Monday, August 24, 2015

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Katy Doll, the Quirky Mare with a Big Heart

A temporary replacement horse leaves a lasting legacy.

Katy with her first foal, Rubbie
One hot day in June 1985, my daughter Andrea and I were returning from checking our cattle. It had been a long day of range riding and as we trotted home, Andrea’s mare Khamir hit a sharp rock with her left front foot and began limping. We walked the remaining distance home to give Khamir a rest.

During summer in those years, we generally rode every day, but Khamir had bruised the sole of her foot on the rock and would need time off to heal. Andrea needed a replacement horse and we heard that Royden Capps, a rancher up Hayden Creek, had a 7-year-old mare named Katy Doll to sell. Katy was sired by an Arabian stallion that was closely related to some of our horses and her mother was a Quarter Horse/Saddlebred cross.

When we drove up Hayden Creek to look at the mare, Royden had her saddled and bridled and tied to the fence. She was a nice-looking chestnut with a white blaze and white socks.  I rode her around the barnyard. Then Andrea rode her and liked her, so we bought her.

After we got her home, we realized why Royden had already caught, saddled, and bridled her for us. She was ear-shy and did not want anyone touching her ears, which made her difficult to bridle. Andrea spent that first summer getting Katy over her phobia, taking the bridle apart at the side buckle and putting the crown piece up over Katy’s neck behind — but without having to touch — her ears. Within a few months of patient non-confrontational bridling, we could bridle her in the conventional manner.

Another problem was that Katy hadn’t been ridden for a few years and was hog fat when we got her. With all that fat and tender girth skin from lack of being ridden, Katy developed a cinch sore. We started using neoprene girths (a material much easier on the skin than the old string cinches), but Katy’s sore was hard to clear up.
Andrea moving cows on Katy
Starting troubles aside, Andrea rode Katy bareback for most of 2 years — riding range, chasing cattle, sorting cattle. Riding bareback without stirrups improved Andrea’s riding skills and balance. Even today, she credits those years riding Katy bareback as giving her the ability to “stay with” a horse under all kinds of circumstances.  The only time she ever fell off Katy was during a hard cow chase when the mare stumbled and fell down, dumping Andrea on the ground in front of her. Katy was always a little too wide in the front end for ideal agility in steep country, and had a hard time going down steep hills very fast, but on relatively level ground she was quick as a cat and great for sorting cattle. That day, Katy had been running downhill as hard as she could go to head another cow, stumbled, and Andrea went off over her head. The mare’s front feet slid into Andrea’s ribs, but didn’t hurt her.  It was a tribute to that mare’s athletic ability that she was able to stop so quickly as she stumbled, not wanting to step on Andrea.

Katy didn’t have as much endurance as my horse or our other Anglo-Arabs, but she certainly had as much heart.  She was the best cowhorse Andrea ever had for sorting cattle on the flat, with quick bursts of speed for cutting cows.
Andrea and Katy rounding up a wayward bull
We bred Katy in 1986 to a gray Arabian stallion, and the next year she had a chestnut filly that later turned gray. We named that filly Sharah (pronounced shuh-rah`) but started calling her Rubber-lips (Rubbie, for short). That nickname stuck. Rubbie was easy to train and had a lot of endurance when I started riding range with her. She was my best cowhorse for many years.

We bred Katy two more times over the next few years. She had a gangly bay colt we named Brumby, and a nice-looking bay filly named Miss Piggy. We tried one more time to breed her, but she didn’t settle, so after her stint as a broodmare she went back to being part of the work string as a spare horse for riding range and cattle work.

By that time our son Michael was married and he and his wife Carolyn lived here on the ranch. That fall we had all our bulls in a big pasture on the lower place, and one day the fence got torn down between that field and our neighbor’s place. Andrea wasn’t home that day, so Carolyn rode Katy and helped me round up the bulls. Katy was always good at working cattle, and gave it her whole heart. Carolyn helped me get all our bulls sorted out of the neighbor’s cattle and herded back through the fence — and my husband put the fence back together again.

One winter a few years later, on a cold, stormy morning in December, I went to feed the horses and saw that Katy was ill. She hadn’t eaten all of her hay from the night before, and was shivering and shaking, cold and wet from the snow and clammy sweat. I put a horse blanket on her and called the vet. We put her in our calving barn, started her on IV fluids, and stayed with her through the day and all night, changing the IV bags as the old ones became empty, but she died before morning. The vet was never sure what caused the sudden and acute illness, but it was fast and deadly.

We were devastated by the sudden loss of a good mare, but she left us with a replacement.  Even though we’d sold Brumby and Miss Piggy, we still had Rubbie — Katy’s first foal, born in 1987. Rubbie (¾ Arab) was already becoming my best cowhorse. Rubbie had Katy’s quickness, speed, and agility for sorting cattle, with more endurance, and served me well as my main cowhorse for nearly 20 years (until she was 23 years old). I still rode her occasionally until last summer when she became fully retired at age 27. So Katy, the emergency replacement horse for Andrea to ride that summer long ago, left a lasting legacy and was much appreciated as part of our family of ranch horses.
Heather checking cows on Rubbie, Katy’s first foal who was born chestnut and later turned gray
Photos courtesy of the author

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 HorsesStorey’s Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at Her newest book, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, published by The Frontier Project, Inc., is now available.

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