Million Dollar Horse
- August 23, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
When my son was five, my Dad had major heart surgery and wasn’t allowed to do anything all that summer and into fall. So, I’d be taking care of the ranch and doing the riding for him. Colin had to go along, but the issue of a saddle horse for him was serious. The old gelding he had ridden for quite some time was simply too stove up to make the big miles anymore.
My Dad had a mare he’d ridden for years, dead broke, but had never been asked to be a kid horse. I knew her quite well, having witnessed her birth, ridden her as a colt, and all that. She was starting to get a little stiff in the shoulders at 15 years, but could still cover the country at a running walk and had an easy lope. Snickers was her name. Conformationally, she was a mess. Too long all over and with crooked legs. Her head was pretty though, she had good withers, and she was cowy and quick.
I decided that I could lead Snickers with Colin riding her, as I had done when he was three years old. He didn’t think he needed led, of course, being an experienced cowboy at five years old. But I insisted.
The first day out we’d gone about a mile and a half and got to a cow trail down a steep, creek bank with a wicked drop off on one side. Snickers had done fine with Colin, never doing more than watching him with one ear turned back. I couldn’t lead her off that bluff, so I had to trust her to take care of herself, thus my little son, and come down it on her own. I planned to retrieve the lead rope at the bottom.
I slid off the bank on Lily and we made it to the bottom just fine. I turned back to watch Colin and Snickers. He kicked her a little and she walked off the top, then slide to the bottom in complete control, and stopped beside Lily when he pulled her up. I decided to try it without leading her, and the world’s best kid horse debuted that day.
Snickers never made a bobble all that summer, doing things for him that she would have hesitated to do for a grown up. She had a suspicious mind and shied at things, but not with Colin. He could ride her up to something she deemed scary and she’d never flinch. They were really pards. She took exceptionally good care of him every step she took. Her willing attitude was so sweet, too.
By the time Dad was healed up and was cleared to ride in the fall, he had watched Colin and Snickers and decided that as stiff as she was getting packing him, it was time to retire her from being his horse and let the grandson ride her. He had other horses to ride.
Over the next few years, she was his mount when he dragged calves to the fire, dayworked for ranches, and did the 4-H events that both boy and mare thought were silly. Nearly every day he rode her, either saddled or bareback, and she was totally dedicated to her boy. She’d stand and wait for him for however long it took for him to go get a drink, eat lunch, play in the creek, climb a tree, or whatever he thought he ought to do at the moment. She’d be where he left her.
Being loved by a child made for a splendid life for that good mare. To me she was precious. I never had to worry that she’d do anything to hurt him. We could be miles apart dayworking and I was secure in the knowledge that he was on Snickers, therefore safe.
At a branding, when he was not quite seven, a big Char cross calf went bronco when Colin heeled him a little high. Instantly, that calf wrapped Colin and Snickers in the rope and though he’d pulled his dallies, they were fouled. Before Snickers could even react good or bad, about eight cowboys descended on her and got them untangled. Some horses would have blown up when they were nabbed by those guys, but, though her eyes got big, she wasn’t going to blow up and endanger her boy.
Not long after that, we had trailed a big bunch of cows and calves to their summer pasture for the same ranch. There was another kid on the crew and he and Colin soon made friends. We’d gotten the cows to the pasture and were holding them in a corner pairing them up.
I was sitting with the patriarch of the family ranch, watching the cows graze the fresh grass. As we sat there, we saw the two boys ride their horses toward the big pit dam that was there. It was probably 300 yards to the dam from where Vince and I were. As we watched, they rode their horses into the water to let them drink. Vince sat up really straight and said “That dam drops off really deep right there!” Before we could react with a shout or move that way, Snickers froze. She was in up above her knees. I could see Colin kick her to go further, but she wouldn’t move. As Vince and I rode to them, Snickers backed up in her tracks, then when she was in shallow water, turned and went back to dry ground.
The other kid’s horse hadn’t gone into the water but a few feet, thankfully. When I got to Colin, I scolded him for riding her off into a dam like that, even knowing that he was just being a kid and maybe showing off a little to his new friend. But, in this case, he had endangered himself and his horse. Typical kids, one kid, whole brain, two kids half a brain, and so on.
After the scolding, the boys rode off. Vince watched them ride away. My Mom heart had returned to a normal pace and settled back into my chest. “You know, Jan, at our horse sale we sell a lot of really high priced horses. Good horses, for sure, and they bring a lot of money. But, that mare, right there, is worth a million dollars. More than every horse we sell combined,” said Vince. “I wish we had 20 head just like her to sell.”
I had to agree. Her neck and back were too long, and she had crooked legs, but, she took care of my boy 100% of the time, even defying his request in order to do so. If a horse is going to be obstinate and refuse, she did it at the perfect time, the only time she had to. She most certainly was a million dollar, one in a million horse.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....