My grandparents worked hard to earn enough money to buy the farm. Grandpa Louis was an electrician who would work on high lines. He had no fear of high places. Growing up, Grandpa always had a collection of poles, and glass conductors for the repairs that needed to be done at the most inopportune time. Electrical wires are susceptible to the weather. The cold, ice freezing on the lines, just when you want to stay indoors he would head out to climb these tall poles with a thick rope and foot pegs.
My grandmother always reminded us of how often they sacrificed to have the farm. They ate eggs at many meals because it was a cheep protein source.
My mother was no exception in this quest for land. Since she was the oldest with no boys in the family, grandpa recruited her to help with the farm work. I should include my aunt at this point, the youngest. She was always left to stay inside to help grandma with the work in the house. From what I understand today, it was clearly a "grass is greener on the other side scenario". At times the work on the inside was no "piece of cake", there were hired hands to feed, homemade bread, and pies to bake. Life was very fulfilling on the farm, but very hard work. The forty hour work week was a figment of some bureaucrats imagination to this family.
Why do I bring all this up you may ask. I'm getting to the story. Grandpa wanted a farm for many reasons. One was that he always believed owning land was a wise investment. I think he was (and is) right about that. Second, he loved animals. He worked for the Arthurs family from a very young age, breaking horses, sorting cattle, whatever chore that related to animals that needed to be done. The neighbors called my Grandpa, a cowboy, or a horseman. Today they would probably think of him as a horse whisperer. My grandfather looked forward to his time in the evening on the farm when the field work was done, and it was time to visit his horses, Gypsy, Billy Bar, and Chico. All of these horses were pedigreed quarter horse mares through the AQHA. Gypsy was our babysitter at the farm. This started my love affair with horses. She would let all four of my siblings on her back, and take us around the pen. Just a lead rope, no bridle, and sometimes I don't think we had a lead either. Billy Bar was a spirited beautiful dapple grey. Chico was a beautiful chestnut mare. She was the horse that officially made me a horsewoman. Grandpa spent most of his training time with Chico, during the time I was a child. She became a world class western pleasure horse under Grandpa's lead. Unfortunately, Grandpa passed in 1972. I was seven years old. That story alone is probably worth an entire blog, so I will move on to our family moving on with life on the farm.
Dad took over the farm from Grandpa. He soon realized that his girls especially loved horses as much as he did maybe even more. The family set out to develop a Quarter Horse breeding farm. We went to auctions and bought breeding stock. At its peek the farm sustained nearly 40-45 brood mares. They were all registered quarter horses. The whole venture of having such a farm is worth another blog, but again I need to get to the story I want to tell you today.
It was another auction during the summer in Ellendale ND, 1980 I believe. My Dad and I set out through the barns to get a close look at the horses for sale that day. My Mom saved us seats in the sale ring while we scoped it out. My father was checking out the brood mares, while I was patiently waiting to find just the horse that I could ride for 4-H Horse shows. This horse would be my pal all summer every summer for the rest of my life as far as I was concerned. I observed conformation, behavior, I got really good at it. I won a couple of purple ribbons in my day judging horses at the state level. By the time we had viewed all the horses destined for the sale ring I could tell you the gelding or mare that would be sold for the highest price because she/he was the ideal western pleasure horse at the sale. This might be good for purple ribbons, but not so good when the farm had a limited budget to buy brood mares, not geldings.
While I dreamed of an unlimited budget for the purpose of my own enjoyment, there was a ruckus in the barn. Just a few pens from the entrance to the sale ring. A mare had gone balistic. Dad and I drifted towards the commotion. Could we be any help? We better stay out of the way. It was hard to tell anything during the time. The thick board fences were dense and limited any view of the situation. Random slur words and utterances came from the cowboys on the inside line.
"Check to see if there is a vet available" "Damn mare has injured her foal". That got my attention. I hate to see an animal suffer. I kept poking at my Dad. "What is happening" "Is the colt going to be okay". My father is the kind who only speaks when he has something important to say. "I don't know" doesn't count. After awhile the colt is let out of the barn to just wander on its own. His insides are falling out of his tummy and he really can't do anything more then curl up in a ball in the grass near the barn. The mare is still on the docket to be sold, but the crew working think she maybe too wound up to get in the ring. She is not happy about being separated from her baby. Meanwhile, I'm pleading for my Dad to take action. "What is going to happen to that colt?" At that point my Dad tells me to go sit with my mother. I really don't want to do that, but I was never a child to disobey my father at 13-14 yrs of age. I head for the sale ring, head hung down, another example of life farming, and ranching, and overall misery on the prairie. I hear my ancestors chime in my head "Pioneer life is tough on the prairie, kid, suck it up, cowgirl up." Before I get too far away I hear my Dad tell one of the Sale Barkers that he is willing to pay $50 for the injured colt if they can get him in the ring. I'm hopeful at that point.
I tried to explain to my mother what was going on. We never saw the colt, or the mare enter the sale ring, but shortly after that Dad comes up to our seats and says "lets go home".
I'm delirious with questions. "Did you get the colt?"
Dad says "Yep, he is in the trailer."
I had many more questions. I didn't see anything in the horse trailer. I spewed questions, but Dad said nothing apparently at that point there was nothing to say. We had a good hour to go to the farm. I had fallen asleep on the trip, and went to bed as soon as we got back to the farm it was late. Dad insisted that he handle this on his own.
He first called his Nephew who was a large animal vet. I heard Dad's side of the conversation, but I was sure Dad would wait for first light to try any kind of surgical procedure, or maybe Reynold would be over. He lived a couple of hours away, and that would mean a vet bill as well.
The next morning I woke to the sound of my father entering the house with the declaration that he had performed the surgery on his own. Babe, as we called him, is all sewed up. He has been neutered, and a metal plate has been placed in the bottom of his tummy to keep his insides in. He had a stomach hernia, but the gelding was up and moving around. Hooray, I had my gelding that would be my riding horse for life.
We sat down to lunch, and Dad filled us in with a few of the details that he wasn't willing to talk about the night before. He had only payed $25 for the colt. My Dad along with one of the line crew had layed the colt in the horse trailer and secured him with rags and ropes to keep him from moving and doing more damage. When he talked to Reynold he gave him the information he needed to fix the colt up. It would probably be smart to neuter him. Reynold mentioned that they usually stitch up the hernia and put in something to support the stitches while it heals. Dad opted for the metal plate. Now it was a matter of wait and see. He was vulnerable to other horses pulling at his incision, or even himself. Also, infections. Dad had introduced a foreign material to the horses body. There was no way of knowing if this colt would survive.
A lot of work ensued. The next year was a constant check to see if the horse was surviving, or even more so thriving. He was weaned from his mom about a week too soon, so that was a factor as well. He was thriving. He got a lot of attention that first couple of years. He was on a halter and lead early, and he was used to the human attention. I couldn't wait until he was ready for the show ring. As a yearling I took him to the first horse show. I showed him on halter, we got a blue ribbon. That was good, but I was hopeful that next year would be a purple ribbon.
I loved this horse. It was simple. He belonged to me. Babe and I practiced for Western Pleasure, and halter for the next year. I decided that before the show I would take him to the local centennial parade in our hometown. I was already committed to playing in the marching band, but I could still bring up the rear on Babe on horseback. After all the marching band went first. There was plenty of time to change clothes and ride my beautiful Babe in the parade.
He was two years old, he was so nervous about all the people, and things. He held his head up proud. He made me feel like I was riding a graceful Lepazaner Stallion at a fancy horse show. I held him back. He wanted to leap right back to the farm with his other horse buddies. My mother took a picture of us. It was incredible the way he held himself. He would naturally cross over his legs and look like he was performing dressage.
After the parade, my dad and I had decided that Babe needed some formal training which we sent him for six weeks. The report came back that he was a natural for reining. He would stop on a dime, and pivot on his haunches.
Looking back the thing that needed training was me. I had this gifted horse, and his spiritedness challenged my every move and thought. The next horse show I would take Chico, she was more evenly tempered. Again I received a blue ribbon. Chico would not let me trim her ears, and I refused to fight with her. That was the only reason I didn't get a purple the judge told me.
Babe was thriving at that point. We registered him through the AQHA, and his registered name was Reno Coteau. Coteau being the region he came from the Coteau Hills. I was starting to gain more interest in school activities, and there was less time for riding. Babe was still my horse and we went for lots of rides during the summer when school was out. But, I had other life ambitions.
In the fall of 1984, it was time to head to college. There was no more time for riding. It was about school, and summer jobs now. In the fall of my sophomore year my Dad sold Reno. It wasn't good for a gelding to not be "working" all the time, he would say. I never said goodbye to Babe. I asked Dad for information about who he had sold it to, nothing. I had vowed to buy him back when I had the money and a place for him to live.
Life went on. I graduated college, moved farther away to the state of Missouri(Misery, which was what it was to me.) I hung on to my dream, endured hardships, and dreamed of riding again.
I had become a city girl on the outside, but seriously you can never take the country out of a country girl. Every horse I saw reminded me of Babe. I particularly noticed the sorrel horses that had similar markings on them.
Eventually, I had to let the dream go. I was in my forties. Certainly, he was long gone now. Horses don't live much past twenty-five.
A couple of months ago, I got a call from my sister. The therapeutic riding center where her daughter rides has a horse they received that looks like Reno, and the horse is called Reno. Could he be my horse from my youth? I wanted it to be true. I was delighted with the idea that he could still be alive. He would be thirty to thirty-three years old by now.
I made arrangements to go back to see the horse. There before my eyes is an old man of a horse. I'm analyzing his conformation. Two white socks, all white hooves, star and stripe on his head. I don't remember that small white spot on his ear. He was always head shy, but not anymore. The cannon's on his legs are higher up then the average horse just like I remember on Babe. His facial line is deeper then I remember, and he is so skinny. He is not as big a horse as I remember. I doubted this was Reno. I wanted to take a picture of his belly. He had a scar from his surgery, and the metal plate made his tummy the hardest thing about him. The picture didn't turn out that good, and I wanted to compare it to another horses belly. More doubt, more investigation was necessary. The belly was certainly hard by touching it. It certainly could be Reno, but I wanted certainty.
That night we had arranged to see Clay Walker in concert. It was a fabulous concert, with lots of joyous moments. Clay was celebrating his Birthday. At one point I found tears dripping down my face. Nearly eight hours earlier I had seen my horse from my youth, we had pulled him back from the brink of death. Babe would not let my dream die. He would let me visit him every day that week, always being near the front of the pasture where I could pet him. I brought him alfalfa tabs, and he waited for me every morning. He came to me when I called him Babe, and he nudged me on my left side just like he always did.
Yes, there is room for doubt. I continue to search for his registration papers to confirm that he was owned by my father when he was initially registered. We have tried to get into contact with the present owner but no return call has come. She gave him to the center because she had run out of money and hay. I fear that she will not return our calls because of guilt, and fear. I just want her to know that it was a good decision to give him up.
Reno will spend the rest of his life at the therapy center according to the therapy center manager. He will be "working" as a therapy horse. So far they use him for a "walker". The children do exercises on his back while he keeps a steady pace around the arena. He still needs to go through some testing before he is certified for students to ride. My niece is ambitiously hoping that she will get to ride Reno during her riding lessons.
My mother says I willed this to happen. I say it was Reno that willed it. Or, maybe it was my Grandparents wishes from heaven. That we continue to love the country and the animals that they loved and connected with in their own youth.
My Grandparents left a legacy - the farm. They also instilled in all of us a pioneer philosophy. Conservation of the land, love of life, and a priority for survival of all men.