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Chapter 3, Part 2

Posted by greygelding , 10 March 2016 · 1,186 views

One thing to be said for Primero was that he was fast. As both of us were young we would take on all comers in a beach race. He had not lost a race whipping some and beating others by a nose until the thoroughbred challenged us. We were off like a shot and it looked like another whipping was in the making but it just took those long thoroughbred legs a while to get up to speed. An ex racehorse he knew his business and no little grey pony was going to get the better of him. Primero gave his all but the other horse just kept lengthening his stride and we were quickly left behind.


We had acquired another horse, Moriah, who was his only purebred daughter. Pam would take her to a local horse show and I would tag along with Primero to just sit on and watch the show. Pam loved to show but I had no real use for horse shows as I had trouble figuring out what the judges were looking for and they never agreed with my placings. The show had performance classes in the morning and gymkhana after lunch. One day as I was laying on Primero's back watching the show I was approached by a couple of girls known to be a bit opinionated. "You think your horse is so fast why don't you prove it? Ride him this afternoon against us in the gymkhana". We had never trained for this at all but how hard could it be? "OK, I'll see you there". Pam of course was a bit more realistic than I was. "Have you even watched a gymkhana?" I replied "No but isn't that where you just run around stuff for time?" With a knowing smile she said "Something like that".
The first event was speed barrels which were 3 barrels in a straight line. The object was to weave in and out, circling the last one and return doing this as quickly as possible. Since I was the last to enter I was the last to go. This afforded me the opportunity to watch what was expected of us. All too soon it was time and we shot through the timer. I had done a lot of strange things with him so he took this in stride and he did love to run. He was a natural in all respects but one. I had never really worked on stopping quickly from a dead run. Like a cheetah we raced down the line, doing a respectable weave, and even made the turn not too wide. As we blasted over the finish line I started to stop him. He had other plans. We were headed straight toward the fence. Stop, stop I pleaded. No? then turn right, turn right! I was getting no where fast and the fence was approaching fast. I kept desperately trying to stop him or turn him. Closer and closer we got and just as I was sure a collision was imminent he did both, he turned right and just stopped. I was launched out of the saddle and would up with one leg over the saddle hanging upside down. Everybody gasped then waited for my next move. I was just ready to gather my pride and drop to the ground when someone from the stands just had to say "Come on you can do it". Now why would they say that? I could never resist a challenge so I somehow managed to climb back into the saddle and red faced we rode out of the arena to a rousing round of applause. This ended my first foray into the arena but I had won the event. Primero was very smart and quickly grasped the situation and had a blast from that moment on. Clover leaf barrels, single pole, and others he was like a grey bolt of lightening out there. We won the high point trophy of the day and the girls never asked to race against him again. I didn't want him to become a hyper mess always looking to run and I had proved my point so I never entered another one.

Where the Heck Are We?

We would pleasure ride down the beach and on local trails with people from the stables. On one such occasion I was on the trail with Pam and her friend when we turned off the beach and up a small canyon trail. It opened to some small hills where we had been many times in the past and enjoyed riding there. This time however there had been some construction work, all the hills and surrounding area had been cleared and groomed. This made for a wonderful riding area. I was wondering what they were going to build there when I topped a ridge and right in the middle of a particularly nicely groomed area was a hole with a round plastic cup inside. With a sinking feeling I realized where we were. "Let's get out of here. They're building a golf course". We beat a hasty retreat and never returned.

I started to ride him around the pasture bareback in a halter but I was a bit awkward climbing on. He quickly learned that when I would pat him on the rear with both hands that was a signal to hold still while I vaulted on him from behind. I would come running up and most of the times I would place my hands on his rear, jump, and my momentum would place me on his back. He never moved even when I was unsuccessful. I was always doing unconventional and sometimes dangerous things with him. Our trust in each other was total and I would be found crawling under him while he was loose in the pasture. Eventually I tried crawling out from under him between his front legs and then his rear legs. No problem and he didn't move except to shift a leg to give more room. One day I was laying on my back, on his back, when I fell asleep. Pam was watching and I took about a 15 minute nap and he never moved once. At the time I never found any of this unusual and just assumed that this was normal for all horses.

A good friend of ours had no horse and wanted to show him and that was Ok with me. They were small shows and he did well with her. Pam wanted to get all his offspring together and ride in a local parade. I had no wish to ride so our friend had the honor. It was nice to see him and all his get riding down the street together.

The Long Ride

We spent many a happy camping trip at Flores Flat starting and finishing from the same spot with one exception. Longing for something different I decided to make a 37 mile one way trip in two days of riding. I plotted out our path and made an early Saturday morning start. I was now riding him in just a halter and as I rode off waving goodbye to Pam, it occurred to me that I would be out of touch, and should a problem occur I had no way to summon her to another location. In fact she would only be aware of trouble if I'm a no show Sunday evening. I never let a little thing like possible failure bother me before and it wouldn't bother me now. After a bit the trail was blocked by a fallen tree. There was no way around and I certainty was not going to turn back. The Lord blesses the little horses and Primero stood all of 14.2 hands. As the tree laid on the ground the trunk branched and there was an opening possibly just big enough for him to slip under. Stripping all the gear and saddle off of him I sized up the situation. It just might work if he would cooperate and possibly scrunch down if necessary while stepping over the lower limb at the same time. I had a lot of confidence in my guy so I would give it a try. Removing what smaller branches I could I moved the saddle and gear to the other side. With a pat and a kind word we were ready. He stepped carefully through the remaining branches, made a sharp left turn and started under the fork in the tree while stepping over the lower one. It was 14 hands and just 2 inches too small. If his withers scrapped on it and he panicked it could be a bad experience for both of us. Speaking softly, and I hoped confidently, I urged him onward. He seemed to understand the situation perfectly and as soon as his withers made contact with the tree he reduced his height somehow and quietly but carefully strolled through. Thrilled with my guy and his actions, I treated him to a carrot and let him graze on the green grass while I saddled and repacked him. Once again we were underway. Excited to see new country I followed the trail which started to grow fainter as the miles passed until it gave out altogether. Turning around would take time I really didn't have and on top of that I was unsure where I went wrong. Also behind me was the possibility of having to traverse the downed tree again and I really didn't want to push my luck.
Studying the Topographical map I located the trail along the mountaintop that I was trying to reach. From there it would be a simple thing to reach the Flores Flat. Studying the surrounding terrain I found that the best and perhaps the only way to go was up, straight up. The distance was not long but it was at a severe angle. Quickly it became too steep to ask him to carry me and all the gear. I dismounted and started to climb. It got steeper as we forged closer to the top and there was snow on the ground. I found myself slipping so I was forced to hang onto the saddle as we climbed. The footing was fine for him and he was patient with his clumsy companion, me. We were both tiring when we finally reach the trail edge. It turned out to be a Forest Service road covered in about a foot and a half of snow. Checking my map I realized it was the road heading for the campground that we usually ride through at the foot of the mountain. It should be smooth sailing from here on in. I mounted and we followed the road and the animal tracks heading in our direction of travel. Pretty soon the tracks left the road and it was just us and the unbroken expanse of snow. I stopped for a moment to just take in the sight and then it was time to resume our trek. After what seemed like a long time we came to the campsite where we would make the turn to Flores Flat. I realized that my rope was no longer on the saddle. It was a nice rope and cost me a bit but I looked up my back trail and did not see it. Going back was out of the question so I hope whoever found it put it to good use.
Just before sundown we arrived at our campsite and Primero was my top priority. I quickly stripped the gear from him and took him to water. Leaving him to graze while I groomed him I then hurriedly prepared camp and dinner. I was cooking by flashlight and tired but I was proud of my guy and our 24 mile day. I fed him his pellets and grain and we ate together around the campfire. Awakening with the dawn I anxiously checked Primero. I found a horse who seemed to be in good spirits with no trace of yesterday's ordeal. We had our usual breakfast and it was time to go home. I spent a lot of the ride up the mountain walking beside him and when we stopped for rest breaks he would nuzzle my neck and I was as happy as I could be. We arrived at the pickup area early and I turned him into a corral for a much deserved roll. It was a trip to remember but not one I wanted to repeat and I'm sure he felt the same.

Trash can

At the stable we had a lady who considered herself so much better than everyone else. She was constantly telling everyone what they were doing wrong. I had yet to cross paths with this woman but one morning I noticed her heading my way. I had purchased a new trash can to use for Primero's water. "Good morning. I know he's only an Arab but you're going to use that for his water?" It was a new can and I had just scoured it squeaky clean and was filling it with water. As it was almost to the top I had an irresistible urge, so I leaned over and took a sip of water. "Tastes great to me!" A look of horror came over her and as she stormed away I could hear her exclaim "Disgusting!" On the bright side I never heard from her again.

I ran track and cross country races in high school and college and was still in excellent condition. Levi Strauss sponsored an event called a ride and tie. Two people and one horse would run a long distance race with the people alternating between riding and running. This looked like fun and a challenge to me. Pam agreed and we started to train in earnest. Pam shaped up nicely and turned out to be quite a good athlete. Primero was happy to get all the work he could and became a rock hard endurance machine. As for me I was in the best shape of my life and could easily cover a 10 mile hilly course in less than an hour. I researched the Ride and Tie and accurately predicted the top five placings. I estimated us for a fifth place finish and first place man/woman team. Excitement ran high as the time grew close. All arrangements were made, fees paid, and we were ready.


It was Wednesday, May 18, 1977 a date I'll never forget. We were scheduled to leave the next morning for the Levi Ride and Tie. All members of the team were in the best shape of their lives. We were ready to go. Pam had just finished the final easy workout that afternoon, cooled him down and walked him home. After she came through the main gate he started to walk funny. At first it was like he couldn't see and then progressed to losing limb control. He let out a strange strangled neigh and collapsed. Pam started screaming for help and as people rushed to their aid he gave a sigh and was gone. Somebody had already called our vet who happened to be in the area. He arrived right away but there was nothing he could do but state the oblivious. He did some basic checks but nothing could be found. Pam declined an necropsy, as I would have too, because the thought of him being sliced open was not an option. In fact we never sent his papers in as we didn't want deceased stamped on them. Asked his opinion the vet took a couple of guesses but "This is the healthiest deceased horse I've ever seen" was the best he could do without tests. A quick hug for Pam and he departed to make arrangements. Pam was in good hands with her friends but now came the tough part - calling me.
Fortunately it was almost the end of the work day for me when the call came in. It was a good friend of ours as Pam was in no condition to talk. I'm usually pretty good at controlling my emotions but that was a real challenge for me. At last the day ended and as the car door closed I could hold it back no longer. Finally I was able to head for home but the world seemed so empty. Pam, while grieving herself, was very understanding and patient with me. She had Moriah to lean on but as far as horses went I was all alone for the first time in seven years. I had lost my first horse, my heart horse. After one week had passed I went up to see her horse. The sight of his empty corral literally brought me to my knees. Pam left me alone for a bit then came over. I got to my feet, she gave me a long hug with tears by both of us, and we headed for home. There were several horses that came and went but it would be over 6 years before the hole in my heart would be patched up from an unexpected source.
It became apparent that I had very few pictures of him so the girl that had been riding him some and showing him did one of the most thoughtful things for me. Although heartbroken herself, she got in touch with all my friends and gathered up what pictures they had of him and gave them to me.

  • PamL, Macimage, karens and 1 other like this

What an incredibly sad way to lose him :(

October 2020

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