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.

16 comments: said...

I hung out at the Arroyo Seco Stables in the 70's. Do you remember a Nancy Davis or Nancy Moore when you were boarding horses? Hell, for that matter do you remember La Cantina restaurant?

Ken and Joanne said...

We hung out there from the middle to late fifties and early sixties. Then we moved to Northern California. We did drop back again in 1978 and it hadn't changed. Different little girls, different horses, different chickens, but it hadn't changed. I just recently Googled it, and apparently Arroyo Seco stables is still in business.

Ken Harris

Dexter said...

Talk about a Stab from the Past!
Yes, I remember all of this and More! Ken and Joanne, Hello from Dexter 'Williams' so Fun to read Your Stories. Those were the Days...
Terry is still at the Barn, Tad is in Pasadena. Dammy lives in Colorado and I'm in N. California. I'd Love to hear from You.

Cheryl said...

I went to Girl Scout camp at the Arroyo Seco Stables in the late 60's. I loved it so much that I "hired on" as a trail guide/groomer/"whatever I was told" to do girl. I have fond memories of the William's family. I know there was a couple of girls slightly older than me (Deb and Mary) who took me under their wings and taught me the ropes... the pay was meager (lunch at the La Cantina once in a while)but I was in heaven! I am 53 years old now, but if I think about it long enough, I can still remember alot of the horses... Tango (the Pinto) was my favorite! Years later, when my own horse became lame, Mr. Williams was kind enough to buy him from me and try to rehabilitate him... even though we both knew it was his time to go... I will always believe Chuck's rough exterior had a heart of gold underneath. God Bless you, Williams family, for making my pre-teen years memorable. Cheryl (John)
Nyreen, Fremont, NE

Katheryn said...

Thanks for the post. I rode at Arroyo Seco in the early '70's and remember Mrs. Williams very well. A small, tough woman who taught us to ride. I used to lease Freckles (who kicked me in the chest), Prince, Dandilion, Impecable. I remember Mrs. Williams yelling, "Antez, Trot!" and that little flea-bitten grey mare would trot those kids around the ring. I still love horses thanks to those days.

Dexter said...

Always Great To see these Posts, little Treasures from the Past. Things Change but they remain the Same, but for how long? Terry is still at the Stable along with the Horses, the Chickens, Dogs and Cats. He does his best to keep it as it was back in the day, but the World has Changed!
We Lost Tad, our Older Brother, last Year. He fought Long and Hard with Cancer, now he is Gone.
Dammy is Retired and Living in Colorado, where she Still Barrel Races every Weekend! She make her own Chaps and was Voted Best Dressed last year in her Region!
As for me, Dexter, I am Retired and Living in Idaho. I remarried my First Husband, John Yeats, and we live on 10 Acres in the Mountains. Life is Good!
As Everyone else who was a part of the Arroyo Seco Stables Family, I have a Treasure chest of Memories growing up 'Williams' at Arroyo Seco Stables!

Debbilou said...

I rode with Mrs. Williams in the mid-sixties; Antez, Princess, Red Alder and Precious. I learned to jump on precious. My sister Linda and I bought Bright Boy, a stable horse there. She is a cattle rancher today working her cattle on horseback, and I ride at the LAEC. Great memories of the place! And I remember going up to La Cantina the back way.

jere said...

I rode horses at Arroyo Seco Stables in the mid fifties. Aliso, and Douglas were my favorites. John Sherrill was very nice to me. We would sit and talk for awhile on Saturday afternoons. Mrs and Mr. Williams, and the Williams children made an indelible memory that made a childhood better.

jere said...

I am sorry to hear about Tad. He was a special young man when I was at the stables.

Braymere said...

I attended the Cowgirl Corral Girl Scout camp at Arroyo Seco Stablesin the early 1980's. Some of the horses I remember include Cloud 9, El Dorado, Little Red, Sham and Antez. At the end of the week, we had a horse show and I won a blue ribbon. I still have it, but it's purple now.

Jane Feand said...

Oh my!!! I spent from age 7 (1950)until I went away to college at "the stabes". Dammy and I hung around every day doing chores (cleaning stalls, painting the barn, putting up hay). The best way to grow up was with Mrs. Williams looking out for you. My horse of choice was Topper. I can say I learned how to work as well as horse skills from the Wiliams.
Dammy - if this gets to you, I also live in Colorado and have since 1972, originally in Boulder now in Colorado Springs. Thanks for the chance to bring up wonderful memories.

Dexter said...

In Reply to 'Jane Feand' I'll forward You Comments to Dammy. I'm sure that she would Love to hear from You. Please Contact Me so I can Give Dammy Your Information.
Dexter, Dammy's Little sister.

Bell Lapierre said...

Hi Dexter so glad to find you, I am Isabelle Gearhart Lapierre I owned Mr. Lucky and lived across the street from you on ave. 54 I had Jimmy when you had Melanie. I remember all the fun and your family and the horses Jewel, Tinkerbell, Hindo, Tuck away, Cal. Richard and all the horse girls at the barn, Shelley Fedderman and family Gladys and her husband. .glad to hear you and John are back together wow time goes by, we live in Thousand oaks, Cal. seven graƱdkids, a few years ago we drove by the stables to see if it was there didn't get out. Glad to hear about your sister and brothers. I often think of the stable days.Isabelle stable friend. What town do you live in?

Li Wong said...

I found my home away from in the middle 50's at the stables. I ran a tribute web site some years back and it was a blast. A few kids from the stables wrote to me and we are still in touch today. I visited Dexter in Hayden lake, which is north of me now. She is in great shape. I love the old days and treasure it all. Rex and Dandy were my favorite horses. Blessings to all of you. Gail Lewis -

bhaerklaus said...

Isabelle....I remember you very well! In fact, I have a photo of you on Mr. Lucky in an early horse show "down at the barn". Your paint horse had the stall between my sister's horse, Jill, and Shelley Fetterman's little sorrel pony, Anita. My sister lives in T.O., and Shelley, the last I heard, was still in Northridge.

Stephanie Marella said...

Just found this page. What fun seeing names from the late 50's into the 60's. Growing up at "the barn" was so much fun. This is Stephanie Bantle (Marella) Fantastic group of friends and lots of wonderful memories. The first horse I rode there was Chip and he was great for a beginner. But one day Mr. Williams asked me if I wanted to escort a group and aloud me to ride Alky. And so it began. Alky was the horse of my dreams and although I eventually had two horse before I owned him, I knew he had to be mine someday. I finally persuaded Mr. Williams to trade Alky for a big black mare I owned. That was the happiest day for me and Alky was mine until he went to sleep one night in 1982 and his great heart gave out. Thanks to Mrs. Williams encouraging me to teach riding, I enjoyed years of teaching kids to ride. We are having a reunion for all who rode at Arroyo Seco Stables the second week-end of May. Contact Dexter or me for all the details.