My love of horses started at the age of two, sitting on the curb waiting for the milkman and his horse to arrive. Until I was six, I spent summers on my uncle Lawrence's farm near Clyde. He would put me on the back of one of his work horses while he plowed the garden. I rode behind him every morning and night when he went to get the milk cows. I got my first horse when I was seven, after my family moved to an acreage outside of Edmonton. To this day, I have no idea what his breeding was but he stood seventeen hands high. To mount, I would climb onto his head as he was grazing and crawl up his neck holding the reins. It wasn't unusual for as many as five kids to be on him all at the same time. There were many horses over the years, each one of them special in their own way, some more than others.
At eighteen, my love for Arabians was well established and my dream was to own a black Arabian. Buying one was out of the question, so the next best thing was to breed to one. I bought a black Thoroughbred mare named Sun Daisy. She was bred to Muntahi (AHR #5283), producing a beautiful, bay Anglo-Arab colt. I named him Banner and from that moment on, I was filled with the desire to raise more of these beautiful, willing-to-please animals. Banner, Shammus(a purebred Arabian stallion I was yet to own), and a mare named Replacer were instrumental in making my dream of raising versatile Anglo Arabs everyone could enjoy, come true.
When Banner was two years old I set out to find a quality thoroughbred mare to use as a brood mare.I remember well the first day I saw Replacer, later to be named Musette. I had worked at the race track for a few years when I was younger, so I thought that would be a good place to start looking.
I drove to the track, looked up some of the people I knew, and told them what type of mare I was looking for. I got a few leads and checked them out, but none of the horses really caught my eye. Then someone told me that Lorne Oneil had a mare he might sell, so off I went to find him.
The horse barns were quite different from the way they are now. They were just rows of box stalls under one roof where the horses could look out at all that goes on. There were a few big barns also. I was to find Musette in these box stalls.
It was a lovely warm day in August 1961 when I found Loren and his brother Norman sitting in front of their horse's stalls taking a break from a busy day. I told them I had heard they might have a mare for sale. They took me over to one of the stalls and here I saw a beautiful chestnut mare with the kindest eyes I had ever seen.
She was very friendly, and I could tell she was well loved. A quick glance at her stall told me she didn't have the bad habit of chewing or kicking holes in the walls like most Thoroughbred horses have due to boredom. She had all the qualities I was looking for in a brood mare, but she did have a bad knee and splints on both front legs. I didn't need her for a saddle horse, so I said I would take her. I paid Lorne eight hundred dollars and arranged to pick her up in a few days. He told me her name was Replacer.
The day finally came, and I drove to Northlands to pick her up. I was so excited as I pulled the trailer up in front of the barns. There she was, looking over the bottom half of her stall floor with a very mellow look on her face. Loren snapped a shank onto her halter and opened the stall door. Out exploded a thousand pounds of bright red horse flesh, bucking and jumping in the air like a spring foal. I guess the look on my face gave away what I was thinking: "what kind of horse did I just buy?"
Loren read my expression perfectly, and was quick to reassure me. "Just take her home and turn her out in the pasture." He said. "Cut down on her oats and she'll be as quiet as a kitten in a few days".
I did just that. She and my stallion Banner fell in love from the first moment they saw each other. (You will see later that some horses really do fall in love.)
I named her Musette. She was bred about three weeks later and was enjoying her early retirement as she was just three years old. A few months went by, and I could see her legs were getting better. Winter came and went, and Musette's figure told me she was in foal.
In July she gave birth to a beautiful chestnut colt. And what a mother she was, parading her foal around for all to see. The other mares would look over the fence and talk away as though they were telling Musette what a lovely baby she had. The faster the foal ran the more the mares talked. Musette's legs were all better by this time.
My daughter Debbie, who was eleven, wanted Musette for her horse instead of the Shetland pony stallion she already had. So began Musette's life as a saddle horse and brood mare. She had such a lovely disposition I had no qualms about Debbie riding her. She always had that mellow look on her face and, when left to her own pace when out for a ride, would saunter along enjoying the scenery. She would wear the toes off of her shoes in about six weeks from dragging her feet. She carried her head low, and had a look in her eye as if she had a secret no one else knew.
This Look fooled everyone who took her out for a ride. If an unsuspecting rider took her into a canter and didn't keep her reined in, she would go faster and faster as memories of the track came back to her. She still loved to race, and beat every horse she raced against except for Banner.
They were always neck and neck. To this day, I don't know which was faster. When I raced Banner against other horses, he would power ahead of them all, and we raced some pretty fast horses. I really think that Musette and Banner were just happy to race side by side with both being the winner.
One day a young lady come out for a ride. she picked Musette out of the herd as the one she wanted to ride. She told me she know how to ride, and Musette was a very safe horse for all types of riders. Off we went along a soft sand road.
As we jogged along, the girl on Musette looked over my way and said "let's race!" I was always game for a good run, so I nudged Banner into a canter. When Musette saw she was being left behind, she realized the race was on! With the girl shouting encouragement, and the feel of soft sand underfoot, Musette passed me as if I were sitting on a fence post.
As she passed, I realized that the girl's shouts were not words of encouragement but screams of fear! I brought Banner to a stop and watched as Musette's powerful red haunches disappeared in a spray of white sand. I looked helplessly down the road, hoping very deeply that the girl hadn't been fibbing when she told me she could ride.
A while later Banner and I were reunited with Musette and her pale faced rider. The shaking girl took her first breath in several minutes and said what she had told me, before her unscheduled rocket ride, was "don't race!" Musette seemed to enjoy doing this to greenhorns who thought they were cowboys.
Another time, my mother and I were out for a ride. My mother had done a lot of riding as a youngster and all the years I was growing up, so I felt sure she wouldn't have problems with Musette.
We had gone about a mile at Musette's plod along pace when Musette stopped, slowly turned her long neck around, tipped her head up, and looked straight at mom with a "do I have a sucker here?" look. Then she wheeled around, straightened her neck, took off back to the barn as if her tail were on fire.
Musette was also pretty good at jumping, and Debbie loved to put her through her paces. I was always telling Debbie "you can't jump her now because she's in early pregnancy," or else "you can't jump her now because she's in heavy foal," but I'm sure Musette got her share of jumping without me knowing it.
My two boys, Wes and Kevin, got their turns riding Musette when they were big enough. Wes is five years younger than Debbie and was very fond of horses when he was a toddler. That changed when he was two years old and Debbie put him on a Shetland foal. It was spring time, and there were mud puddles all over the place. I was off working with some horses when I heard Debbie yelling, "let go! ... let go!" I looked around and there was Wes hanging from the mane of the foal as it dragged him through mud, too afraid to let go.
He never enjoyed horses after that. Even so, he usually came with us when we went for a ride, but that look of horror was always on his face. At the first hint of trouble he would bail off his pony and let her run home with the reins dangling.
When Wes was about ten years old the two of us went for a ride; he on Musette and I on Banner. I was about twenty feet ahead because Banner always walked quickly, and Musette just dawdled along at her own pace. Suddenly Wes yelled "she's going to go over backward!" I looked back and there was Musette in her own little dream world, bottom lip almost dragging on the ground.
I told Wes, "the only way she could go over would be if she stepped on her bottom lip and did a somersault." Well that gave him something else to worry about, so our ride was soon over.
My son Kevin is a year younger than Wes, and would ride anything with hair right from the time he was two years old. When he was about nine years old, he and his friends went riding. Kevin wanted to take Musette, as there was pride in riding "a race horse." He was riding bareback, So I told him "don't' let her get going too fast," this being the first time he rode her without me being along.
When they came back from their ride, Musette was quiet hot. I asked Kevin why. He said "We were just riding along, and I leaned forward and whispered in her ear and she took off!" Knowing Kevin like I do, I'm sure his heels were doing a little whispering of their own.
Musette is only ridden now when my grand daughters come to visit. I lead her into the barnyard on a long halter shank, and the girls sit on her with big smiles on their faces as she grazes.
Wes' daughter Candice, who is nine years old now, started riding on Musette when she was two years old. Kevin's daughter Sharee, is two years old. When we go out to feed the horses she has to ride on "Old Bones," our pet name for Musette now. Even tough her old bones creak a bit, I'm sure she will be around for Sharee to ride by herself in five or six years. I'll have to remember to put a few vitamins in Musette's feed when Sharee starts to ride, because I'm sure she has inherited her dad's "whispering heels."
In June 1992 Musette will be 27 years old. She still has the same Look in her eyes that she had 24 years ago, and still walks along with that slow pace as though the whole world is hers for the taking and there is no need to hurry. She still gets caught up in the excitement if the other horses start to race around on a frosty winter day, making a little crow-hop now and then.
Musette was a great saddle horse, but where she really shines is raising babies. She had a foal off Banner every year for ten years, except for one year when she took a spill early in her pregnancy and lost her foal. In 1978 1 bought Shammus, a black purebred Arabian stallion. Musette had ten foals by him, for an almost unbelievable total of 19 babies, in addition to three foals she helped raise.
She produced milk like a Jersey cow, and her foals would only need to nuzzle her bag a few times and milk would stream all over their faces. They did this fairly often, only to walk away as if to say "just checking to make sure the grub is still there."
Other foals, whose dams didn't give enough milk, often nursed from Musette at the same time as her own foal and she never seemed to care. She always was, and still is, the baby sitter of my herd.
Her approach to foaling was much the same as everything else in her life: "hey, it's no big deal." Many a night I have spent down at the barn with Musette, sure that she was close to foaling. She seemed to enjoy the company. If I fell asleep, she would take a big drink of water then come over and dribble water on me, her big rubbery lips seeming to say, "if I'm awake, you're awake, see?"
Most mares get anxious as their time nears. Not so with Musette. She would just stand there with her eyes half closed and, when it was time, she would lie down and foal. Then she'd turn her long neck around and talk her baby into coming to her, for she knew that I would dry junior off and bring her a nice, hot bran mash. What service! She would lie there, savoring her mash, between words and licks of tender endearment to her foal. With all the motherly licking, the foal usually wore as much of the mash as Musette ate, but her heart was in the right place.
When the foal was ready to stand up, Musette would too, holding very still as her baby wobbled around looking for dinner. If things took too long, she would use her nose to nudge the hungry foal toward the cafeteria.
She was always a relaxed mom, and would allow her foals to explore and play with the other foals and people as long as she was free to intervene when she felt it was necessary. But heaven help you if her foal scampered out of sight as you were trying to lead Musette to the barn for the night. You then became the tail of a screaming, lunging, thousand pound kite until the foal came back or she dragged you to it, whichever came first. Then the wild mustang became the same quiet old Musette. We soon found it was easier to lead the foal and let mom follow.
Musette doesn't like being in the barn except when she has a very young foal. If I try to put her inside on a bad winter night she comes out in the morning looking 50 pounds lighter. If I put her best buddy and her two husbands (Banner and Shammus) in with her for company, then I have to put in their friends too, and before you know it, every horse I own is in the barn.
Many times, when a big summer storm was coming in, I would put Musette in the barn and go back for another. Of course I can only do one at a time, so Musette would be carrying on in the barn as if the devil was after her. From all the ruckus in the barn, the other horses would be sure that something terrible was happening. Horses that were usually in your back pocket were now running around with their noses up and tails over their backs. Down would come the rain, then the hail, along with the hurricane winds. By the time I got the last horse in the barn, The sun would be out. It got so I was sure I could stop the rain simply by putting the horses in the barn.
Musette has always been boss horse, without ever biting or kicking another horse. They just seem to respect her, maybe because she has been around since the beginning of time. (To the other horses it must seem Like it.)
In 1978 I bought another Thoroughbred mare named Bonnie Count. She became second in command because she does bite and kick. She and Musette hit it off right from the start. Every now and then the two of them would go nose-to-nose with necks arched, pawing the ground and squealing at each other, then turn and walk away at the same time so neither loses face. To this day they still do it, though not as often.
They have been together for 13 years, and have to be in the pasture together or they won't eat. When Bonnie is in the foaling stall, Musette has to be right next to her or else Bonnie tears the barn apart.
Musette last foaled in 1988, a huge colt, 45 inches tall and 168 pounds. It she doesn't have a foal of her own, she is not above stealing one from another mare. One such occasion was during a blizzard in early February. I had gone to bed about midnight. From my cozy bed I could hear the horses making more noise than they usually do, but I was so comfortable I decided to monitor the situation from under the warm blankets.
The noise kept up and I knew something wasn't right. I had a mare due to foal in about two weeks, but I did not put her inside because she showed no signs of foaling. I struggled outside and, sure enough, the mare had foaled. Musette had horned in and was licking the baby dry, not letting the foal's mom near it. That explained the commotion.
I had quite a time getting the slippery, wet foal into the barn with two jealous moms trying to claim it. I had to put Musette into the next stall where she could see the foal because as far as she was concerned she had licked it first so it was hers.
I keep hoping that Musette will give me one more foal, as she is still in good health and I would dearly love another daughter of hers. I have one of her daughters off of Banner, (Shantels Replacer) a lovely, big, black mare who is just like her mom. Shantell was Musette's eleventh foal.
I still have Banner, a gelding now. He's 25 years old, and I have had him since he was born. He has a band of mares he gets some of them after they are bred, and he has the young ones. He was always such a good father. Quite a few years after he was gelded, he was running with just one bred mare and she foaled in the pasture behind quite a bit of bush. Banner ran around the pasture whinnying, then he ran back to the bush. Soon the mare came out with the foal. Banner was so excited and proud. He was sure he was the dad. I had to put them both in the barn because neither one would settle down.
Musette still goes over and visits with him across the fence when she is in with the stallion. She loves them both. I keep her with the stallion all the time because she still comes into heat like clockwork.
This past Summer I was talking to a lady who raises Thoroughbreds. When I told her that Musette is fourth generation Man-O-War, she was very excited, saying "what if we could get one more foal out of her, this time a Thoroughbred!" Now Musette had been running with my stallion since spring, and had been bred every month I wondered if she might already be in foal, as it's not beneath her dignity to accept the stallion even when she is in foal. (She has always been a pushover for some sweet taking.)
So off we went to the vet to have her checked out. She stood there, enduring the indignities of the checkup, every now and then turning her long neck around and giving the vet that look of hers. The vet said that she was open and everything was in fine shape, and that she was ovulating and ready to breed. I was disappointed she wasn't in foal, but I was also excited about the idea that just maybe she might catch to the Thoroughbred stallion.
All the way home we talked about what the foal might be like. The stallion we were going to use was young, two years old, and Musette would be his first mare. I assured the stallion's owner that Musette would be the perfect mare, as she has never threatened to kick any stallion. I dropped Musette off at the lady's farm and came home. Nothing felt the same without her here, as she has been with me for 23 years.
When I called to see how things were going, the lady said "Not good. We can't get within 50 feet of her with either stallion. She lays her ears back, teeth snapping and ready to kick." Musette was having nothing to do with that business. She was there a full week, and was tried every day with the same result. The lady told me that the whole time Musette was there she stood in the corner of the pasture, facing home, and wouldn't eat.
When I brought Musette home she was past her heat. I took her to the pasture and turned her loose. The other mares and the stallion were at the far end of the field, so she took off at a pretty good clip for an old gal, calling to her friends as she went. The next thing I knew, the stallion was climbing all over her as she stood there, quiet as a mouse with that comical look on her face. She wouldn't accept the lady's stallions because she was already in love with her two husbands. Ever, a "younger man" couldn't tempt her!
When her next heat came around Shammus mounted her, but I noticed he wasn't able to breed her due to the changes mares go through as they age. Her being so tall didn't help either. I felt sure that this must be the reason she hasn't caught the last three years. I had the idea that if I somehow make her a little lower, Shammus would able to reach her.
I dug a small trench; about a foot deep and just wide enough for her back legs to fit in. As luck would have it, a fellow horse breeder drove in the yard, and I asked him if he would hold Musette for me. I backed her into the trench, then brought the stallion out. He mounted her with not so much as a "how do you do?" And everything proceeded as it should.
Things were going fine until he slipped into the trench. He rolled right under Musette flat on his back with all four feet waving in the air. He floundered around for a minute, then he managed to right himself directly underneath her. When he stood up, there she hung, front feet on one side and back feet on the other. In her usual unflappable fashion she slowly climbed off. We moved her to another spot and Shammus, being the game fellow he is, tried again. This time all went well.
Since that day, she hasn't been the push over she used to be. Whether it's because she thinks she's too old for those acrobatics, or because she's in foal, we don't know for sure, but we're keeping our fingers crossed. In foal or not I'll Love her just as much.
About a year after I bought Musette I knew no horse could be gentle if it hadn't had lots of love as a foal. So the next, December, I sent Fern and Lorne a Christmas card, telling them about Musette. We have been exchanging cards for the past 22 years. They came to see Musette when she was about 18 years old, and thought she didn't look much different than when they had her. Fifteen years earlier.
Musette has aged gracefully, with not too much gray showing, but then she has had only two men to worry about, and they both loved her. Banner, on the other hand, is quite gray, and he has had only Shammus to worry about. Their pastures are separated by a 30 foot alley, and they often stand across from each other for long periods. I'm sure they are counting each other's mares to see who has the most.
If you spend enough time really watching horses, you soon see that there is much more to these animals than meets the eye. Many times I have tiptoed up to a knot hole in the foaling barn to catch a private glimpse of what the mare is doing. Each time there is a big, brown eye looking back at me.
My story isn't finished yet, as I'm sure Musette will be around for a few more years to amuse us with her antics. She has always been a sloppy eater and now she wears a bag on her head when she has her grain. She looks just Like the Unknown Comic (which she is). As long as she keeps making eyes at the boys we will keep hoping for that Man-O-War Replacer.
On January 3,1993 when I went out to feed, 'Old Bones' came as usual for her oat bag. I was back in a half hour and although she had finished, she didn't look right to me so I decided to put her in the barn.
As I was leading her away, Bonnie and Shantell (Musette's daughter) came up and touched her with their noses. Bonnie turned and walked into the bush standing with her back to us. Oddly enough, she was not upset about Musette leaving the pasture, but I was too worried about Musette to give it much thought.
I went to the house for a blanket and returned immediately to find Musette dead. She faced death like she faced everything else in her life; it's no big deal.' She just lay down and died. I realized then that Bonnie and Shantell had known Musette was going to die and they were bidding an old friend farewell.
Banner seemed to change after Musette's death. His nickname was 'Crocodile Dundee' because no horse gets near him when he eats, but I noticed he was no longer very interested in his oats. He was nice and fat so I didn't worry too much.
While feeding on the morning of February 1, 1993, 1 discovered Banner dead. His autopsy showed no cause of death, but I am sure he died of a broken heart. Banner had spent his entire life with me. My days were very sad doing chores without Banner and Musette to greet me.
Eventually, I realized this was no way to remember my two old 'buds'. They brought many people great joy directly and through their offspring. They produced beautiful foals; Shantell is proof of that. Banner and Musette will live on through her. Though I am saddened by the loss of my two old friends, I rejoice at having known and loved them for more than twenty-five years. I know Musette AKA Replacer, AKA Old Bones would like having her love story told for she was quite the 'ham'. This is my tribute to her and her men.
Drop by Shanandoah Arabians for an afternoon of enjoying the horses. Come and meet Shantell (daughter of Old Bones and Banner). Bonnie, by the way, is now sole boss and has paired off with Shammus like Old Bones and Shammus used to. I'm sure Old Bones approves.