Category Archives: Horses

Bearable lightness of humans with horses

Courtney Hampton on Fanny in Missouri (2011)

Considering all the events of the past week, I thought I would pass this e-mail along to you from Courtney Hampton who traveled to Oklahoma City on a mission to see and evaluate Fanny.  She bought Fanny and this is her comment on riding her the first day.

I just thought I’d give you an update on how Fanny is doing. We arrived at Heritage Place at about 5 a.m. Friday morning and loaded her and Diesel (the other mare we bought) up and headed to Missouri. It was about an eight-hour drive, but we stopped several times to let them stretch.   She handled everything very well. When we got her home (about 1:30 p.m.) we turned her and Diesel (aka Ms Royal Fever) out in the big arena (their new home for two weeks until the others get used to them).   As soon as we let them go they took off and started running and bucking.  They were definitely happy to get out of the trailer!  It was about 55 degrees out, so all my other horses started running around too.  (It hasn’t been that warm in weeks.)  What a sight to be sure!  Fanny was sure strutting her stuff! (I will attach pictures.)  She and Diesel ran around that arena for half an hour. So cool to watch!  After their energy had worn down some I threw some alfalfa out and they went to munching.  Later that day, about 4:30 or so, I went down and decided to ride them both for a few minutes just to see how they did.  I started with Fanny first as I wasn’t sure how the race mare was going to be (I’ve bought off the track horses before and they can be a little hard to handle).   I saddled Fanny and of course she just stood there like a pro.  I got on her and rode her around for about 30 minutes and put her through some paces just to see what she could do. She did everything I asked like a champ: roll-backs, counter-bending, side-passing, stop *which that mare can STOP!*  Then I took her out and walked her around the pasture that we have our weanling calves in.  Of course she was very alert and nervous but she never spooked — even when our flock of guinea hens flew by her.  She started shaking (poor baby), but then just snorted and walked on.  Since she was doing so good I quit her and unsaddled and fed her while I rode Diesel (who has a pretty good handle on her for a race mare and I was pleasantly surprised).

— Courtney Hampton to Jack Matthews, January 16, 2011

This is the sweet side of handing off horses to young people whose attachment to animals renews those of us that have become coarse.  Some of the bitter goes away when you hear-tell this kind of narrative.


Filed under Duncan Steele-Park, Horses, Life in Balance, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny)

To the land of open range

We carried Fanny and Hija and her unborn foal to sale in our two-horse trailer named Equi Spirit.

Fanny or Shiners Fannin Peppy sold at the Heritage Place Mixed Winter Sale on Thursday in Oklahoma City.  Courtney Hampton of Summersville, Missouri, purchased Fanny.  Courtney’s work and pleasure with Fanny will center about Barrel Racing competition and Fanny will do Courtney well.  For Courtney and Fanny, it seemed love at first sight.  The hind socks on Fanny are white and shaped like wings and I trust Fanny will fly like the wind with Courtney.

In the listing of horses to be sold at Heritage Place, our second and third horse, Sweet Hija and the unborn foal, came up for bid at 8:00 p.m. Friday night.  All day long I prepped Sweet Hija and her unborn foal for the big event, going into the make-up ring — a place where you walk your horse in an open area — and then up the walk to the auction arena where a professional handler takes control.  When the presentation began, I walked with Hija and she showed her King Ranch style:  energetic, fully alert, stepping high, ears forward.  Yet she stayed close by me as I walked her from her left side.  For five minutes she presented her Running W, the brand of King Ranch, to the crowd before I handed her off to the handler that took her into the the bidding arena.

When she came back to me she was no longer mine.  Sweet Hija and her unborn foal passed into the kind and humane possession of Kim Elliott of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Sweet Hija and her foal will reside near Calgary, on land and terrain that gave Bierstadt panorama to the films, Open Range and Legends of the Fall. Kim Elliott acted and her horses performed in both movies.  Ms. Elliott told me and Brenda that When horses come to our ranch, they are there for good and they have the terrain of Open Range to look at day after day.  How can Brenda and I be so happy and mournful at the same time for the unexpected fortunes of our three horses?  We are and we will be.


Sweet Hija and foal's new home with Kim Elliott on the open range near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.




Filed under Horses, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny), Sweet Hija

Willful Lilly

Willful Lilly walks to Well House Corral (December 27, 2010).

In the ongoing story of Lilly (Ima Lil Moore), she is a willful horse.  The above photograph shows her this morning, after browsing a few minutes in the front pasture, walking intently to the fence panels of the Well House Corral.

Lilly had spent the night in the stables underneath a 150 watt light bulb.  When I went down this morning to feed her, she was up and moving and whinnying for her breakfast, even pinning her ears back slightly when I entered her stall.  After she finished her grain, I put out two blocks of green alfalfa for her to munch on.

And, this is point of the story, she turned away from the hay rack and deliberately walked out of the corral and into the pasture with a determination of a yearling.  She’s twenty-five years old, for goodness sakes!  Then, after a bit of browsing, I shot the above photograph of Lilly.

She’s going to die — we’re all headed that way, for sure — within who-knows-how-long?  Tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?  Jim Scroggins is coming out to the ranch with his back hoe in the morning to dig a grave pit for Lilly.  Don’t be sad.  I’ll set up panels around it so that no one will wander into it.  It’s a preparation, sort of like making a will or planning a funeral with your favorite mortician.  (My political mentor when I was young was Groner Pitts of Brownwood, Texas, a funeral director.)  If Lilly makes it through the winter and I and the vet think she will, I’ll fill up the pit with water and maybe ducks will swim in it.  It is there, however, just in case.

But, for now, Lilly is a willful mare, stubborn in her habits, sleeping longer than usual and limping a little with arthritis.  Kinda like your grandfather or grandmother.  She has her life today and she willfully directs herself to green winter grass, lying down in the sun and drinking from the stock pond with ducks swimming about her.  It’s a good day to live.


Filed under Horses, Life in Balance, Lilly

Holiday wishes from Sage to Meadow and field notes

Shiney galloping to the corral during winter. No fear of the sun disappearing here.

A holiday greeting…

The sun in the northern hemisphere is at its lowest points this time of the year.  I do not think ancient and prehistoric people feared the sun would continue to sink towards the south and disappear forever — at least in southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.  There was and is sufficient overlap of folk knowledge and tribal elder history to instruct the young and anxious that nature’s cycle continues her circle of cold to warm to hot, hot to warm to cold.

Christmas Eve and Day are here.  I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

* * *

Update on Lilly and Star…

Lilly, our oldest mare, is holding her own at 25 years of age.  She moves between the Well House Corral and the pasture, indicating a good level of energy and health.  Her feed consists of all the alfalfa she wants, Equine Senior Purina grain and 1 – 2 grams of bute (painkiller for horses) a day.  To husband animals rewards the steward: nickers and whinnies of recognition and impatience, warmth of animal in cold weather, riding for fun (both rider and horse can enjoy if accomplished properly) and work, and the sheer companionship and friendship of the horse.  One of my pleasures of having horses is hiking in the woods and having Star follow me like a hiking friend.  Star will go up and down creek bank, push aside brush to continue the hike and rest with me beside a fallen log.  If I wish to walk alone, I have to close the gate to the woods.  Most of the time, I want him with me.

Star is confined to the first corral.  He is overweight and feed intake must be limited.  He has all the coastal bermuda hay he can eat and some painkiller for his front legs.  His confinement lasts one week.  I have had to separate him from Lilly since she has alfalfa, he must have coastal.  Star is not pleased, but he adjusts.

* * *

A field post about bird songs on winter mornings…

December 16, 2010, 7:05 a.m.

Within the last two weeks I have noted birds about the barn and stables sing profusely only in the morning during the winter and are relatively quiet for the rest of the day.  I have not spent the day about the barn and stables to confirm unequivocally this observation (I’ll probably regret having brought this up in the first place), but it seems a sound observation.  During the day when I do chores and in the evening when I feed the horses and spend a hour or so in the barn area, I hear no birds or few birds.  In the morning, birds chatter and tweet, but do not break into long melodious fugues.

Our small ranch is located in North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quad.  Mesquite trees, live oak trees, elm and underbrush comprise the habitat for birds.

Among singing birds I see in the morning are redbird (just tweets), titmouse, chickadee, wrentit, wren, red-headed woodpecker, white-crowned sparrow, house sparrow, dove and a couple of other species I have yet to identify.  They browse in trees, on the ground and in the underbrush.  If I remain motionless in the corral after disturbing them, they resume their chattering and calls in a few minutes.  When the sun reaches a point in the sky at approximately 10:00 a.m. or so, songs and calls diminish.  I see birds for the remainder of the day, though not quite as frequent as the first two or three hours in the morning.  I hear during the day the quacks of ducks on stock ponds and crows on the fly.

7:35 a.m.

I have returned from the barn and stable area and this post is taking a curious turn.

A cold front moved in last night and the temperature is 40 deg. F.  The sun is not shining and clouds completely obscure the sky.  On point, birds are quiet, not even a peep, casting a different observation and bringing to light variables I had not considered: temperature, sunshine, clouds.

With the temperature in the 40s and no sunshine, I hear no birds.


Filed under Christmas, Flying Hat Ranch, Horses

Christmas Eve Music in Old California

This post was published Christmas 2009.  I have added some photographs to the original for this 2010 Christmas.  I find “Christmas Eve music in Old California” poignant with the cultural interaction.


Christmas in California before the Americans came [1840s] was a season when all the grown people had as much fun as the children do now.  And the children had so much fun that they never got over it and ever after loved play and presents more than work and hard bargaining….

One Christmas Eve, I remember best, there was a full moon.  Over all the ground there was a glittering frost, just enough to whiten everything, yet not enough to even nip the orange trees which at this season of the year hang full of fruit and blossom both….

We had much music–guitars of the Mexican and Spanish type, made with twelve strings of wire, and mandolins.  After supper there was dancing in the patio, coffee and cigaritos on the veranda, and singing everywhere.  Someone said it was a beautiful night for a horseback ride over the valley to the Mission Santa Clara.  The horses in the corral were soon saddled.  There were twenty-five or thirty of us young men and women.  Our horses were the best of the big herds that were attached to every rancho….The saddles, bridles and spurs were heavily covered with silver bullion ornaments, as in those times we put silver on our horses instead of on our dining tables; for Spaniards…live on horseback, and they eat but to live, instead of living to eat.

Riding out of the patio gate it was like a scene from the time of the Moors in Spain.  As our horses snorted in the cold air they spun the rollers in their bits, making music that only the Spanish horse knows [1].



[1]  José Ramon Pico, “Before the Gringo Came,” San Francisco Call, December 1899.  From Sam Travers, Christmas in the Old West:  A Historical Scrapbook, pp. 171-174.

Mission Santa Clara Asís established in 1777, was located a few miles south of San Francisco.  This mission and adjacent Indian pueblo eventually grew into Santa Clara and San Jose.  The mission is now located on the campus of  Santa Clara University.

Frank Principe, silversmith from Lindell Beach, British Columbia, writes that many of the old California-type bits, such as the Santa Barbara, were designed with Islamic religious symbols.  The symbols included seven buttons, half moons, and starts.  This is traceable to Moorish occupation of Spain until the 1490s, the Cortez expedition to Mexico, and other adventures.  He writes, “For the last one hundred years or so most North American bit makers have been using these designs without realizing their historical significance.”

Sweet Hija (Spanish for “daughter”), my black mare, has King Ranch breeding.  Even today, King Ranch provides ranch horses for Mexican ranches.  Of all my horses, Sweet Hija is the fastest and most energetic.  After saddling Hija, I must run her about the round pen to work off her energy before she is ridden.  She is the most alert and sensitive to her surroundings, spotting deer a half a mile away.  I have to use binoculars to see what she sees.

Spanish Mustang Research Facility.


Filed under Christmas, Horses

Creatures of Dusty Blu

I work with a horseman, Dusty Blu Cooksey, at the college where I teach in Abilene, Texas.  Today he told me of animals besides his horses that envelop his life on his ranch northwest of Abilene.

First, Blu has dogs and horses, even a dog that cannot hear, but watches for hand commands and other para-linguistic signs from Blu.  His horses compete in shows all over the Southwest, and early in his horse career, Blu had two world champion quarter horses.  That was in the 1980s.

Nowadays, the creatures of Dusty Blu include an armadillo, coyote, raccoon and cats.

The armadillo was brought up to the stables by his dogs several years ago.  It was a baby armadillo and the little guy was carried gently in the mouth of his Blue Heeler, placed upon the ground in front of Blu and his workers, as if, “Here’s a little guy that needs help.  Take care of him.”  They put him in a stall since he was small and let him grow and eat dog chow.  After the armadillo grew to a juvenile, Blu let him or her out, but the armadillo stayed about the corrals, never venturing far, and tunneled into alfalfa haystacks to sleep during the day and roam at night.  The dogs consider him one of them and let the armadillo browse and eat with them at supper time.

The dogs brought a baby coyote to the stables, like the armadillo, and laid him down gently.  The dogs seem to know rescue quite well.  Blu fed the coyote pup and neutered him when he grew of age.  Wiley is the coyote’s name and he attends the ranch, never venturing far from his home he knew as a pup.  The dogs consider him one of them and let Wiley alone.  At times, he howls, but not out of loneliness.

A raccoon habits the place and washes his food in pools of water.  The creatures of Dusty Blu seem content.  Within the past few days, Blu tells me that an unusual cat, calico and tabby combined with two different-colored eyes, meandered into the mix.  A kit of small size, Blu will take him to the vet for neutering and care.  Nurture surrounds the kit and the void disappears.  When Blu told me today of these things, I laughed at the complex of animals with him and how his horses tolerate the menagerie.

Deep down, past laughter, I looked at Blu as he walked away to teach.  He’s a tall man and dresses western all of the time.  I saw wings and his hat was rimmed in gold.


Filed under Dogs, Dusty Blu, Horses, Life in Balance

Oak Tree Mast Year

Lichen and moss on the north side of live oak tree in the front yard at Flying Hat.

Moss grows on the north side of trees.  That’s true in the northern hemisphere.  Probably it’s on the south side of trees in the southern half of Earth.  We have many oak trees bearing fruit this Fall.

Acorns fall from trees abundantly this season.  Our car port becomes a tin drum when the acorns fall — about one every thirty seconds at the fastest rhythm.  This is a “mast” year for acorns, a season of superabundant oak tree fruit.

Here on the ranch in prehistoric times, acorns were a staple supply for the Indian.  About the ranch house, in the front pastures and around the barn, I have discovered stone tools in abundance:  choppers and grinders.  It is possible that archeological analysis will reveal Flying Hat a quarry for tool making since non-worked iron ore and meteorite sources are plentiful (1).

Horses must be watched lest they overeat acorns.  A few nuts will not hurt them.  This Fall season the grass is so abundant the horses don’t care about the acorns.  During a lean year of grass in the Fall, I have seen Star (levitating and stealth horse) stand beneath an oak tree and wait for nuts to fall, some bonking him on the head, other nuts bouncing off his backside.  This year, however, come the browning of the grass, horses must be given ample hay or put in another pasture without acorns.  Star would much prefer to be gently pelted with nuts.



(1)  Archeological analysis in Texas falls under the Texas Historical Commission administration.  Contract archeological firms analyze sites.  My work in archeological field survey and analysis (I like the fieldwork) stems from my graduate field school tenure at Texas Tech University, anthropology department, under Dr. William Mayer-Oakes.

See also Texas Historical Commission, Archeological Subset.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Horses

Stealth Horse

You can hear horses nicker and whinny.  You can feel the ground shake when they gallop past you in full run.  When you are inside a horse trailer with them and they call for their mates, the trailer vibrates with the force of their voice and your ears ring for thirty minutes.

Even so, horses are quiet.  Really quiet.

One story, among many I have, illustrates the stealth horse in every horse that lives and breathes.   Air force secret stealth projects have nothing on these guys.  Four years ago I was setting up cedar staves between big fence posts on the boundary between our place and a neighbor’s ranch southeast of us.  Our small remuda of equine was in the pasture behind me and I was sweating and swearing vigorously in the morning heat.  Between me and the horses in the field was a flat-bed trailer.

As I stood back from a particularly hard tie of a cedar stave to a five-strand barbed wire fence, I felt this hairy flesh about my neck and shoulder.  I was already nervous from fighting yellow-jacket wasps and I had a couple of minor puncture wounds from the barbed wire.  What in the world has got me now?

It was Star, paint horse gelding!  Sneaked up he did, went around the flat-bed trailer, and quietly walked up to my backside!

Five minutes ago, he was back up a hundred yards in the pasture.  Now the guy is building fence with me!   “Star, what are you doing?  You scared the daylights out of me!”

He stood there looking at my work.  I’m sure he was real proud of himself  having spooked me.  I gave him a gentle rub between the eyes.  He stood with me for about fifteen minutes while I finished the task and then ambled off, walking around the flat-bed trailer to go munching on bermuda grass.

That Star is a stealth horse.


Star the stealth horse lying down in the pasture.


Star the stealth horse galloping away.








Forthcoming post:  Star Herds Sheep Without Rider


Filed under Cedar, Horses, Juniper

Lilly: A Kick of Delight

Lilly (2008)

Lilly must have attracted my stepfather because he was always frugal with money and as long as I knew him, J. W. (Jesse Walter) never purchased horses.  Until Lilly.  He bought her in about 1993.  She was eight-years old.

J. W. had married my mother  in 1951, worked for Texas Power & Light Company and kept watch over two parcels of land in central Texas:  a 35 acre area near Goldthwaite, Texas, and a 13 acre plot, called Salt Creek, near Brownwood, Texas.  Lilly stayed, from time-to-time, in both places.  Star, her colt, was born at Salt Creek.

Lilly is a black and white tobiano paint horse.  Tobiano indicates a color ensemble of paint horses that is not speckled, like paint that is thrown from a paint brush, but rather broad swatches of color that can be interpreted as representational figures on the horse, as American Indians were wont to do: woman lying down, warrior standing up, galloping horse, and so on.  She stands about 14.5 hands, fairly short for a horse, but good for easy mounting and fast breaks and stops.  Crazy Horse would have liked her, as he painted hailstones on his mounts and Lilly had broad patches of black.

Lilly Saddled (1993)

Lilly was J. W.’s trail horse.  She would be his ride on daily trail rides around central Texas and may have, on one occasion, gone with him to Colorado for an elk hunt.  J. W. did not hunt elk in his later years, preferring to stay back in camp, taking pictures on a Kodak camera and conversing about the fire.  Lilly may not have gone with him, but I think I remember her being framed in a photograph in the high country.

I first saw Lilly at Salt Creek.  She was beautiful.  Still is.  My daughter rode her when young.  Brenda has ridden her and so has Olivia, my granddaughter.  I never rode Lilly.  For some reason, Star was my steed and when my family rode with me, they chose Lilly and I rode Star.  I don’t regret not having ridden Lilly because I am always around her.  I have been her keeper since September 2002, when J. W. was diagnosed with leukemia.  Twice a day after I moved her and Star to Mingus, I have tended her, groomed her, had her feet trimmed and doctored her bruises and scrapes.

When J. W. fell ill and I went to Goldthwaite to feed her the first time, Lilly saw me coming down the pasture road in my little Mazda sedan.  She munched a few more bites of grass and then followed me to where I parked.  I had a bucket of oats in my hand and when she saw the oats, or smelled them, her head shot up and she rolled her head slightly, giving kicks of delight (I know now) as she walked beside me on my right side to the feed bin.  I had not been around horses that much and the kick seemed out of place to me.  Horses kick because they are threatened?  What is going on with her, I thought?  I knew that I was not threatening her and was in the process of feeding, so what was going on?

I was a bit fearful of her and moved away.  I stopped walking and reflected.  Lilly is happy she is being fed, I reasoned, not apprehensive, so, the kick must be a behavior of delight, not attack.

A cold, sharp wind cut across the hill to the stock pen where the feed bin was located.  She needed her oats, I thought, and I need to become acquainted with her because J. W. can’t come out to Goldthwaite anymore.  Lilly stopped when I did.  I started walking again and she walked right beside me, a 1,000 lb. sentient being that could hurt me.  The whole process of feeding and my stepfather being ill and I had sheep to round up at Salt Creek and I had mother to worry about now since she was in bad health too and I had to drive back to Mingus and teach in Abilene the next morning, all this was on me and now I have Lilly to contend with.  I thought I can’t do all this.

Cold wind or not, Lilly and I stood together.  She wanted her oats.  Fair enough, let’s continue.  She went down the walkway of the pen and stopped near her bin and I walked between her and the stock fence, inhaling scents of her and the fall season, grasses dying and wind from across our neighbor’s pasture to the north.  I poured her oats into her bin and she chomped.  Simply ate.  And I stood there looking at this beautiful animal.  I reached out and touched her, caressed her and she continued to eat, letting me stand beside her.  The event of feeding Lilly turned from apprehension to friendship, a subtle first-step in getting acquainted.  Because Lilly allowed me to be with her, I reasoned that in the coming weeks I could manage the end-state of my family’s affairs.  I would come to the stock pens and feed Lilly and be lightened.

My Stepfather, J. W. Hollingshead, Central Texas (ca. 1990)

J. W. never saw his horses again.  I would narrate to him what I was doing, but he was concerned about other things, but I told him anyway about Lilly and Star and rounding up the sheep to sell in Goldthwaite and Star helping cut the sheep into the pen on his own, a naturally penning tendency in some horses.  J. W. let me manage the horses and livestock for the first time in our family.

In J. W.’s personal effects, there are ribbons and medals and trophies of trail riding with Lilly.  They are just courtesy awards given to every trail rider, but the awards signify a bond that goes back in time, back in prehistory when humans approached horses and the horses allowed the touching to occur.  Lilly has been a part of our family for seventeen years and I have been her keeper for eight.  She’s family.  I know now she kicked that first day out of delight for oats and for me.  Rest assured, I’ll be with that old girl, all the way to the end, be it a cold day or hot.


Filed under Horses, Lilly

Lilly: An American Paint Horse as Family

Ima Lil Moore "Lilly" browsing early in the morning (8:30 a.m.) before going to her loafing area along the fence line.

I will be posting on Lilly, our oldest mare in our small remuda.  She is twenty-five years old and will turn twenty-six this January.  Her registered name is Ima Lil Moore.  Her pedigree is found on our ranch website, Flying Hat Horses. She is a paint horse and the mother of Star, another paint on our place.

I am posting on Lilly because she is in good condition going into the winter, but she has osteoarthritis and has trouble at times getting up, a bad sign for a good horse.

She is a part of our family.  I mean that in the closest sense.  She has been a companion for our foals when they were young, a good saddle horse for our grandchildren and a constant companion for me.

I want to write about her and explain to you why she is close to me.

Today, she rose on her own after I softened the arena so she could get traction.  Today, she is fine and I am happy.  It’s a good day for her.  Remember that: good day.


Filed under Horses, Lilly