He wasn’t just a horse…

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When we received the phone call my wife sat me down and prepared me for the next statement. No it wasn’t anything drastic, we had been looking for a cutting horse for some time hoping to start Jake in that direction.

But with myself having grown up around horses and on a working horse farm she knew the words coming out of her mouth were instantly going to be met with resistance.

“I think we found a horse for Jake, I am going with our friend to look at him”

Me: Cool you found a nice gelding for Jake to ride?

Her: Um, no he’s a stud.

Cue: opinionated, I know more than you, obnoxious, are you freaking crazy look.

I ranted for a minute or two about the dangers of a stud in conjunction with no child should be on, near or around a stud let alone further learn, hone or develop their cutting skills aboard a stud! WE DON’T NEED IT, DON’T WANT IT, AINT HAVING ANY OF IT!!

Lil War Peppy- A.K.A Tank arrived at our doorstep the next day, out of shape, with long incorrect feet and a studly bellow which let everyone know on our ranch that although he didn’t exactly look the part, he was the new master of this domain.

I shook my head.

Tank was born April 6 1992 on Village Creek Ranch in Burleson Texas. He was born a direct son to the great world champion Stud Peppy San Badger who was introduced into the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame in 2008. Yes he had royalty in his veins and soon enough we would see it shine through.

He traveled around a bit after his four year old year, moving to Wynnewood Oklahoma, the Compass R Ranch in Campbell Texas and through a sheer stroke of luck after a series of unfortunate events our little Blue Sky Ranch right here in Winters Ca.

We knew the minute this out of shape, screwy footed horse stood in front of a cow inside an open arena we had in fact made the right choice. 

The very moment he unloaded out of the trailer and I was finally able to be face to face with this majestic diamond in the rough I knew my wife was right, and I needed to just shut the hell up.

I heard about these fabled stallions, the ones that don’t act like idiots all the time that actually listen, even when surrounded by mares yet I didn’t believe. Every stud horse I had encountered my entire life had always been an idiot. Oh some were sweet as pie as long as they were isolated or surrounded by very docile geldings. But never had I seen a stud who was gentler and sweeter than any gelding could ever be.

Tank took some conditioning and gentle, corrective foot care to get him back in line. He had a horrible split in his right front hoof that took almost two years to completely repair. He was a little stand offish at first and after a few weeks of me establishing some solid ground rules he slowly came to realize this was indeed his home and no one was going to pen him up or harm him in any way.

My son Jake, took to him right away, and he to Jake. The horse was a bit rusty and he favored his right side but with some solid schooling from Wes Johnson Cutting Horses and a bunch of lessons with junior aboard the two became quite a team. They rode almost every day and it wasn’t long before Tank was following Jake along like a puppy. And right there is where I saw it. I saw the look, in his eye, his neck, his relaxed demeanor and his ability to adapt to whatever Jake asked of him. Tank knew when Jake wasn’t doing it right and I can’t tell you how many times I watched that horse scoop the kid up during a run! Jake was out of position so tank would lose the advantage and place himself out of position to scoop the kid back up hoping not to lose him while getting back to work.

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Whenever Jake was around Tank would lower his head and listen intently, it was a thing of beauty. Occasionally he would remember he was a stud, but with a little correction he would fall right back into the fold and remember his place.

Now not everything was always daisies and roses, there would be times when Jake would cross up signals or Tank just simply hadn’t been warmed up enough and he would say screw you guys and get a bit broncy. One time in particular I think Jake was about 12, during a practice Tank just flat had enough of the crossed up signals bullshit and after several attempts to save the kid told him to get off! As a father in my opinion it was the greatest moment of that kid’s life! He rode that bronc all the way across the arena, with two old guys (me and Wes) screaming ride er cowboy!!!!! They made it to the furthest wall when Jake did the unthinkable. He reached out mid buck and grabbed for the fence line. One of the deadliest mistakes any cowboy can make. Grabbing the fence mid buck is a one way ticket to some missing teeth, a broken rib or face and even death. You always ride it out and if you start losing it, look for a spot out in the open where you can hit the ground and roll away without harm. Never wedge yourself between a fence and a firing set of 1400 pound hooves.

Luckily for Jake Tank bucked off the opposite direction. Jake sat for a moment stunned at what just happened. Looked at us both, started to snivel a bit and then said; DID YOU SEE THAT??? I RODE HIM!!!

We all laughed and with a little coaxing, a minute or two of schooling by Wes and Jake got right back on and finished his set. It was a defining moment for them both.

The two of them went on to win a few things and finally came up reserve grand champions in our cutting club before we figured out just why no matter what we did this horse favored his right side.

He had a bum shoulder. We will never know if he injured it as young colt or even as a young stud. He spent ten years on one ranch with little on record to show for it. But no matter the limitation that horse would always give you his best try. It was just who he was, and if he couldn’t do it he still tried.

Over the years Jake moved on to younger, more agile and skilled horses and Tank became mine. I rode him three to four times a week, keeping him in shape and would cut on him to sharpen my skills. He was solid and slow and not always correct which allowed me to focus on my riding ability instead of the horses ability to cut. As long as I always remembered to go easy on that right side, we would be just fine. I got what I needed and he always strutted out of the arena feeling accomplished.

Eventually he became my turnback horse. It was the one job he truly loved. He always knew when we were headed out to the practice ring or off to a show. He would get excited and call for me as soon as the trailer backed up to the barn. He didn’t care for corner work, but that’s because I think he wanted to cut the cows, but he loved turning back, more specifically the left side of the arena. He could push off that left front much better on the jump so he knew his place inside the fence line.

Over the last three years of his life, he taught several kids how to ride, made several more happy to have a horse to ride, was used for senior pictures and was the go to horse for our youngest Parker. Tank and I also participated in a Sutters Fort reenactment where we rode in together as mail call for the settlers. He loved doing it and would get super excited as we rode around the park surrounding Sutters Fort in downtown Sacramento. As we passed people in the park they would smile and wave and he would calm down just so they could pet him. Once away from the pedestrians his head would come up, his ears would go forward and his tail would rise. He would strut, like a king, like the boss, like a stud. Once we passed through the forts front gates, it all went away, and it was show time.

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He loved those little kids which was the strangest thing to me. When little kids came around he would put his head all the way down to their level and wait. He loved nothing more than their little hands petting his face, stroking his neck and scratching his ears. He wouldn’t move so much as a single muscle. Just stand there like a statue, ears moving back and forth, lips being licked and eyes soft and gentle, not a tense bone in his body. I had somebody tell me once that Tank looked as though if he could have laid on his back like a puppy he would have just so the kids could scratch his belly.

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Tank became my best friend.

The hours we spent talking, going for rides, helping teach kids, riding alongside others and simply being a team I could not count. He was the first place I would go when walking into our barn. The first one to get rode while others sat saddled and tied to the barn or inside the arena. He stayed with me all day as my mount for when I was helping others. We have gathered cattle, doctored cattle, branded, rode the trails, gone sorting, cutting and worked the alleyways of events. But most all of he listened and gave me consistency when I needed it most. The last three years with Jacy being sick have been hell. He has always been my favorite confidant, that non judgemental set of ears that carried me and allowed me an hour or two of normalcy during our very abnormal times. 

No matter what I needed to do, where I needed to do it, be it rain or shine, this wonderful, kind, amazing animal was there for me. I truly loved him.

Tank passed away on Saturday the 17th 2016.

I got the phone call from one of our borders that he didn’t look right. He was breathing hard and not acting his normal self. She had seen him roll in his stall and he just didn’t act right after that. She sent me a video of him breathing hard and although it was hard to see I had a bad feeling.

Our barn manager showed up minutes later, calling me to say it was colic and she was starting treatment. I pulled off the freeway and we both started mass calling Vet’s to get someone there as soon as possible. By the time I arrived I knew it wasn’t good. His demeanor was poor, he was breathing very heavy and soaked in sweat. When I walked up and took him from one of the girls, he sighed heavy and just leaned into me. I stroked his mane, kissed his forehead and told him I loved him.

My heart was breaking.

Tank passed away later that afternoon.

I have lost quite few animals in my life. Some were closer than others, but losing this horse was hands down the toughest one to date. What this horse (the one I didn’t want) brought to our family was a piece of fabric that wove us all together. He was the best horse I have ever owned. I can say unequivocally that I loved him with all my heart and as he slipped away with his head near my lap, me stroking his mane, while he stayed relaxed because he trusted me, I could no longer hold back my emotions. 

If you know horses, if you love horses than you know just how powerful that moment was, when a stud horse not only trusts you, but trusts you all the way to the very end. He would have done anything I asked of him and the thought of this ranch without him was and still is overwhelming to say the least.

Some will say just get over it, there are a million great horses out there, and yes I will turn the corner from sadness to fondness for all he brought us the minute he crossed through those gates. But for right now, at this very point in time, well, I haven’t even been in the barn. His stall empty, no bellow or happy snort as I walk inside to greet me and no big 1400 pound hug. It just hurts my heart way too much.

Tank is laid to rest overlooking the ranch from under the old oak tree. Right next to him is the founder of our ranch and Cooper’s good dog rescue. Cooper himself. There were two dogs Tank let follow him around. One was Cooper the other is Jack.

I hope his spirit is running wild and free with Cooper right by his side hoping we will see each other again. 

I just wish I could ride him one more time, we have so much to talk about……..

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4 thoughts on “He wasn’t just a horse…

  1. You were blessed with a gift that most don’t get. Grieve as long as you need, and please don’t “get over it”. The passing of a 4 legged family member is so painful and only time will make it less severe. Eventually you will be able to remember with a smile on your face his gift to you and your family. There is no greater loyalty a person can receive than the one from their animal. They love unconditionally and would die for you.

  2. My heart bleeds for you James….I have been in your shoes many times. I would never say no to having. one of those magnificent creatures in my life…..but it hurts so much to loose them Gold Piece was the.last one for me. Hopefully you will find another that you can bond with. But we never forget our lost loved ones….nor should we, they bring so much to our lives.

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