Monday, August 3, 2009


Auburn, California, 1960s.

Sam was a gelding we had, part of our menagerie, a huge, sweet gentle brute. Sweet, gentle, kind. He bucked a lot, thereby demonstrating that nobody is perfect.
He was “cinchie.” that was the problem. If you tightened the saddle beyond what he thought proper, he panicked.

Sam was supposed to have been born an appaloosa. Appaloosa is a color type. If your foal is brightly colored, he's worth some money. If he is not so brightly colored, or even lacks the color pattern entirely but has some other distinguishing characteristics, you might be able to do something with him. But if your foal is a clean miss, no appaloosa qualities whatever, you've got dog food on the hoof. Sam was dog food on the hoof.

I don't know what appaloosas are like today, but back in the sixties, they sometimes had ugly heads. Alexander the Great rode a leopard spotted appaloosa named Bucephalus. “Bucephalus” means “cow head” in Greek. Sam didn't have a cow head. He had a suitcase head. Ina Robinson, his breeder, named him “Samsonite.” When we acquired the horse as a two-year-old, his name had been shortened to Sam.

The huge foal grew to be a huge young gelding, 17 hands 2 inches tall. But he was still a teenager. There was a lot of air between the ground and his belly. And sometimes between the saddle and the rider if you didn't get the cinch right. Sam's front legs were close together because his chest had not begun to develop. One rancher friend expressed it well. “So, who cares if his front legs come out of the same hole. Why waste a hole?” But as Sam grew into a real horse, he developed a real chest as well, but the front legs still came out of the same hole.

Joanne used Sam as a trail horse for a while. It had its advantages. For one thing, you ride above the dust raised by the other horses. I'd ride Legend, 15 hands (a ten inch difference there), gasping and wheezing on a hot, windless, breezeless summer day, sneezing dust out of my nose, and Joanne would be serenely above it all, safe on her tall horse.

On the other hand, she sometimes got scraped off on branches the rest of us rode under. Once she got a branch stuck in her boot. She kicked her feet free of the stirrups and hung on like. Sam went on down the trail leaving her dangling like a large, outraged bird while the rest of us proceeded on our dusty way. Joanne chose the correct option, though. Better to dangle from a tree than to come off over Sam's rump. He was a sensitive guy with an energetic way of showing his displeasure. You had to be careful.

Joanne used to brag that she had been thrown too many times to count. But one day Sam panicked because a stirrup touched his cinch and Sam augured her into the ground. Now she says she's only been thrown once. All the other times she just came off the horse.

Sam got over his cinchie ways when he was about five and we sold him to a little girl who was going to use him as a jumper. It wasn't fair, really. There was still so much air between the ground and the horse's belly that all he had to do was lift his feet to clear most obstacles he'd encounter in the jumping arena.

The girl renamed him “Tiny Tim.”

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