A Horse and His Girl
Opie’s story begins in South America. He was born free on the plains of Argentina. He spent his youth running free with his herd until as a young horse he was caught by a vaquero. This vaquero must have trained him the old fashioned way, obedience but no trust. You can see this in Opie’s manner and eye. Opie’s first job was as a polo pony. In Argentina, polo is the national pastime so this is not that unusual. Opie must have played polo in Argentina for a couple of years and before he was shipped to the United States.
Opie played polo all over the U.S. before coming to Colorado. When we met Opie, he was 17 years old. He was beginning to slow down and was no longer fast enough for the player who owned him. The polo manager called me one day and told me she had a couple of older polo ponies that needed a new home, did I want them? We had plenty of horses but I went to look anyway.
Opie was a bit difficult to catch out there in his pasture. He was a 15.3 hand sorrel with a blaze and some white feet. He was well put together and sound. When I jumped on him with only a halter he was very obedient with smooth gaits. I agreed to take him and his older friend a white mare called Dolly. The price was right (they were free) and maybe they would work as ranch horses.
My then 4 year old daughter Jenny and I went to pick them up. Opie started on his next career as a ranch horse with an occasional polo game thrown in for fun. Opie was never easy to catch and sometimes he was impossible to even get near. He’d look at you with mistrust in his eye and he’d leave. He always behaved perfectly when caught but the always looked at humans with mistrust until he met Maddy, my then 7 year old daughter. Somehow Maddy and Opie connected. Maddy became the only one able to walk right up to Opie and halter him. Opie for some reason trusted Maddy. He became Maddy’s babysitter. As Maddy learned to ride, Opie went from being a ranch horse to being an English show horse and more. Dad was told that Opie wasn’t going to play polo anymore because he belonged to Maddy. And he knew it.
Some horses are just plain smart and Opie is one of them. He had found a job he loved. He looked after Maddy. At first their rides were in the arena, learning to post the trot and canter for Maddy. Opie patiently doing as requested. Soon they were riding around the property helping to move the cows or just poking around. They also enjoyed the occasional horse race against the neighboring ranch kids. Across the hay field they would go, giving the pony a good head start.
When Maddy was 9 and Opie was 19 they started to jump, first just logs on the ground then little cross-rails. They won blue ribbons at their first show, Opie’s first look at a covered arena. Once, during a jumping lesson, I watched Opie think about just going around a jump until he felt Maddy start to slip off. He straightened out but it was too late and Maddy fell off. I’ve never seen a more horrified horse as Opie stopped as soon as Maddy fell. Hew obviously felt better when Maddy got right back on.
The following year they helped to drive the cows from the ranch 14 miles and 2500 feet up to summer pasture on a trail not many adults would brave. They also completed at local hunter jumper shows bringing home many ribbons including a championship. Opie also became a parade horse. He proudly carried his little friend Maddy through the streets of DeBeque on Wild Horse Days.
This year Maddy is 11 and Opie is 21. At the beginning of summer Maddy and Opie went to camp. They learned about Dressage, Cross-country jumping and Show Jumping, the three elements of an Eventing Test. A week later they again helped to send the cows to their summer pasture on the mountain. This year they moved up to jumping 2’3″ and Opie carried his buddy over some scary jumps. He did it because Maddy asked him to. Opie also took Maddy down the streets of Rifle for the Garfield County Fair Parade as the Roan Creek Ranch won a first place ribbon for their exhibit. Then it was back to DeBeque for the Wild Horse Days Parade. This time painted up like an Indian pony.
Now Maddy is riding an experienced jumping horse some of the time so Opie is teaching Jenny to post and canter. You can tell Opie takes his job very seriously. He knows how important his passenger is and he loves his little girls. Of course it helps that they bring him cookies and give him grain while they brush him. I think he is just a wise old horse that knows he has landed in the good life, good care and green pastures.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.