Honoring Pancho.

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The place reminded me of a used car lot.

Horses of all makes, models and sizes mulled around the dirt pen.  Long and lanky generic looking sorrel cow ponies blended with horses of every color.  Lean mustang-like horses had long fallow mane and hips that peeked from taut hide.  Their lineage was anyone’s guess and their stories were mysteries.

They had two things in common: the dirt beneath their hooves and a price tag. Hopefully their price wasn’t by the pound.  It’d be a bargain for the buyer but an insult to the horse.  I guessed that many came from forage challenged habitats within the deep south Texas brush country.

All were being fed and watered generously here at the trader’s. They seemed calm, actually relieved was more accurate.  The seller appeared to take pride in his herd.  Everyone was groomed and his tack was clean.

It was the last chance corral.

Stiff old horses hunted for their redemption by scouting the horizon for jobs toting grandkids.  Sorry-eyed brood mares dreamt of landing in someone’s pasture to spend their last barren years.  The beloved “Mexican Ponies” were a regional specialty.  They were humble “Heinz 57s” and could do anything. They had grit like no other horse.  Their feet and soundness rivaled those of mules.  They didn’t need anything special and always had a grateful kind of expression and attitude.


And then there was Pancho.

His mischievous eyes and punchy expression drew me closer but kept most horses at bay.  Both ears sort of flopped to the sides a little.  It was as if his ear hair weighed them down.  He marched up to full-sized horses and bit them. No warning and equally sparse remorse. They never provoked him, either.  Pancho never missed the opportunity to express his role in the herd. Self-expression was not his wound to heal.

He had “Little Horse Syndrome.” 

At barely fourteen hands high before his feet were trimmed, meant the ground wasn’t too far.  His stout stud-like neck meant he could have been gelded late or incompletely.  He never shared which was the case. His toughness was that of a survivor; one who had swam the Rio Grande and found a human to care for him.

Pancho was an expert at manifestation!

I’m not sure what kind of karma Pancho had. It was fortunate enough not to drown while crossing the Rio Grande. It was solid enough not to starve in the sparse border lands before he was spotted.  Though he’d not  landed at The Ritz right off the bat, he did find a person who gave him a job.

His employment was most unique.

He was the tick inspector’s mount. The two of them roped and herded feral Mexican cattle into quarantine pens to check for different kinds of ticks that could be dangerous to livestock in the US.  From that point, they’d herd the cattle into parasite dip tanks.

How could this pony do all of that with a full sized man on his back?   The border was rough country, too.  My respect for Pancho started right at that moment. I could not imagine his eight hundred pound frame

Nippy, opinionated and as tough as the terrain described him well.  He could probably eat cactus, maybe even yucca. His bare hooves were like rocks. His frogs were as tough as petrified wood and huge.  His cannon bones were solid and thick with old bumpy splints.

HIs spine rose from his torso.  It was narrow and bony.  White hairs covered each vertebrae’s deep scar tissue, the result of ungodly saddles and a heavy rider.  If he had ever experienced comfortable tack, it wasn’t in this lifetime.

Passing muster.

My dad’s standards weren’t too high.   Most of all, he was interested in an easy landing, not just for the kids. The seller said he was sound.  That was enough. If I weren’t twelve years old at the time, I’d have argued. I probably tried with the little ammo I had. All of my horse books emphasized the pre-purchase exam. This felt like a huge risk!  My dad told me, “Lizzy, never spend more than you can afford to lose on a horse.”

Pancho was $750 and negotiable.

If Pancho could somehow manage to sustain the forces of roping, carrying a heavy rider, traversing the unforgiving borderlands and be here today in one piece, that was enough. Should Pancho land at our ranch, he’d become a free-ranging pasture horse with a small herd on hundreds of acres.  Anything could happen, though the foreman checked the horses regularly.  Pancho would fit right into that lifestyle.

The seller jumped on his back to show us his “training.”

I stand corrected. He didn’t quite “jump.” It looked more like stepping into the stirrup sans mounting block.  The pony swayed to the left and caught his balance.  He let out a desperate groan as the large man swung his right leg over his back. I cringed. We had to take this pony home!  That guy was too big!

His large belly dodged the saddle horn.  That was fortunate.  Misbehaving wasn’t an option for ole’ Pancho.  Had he wanted to buck or express his opinion, I do not think it was physically possible.   His hind legs couldn’t leave the ground as the man was about a third of his size. Little Pancho Pony had a nice walk, a gaited-looking trot and a canter so smooth a rocking horse would have been jealous.  He was an efficient mover and functional.

He was mostly PERFECT!

The other horses didn’t think so.  He ate first. He went through gates first. He hogged the hay.  Above all, he always assumed he was the most important equine.  Heaven forbid the pony be out-walked on a trail ride. That was an action worthy of a bitter nip to the foreleg or neck. His teeth were unforgiving and driven by his competition.

He was a plumber’s worst nightmare. He held an advanced degree in water tank menacing.  Destroying automatic water trough pumps and hoses kept hm entertained. He had to do something to keep his pony brain busy when it was over a hundred degrees and too hot to walk or eat.

His bright white blaze and fluffy pony ears seemed to light up when he met his new friend, Julio (on the right).  No doubt he felt right at home at La Brasada ranch, just forty five minutes from the Mexican border.  They bonded quickly and did everything together.

Pancho carried every beginner rider who came to visit.

He cheerfully volunteered to go for rides and was the easiest to catch.  He was a spicy version of perfect. He’d do whatever we asked but he’d add his little bit of input as he obliged. I loved that part of him because it made him interesting.

He knew when not to go very fast.  That proved to be valuable when “expert riders” who had ridden maybe a few times at summer camp came to visit.  Pancho didn’t like to see his person on the ground.  That made him look bad.  Ego was everything for the Little Man.

The Ritz finally manifested.

When the ranch sold, Pancho’s ship came in.  My aunt Debbie and uncle Kenny adopted him and his two ranch horse friends, Julio and T.  Pancho was close to forty.  He got the royal treatment compared to the rough La Brasada mustang-esque lifestyle.  Two square meals per day and endless pasture time with green grass instead of brown crunchy forage made his days sweet.

In his last two years, he rubbed off on most of my young nieces and nephews.  He showed them all what a gentle and sweet pony really was.   He gave them a positive experience that wasn’t scary.

He loved lead line lessons. They didn’t last more than a few minutes. This was the easiest job he’d ever had. Likely, it was the most appreciation he’d felt.  Hooves down.  To seal the deal, he got paid in carrots and giggles.

He appreciated simple things.

I venture to say there were two highlights in his life.  The first was being retired from tick inspecting. Period.  The second was being loved by little girls.  I was one of them.

Introducing him to my niece, Frances was one of the highlights of my life.

She may have been about four at the time. Teaching her to read Pancho’s body language and to be sensitive to his needs helped me to feel that I was teaching her a little about empathy.  Pancho shared his calmness and curiosity with Frances. He’d found a new purpose.

He was too old to be ridden by anyone but the smallest and only for a few minutes.  He inspired confidence in each of his young students.  He gave them the gift of learning to be present with another animal as an equal in that moment.  That was more important than riding.

Pancho, my friend, you will be missed.

Enjoy horse heaven and send hoofbeats to your friends  You had quite the life and I am glad that you were one of my early sage teachers.

Have a story about a special equine who has crossed the Bridge?  I’d love to hear about them.  What was the biggest lesson they taught you? Send me an email and tell me about your experience: Lizzy@wholehorseconsulting.com


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  1. <3 Love <3 It is amazing how they change our lives.
    I have only mustered up the courage to write about when the first horse we ever bought passed away. I actually wrote about it twice.

  2. Such a wonderful ode.

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