The Circle C ranch raises cattle (mostly shorthorns) and breed horses. Very good horses, some of the best in the West. Many a buyer will pay top dollar for a Circle C branded horse, with the papers to go along with it. If somebody asks me how many horses are on my family’s ranch, I just drop my jaw. “I have no idea. Nobody has ever counted them at any given time.” We have brood mares, foals of all ages, yearlings, two- and three-year olds ready to sell, saddle horses for the family, buggy horses, and of course the ranch hands always have plenty of mounts to choose from for their “string.” And of course there are the fancy stallions, matched with just the right mares. We also keep the larger breeds like draft, in order to pull the harvester for hay. Here are my family’s special saddle horses.
Taffy is my best non-human friend. She is a 15-hand high golden palomino with a white blaze on her nose and four white socks. Her mane and tail are creamy white. Taffy was a gift from my big brother Chad when I turned six years old.
He took me out to the barn on my birthday and showed me the brand-new filly. Then he told me she was mine and that together we’d train her to be the best little filly in the valley. I couldn’t believe what he was saying, since Chad is sometimes so mean and teases me. But when I looked at my mother, she nodded, so I knew it must be true.
It was a lot of work training a foal, but Chad knows horses better than anyone in the whole valley. Taffy is the most beautiful horse in the valley (well, I think so anyway). She’s fast too. Taffy won the Fourth of July race in July 1880, but it wasn’t worth entering. I ended up in a heap of trouble, and I had to give the ten dollar gold piece I won to Justin. Read that story >> Two months later, Taffy beat Cory’s chestnut, Flash, (Dangerous Decision) in a rematch, because Cory thought it was just luck that Taffy won the Fourth of July race.
When Taffy was about seven years old and I was almost fourteen, my mare gave birth to twin colts. One was a chocolate palomino, Shasta, and the other was a cremello, Sunny.
Shasta and Sunny are Taffy’s twin colts born January 1882. At first I was horrified at the thought of twin foals. Most never live. Even Chad was surprised when he discovered they were tangled up inside Taffy. What a horrible night that was for me! But with God’s help, Chad pulled them through and saved Taffy too. The two little fellows were so small, but they were feisty, especially Shasta, the first to emerge. They grew quickly. Sunny, the capricious colt, found a home with my friend Macy. He was easier to let go than Shasta. Shasta nibbled his way into my heart the minute I saw him. At three years old, I took my first ride on him and he is faster than Taffy ever was. I never thought I would bring myself to say this, but although no horse could ever take Taffy’s place in my heart, Shasta comes mighty close.
Thunderbolt (Thunder) is Justin’s bay gelding. He is a magnificent horse and has all the stamina any rider could ask for. Thunder is a dark-red (mahogany) bay, with the typical black markings of mane, tail, the edges of his ears, and all four legs. You can’t see it here, but his bay markings extend to Thunder’s knees. Thunder won’t win any races, but he is friendly and solid and will probably outlive every other horse on the Circle C.
Sky High (Sky) belongs to Chad, who has nurtured his stunning buckskin gelding since the day he was foaled. Father promised Chad the pick of any foal on the Circle C, and when baby Sky nickered at eight-year-old Chad, he fell in love. Sky’s coloring is a dark tan/yellow with a black stripe down his back, a black mane and tail, and black lower legs. Sky is a beautiful horse, and the horse and rider pair are devoted to each other. When the barn burned down one year (Courageous Love), Chad appeared to be in more pain than Sky, who had a burnt spot on his rump.
Chasing After the Wind (Chase) is rightly named. Mitch’s horse is the fastest horse in the valley, maybe in the whole state. Mitch mounted his gelding at seven years old and they haven’t stopped galloping since. Chase is a shiny chestnut (sorrel) and many a townsfolk look at him him fly buy and want to buy him. His four white socks and a blaze on his nose make Chase different from other chestnuts (like Cory’s horse Flash). Mitch has had so many offers to buy Chase, but he’ll never sell.
Riley loves Dakota, and aside from Taffy or Shasta, Dakota is one of the smartest horses I know, even smarter than Sky or Chase (don’t tell Chad or Mitch). How did Riley acquire Dakota? It’s a long story but one you may like to hear. Riley lost Midnight, his big black horse, when he was about age fifteen. His equine friend and companion had been stolen by a band of thieving Apaches, along with a bunch of Fort Apache’s horses, and the old horse just could not keep up. The Indians basically rode the old fellow to death. Riley’s family left Fort Apache a few months later and ended up at Fort Boise.
Riley, missing the Circle C, Midnight, and me was miserable. But he perked right up when he was introduced to the Nez Perce tribe and their unusual-looking spotted horses. When Riley asked a young Nez Perce friend about the horses, Kiyiyah told him that people called their horses the “Palouse” horse (after the Palouse region in eastern Washington Territory). His friend puffed out his chest and proclaimed, “Our people developed this breed.”
When Riley’s friend Kiyiyah was in danger, Riley saved his life. The tribe was so impressed and grateful that they gave Riley one of their precious (and rare) appaloosa horses. The tribe made sure Riley’s horse was a gelding, as they are jealous of anyone else developing this breed. Riley is pleased as punch about having Dakota, and the memory of losing Midnight is fading. Which is pretty much how it is with Shasta and Taffy.
Pandora (Panda) belongs to my sister Melinda. Her horse is a sorrel like Chase, but instead of being a lighter color with white markings, Panda is nearly a liver chestnut from nose to tail, with no markings at all. She is a beautiful horse in her own way. Better still, she is one of the calmest and easygoing mares on the Circle C. Melinda did not care to raise and train a foal, so Father picked Panda out as a four-year-old for ten-year-old Melinda. Father knows just which horse works best for each of his children. Panda has had two foals and produces babies with nearly perfect confirmation. Her first foal, Sawyer, is as easygoing as Panda. Starlight (Star), Panda’s most recent foal, is sassy and full of vinegar. It’s fun to watch Panda nip her little filly when she gets out of hand. Watch the real Starlight’s birth >>
Snowflake used to belong to my older sister Katherine. She is an indifferent rider, so after Kate ran away with Troy, Father chose Snowflake to become a valuable brood mare (a mare who has a lot of foals). She is Taffy’s dam (Caesar is Taffy’s sire). All of her offspring command high prices. Our breeding stock horses have fancy names on their official registration papers, all starting with “Circle C.” Snowflake’s name is “Circle C Jubilee’s Snowflake.” That way people can trace the horse’s line back to the breeder. Taffy has a fancy name too. “Circle C Caesar’s Taffy Candy.” Yeah, that’s a mouthful.
Caesar was Father’s grand bay stallion, fabulous in every way. He won many a “grand champion” at the state fair when it was first launched. Caesar was the first colt born on the Circle C, from a blooded dam and sire. He paid a small fortune for the pair, but he named his brand-new colt “Circle C Caesar.” From then on, regardless of the original pair’s pedigree, and even after purchasing other fine breeding stock, the “Circle C” begins every horse born on the ranch since that time. Like Mitch’s horse, “Circle C Charger’s Chasing after the Wind.” Or Taffy’s “Circle C Caesar’s Taffy Candy.”
Caesar was Taffy’s sire and his last daughter before he was retired from service. (He was well into his twenties by this time). I’m thrilled that I have a little piece of Father’s horse in Taffy and in her colts Shasta and Sunny. Caesar spent the rest of his years out to pasture, enjoying the free range, until he finally passed on at the ripe old age of thirty (very old for a horse). He was never quite the same stallion after Father was killed.
Mother’s horse is a paint tobiano mare, Misty. She is one of the original horses on the Circle C ranch and over thirty years old. She still looks good, but Mother finally put Misty out to pasture. She’s been a great mare and is the dam of Patches, another Circle C horse. Her markings are striking, and any time Chad wanted more paint horses to sell, he used Misty as the dam. Mother, however, finally put her foot down and said Misty has paid her dues and deserves a quiet time of old age. Right now she’s chomping down on valley grass. It’s March and even the horses know the green will not last.
He’s not really Levi’s horse, but Patches always seems to have a saddle on him when Levi comes to visit or work. Patches is a tobiano paint horse like his mother, Misty. His mane is two-colored, black and white. He has brown and white patches on his body and a black tail. Patches is just about perfect in every way.
Pal is a nice, all-around bay saddle horse. He’s safe for anyone to ride. Rosa, who doesn’t care for horses, rides him. So it’s a mystery to me why Virginia was unable to ride him. For some reason, she got him running like mad and pretty soon he stopped short and threw her head over heels into Whirlwind’s corral. (Dangerous Decision). Pal is also a good buggy horse, having been trained to drive. He plods along and never complains or acts up, except for the time cousin Daniel whipped him. The result was a broken axle and a crash into an orchard. Poor Pal! (The Last Ride)
Prince Loco is is Chad’s wild stallion. He bought him for a price that makes Justin whistle. The first thing Loco did was rear up and come down on Jake Barnes, one of the Circle C ranch hands. He didn’t get out of the way fast enough and ended up with a broken arm. He’s only been on the ranch a week or two when I tried to see him from my bedroom balcony. Chad’s been on a rant, and he won’t even let me go near the horse, at least not close enough to get a good view. He only lets me watch “from a safe distance,” which is halfway across the yard. I learn the hard way that Chad is so right! Prince Loco is crazy and mean. Will he ever be broken? Find out here >> Then you will understand why Prince Loco no longer resides on the Circle C ranch.
Whirlwind is another crazy horse-breaking idea Chad got into his head. I named him Whirlwind because he’s so fast with that gray mane flying out behind him that he reminds me of a whirlwind. He’s a maverick stallion and his interest in life is to gather up every mare on the range, the Circle C mares included. Chad’s not about to let that happen. (Dangerous Decision) He, Mitch, and the ranch hands spend two weeks chasing Whirlwind down. When they finally snag him, they corral him near the barn. Leave it to Virginia to tumble into his enclosure and scare the living daylights out of the stallion. He jumps the fence. Yes, you can imagine Chad’s anger at that. He finally does round Whirlwind up again, break him, and thankfully sell him.
Sultan is not a Circle C horse, but since he came along on the Circle C cattle drive, I included him in this lineup. This stallion is an arrogant but gorgeous “parade” horse. He reflects the attitude of his handsome, arrogant rider, Toledo. Both act too big for their britches. Pure white body and thick, flashy black mane, Sultan stands out on a trail drive that is mostly composed of hardy but not much to look at Circle C ranch horses. We don’t use breeding stock on long, arduous trail drives. That’s why I was not allowed to bring Taffy along. She would have had a hard time being worked like a cowpony for three weeks. I fell in love with Sultan, and that drew me to Toledo. I kind of liked him too until he proved to be a traitor and a scoundrel.
Last but certainly not least, I do not want to forget Coco, the Carter family’s pony. At only twelve hands high, this fellow took all six Carter children around until he was retired at the ripe old age of thirty-four. He died peacefully one summer’s day and I shed a few tears but I knew he had lived a long, full life. Not only did he carry us, but he also carried Betsy around and around the corral (Family Secret) and plodded along when the children’s father, Troy, carried them off one Sunday afternoon. Faithful old Coco, the great-grandpa pony whom I always called a “slowpoke” pony. He was! Coco never went faster than a trot.