence. “Still, you can’t train a cow to cut out calves — or colts. You can train a horse to do a lot of things, and then he’ll seem pretty intelligent to you. It’s all in the training.

“Of course, I’ll get mad at them, and then I’ll call them the dumbest creatures alive. But usually, when they do something that makes you mad it will all be because of something you did that was wrong in the first place.

“Horses have personalities just as people do. That’s why you can’t say it takes such-and-such a time to train a horse. They’re just like children. If they’ve been trained to do something and they don’t do it right and you spank them, they’ll know why you hit them. “But if they don’t know what they should have done and you spank them, then they won’t know what the spanking’s for.”

He held up his right forefinger, which was swollen.  “A mare kicked me there,” he said, “and I was mad, but later I realized that it was all due to something I had done wrong, not the horse.”

Besides being stallion manager and resident trainer, Burl Hollar also functions as medic.  He filled two hypodermic needles with a sulfa drug and gave one to his visitor to hold, saying with a grin, “If you stick around here long enough we’ll put you to work.” Then he walked over to a chute where a four-month-old colt stood with flies about its eyes and a thin line of foam along its lips.  Hollar injected the sulfa into the colt’s neck and rump and set it loose.

“Distemper in a colt is just like the cold or flu in a human baby,” Hollar said. “The sulfa will help him get through it.”

Stitched into the front of Burl Hollar’s cap was a patch with the words: You can believe in Sonoita Blue, AQHA Champion.  Sonoita Blue had served as a stud on the Lewis farm for four years before he died last year after eating a rare poison weed.  He was seven years old at his death.

The top stallion on the farm now is Goldfingers, whose titles include AQHA Champion; National High Point Steer-roping Stallion; World’s Champion Heeling Horse; and High Point Halter Stallion of Nebraska in 1976.  He has serviced 80 mares this year on the Lewis farm.

“Mrs. Lewis keeps one to two stallions here,” said Bob Boston, general manager of the farm. “She has about thirty brood mares of her own, and about four years ago we started accepting mares from other places for breeding. We get mares from as far away as Maryland. Last year we had one from Florida.

“Most breeding takes place around the first of February because the gestation period is eleven months and all the registering of new colts is done in January,” Boston said. “But we get stragglers in until mid-July. Most people quit breeding their horses by the first of July.”

According to Burl Hollar, however, it “just ain’t natural” to breed horses in the late winter.  “The mares aren’t settled yet,” he said. “From April to July is when the mares are more settled.” Hollar said that determining when a mare is in heat is probably the hardest part of his job.  “Every once in a while you’ll get one in ‘silent heat’,” he said, “some are so quiet about it.. And some might stay in heat for as long as ninety days after they’ve been bred.”

“Ordinarily,” said Bob Boston, “it takes twenty days to breed a mare and another forty days to tell if she’s pregnant. We don’t like to keep them in these stables and corrals any longer than we have to because it wears a horse down to be out of pasture too long.” In one of the stables a yearling filly whinnied excitedly, bucked and rammed against the gate as she watched another yearling being led out of the stable yard by Jimmy Stewart.  Shortly, however, Stewart returned and took the excited filly out, too.

“Jimmy’s taking them to the hotwalker,” Hollar explained. Around one corner of the barn under some shade trees stood a large metal-and-rope contraption that resembled a merry-go-round.  In the center of the “merry-go-round” — or “hotwalker”, — as Hollar termed it, stood Stewart.  Around him trotted four yearlings.

“They use hotwalkers at race tracks to cool horses down after a race,” Hollar said. “Here we use it as an exerciser. That’s all that filly was making the ruckus about. She just had excess energy and wanted to get out and play.”

A young horse’s way of saying, “Let’s go out and play!” certainly differs from a pup’s scratching on the screen door.  And giving a filly a bath seems in no way to compare with dunking a kitten in the tub.  Yet it’s all a matter of magnitude.  A full grown stallion pawing at the ground and letting out a hearty whinny is a good antidote for a man who, used to manipulating pups and kittens, has come to assume he can easily master the entire animal kingdom.

— Clarendon Press, Summer 1977


The Shetland Refugee

ImageMe with my first customer in 1991.  He was a lightweight.

As Told To Bob Litton 

I’m a pony. A Shetland pony. A Classic Shetland pony. In other words, I’m high-class, not one of your “run of the mill” coal-toters.

My great-great-grandsire, however, was a coal-toter. He was brought over here in 1908 from the home country — the Shetland Islands — to work in the Virginia mines until he died from lung disease or overwork: we never could determine which. He was only twenty years old when he died. The humans stopped that nonsense in 1971 — for ponies anyway. But that, of course, was after he had sired my great-grandsire, who, along with my grandsire, ploughed on a small farm in Iowa. Now, as for my sire and dam, they were taken up by a traveling carnival that included a petting zoo and a pony ride, something like a carousel.

My aunts and uncles and cousins have been all sorts of things: children’s pets, harness race horses, and even guide and therapy horses. But most of my relatives, I suppose, have been used like me — by carnies and itinerant photographers: the first let kiddies ride around on us in small circles for a few bucks, and the latter take us through residential streets where small children can sit atop us with chaps, a bandana and a cowboy hat to have their picture taken for a few bucks. I’ve probably earned enough for some guys’ retirements that way over the years.

O, but don’t take me wrong: We like kids. That’s why we are popular with the parents — those, anyway, who can afford pony pets for their children. We Shetlands are the most intelligent, hardy, patient and generally gentle breed of horse in the world, although we do sometimes have our moments of contrariness. Let me relate to you an incident early in my own life when I proved just how contrary we can be.

I was once a member of a trio of ponies who traveled about in a small carnival from one community to the next where small children could pet us or ride us around in a circle. Our master was a big-bellied fellow with a flushed faced, and gray hair only on his temples; he dressed kind of loud in a red Hawaiian shirt with pink flamingos printed on it, and dark yellow pants. He didn’t feed us right or otherwise take good care of our bodies. He never really beat us, although he swatted us with a folded newspaper frequently enough and yelled at us silly things when he got drunk at night.

On one such night, the pot-bellied sot neglected to let down the latch on our portable pen, and I noticed it. I waited until just an hour or so before sunrise, then I neighed to the other two ponies to follow me as I nosed open the gate, but they were either too tired or not adventuresome enough to leave the confine.

The carnival had been set up in a couple of large vacant lots between a lumber yard and a gas station. In the other two directions were a two-lane road and a wide, shallow creek. I crossed the creek cautiously, and a good thing, too, because the rapidly flowing water was trying to tumble me, and the slippery round rocks on its bed were trying to assist it in its mischief. But I got to the other side all right and stumbled on up the muddy bank. My not being acquainted with the area, of course, created another problem; still, what else was there to do but head for the pinkish rise of the morning light.

After penetrating a couple hundred yards of brush and saplings, I came to a spillway where water lightly flowed over into the creek I had just traversed. To my right was a four-lane highway with as yet not much traffic on it. I crossed the highway and soon found myself on a narrow street with houses and tall trees on both sides. The street wound oddly for some reason I could not even guess, but as the sun rose higher and heated the day, the numerous tall pecan and oak trees stretching over the roadway provided a nice, cool, shady arcade for me to wander in.

After a brief pleasant walk on that avenue, I noticed a blue bicycle coming toward me from a side street. Riding it was a red-headed boy of I supposed about ten to twelve years; he was wearing khaki shorts and a white T-shirt and flip-flops. I didn’t know where he was going or what he was up to, but I figured it would be prudent to pick up my pace. I geared up to a trot and, when I heard the bicycle tires on the road behind me, I moved into a gallop. Still that youngster was gaining on me. There weren’t any paces left except an out and out run, so I put my heart into it.

Soon the street became downhill slightly; that helped, although it helped my pursuer, too. At the bottom of the hill, where the street became a bridge over yet another creek and then climbed upward again, was a gravel drive where another boy, this one a cotton-top and of about the same age as the boy on the bike, was just entering the street. He was dressed in a tan T-shirt and blue denim jeans and was shod in tennis shoes.

“Bobby! Bobby!” shouted the bike rider. “Stop that horse!”

Well now, at least I knew the cotton-top’s name. He started running after me — not the fastest kid in the world, but he could cut across lawns and down alleys and thus keep up with us. In fact, he was just ahead of bike-boy when we turned onto another tree-lined street.

Off to my left I saw a middle-aged woman in a light blue blouse and aquamarine Capri pants raking new-mown grass in her front yard. She watched us with amused surprise as we came her way, then she stepped quickly into the middle of the street and held up her broom like it was a gate bar. Out of habit, I guess, and not wanting to run over this busy-body, I halted.

Bobby ran up, out of breath, and said, “Thanks, ma’am. We’ve been chasing that pony for at least six blocks.”

Then the red-headed kid, dismounting from his bike, added, “I’ve been chasing it twice that far!”

“Is he your pony?” the woman asked.

“No,” replied Bobby, who sounded perplexed. “You don’t know who owns him, do you, Carlton?”

“No, I don’t,” said “Red”, now identified as Carlton. “I saw him first up on San Benito Street, and I’ve been following him ever since. I think he’s lost.”

Only in a minor sense! I wanted to say.

“We’ll take care of him and try to find his owner,” Bobby said.

“Okay, boys,” said the woman, smiling doubtfully. “Hold him by his halter here while I go rustle up a rope. I think I have one in the garage.” The woman transferred the halter to Bobby’s hands and walked up a driveway towards her garage.

All this time I had noticed a slight expression of anxious irritation on Carlton’s face as he stood holding his bike upright: he couldn’t hold my halter because he had to tend to his two-wheeler.

The woman brought a clothesline rope, tied one end to the halter and gave the rest to Bobby. As Bobby led me away, with Carlton riding slowly and wobbly beside us, I felt like this was the end of my world. Wouldn’t you? I had known freedom for maybe two hours, and it had been exhilarating but strange. I probably could have broken loose, for Bobby was not exactly a husky lad; but I was tired out from the run and I had developed an overwhelming sense of bewilderment due to the confusing streets. And probably more people would be out and about by now with even more effective means of catching me. My lassitude, as it turned out, was wiser than I.

They took me back to the graveled driveway by the creek. Along the way, Carlton related to Bobby how he had spotted me after finishing his newspaper route. The graveled drive led back thirty yards among some pecan, redbud and persimmon trees. The creek wound around and partly through the property. The house was a small, white-framed, ranch-style structure with a green roof.

Bobby tied the rope to a small redbud tree in the middle of the yard. Some Bermuda grass was there, but it was sparse and recently mowed, so it did not seem delectable to me, even though I was hungry. I snorted my disdain, which, of course, Bobby and Carlton could not interpret.

“Mama! Mama!” Bobby yelled.

A woman with gray-streaked brown hair parted in pigtails, wearing a light blue housecoat, appeared at the screen door and asked, “What in the world have you two done now? Where did you get that pony?”

“Carlton saw him on San Benito Street and chased him over here where I joined him. A lady down on San Leandro stopped him for us. Boy! Was she brave, Mama!”

“Well, hells’ bells! What are you going to do with him? You can’t keep him.”

“We don’t know. We were hoping that between our two yards there would be enough grass for him to eat.”

“Yeah!” Carlton said, claiming his half.

“I’m sure Carlton’s mom and dad won’t be any more welcoming than I am.”

“Okay,” Bobby said, sounding crestfallen. “But we ought to try and find his owner, shouldn’t we?”

The woman’s voice softened. “Yeah, that’s true,” she said. “Wait. I’ll get a bucket of water.”

That struck a note with me. I’d been through one creek and near two others — maybe the same one in different places — and hadn’t taken one lick: Now I was as thirsty as an un-nursed colt.

Carlton laid his bike on the ground, and then he and Bobby stroked my back and withers and ran their fingers through my long tangled mane.

All of a sudden, Carlton exclaimed, “Bobby, look! His dong is chapped! It’s all crusty-looking!”

“What do you mean, ‘dong’?” Bobby asked.

“Just look down there under his belly,” Carlton said, pointing.

“That’s not any ‘dong’! That’s his pecker!” Bobby said, trying to sound better informed than he obviously felt.

“My dad calls it a ‘dong’,” Carlton retorted.

“Well, Pappy calls it a ‘pecker’!” Bobby persisted. “Anyway, what does it matter? The thing looks in pretty bad shape to me, too.”

At that point, Bobby’s mother showed up with the water. She placed the bucket on the ground, and I lapped thirstily.

“Mama,” said Bobby sotto voce, “look there.”

The woman followed the direction of his arm pointing at my penis.

“What’s wrong with him, Mama?”

“How would I know?” replied his mother in a tone of annoyed perturbation.  “You’d have to ask a veterinarian that.”

Carlton joined in. “What’s a veterinarian?”

“An animal doctor,” the woman said.

“Can we take him to one?” continued Carlton.

“I can’t,” Bobby’s mother replied. “They’re not cheap, and he’s not our horse.”

All this while, Bobby kept running the palm of his hand nervously over my shoulder and along my back. “I wish he were mine,” he said.

“Hey, I saw him first,” interjected Carlton.

“Your folks can’t afford a veterinarian for somebody else’s horse any more than we can, Carlton,” the woman said in a soothing tone. “And, besides that, both of you guys will be too big in a couple of years to ride him anyway. He’s not going to get any bigger, but you will.”

“Yeah, she’s probably right, Carlton” said Bobby. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

The boys stood silently a few moments, looking sadly disappointed.

“Well,” Bobby’s mother said. “We’ll try to find his owner. I’ll check in tomorrow’s paper to see if anyone’s seriously looking for him. If they’re not, we’ll probably have to turn him over to the county agent or the animal control people. In the meantime, you boys can watch after him, maybe even ride him around the yard. However, he looks tired to me, so maybe you should just pet him. I’ll go see what I can find for him to eat.”

She went into the house and came back a few minutes later with a large box of tire-shaped cereal, three large brown potatoes and a head of cabbage. As she returned to the house, she shook her head: That was probably three breakfasts and a lunch for her and Bobby.

While I was munching at the tire-shaped cereal bits, Bobby ran his fingers through my mane and Carlton unknotted my tail.

“Bobby,” said Carlton, pensively. “Don’t his tail look awfully long to you?”


“Think we should cut it some?”

“I’ll go get my mother’s scissors.”

So they trimmed my tail, not knowing that Classic Shetlands are noted for their long, thick manes and tails. I didn’t care. I appreciated their positive attention.

Bobby and Carlton’s friends came over throughout the day to see the strange pony. The only names I recall are Alan Ray, Billy and Jay. No young girls in that neighborhood, apparently. They all petted me but, oddly enough, not a single one mounted me. Being city boys, they probably didn’t know how without a saddle and were ashamed to admit it. Or maybe they thought I would buck. Neighhh! Wouldn’t that be a show!

Before the boys took off for supper and their TV shows, they were conscientious enough to tie the rope at the base of the redbud tree so I would have enough tether to lie down. But I didn’t do that for a few hours. Rather I stood on three hooves, as horses are wont to do, and looked up at the stars in the broad night sky. And I wondered what real freedom is like, for I felt that my adventure had involved a bogus freedom full of anxiety and confusion. I wondered if there even is such a thing as real freedom.

The next morning was what humans call “Sunday” — the day when people can sleep late and even the afternoon paper is delivered before dawn. Odd customs! But, naturally, Bobby came outside just as the sun rose. So did his mother. He came to see if I needed any water and to comb my mane with his fingers, while she picked up the paper from the driveway and went back inside.

“I don’t know what to call you,” Bobby murmured behind my right ear, which I shook on feeling his breath there. “Bet you have some corny name, like ‘Reginald’; but if you were mine I’d call you something grand, like ‘Champ’.”

Soon, Carlton showed up. “Is he okay?” Carlton asked as he dismounted from his bike. “Did he sleep all night?”

Bobby chuckled and replied, “I guess so. I wasn’t out here….but I didn’t.”

“Me neither. Think we’re going to have to give him up?”

“Almost certain of it, even if we don’t find his owner. We can’t afford to keep him. Mother was right. And we don’t have a yard big enough. Or a fence. It wouldn’t be fair to keep him pegged to a tree day and night. He needs some roaming room.”

“Yeah,” said Carlton thoughtfully. “I getch’a….Still, I hate to see him go.”

“Bobby!” There was Bobby’s mother standing in the front doorway, holding the screen door open with one hand and waving the newspaper with her other hand. “Bobby, there’s a twenty-five dollar reward for that pony! I’m going to call the owner in a little while. Got to give him time to wake up.”

Bobby and Carlton looked at each other with faces reflecting the features of condemned men. I actually felt sorry for them. Can you believe that?  A horse feeling sympathy for humans? But as for me, I was already resigned; I knew where I was going. But, really, I didn’t.

Bald ol’ belly came to Bobby’s house just before noon. He was driving his ten-year-old maroon pickup truck and towing a four-horse trailer.

“How d’ye do, ma’m,” he said to Bobby’s mother when she came out to meet him. He took off his straw sombrero and shook her hand and introduced himself, “I’m Buster Monahan.” He glanced toward the boys standing beside me a few yards away under the shade of the redbud leaves. “I’ve got twenty-five dollars in cash right here for you. I sure appreciate your finding my pony for me.”

“Those two boys were the ones who found him, not I,” the woman said archly. “My son asked me what was wrong with your horse’s….uh, penis. I told him I didn’t know, but I think maybe I should mention it so you can do something about it. It bothers the boys very much”

“Oh that!” said Buster. “That’s nothing serious, ma’am. That pony — all my ponies — are geldings, and geldings don’t get erections like stallions do, so they sometimes don’t get enough sunshine down there. Sunshine’s a great cleaner. So the geldings develop this film on their members, and when they roll around in the dirt their members begin to look flaky…or chapped. Just a little bit of soapy water will take care of the problem. I’ll do it soon as I get back to my riding pen.

“Hey, we’re right up near the spillway. I’ll be there two more days, then we’re leaving for New Mexico. If you’d like to bring these two boys up there, I’ll let them ride around a couple of times gratis. Additional reward, you know.”

“I’ll think about it,” said Bobby’s mother, “but I believe the boys are a little too old to get much of a thrill riding around in a circle on a Shetland pony.”

“Suit yourself,” Buster said, as he untied me and gave the rope to Bobby and led me to the trailer. He took me back to the carnival lot. Boy! Was he ever mad at me! He swatted my flank ten times with his folded Sunday paper. “I’m tired of messing with you, Jeremiah, you stupid critter,” he yelled as he backed me out of the trailer. “I’m going to sell you as soon as I can.”

Well, fortunately, it was soon enough. He advertised in a few daily papers and a horse lovers magazine, and a middle-aged fellow named Ralph in a town not far away came the following month and hauled me away in a nice single-horse trailer. Ralph was a photographer of sorts. What I mean by that is that he didn’t take artsy type pictures. He just used a Polaroid camera to photograph kids generally younger than Bobby and Carlton as they sat on my saddled back decked out with chaps and a cowboy hat and a bandana. That was a good racket for ol’ Ralph. He prospered by it for about ten years and he fed me well and took care of my ”dong” or “pecker” or whatever you want to call it.

Then, in about the year 2000, some human invented a small portable phone that also had a camera in it. The “customers” began to try to cheat Ralph by taking their kids’ portraits as soon as Ralph had the little tykes in the saddle. Ralph began to counter by standing in front of me and whatever child was on me. He had a bunch of quarrels with the cheating parents, a couple of which reached the fisticuffs stage. Finally, he gave it up as a lost cause and retired me to this nice pasture in the hill country. I love it here. I see this as real freedom — a freedom that satisfies me, anyway.

Ralph was an all right guy. He recognized my proper dignity. Even gave me a new name: “Champ”.


NOTE TO READERS:  The next post on this blog site will be on or about August 18 of this year.

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