The Old Curmudgeon: Homer connection – Working with Arabians on a Montana horse ranch

August 2012 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

By Vern Holmquist

On my first visit to Silverton, some 14 years ago, I attended the Homer Davenport Days festival. I knew the name Homer Davenport but knew nothing about his fame as a political cartoonist.

I remembered Homer as the first man to import and to introduce Arabian horses to America.

After returning home from World War II, I married a girl from Pray, Mont. While I thought of myself as a city boy, I went to work for my in-laws horse at Hammans Arabian Horse Ranch.

At the time, there were only four Arabian horse breeders in the country that we were aware of – our ranch, one in California owned by the Wrigley Family of the chewing gum fame, the Long Acre Ranch in Texas and Homer’s ranch. A youthful Vern Holmquist next to a painting of the Arabian Borkaan.

Our small ranch was a few miles up the Yellowstone River, west of Livingston, Mont. The horse in the picture is Borkaan, our stallion and my favorite horse to ride.

Working on the ranch, I quickly realized I had a lot to learn about horses, much less Arabian horses, which I learned are a sub-species, not a breed.

Arabian horses are built a little different with most having five lumbar vertebre instead of six and 17 pairs of ribs instead of 18 giving them a short coupled look.

Much has been written about this gallant horse, legends about its courage and loyalty to his owner and I had the pleasure of being around them long enough to believe these legends to be true.

About the only thing Arabs punished their horses for was muddying water, which was scarce and precious in the desert.

One day, I was riding Borkaan down a country lane at a gentle lope when he came to a sudden halt almost throwing me out of the saddle.

There was a small stream running across the road and Borkaan came to an abrupt stop, analyzed the situation and then carefully tippy toed across the stream  disturbing as little water as possible.

One winter day, I was riding a very pretty mare named Bedea. While gentle to handle, Bedea was hard to catch. She was a bit of a tease; I would try to catch Bedea as she came closer to me, then she would bolt away and continue this behavior until she was ready to be caught.

I was riding Bedea across a frozen field. While noted for her sure footedness, we hit the side of a frozen irrigation ditch and down we went, throwing me out of the saddle. She got back on her feet and charged away. I laid there in the snow contemplating my cold walk back to the ranch. Bedea stopped, walked back to me and quietly waited for me to get back in the saddle.

This made me believe the legend that if the soldier on an Arabian horse’s back was knocked out of the saddle in battle, his horse would stand by until he could remount. Legends perhaps, yet in my time with them, I found reason to believe them true. The Arabian horse is no an ordinary animal.

I remember old Archie Stebbins, a hired hand with many years working with Arabian horses, coming into the house ranting that he was going to quit because he could not take working with horses that were smarter than he was.

Riding Borkaan (Volcano in Arabic) was a thrilling adventure each time I mounted him, true to his name, while gentle looking down on his big muscled neck, I felt he could erupt at any time.

Borkaan was a great show horse but often borrowed by such as the World Champion Cowboy Bill Linderman for roping and bulldogging events and along the way was the sire of Gene Autry’s horse Champion. I remember having to go to every Gene Autry movie just to see our ranch’s brand on his horse’s left front shoulder and how the Hammans met Autry and his horse Champion – Wonder Horse of the World.

Champion was trained by rodeo arena performer Hardy Murphy who had bought him from the ranch for $75. I don’t know what Gene paid for him.

That was many years ago but it’s my connection to Homer.

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