Thursday, December 19, 2013

Heather Smith Thomas: Memories of Molly — A Teacher of Patience and Trust

In this second installment memorializing Molly, a beloved horse who made herself a part of regular blog contributor Heather Smith Thomas’ family, we catch a glimpse of Molly's patient, loving, and playful spirit. Read Part 1 of Memories of Molly.

A Musical Episode

For the first few years after Michael and Carolyn were married, they had jobs in Boise, Idaho. They rented a little place on the outskirts of the city, where they kept their horses. Michael rode Molly for quite a few years, and Carolyn rode Comanche. On one occasion, in need of a break from their stressful work lives, they went on overnight horse camping experience.

“We took Molly and Comanche out on the Boise desert late in the evening. It was almost dark and we didn’t know for sure where we were going,” Carolyn recalls. Finally, they had to just stop and make a camp, where they put their saddle blankets over their sleeping bags for warmth.

Michael and Carolyn occasionally hauled the two horses out on the Owyhee Desert to go for a ride.

‘The next morning we headed home. Michael was riding Molly, along with the pots and pans in saddle bags. We were in a hurry to get packed up and probably hadn’t tied the pots and pans on very well. Something clanged, and Molly went bucking up the mountain with the pots and pans banging together. It was quite a musical episode!”

A Teacher of Patience and Trust

While Michael and Carolyn lived outside of Boise, they had a couple of different farriers shoe their horses. One of them trimmed Molly’s feet too deeply, into the quick. She developed abscesses in all four feet and was so lame she could hardly walk. “We had to soak and treat her feet a couple times a day, and she was so patient with us when we were doing it out there in the dark, before and after work,” says Carolyn.

“Michael started shoeing Molly himself after that. Molly didn’t want her feet handled for shoeing, after her bad experience. It was difficult to even trim her feet until she learned to trust us again.”

Michael recalls the slow and patient process of regaining Molly’s trust. “When I first tried to trim and shoe her, she was so upset and nervous that I had to clear my thoughts of all nervousness myself, because she’d just fight me worse. If there were any other people around, I had to ask them to leave so there would be no distractions, no nervous vibes. Everything had to be calm. It took years, but she did get better about it. I had to approach it as if it would be just fine, and then it would be.”

Great with Kids 

Young Heather and Nick both learned to ride on Molly. “Both kids started at a young age. Heather learned by sitting in the saddle in front of me.”

Carolyn on Molly with young Heather riding in front of her

Then, “Heather would be on Jon Boy and Nick would ride in front of me on Molly. We spent a lot of time doing that, with Nick learning how to hold the reins and steer.”

Young Heather riding John Boy and Carolyn taking baby Nick in front of her on Molly. 

Molly and Nick

Nick says of Molly, “She gave me confidence. She tolerated everything I did and I was never afraid of her. In one of my earliest memories of her, we were riding on the low range and I’d gotten off and was standing next to her hip. She moved and put her foot on the edge of my boot, and I was pinned to the ground. She knew it wasn’t hurting me, so she just stood there and wouldn’t move. She liked to push my buttons sometimes, but never too much; she really knew how to take care of me.”

Nick was able to start 4-H when he was 7, and showed Molly that year.

Nick, age 7, at trail class.
Nick and Molly did very well maneuvering the obstacles in the trail class.

The next year, the 4-H horse club closed that program, but Nick showed Molly in the open show.

 Nick and Molly showing off ribbons they won at the open horse show.

During that year, Nick won several hundred dollars competing in jackpot rodeos on Molly. “Molly had never been trained to barrel race but she would try anything. She was never really fast, but she could maintain her speed around the barrels better than most horses; she never had to slow down to go around the barrels, so Nick won a lot of races,” says Carolyn.

Nick and Molly barrel racing

Nick and Molly pole bending
Nick and Molly also did well in the flag races. He and Molly could get close to the bucket, and Nick was so agile and acrobatic that he could lean out and grab the flags and drop them in the next bucket at the other end of the arena.

“That summer, the kids were practicing the flag race,” recalls Michael. “Nick trusted that mare so much that he leaned over so far, he fell off. Molly stopped and looked down at him, wondering what he was doing down there. Nick rode her a lot, and even as old and stiff as she was by then, she still won about every game and race he entered in the rodeos.”

“As I got older and more confident, she’d test me more often,” says Nick. “She’d sometimes jump around and crowhop a little because she knew it wasn’t going to scare me. It was just a game. She was part of the family, and my best mentor.”

Nick, age 9, on Molly

By the time Nick was 9 and back in 4-H, Molly was 21 years old and slowing down with arthritic joints. That April, Molly was semi-retired and used occasionally as a spare horse. Nick still rode her a few times moving cattle on the range.
Nick, age 11, riding range on Molly
Nick and his dad, riding range moving cattle

Nick and younger cousin Emily moving range cattle on a windy day.

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at

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