Monday, December 29, 2008

Arroyo Seco Stable Horses

Arroyo Seco Stable Horses
Copyright Ken Harris 2006

In 1957 my wife and I rented a house in South Pasadena owned by Chuck and Bobbi Williams, who also owned the Arroyo Seco stables. The house was a part of the stables property and so, besides our own two horses, Sheba and Legend, we had many other horses for neighbors.

Arroyo Seco Stables was a rent , boarding and schooling stable, so there were many horses permanently in residence. Chuck and Bobbi Williams had discussed the matter years before and had decided that they were put on earth to give horses a good home. I decided that in my next incarnation I wanted to be one of their horses. Those horses got rest, exercise, care, feed, and affection. Some humans who don’t do that well.

Many of their horses were U.S. Cavalry remounts. Cal Poly at Pomona had been a remount training station before the Army decided that they would go to tanks and helicopters. When the army went out of the horse business, Chuck and Bobbi bought some of their finest equine friends from them. An ex-cavalry horse was a great buy. It had received wonderful training and care during its formative years. Four of the Williams’ horses come to mind, Richard, O’Malley, Grey Dawn, Cocoq (pronounced “Coke” because we couldn’t figure out how to say his real name).

Richard, when I met him, was a 24-year-old bay. He was in good flesh, he ate well, and he worked as hard as any horse on the place. However, you had to be a little careful with him first thing in the morning. No sharp turns for the first fifteen minutes of the day. After that, you were dealing with a healthy, strong, mature horse. He was the best looking 24-year-old horse I’ve ever seen.

O’Malley didn’t like to work nights. He was a gentle soul and a favorite with student riders. When Bobbi gave a lesson at night, you could bet the ranch on it, someone would call for O’Malley. O’Malley would slink into the corner of his stall, put his head in the corner and make himself as small as possible. It never worked. He was a huge, seal brown gelding. If he had stretched himself out against the back of his stall, he might have disguised himself as the wall. But the corner schtick never worked. It was like hiding a football in a bucket. But each night O’Malley would try his little trick and wonder why it never worked.

Gray Dawn earned a little extra money for the stable by working in movies, appearing in at least one Disney flick. He was a perfectly well mannered horse, a perfect school horse. Except for one little character flaw. He had one buck a day. It wasn’t a sunfish, but just a little crow hop. But you never knew when it would happen. Riders were relieved when he bucked early in the morning. But as the day grew longer and the buck hadn’t come, riders would get more nervous. Then Gray Dawn would buck. Once. And everything settled down again.

Cocoq was a jumping fool. When Bobbi taught jumping classes and had a student who might be reluctant to jump (and if you stop to think about it, why would you jump a horse over an obstacle when you could walk around it), Cocoq was saddled up and away the pair went. In Cocoq’s opinion, the whole U.S. Cavalry had taught him to jump and who was some chicken rider to tell him that it was too tough.

That worked against me once. I was taking English riding lessons from Bobbi and I rode like I was duct taped to the saddle. No style whatever. Bobbi had heard somewhere that if one had a student of indifferent ability and talent, his progress could be hastened by teaching him to jump. I seemed like the perfect guinea pig to her. Of course, she didn’t tell me that. She just said she thought I was ready to learn to jump.

So there we were one night, Cocoq and I, in a “gambler’s sweepstakes.” The winner of the event was the person who took the most jumps in a minute. Maybe it was an hour. It seemed like it. Cocoq and I took the first jump and I lost my right stirrup. I tried to put my foot back into the stirrup, but by then Cocoq had committed himself to the second jump and I lost my left stirrup. Then I clenched the horse between my legs as much as I could and we took jump after jump, Bobbi calling, “Stop him, Ken, stop him!” Joanne, meanwhile, encouraged me. “Jump, Ken, jump.” I think she wanted me to win the event, but she may have been bucking for early widowhood. I completed the picture by hauling on the reins and crying, “Whoa, damn you, whoa!”

We won the event.

I could hardly walk the next day because I had strained every muscle from my toes to my nose. Bobbi said she was relieved that I had not cracked her horse’s ribs. For Cocoq, it was all in a day’s work.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Picking Up Ponies

Picking Up Ponies
Copyright Ken Harris 2008

Twin Falls, Idaho. Spring, mid-1960s. Opening day of trout season. My wife and I were trailering back to Twin Falls to pick up two stud ponies. Our intent was to win fame and fortune raising Ponies of the Americas (POAs).

It was a long drive from Auburn, California to Twin Falls, Idaho, made longer by a flash snow storm over Donner Summit. God, I loved crawling on my belly in muck trying to put rusty, borrowed chains on the GMC. Because it was opening day of trout season, there were thousands of motorists lined up at Nyack Garage to buy chains. Who brings chains on a trout fishing trip? Stu Wells, the garage owner, had a grin on his face they could have used to guide airplanes.

We finally got through to Twin Falls when the alternator on the GMC gave out. Slow go to no go. Bought a used alternator that wouldn’t work because the mastermind who sold us the vehicle had reversed the wiring. We stood in the weather while some guy with a screwdriver and a cigar clenched in his teeth tried to fix it. Did you know that there isn’t a single tree between the North Pole and Twin Falls to break up the wind? Not a single one! This happened 40 years ago and I still have icicles on my liver.

We loaded up our ponies, at least, we were assured they were ponies. It was difficult to tell under all their hair because they had been on good Montana winter range until we picked them up. I wondered if someone had slipped in some Ponies of Siberia on us.

Driving back was uneventful except for a brief – it seemed like forever – encounter with black ice in the high desert of Nevada. I'd heard enough about it to know to take my feet off the gas, the clutch, the brake, and just hope the forward inertia would do just that, carry us forward.

Not a pleasant trip. Successful, but not pleasant.