Growing up, the horses that my Dad rode were always the best ones we had. They say wet saddle blankets make a good horse, and that was surely the case with Spider. Of Dad’s string of riding horses, Spider was one of the best. He was a big rangy gray gelding with size and strength and beauty being his best qualities.
He was born on our ranch and named Blue Spider Bars, a son of our old gray Quarter Horse mare Tasha Jo, by an AQHA stallion named St Blue Rebellion. When he was a baby, he was nearly black and shiny and beautiful. I believe he was one of the first colts my sister Kandra trained from the ground up, and he was the first riding gelding born, raised, and used on the ranch. From Kandra’s recollections, he was an explosive bucker the first time saddled, and he never did quite get over that instinct, though it didn’t evidence itself all that often.This is Kandra riding Spider (left) when he was about three years old, and me riding Peppy (right).
Spider was one of the most beautiful horses we ever raised, but conformationally he was not the most athletic. Thinking back on his gaits, I think he must have been heavy on the front end, because to get into a canter, he would have to lunge heavily into it, and work extra hard at it. He was not a light horse, but his sturdiness and strength gave him value as a working horse. He was at least 16 hands, but heavily built and well muscled. He carried Dad effortlessly at a trot, and since the trot was Dad’s favorite mode of travel, they got along great. The work we did consisted mainly of going out to move a herd of cattle from one pasture to another, or to put out bulls among all of the herds, or to go into neighboring pastures and retrieve some of our stock that had strayed. So often we covered between ten and fifteen miles in one day’s work, and Spider was the kind of horse who did this well.
Spider was my oldest brother Kollin’s favorite horse, too. Kollin wanted a horse that would go out and do his job—no fussing or whinnying for the other horses back at the barn—Kollin didn’t particularly like horses, and to him a horse should run like a machine. If it didn’t work well, he had no time for it. But Kollin liked Spider, and here is a photo of them:
There was one episode with Spider that I don’t remember too well, but I believe Dad was riding him through a pasture and there was nothing visible to spook at, but Spider went to bucking and hurt Dad pretty badly. I remember he could barely walk for several days. Spider had a bucking instinct in him that never quite got ridden out of him. He was a cold backed horse, and you could see it when you threw a saddle on and first rode out. My dad would laugh and scold him gruffly as he rode through our barnyard out to start a day’s work, because Spider’s back would be humped in disgruntled reluctance, with an underlying threat that he could throw Dad over the barn if pushed too much at the wrong moment. For this reason, Spider never was a kid’s horse, and he didn’t get passed down to the younger riders even though he had many years of solid riding experience and got all the work a horse would ever need to become bombproof…that just wasn’t Spider.
I remember a horrible time in Spider’s life when I thought he was going to die. It was winter, and Dad had been riding out to check calving cows, and maybe doing some work getting in a cow that was starting to calve, or something. At any rate, he was all alone out in the cornfield, riding along at a fast trot, when a grouse flew up right out of the snow underneath Spider. He said Spider just went airborne, and I’m not sure if Dad fell off first or not at all, but Spider came down on his tailbone, and must have hurt himself in the fall. Dad wasn’t hurt, but he led Spider home gingerly, unsure of the full extent of the horse’s injuries.
It was a blizzard out, when Dad came into the house and told us the story, and he had left Spider in the barn and was going back out to check on him. This is where the story should include that we were waiting for the vet to arrive…..but you have to understand that we lived 60 miles from the nearest town, it was the middle of the blizzard, and my dad just never called the vet unless it was something that needed stitches or whatever….even then, I have helped him stitch up a calf’s leg himself, because he didn’t want to call the vet out. If the matter was beyond what Dad could treat himself, he usually just put a bullet in the animal’s head and ended its suffering. It’s not that my Dad was insensitive—not at all—but he didn’t spend money on things that weren’t a sure investment, and a horse with a broken back was not something you called a vet on.
So I went to the barn to see Spider, and he was standing there with steam rolling off him, his hair matted in sweat from the excercise of the work they had done, and no apparent injuries. But he walked hesitantly, and didn’t move at all if he didn’t have to. So we eventually put him outside with the other geldings, since he wasn’t used to staying in a stall and was unhappy without his buddies.
I went outside later after supper to check on him, and he was lying flat on his side like he was dead, the snow falling on him in big flakes. I started crying, thinking he was for sure going to die, and there was nothing I could do about it. I stayed with him for awhile, and then went in. The next morning, he was on his feet eating with the rest of the ranch geldings. It seemed that nothing had happened and he was his old self again, so I was overjoyed. After a week or so Dad went back to riding him, but he said he could tell that Spider had changed. He was a little unwilling to exert himself as he used to, and it was as if the spark had gone out of him. He still looked as beautiful as ever, and to ride him you would never know he had something wrong with him. But he never was quite right after that, he just didn’t throw himself into his work anymore.
When my dad sold Spider to Howard Pitzer of the Pitzer Ranch in 1996, I was pretty upset that we were losing some of our best horses ever. They were going on to the Pitzer Fall Production Sale, and who knows where they would go from there. When you sell a horse at auction, you have no guarantees on what kind of home he will have. I wrote this poem for the horses Dad sold that day:
To Spider, Johannes, Jack, Blue, Garbonzo, Missy, and Tara…
Goodbye old friends…far better, yes,
Than human friends I’ve known.
To you I’ve told each small distress
And watched you while you’ve grown
From tiny colts with eager eyes
Into my living dreams
Of special friends in some disguise
With hooves and mane that streams.
Goodbye my friends, but not without
These tears and a broken heart,
For all my soul you know about
And of my life you are a part.
Oh, if I could run with you once more
And face the setting sun,
And know the joy I knew before,
When our friendship was first begun.
Goodbye, goodbye! So much of me
Is going with you now…
I’ll try to convince myself you’re free,
Like I wish you were somehow.
And still, goodbye. This is the end.
May a better life be, this new.
I’ll never love a human friend
Like I’ve loved each of you.
© Kerrie Tischer