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June 25, 2012

Along came Penny




I was driving to school each day during the next couple of Winter months when I spotted a horse standing under the same lone tree at the top of a hill in the distance. She was what seemed to be, at least a half mile away, and I couldn't see her very well, but she was there every day, morning and night. There was no grass on the property she shared with several hundred head of cattle. One evening my curiosity got the better of me and driven by some invisible force I made a point of circling that pasture by turning up a remote two track, dirt road for a closer look. I was horrified to discovered from a side view, that this mare was starving to death. Her head looked as though it was disproportional to the rest of her body because she was so thin. Her hip bones protruded profusely giving outline to a skeleton. I immediately turned around and drove up the drive past the home, directly towards the barns, where I spotted a rancher headed towards several long troughs designed to hold hay in the top and grain in the bottoms. He was filling them and the cattle were gathered for a feast. The mare slowly approached the feed trough’s and barely secured a nibble of the hay before she was forced away by the huge numbers and strength of the cattle.
At this time in my life I am 16 years old, and reflecting back on all of the animals I have raised, is far from my mind, I see a starving animal that needs immediate care. Sun a 21 year old Horse I was raised with, has been gone for about 3 months now, and while he is still on my mind, I don't care that I have more pets than any one boy should be allowed, all I see is an Animal in need. The mare approached the troughs first as quickly as her frail frame could carry her as the Rancher poured the feed. He then proceeded to blast the horn on the pick-up truck which is a familiar dinner bell for cattle. Within minutes there were several hundred head of cattle filling the area fighting there way to the troughs. The mare barely got two of three bites of the cotton seed hull mix down before the cattle utilizing there horns, started prying their way in closer and tighter to the trough. Within seconds the cattle had her backed away. They were on that feeding trough like fly's on a dead carcass.
A dead carcass is what I thought of as I stood there in awe looking at the mare. Her eyes were glazed over and streaks stained her face from the discharges. Every bone in her body tried to protrude through her skin, she was scared and her coat was dull and she was coated in mud from the knees down. Her hoofs were dry and splitting with chunks chiped away leaving gaps. As the Rancher approached me I contained my self enough to give a proper introduction and inquire about the possibility of buying the mare. (He apparently had no use for her). He promptly replied that “The mare is of no us because she threw his daughter the day he brought her home after being assured (by the seller) that the mare was "green broke".
He went on to explain to me how he had found her at the local horse auction, how much he paid, and that the mare was registered with papers; but that he saved several hundred dollars by not buying the papers. ( A common practice in horse trading at the time)
He replied that he returned to the horse auction barn where he had purchased the mare on the next Friday night, only to find that the seller wasn't there to give him his money back. The only reason he kept the mare was in the hopes that this daughter would change her attitude since her first riding attempt, and begin working with the mare again. I explained that by the looks of the mare, it didn't appear to be likely that anyone here was going to care for the animal. I moved the conversation forward and asked if he would sell the horse. His answer came as no surprise to me, when he asked for the $800.00 he had given for the mare at the auction. I responded that I could give him $800.00 for the mare if she were in the same condition as she was the day he bought her at auction, but in her present condition, she wasn't worth a plug nickel. I offered $175.00 for the mare. After 10 or so minutes of haggling I finally got down to brass tactics and assured him that I would not pay more than $250.00 today since I knew I could surely buy her for $175.00 tomorrow from the Humane society. What he didn't know, was that I had spent many Friday evenings in that same auction barn, with my dad, riding and demonstrating the reigning and handling characteristics of horses, for many sellers and buyers, both inside and outside of the "North Fort Worth Horse and Cattle Auction" where he had bought her, just a few months back. Probably around the same week-end as I was burying and mourning Sun's death. Sun was an American Standard the I had learned to ride on and enjoyed the pleasure of horsemanship and a special bond of friendship for the past 12 years.
In the mean time, the rancher refused my generous offer, resented my suggestions of reporting him to the authorities, and I was promptly dismissed from the property.
It was a hard thing to do, to leave there that day, without the mare, but I knew that while time was not on her side, it was on mine. I retreated to my uncles ranch a few miles away where by now I am assisting him with his daily milking chores each morning and evening to earn extra money and to pay for my room and board. Later that evening he could see that something was troubling me and I explained the mares dilemma. Due to the small world of Ranchers and Dairymen, my uncle new the gentleman. We picked up the mare the next day. I named her Penny since for all obvious reasons, she wasn't worth a nickel. It took almost an hour to coax her into the horse trailer even with feed, but it was well worth the wait. I drove her directly to the veterinarian and had her quarantined for two weeks to get her strength up before bring her home to the ranch.
Over a period of the next 6 months I kept her stabled but took her for stroll’s around the pasture daily so the other horses could see her closely and  become familiar with her on the property. I only haltered her and rubbed her down daily with small rags at first and eventually could approach her with items as large as a blanket. I began bringing a saddle to the scene and placing it near her but never on her. I rode another Horse and led her on occasion just so she could see the cooperation up close of the saddling and riding process. I walked her leading her in the barrel racing pattern in an arena setting several times a day letting her stop to smell the obstacles and reducing her fear. I even went so far as to kick the barrel’s so she could her the ringing and learn that there was nothing to fear. I always comforted her if she spooked and repeated the process each day testing her on many different obstacles as time passed.
By the 9th month her health improved tremendously and she gained back most of her lost weight. She now allowed me to saddle her and putting weight on her from a stirrup was no problem. Our first rides were limited to walking and as her strength improved we began to trot and lope without argument. The barrel pattern was always the last thing of the day, sometimes with saddle and sometimes on her cool down walk. Penny had never attempted to buck or display any argument at this point in her training and was released to the pasture to graze with the other horses after the morning feeding. She was always there at the fence waiting for me each evening and ready for a ride anytime I asked.
By now she was approximately 3 years old and had regained 100% of her weight and strength. She could not be recognized from the day she was brought home. she became the envy of everyone at the Playday’s and Penny participated in 10 of 10 event’s each week-end, placing first in 8 out of 10 consistently. She set new records in the arena and seemed to strive for a better record each time she entered the arena.
 Many horses argued at the gate and had to be led into the arena on foot, but Penny always entered through the narrow gate willingly and remained calm and confident until our name's were called. She was a full blooded Quarter horse and her take off was like a bolt of lightening and would leave the best of rider’s sitting on the ground if they weren’t totally prepared. She was in full stride by the third step and didn’t let off until told to do so. I sometimes feared that she would run herself to death if you let her. I never found a distance that exhausted her, or one that she wasn’t willing to go for me!

In Loving memory of “Penny” 1974-1997