Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Copyright Ken Harris 2008

Dancer was our wonder pony, beautiful, sweet natured, gentle, good with children. Brilliant rump patch with prominent, defenite, chocolate brown spots. Dark chocolate. He had only one fault. He only had one testicle. Actually, he had two of them, but one was undescended. In vet school they would call him “cryptorchid,” a phrase that has nothing to do with flowers. In breeding equine animals, cryptorchidism is a serious defect. You can’t enter him in a show because one of the things the judge does is count testicles. If he finds an odd number of them, you and your pony are out of the show.

And so, with great regret, we called the vet out to have the colt castrated. In the testicle world none at all is better than one and at least we’d be able to show him off as a gelding. Unfortunately, the vet could not locate the undescended testicle. He reached inside the poor animal’s cavity and fondled various anatomical parts, but didn’t want to perform surgery by Braille. It would be really embarrassing if he removed a tonsil by mistake.

And then a curious thing happened. Dancer healed beautifully, but he had a profound personality change. He became vicious, unruly and carnivorous. Not only was his orchid crypted beyond access, it was putting out some really vicious testosterone.

We had to have the undescended testicle removed. This meant a trip to the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. It also meant signing a lot of waivers, but we were willing to do that. Poor Dancer had what was called a “high flanker,” and it took the doctors and students a long, long time to perform the operation.

The operation was successful and our normally sweet horse was restored to us. We promptly sold him to someone in Southern California who was connected to the movie industry. Dancer did a few Disney television shows but then, one day, while doing something perfectly normal, jumping in the air, running in circles, something he did every day, he fell and broke his back and had to be destroyed.

Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the insect.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pony Feet

Pony Feet
Copyright Ken Harris 2008

There’s something to be said for raising your horses on the side of a hill. Leg
problems tend to straighten themselves out. Haunches grow, knees straighten. But feet don’t straighten. They tend to remain the same. That’s where corrective trimming comes in. A horse’s foot is actually one big toe and the hoof is its toenail. Essentially, a horse shoer is an equine podiatrist. Our splay footed ponies needed some expert trimming, but we couldn’t afford an equine podiatrist to come out every two weeks and trim away. That lot fell to me. Every two weeks I would trim the outsides of the ponies hind feet, just a little bit, with the hoof nippers. Then I would file them smooth so they wouldn’t chip in the rocky pasture they called home.

Until this point I had congratulated myself on being the first Harris in four generations to not be a horse shoer. My father shod horses as a young man, my grandfather, my great grandfather, even though they all engaged in different occupations, they took their turn at trimming hooves level and nailing steel plates to the result. I had escaped this fate – until Bonnet and Dancer came to live with us.

The first thing you will notice when you work on a pony’s feet is how close to the ground they are. You raise a pony’s hoof and it’s still nose to the toes time. You spend a lot of time bent over that way, even if the ponies are cooperating. Soon I was doing a whole string of ponies, Two Bits, Queenie, their foals.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dancer and Bonnet

Dancer and Bonnet
Copyright Ken Harris 2006

When we lived in Auburn, California in the 1960s we pursued several mad ideas. One such concept was to win fame and fortune breeding Ponies of the Americas (POAs). A pony is an equine creature less that 14.2 hands (58") at the withers. A POA is a pony with appaloosa color or at least some other characteristics. It was a color more than anything else.

While we were in the Ponies of the Americas business, we decided that we needed a stallion, or even two stallions. We saw an ad in the POA newsletter placed by a Spud Snyder in Montana. Spud had two colts to sell, both colored, and he agreed to meet us in Twin Falls, Idaho to make the transaction.

We hitched our two-horse trailer to our salty GMC ¾-ton pick-up and set forth over Donner Pass. It was opening day of trout season. The Manitou of Weather chose that day to bring down a snow blizzard on us. Cars skidded around the road like skateless ice hockey players. The Highway Patrol put on the chain control at Nyack Garage. (All of this means nothing to you who are unfamiliar with the area. Let’s just say we were trying to get over Donner Pass in a snowstorm because we're not very good history students). Since most of the trout fishermen had no chains with them, they lined up for miles to rent or buy their chains at Nyack Garage. Stu Wells, the garage owner, sported a smile that almost broke his face. You could see his teeth for a hundred yards. One single storm had changed his fiscal year from loss to profit.

I had borrowed chains from Ina Robinson, but had no idea of how to put them on. I was a Son of the Desert from Riverside County. We do sand dunes and sage brush, not sleet and snow. Somehow I managed to attach the chains, with the help of pliers and baling wire, and we got over the hill, shortly before the chains rebelled at my inexpert attempt to attach them and broke loose, wrapping themselves around the brake lines.

When we arrived in Twin Falls, the GMC’s alternator died. We went to a salvage yard to replace it. I am here to testify that there is not so much as a single tree or bush between Twin Falls and the North Pole. Joanne and I were wearing long underwear, short underwear, shirts, sweaters, coats, everything but the motel blankets, and still we froze. The wind cut through us like we were wearing no clothes at all. I have never returned to Idaho and have no intention of ever again exposing my portly person to weather like that.

We contacted Snyder and bought the colts, two miserable looking little guys fresh off that good Montana winter range, wondering what they ever did to deserve weather like this. We loaded them up quickly and headed for California hoping the storm over Donner Pass would be over by the time we got there. As it happened, the weather had cleared, but it was cold enough to provide black ice in the higher places in Nevada. I'd never seen black ice before. On the road it looks just like water, but it's like driving on elephant snot. When you hit the patch with a trailer-load of horses, you take your feet off everything and hope you keep going straight.

We made it home in spite of all and our friends came around to dutifully admire our purchases. Dancer was truly admirable, a dark seal brown pony with a bright rump patch, with spots, a good looking head, and fine conformation. He looked just like a pony should look except he was a little cow hocked and splay footed in the rear end.

Bonnet was different. How is it that Southern Belles damn with faint praise? They precede their comment with “Bless his heart.” “Bless his heart, he don’t suck his thumb in public.” Well, Bonnet, bless his heart, was a Friday horse.

You’ve probably heard that you don’t ever want to buy an American car made on a Monday or a Friday. On Mondays the work force is hung over and on Fridays they put together some cars with left over parts, things that didn’t fit neatly the first time around. They look in the corners and think, “There must be enough parts here to build another car.” Bonnet looked like a Friday horse. He had all the right parts, but they didn’t quite fit. His base color was a reddish brown and his rump patch was not brightly colored and there were no spots. His head was not beautiful and the pink around his eyes and mouth, marked with darker spots, while denoting Appaloosa DNA, made him look like he had a skin disease.

More next week.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Copyright Ken Harris 2006

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my brother-in-law Fritz’s fault. It was all my neighbor Bill Van Landingham’s fault.

Long, long and long ago, not back to Dinosaur Days but almost, in the early 1960s, Fritz and Ruth Heyser came up to visit us in Auburn, California. We were all visiting together very nicely. We hadn’t insulted each other hardly at all. Things would have passed uneventfully if Bill Van Landingam hadn t come by and asked us if we liked frogs legs. Fritz and I both agreed that we loved frogs legs.

Now, from the wisdom conveyed by forty years after the fact, I confess that I had never eaten frogs legs in my life. How would I know if I liked them or not? But Fritz said he loved frogs legs and I wasn’t going to look like a wuss in front of him.

Bill then got us to agree to go with him that night when it was good dark to go frogging. He said that there were ponds where he worked that hadn’t been frogged in years, and he was sure that we could fill up our bags with frogs legs and have them for breakfast. Bill worked at the DeWitt State Mental Hospital as an attendant and said that he had scouted the territory well.
Nothing to it, he said. We drive out there, go to the ponds, fill our bags with frogs legs and return home to a grateful female population who would then gladly fry them up. In butter, rolled in corn meal. We could have frogs legs, potatoes and coffee with brandy in it for breakfast.

Fritz and I must have had a lot beer to drink because this seemed like a good, sound idea.
So that s what we did. We drove out to part of a six-foot chain link fence topped off with three strands of barbed wire that was near the ponds. The barbed wire was strung on arms that were set inwards 30°. Wait a minute. I didn’t remember Bill saying anything about chain link fences and barbed wire.

No matter. We climbed over and made our way to the ponds. It was easy; even the part where we jumped over the three strands of barbed And the frogs were there all right, chuggarumming so loudly you could hear them a hundred yards away. We shined our flashlights on the pond and frog eyeballs lit the place up. The pond looked like a Christmas tree. We gigged frogs with our three pronged frog giggers, killing them, removing their legs and cramming them into burlap bags. We were knee deep in mud, sweaty and yucky with frog yuck, when Bill said, “We d better hurry. We’ll be in trouble if we re caught.”

We filled three burlap bags with frogs legs and made our way back to the fence. But the three-strand layer of barbed wire, now loomed over our heads and looked far more formidable. We thought about going to the main gate and telling them that we weren’t patients there at all and that we didn’t really belong in a mental hospital. But we thought maybe the people at the gate might disagree. They might think we were exactly where we belonged.

So we gave up on going out the easy way and threw our bags and our gear over the fence and then made our way over as well. I learned a lot from this expedition, mostly about things that portly gentlemen should not attempt.

But we returned with most of our clothes, skin and flesh, and lots of frogs legs. The women had given up on us and gone to bed, but we woke them up, masculine studs that we were. They agreed to cook them and help us eat them. But we had to clean them. I never think things all the way through. You don t just throw a frog in a pan skin and all. But we got them cleaned while the women argued about who had the stupidest husband.

The frogs legs were excellent. But the whole experience was yucky from beginning to end. Ever since then I have just bought chicken at the store like a sensible man.