Category Archives: Stories

How to Rein a Horse with a Feather

Tom Lea, the famous artist and author from El Paso, Texas, tells about a horse trainer in his book, The Hands of Cantu. This was a bronc starter of the old-school, probably the late 19th or early 20th century. In those days, a horse was “used.” They had no infernal combustion engines, cars or trucks, so everything was done horseback or horse drawn. The “pure-quill” horse trainers were usually divided into amansadores or “gentlers” who did the initial training, and arrendadores who were the reinsmen, or finishers. The end result of the old Spanish method was a trigger-light stock horse. It could be reined by taking a hair of the mane, tying it to the reins and galloping to sliding stop, or a spin, while holding only the hair between the thumb and forefinger.

In this book, the trainer tells  the young amansador,

“There are only four qualities that a horse trainer must have, they are: perception, judgment, fine hands,and patience indestructible! To lack one of them is to lack them all!”

I have seen a few followers of this art; some still exist among the hackamore men, especially those west of the Rockies who train for the spade bit. It is an arduous long drawn-out process. It takes at least two years to get a horse in bit. That’s starting with four and five-year-olds. Then finishing can take a few more years. But those horses are as light to the rein as a feather. It’s like one trainer said, “Don’t wear a wrist-watch when training horses.” Probably you ought not to even use a calendar, especially if it has a horse show on it as a deadline.

Runaway Pair

I gotta tell this one. It’s an old story here in Burleson County, Texas, told to me by a good friend and cattle buyer/auctioneer Skelly Strong, Sr.

It seems that the Chance Farm down on the Brazos River near the town of Snook had a pair a beautiful gray mules. Now, this was the day of equines and wagons and mostly dirt roads. Not many cars and trucks were seen around here. These mules were a gorgeous matched pair, and they had only one fault – they were known to have run away with a wagon. So the owner put the word out that he’d take anything in trade for them. Finally this fella shows up, driving a grain wagon, empty, with a team of really ugly mismatched mules. The trade being made, he hitched the pair of grays to his rig. The owner of the farm said to him

“Now one last thing, be careful not to get them stirred up because they might run off.”

The new owner nodded and grinned back from the wagon seat, then set off down the one mile dirt lane to what was later to become Farm to Market Highway 50. Suddenly he stood up and slapped the driving lines on the mules’ back and squalled “Come UP, you sonsabitches!” and the race was on! They took off like thoroughbreds out of a starting gate! The wagon wheels were singing! They were slinging dirt as the big rig fishtailed and went up on two wheels as he cranked them into a right turn to head north, still racing at warp speed.

  He crossed  the road to Snook, then known as Jones Bridge Road, if I remember correctly, at a dead run. People who saw it from their work in the cotton fields gasped

“He’s trying to kill hisself!”

But they ran on, streaking northward.

  They crossed the main highway at Cooks Point still galloping with him still standing in the front of the wagon. When the mules acted like they wanted to slow down, he’d slap the lines to them and shout

“Oh, no, you dirty hayburners. You wanted to run so RUN –yeeHAW!”

   I’m told that observers near the bridge on Six-mile saw him yelling at them to gallop as they thundered across the bridge. And sometime later a sweat stained, panting, frazzled looking pair of mules clopped sedately into the town of Gause,  approximately 30 miles from Chance farm. It is said that these gray mules never ran away again. In fact it was hard to get them into a decent trot!

That was long before my time, but I believe horsemen in those days understood psychology pretty well, what I call perverse psychology.

Where the Iberian Horse Went

I grew up raising Quarter Horses. My dad’s family had bred and ridden Morgans. That was before there was an American Quarter Horse Association. From 1962 to the present we have continued to breed raise and ride quarter horses. Yeah, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming didn’t you, You clever thing, you. OK, here it is. In the 1980s my dear wife became fascinated with sidesaddle (since she had discovered that she wasn’t actually going to grow up and be the black stallion she figured she wanted to do something exciting with horses) We met a young woman who had Peruvian horses. The combination of sidesaddle and Peruvian horses took off, and in a few years, the Texas Ladies Aside, became the official drill team of the state of Texas. Their costumes were largely based on historical themes, so we found ourselves delving into history. Whereupon we encountered The horses of the Iberian Peninsula. There, in what was to become Spain and Portugal, were war horses, stock horses and gaited traveling horses, as it was a time before adequate roads, and carriages had come into use. We discovered that as early as Columbus’ Second voyage all three types of horses began to be imported in small ships across the Atlantic to be involved in the exploration of the Western Hemisphere, a previously unknown land. From those horses came the rootstock in part or in whole for Paso Fino, Peruvian, quarter horse, and even the Morgan. Tune in again next week for the rest of the story

Damage from Wild Hogs

“If you eat, you’re involved with agriculture” –bumper sticker

This week Sally and I were “riding circle” checking the pastures, and “the girls”, our corriente cows. Our dogs were trailing along with us, Wolf the big white Akbash, Carl, the Heinz 57, who is our singing, talking dog who looks for all the world like a mini Rottweiler, Tia, the professional cow dog (leopard/black mouth Cur), and the pups Lucy and Buckshot. We had pretty much finished when I heard the “pack” bay up something. When they finally worked out of the woods, they had a young black feral boar hog on the run. Pandemonium reigned. We watched in awe as four dogs stopped the pig, which I guess at around two hundred pounds or a little less. He spun and fought as they jumped out of the way, then they went back to work on his hide. Finally after about 10 minutes he got away, but not before he tusked little Carl pretty badly on one leg.Animal rights folks may have a problem with hunting feral hogs, but let me share a few facts with you. This is an animal that does an excess of fifty million dollars of agricultural damage a year in Texas alone. The sow is sexually mature at age six months, and can produce two to three litters of from four to eight pigs per year (or as my friend says, “litter of eight and all 10 of them live!!”) Estimates by wildlife specialists are that it would require harvesting over sixty percent per year to maintain a stable population (every county in Texas has them,) and we are only succeeding in taking out twenty eight percent!