July 27, 2005
Lindy, the Horse That Could Fly
Midnight was a Quarter Shetland mare, black as ink, and with a disposition that leaned toward the black side. It seems like any cowpony type horse with a trace of Shetland in them was usually referred to as a “quarter.” I pretty much learned to ride on Midnight. One of my brothers gave her to me when she was little more than a foal. She learned early on that I was an easy mark, since I was just a child. She threw me off regularly, bit me a few times, and it seems like she kicked me in the pants more than once.
Along about her fifth year, Midnight had a foal who was bright red at birth, and which we promptly named Moonlight. “Moonlight,” of course, because she was such a light red color, commonly called sorrel. I remember riding Moonlight to school in the first grade. I remember her so well because she used to lunge through the snow, which was often up to her belly. Once on the way home from school she was lunging through the snow with me on her back when she got sick and laid down. I didn’t know what to do, and when she aborted a baby foal, I knew even less about what was happening.
The next year, Moonlight had another colt. This time the colt was the ugliest baby horse anyone had ever seen. No one knew who the father was since the mares ran on the open range with herds of cowponies when they weren’t being used. This new colt was a poor color, sort of a dark brown with black and red smeared around. His ears were longer than normal, his head was large.
When this colt was about three years of age, I started riding him. We sort of grew up together, you might say, so there was no real period of breaking him. At some point, I just got on him and started to fly. Yes, that’s right, he was the fastest thing I had ever been on and it felt like I was “flying” when I rode on this colt’s back. Charles Lindbergh was a hero in those days for having flown across the Atlantic Ocean, so it only follows that I named my new horse Lindy. As it turned out, the name was very prophetic.
Tony Roach was an Indian boy who came to lunch at my family’s place one day and stayed for the summer. Well, in his great wisdom, Tony could see something special in Lindy and suggested we train him to jump. We would place poles across the corral gate and I would ride Lindy on a dead run, toward the gate with the pole across it. When we arrived at the gate, Tony would crack a "blacksnake" whip, the end of the blacksnake biting Lindy on the hip. With that incentive behind him, Lindy would jump. And, he would jump higher and higher as we added more poles to the gate. Of course, after the first few bites of the whip, it was no longer necessary to hit him with the blacksnake. With just the sound of it popping behind him, over the gate he would fly.
Later, I got to teaching Lindy to jump high wire fences. I would always ride him up to the fence so he would know exactly where it was, then we would trot off a ways—Lindy would decide how far—we would stop, he would turn, and without any further coaching from me, we would run and sail over that fence with feet to spare.
Cowcatchers are common in ranch country. They are poles laid over a large hole in the ground. A car can drive over the poles, but animals avoid them because their feet will slip between the poles and they would be trapped and probably injured. Well, ranchers have a lot of cowcatchers in place of gates. Early on in Lindy’s life, he learned to fly over the cowcatchers as easily as he did the fences—the only difference being that a cowcatcher is a very long jump, probably twelve feet across. That didn’t bother Lindy, though. We never stopped for a fence, a gate, or a cowcatcher. I would just show it to him, back off, and he would fly over it.
Many people in Thunder Butte country knew of Lindy’s great smarts, endurance, and speed. Classmates from high school spent holidays at our place. Pete Ginther, Chick Berquist, and Oren MacMillion were just a few of the guys that we used to perform for. Lindy performed his speed skills one fourth of July when there was a celebration at Usta, about twenty miles to the west of Thunder Butte. As usual, I was late getting started, so Lindy had to run the whole twenty miles in order to get to Usta in time for the pony race. We got to the starting gate just in time to line up with the others. Then, off we went. Lindy took an early lead, but "Bubby" Carmichael, on his quarter pony, kept pushing us hard. After a hard fought last quarter, Lindy pulled ahead and won the race. The race was contested by Bubby, who complained that Lindy was not a pony. The judges were called to settle the dispute. One old cowhand walked around Lindy a couple of times, scratched his head, and said, "Well, it ain’t a jackass, and it sure as hell ain’t a horse. It’s got to be a pony." So, we collected our five dollars and started for home so we could gather in the milk cows.
I remember one other incident in which Lindy was right at home in the air. We had been visiting a ranch quite a long way from home and it had gotten late. It was dark when we got started. Lindy knew the way of course, so all I had to do was sit there, and he ran for home, covering great distances with giant strides. Suddenly, it was deathly quiet. There was no sound of hooves or anything. About the time it dawned on me that we had left the ground, there was a tremendous splash. Lindy had run off a cliff. Fortunately for us, there was deep water at the bottom. After some swimming, Lindy climbed out with me still on his back. He immediately resumed his long lope, and we were soon safely home.
When I was in the Navy, during World War II, I received a letter from a former neighbor in Thunder Butte country, who said he was moving to Arkansas and he wanted to buy Lindy. He said that Lindy was running loose on the range with some cowponies and that if I would take twenty five dollars for Lindy, he would give him a wonderful home. I wrote back and told him that would be all right. Of course, I never received any money and I am sure Lindy wound up one day in a can of dog food.