The Serial Prankster

Photo credit: Ruby Lingo

Have you ever had one of those friends that is a serial prankster? You love them but sometimes you just wonder if you really want to be friends with them because constantly watching out for Whoopy Cushions and laxative-laced food is exhausting. 

I have a horse like that. I love Stormy Jo Mero beyond description. She is my best friend in a way a human can’t be. We know each other’s minds and bodies better than a pair of lovers. We can step up to do battle like a single formidable creature. She is me and I am her. My heartaches are cried out on her mane and I skirt her idiosyncrasies and support her psychoses. She does the same for me. We are a onesness. When the chips are on the table, she is the horse I count on…but when the pressure is off, she is a serial prankster.

This spring she tweaked a tendon sheath on a back ankle slipping on a rock while helping me sort out a colt. She took the summer off and is the size of three hippopotamuses, in spite of how hard I have tried to manage her diet to Jenny Craig standards. You should understand this mare can snatch a mesquite bean off a handy tree as she passes by it at a dead gallop to head off a cow and never change her stride or stop watching the cow. I have been trying to leg her up gently by leading her on long trots from another horse. Apparently this is boring for a serial prankster. 

This morning I saddled Annie, put Stormy on my left and Skeeter on my right. We made one half-mile lap around the pasture and I looked down and Stormy’s eye was twinkling. 

“Oh, Hell!” I thought. It’s gonna be one of those mornings with Stormy Jo. 

Sure enough, half a lap later, Stormy accelerates. I immediately took the bait and lengthen Annie’s step to match her then check her back to the rate I wanted. It would have been a smooth and correct correction with any other horse-just not with the horse that knows me better than I do. As soon as Annie’s stride lengthened, the trap sprang. Stormy locked up all four legs, the rope ran through my hands, and the triumphant victory dance of the serial prankster began.

Stormy has a special way of crow hopping where her back rolls elegantly and her following heel snaps just so in a way that is akin to a thigh-slapping he-hawing cackle of a successful jokester enjoying the success of a well-laid prank. The withers rolled. The heel snapped. I’d been had…again.

At least I was smart enough not to reward the fat leprechaun by acting like I cared and managed not to even look her way as she went rollicking off on her own. You have to maintain an air of some sort of dignity when you have been had…

I finished working the other two, went to the barn and unsaddled and sent Jeff to catch Clown #1…because I know good and well my bestest darling isn’t going to let me within 50 yards of her… it’s an intregal part of the game after all.

Jeff retreived her. I saddled herself, The Royal Queen of Jokes, because…well, a horse just shouldn’t be the size of three hippos. And…I was annoyed with the prank. I haven’t put a hackamore on Stormy in a long while. This morning I had one in my hand when I saddled her. I could ride her in anything from a spade bit to a hay string, so I just put what was handy on her head.

When Stormy was young, I had a little pencil bosal I rode her in. It was a little small to put a proper feador on, or maybe I was too lazy to rig it out right, but whatever the excuse I used was, Stormy, in her infinite pranksterness, discovered there was a quick bobbing motion she could make with her nose that would slip it over the top of her nose, then she could duck her head and leave me with reins in my hand watching her rollicking off to the mesquite brush with my saddle belly-laughing hysterically.

As soon as I turned to lead Stormy, the former escaped member of my trot set this morning, out of the barn to continue her physical education, I felt that nose-bob. It was hot. It’s been a long week. I was tired. I was done with pranks.

I spun on my heel to deliver a piece of my mind. The serial prankster realized she had taken her games too far, that I wasn’t laughing. I wasn’t playing along. I was angry.

There is a piece of telephone pole rolling around my barn about 18” long. I have used it to mount really tall horses or for a mounting block for guests. It had gotten moved out of place. When Stormy realized her jokes had gone too far and she was in real peril of my temper, she ran backwards as fast as she could from me, trying to figure out how to appologize in time to save her ample posterior from a bridle rein whopping up against it. In her haste, she failed to notice the mounting block in her flight path and reversed right over it, wrapping her back legs around it, flipping over backwards, rolling around like an upside-down cockroach until she fetched up against a support pole of the barn and stopped floundering, paused to look her deepest apologies to me, regain her feet and stand, sheepishly looking at me. 

It’s kind of like being married to an alcoholic. My best pony is a serial prankster. She isn’t misbehaving out of meanness, but out of pure humor and enjoyment of mischief. She opens the feed room door. She slips out of halters and bridles. She has about forty different strategies for slipping into other horse’s stalls to steal their food. She won’t come to the barn if the trailer is hooked on to the truck. She will plan an elaborate escape at a barrel race just for the fun of getting to show-boat her cleverness all around the parking lot. She just can’t resist the temptation for a good joke. I’m never really sure if I’m a victim, an enabler, or both. What I am clearly not is in charge…at least not unless a random chunk of creosote-soaked-pine randomly appears like a magical pumpkin to even the odds for me!

Notes From The Tailgate


Boy, the self-adulation sure gets rolling on the old Facebook machine on Monday mornings, doesn’t it? Every barrel racer in Texas wants to share her weekend. How that news is shared says a lot about the person. Some posts are humble and grateful, some are anything but.

I remember my grandfather telling me, “Don’t toot your own horn, cowgirl.”

I must have been about six years old and I probably have remembered it all these years because my little-girl mind took it quite literally. I looked down at my saddle horn thinking “I didn’t know it did that. I wonder how you make it work? Do you squeeze it or blow in it or what?”

I clearly missed his meaning, but the words left an impression that has kept me pondering his statement long after he died.

Remember, girls, the glory belongs to God and ponies. The sweat you invest in your animals and your sport will speak louder than any toot you could blow on your social media horn, and no amount of Tweets or posts can cover up for the sweat you didn’t invest-it’s as plain as the nose on your face. Remember the consequences of hubris in the Greek tragedies and don’t temp the barrel racing Fates to turn on you.

Your worth as a human has nothing to do with the quality of your last run. You will not be prettier or more popular, nor a better person when you finally clock that horse in the 1D. It is the grace, diligence and determination that you comport yourself with in the process that counts. The little choices this sport forces you to make every day are what builds you into a better human…or lets you be come a sallow, shallow shell. Be the lady your grandmother taught you to be, work hard, make sacrifices for others and winning will happen along the way.

The girls who win year and year out and every fall bring in a nice set of young horses to start the process all over again all share something in common in their attitudes. They are humble. They are confident. They take the ups and downs in stride with equal acceptance and go on and saddle their next horse. You never see them tooting their own horn…everyone already knows who they are.

My grandfather, Jack Love, with my aunt in a cow camp just after World War II.


Barrelhorse Bobbles

Winning and the Pearls of Success

Nearly thirty years ago, I sat on a bucket in a barn aisle. The barn belonged to a third generation polo family with plenty of experience in the sport and the pockets to support serious competition. The company was  a US Open team that consisted of some of the sagest American horsemen of their time, myself and a few of my age-mates (all of us hanging on their every word). The topic was what it takes to walk your way up to the top in the King of Sports. They discussed the mechanics of developing skills and horses and they finally came to the prerequisites to reaching the top of the sport:

“In addition to having the skills that place you at the top, you have to have every element of your life in perfect order. Your finances, your vehicles, your state of mind…and you have to have the willing support of competitors who are your most skilled peers” (sic).

The polo of that time was not today’s polo, nor was it barrel racing, but there was a wealth of wisdom in the philosophy of those horsemen that applied to many things.

I’ve noticed some self-congratulatory posts on social media from barrel-racers lately. They have made me chuckle to myself and to think on the difference between winning and succeeding. I don’t mean succeeding like “everyone gets a trophy “ succeeding. I mean like bearing the sometimes uncomfortable mantle of being the top of your sport kind of success.

There are lots of ways to win barrel races. Money, hard work, blind luck…but ultimately there are two paths to winning; you elevate a horse or a horse elevates you.  Whichever way it is, it will show. One is sustainable and the other is not. One path yields benefits to the whole sport, the other to just one person.

Elevating a horse to success is partly the skill to train them, but it’s a lot more. It’s ability to give them the confidence to compete and the desire to overcome. That character trait in a jockey will spill over from her horses (and she will have many good ones because she holds the keys to creating them) into every aspect of her sport. She will elevate her competitors and give them confidence. She will move the sport forward with her leadership, by her steadfast attitude, her efforts to organize events and, most importantly, the horses she adds into the sport. She will  be rewarded in her life with a very few horses who turn the tables on her and take the confidence she has given them and elevate her to a level she never dreamed….and that is a prize more precious than pearls. That is success.