JERRY GOROSKI is the consultant appraisar to whom I refer inquiries about Scriver bronzes. He is formally trained and certified to do assessments and knew Bob Scriver as well as working for the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls. His gallery is called "Open Range Art."


Friday, September 02, 2005

My Learnin' Horse: Skeeter

If you live in Montana, you MUST have a vehicle, but in 1961 it seemed more important to have a horse. I bought “Skeeter” for $100 from Don MacRae, a local contractor and lumberyard owner, but the big brown gelding had originally come from the Bullshoe relay race horses out at Heart Butte. I suspect that his genes came from decades of big brown cavalry horses, which occasionally got diverted into Blackft hands. Part of the reason I got Skeeter so cheap was that he was old, but the rest of the reason was that he was thin-skinned and every summer the flies picked at his head until he appeared to have mange.

In the 19th century thousands of horses were shot by cavalry to stop the pandemic of horse mange. Of course, it was also a good excuse for getting rid of a key part of Indian military power. When the horses were replaced, the government offered them plow horses. There were already a lot of big heavy horses around, used for wagon shipping and to build the railroad. Those who witnessed the mass slaughter of horses were haunted for the rest of their lives by the screams and thrashing of the horses as they died.

Skeeter didn’t really have mange. Still, it was close enough that people veered off when they saw me and wouldn’t let their horses near mine. Every time Skeeter got loose, he set off for Heart Butte. It was always home in his heart, even after he’d been in the field with our other horses for years. Since in those days there were no fences between Browning and Heart Butte, it was essential to catch him again before he passed the last barbed wire at the edge of town. I learned to feed him oats often and to carry any ropes or halters wrapped around my waist so he wouldn’t see them.

The idea of putting me on this horse was that he wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t safe. The first thing he thought was unsafe was me in the saddle. He was tall, so if there was no one around to give me a hand up, I had to stand on an overturned bucket or the fence. If I tried from the fence, Skeeter turned until he was head-on -- no possibility of getting a leg over. If I tried from the bucket, he cleverly kicked the bucket out from under me just as my toe approached the stirrup. You could ride him in any direction for as long as you liked, and the return home would take twenty minutes. He simply adjusted his speed to the distance. And he adjusted his belly size to make sure the girth ended up loose.

Terrible groans and rumblings came from his middle when you were in the saddle. Seemingly in extremis, he could never resist lying down in a good sandy spot to take a nice roll -- the rider and saddle presenting merely an inconvenience. If only I could have taught him to lie down when I wanted to get in the saddle.

But if we were really out for a ride (and in the early Sixties that was just about every summer morning at daybreak) and we were with Bob on Gunsmoke, his little gray half-Arabian that he got from Hughie Welch, Skeeter would settle down and cover the distance, rocking along in a steady gait from his relay race days. It was a mercy to push him past a trot, as he must have had the roughest trot on the rez, and one had to be alert for quick turns. His turning method was to slam the ground with his front feet to throw his weight in the new direction. Suddenly he went left or right and the unwary rider kept on over his head in the previous direction. I unashamedly hung on to the horn -- TIGHT -- and never got thrown, quite. Ended up pretty high on the horse’s neck.

One day he was cut under the fetlock by glass in the borrow pit along the highway, a constant and vicious hazard. Even after months of not being ridden, he never quite healed up. Indeed, anytime a person appeared to be moving a saddle his way, he made it a point to limp ostentatiously. Pretty soon Bob bought me another horse, Zuke, a smaller pinto who didn’t mind a rider, though he had a bad habit of falling flat on his face. I wouldn’t have believed a four-legged creature could do that.

Skeeter sort of lived in retirement unless we had company. When Bob divorced me, I had no way to take care of a horse and sold him to Harold Hatfield. No doubt he ended up canned. Bob thought this was cold-hearted of me and accused me of wanting to can him, too. He had made a model of Skeeter’s head, which -- flies aside -- was really very nice, a typical hotblood head. It’s still on my wall.

On the morning this photo was taken by Bob out at Trombley’s, he got on “Playboy” -- a beautiful sorrel quarterhorse who was a cousin to “Descent,” the famous bucking horse, and who posed for the horse in “Lone Cowboy.” In about half an hour Bob was lying face down in the trail where Playboy had bucked him off. The horse had begun to buck actually IN a small stream and went up the bank where the trail was cut down by feet. Bob’s shoulders struck on either side of this groove so that the cartilage that holds the rib cage together in front, the sternum, was split. He was enraged but couldn’t get up without help. I managed to get him onto Skeeter and back to the pickup.

I said I was taking him to the Indian Health Service Hospital emergency. He said he wasn’t going to any hospital. I said if he wouldn’t go to the hospital, I’d go into every bar in town and announce that he couldn’t ride his own horse. That did the job. The truth is that he couldn’t have stopped me from driving anywhere -- as soon as the shock wore off, the pain was bad. It took months and months to heal -- never really did. When they did his heart by-pass surgery they sawed open his sternum again, but this time they wired it back together. Nevertheless, for the rest of his life after that morning he wore a kind of leather corset he got Bell, the saddle-maker, to build for him.

But at the moment of this photo life was as good as it could get early on a clear summer morning with the prospect of a long ride. Even Skeeter was kind of looking forward to it. Sometimes it’s a good thing not to know what’s going to happen.

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