The Good Ones: Dolly
It’s said that a good horse never comes in a bad color; Dolly is a plain sorrel. The only white on her is from a few scars, including the mule bite on her neck. She’s double-bred Mr San Peppy crossed on a Poca Lena mare, so built like a bulldog and not very tall. Born in the rough country of South-East Montana, she was accustomed to rocks and trees.
This unwanted filly was left in a friend’s corral one day, just another horse he didn’t need. So Jim gave me the 2-year-old for my eighteenth birthday in October. She was already named Baby Doll because of her cute head, so I shortened it to Dolly. Jim helped me work with her. We would saddle her and I’d pony her along through the fall cattle work. He put the first ride on her the day after Thanksgiving and she never even offered to buck. That winter I rode her as often as I could, she was intelligent and only threw a couple fits but once over them she acted like it never happened.
Spring brought her first big outings, being hauled to brandings and experiencing new things. One gather got a little wild and I forgot myself and took in after a calf. The excitement was too much and she piled me, but thankfully only a couple people witnessed the humbling experience. After that I committed to riding her every day and we worked on control at speed.
That fall, I was hired for a few day-working jobs and my little mare excelled. Gathering wild southern yearlings off rough Wyoming pasture, giving me her all and then some. I remember galloping across a rough small mountain when the herd made a run. We beat the yearlings and even stopped and turned. She made Jim proud. One time after a rather difficult cattle drive he rode over to me and said, “You are going to have a hell of a horse.”
She has always had a lot of grit and bottom, taking her job as a cow horse very personally and always looking for a job; trail rides bored her. Once we were moving the brood mare band and my little mare outran and outlasted the high-dollar rope horses the other guys were riding. Pairing out she would put her head down and gently nudge slow calves along, and never got upset when one was confused and thought she was mom. She loved the power she had when ponying other horses and loved to drag a reluctant one along.
When she was coming 5 and I was 21, I loaded my few possessions in the front of my old trailer, put Dolly in the back and moved from northern Wyoming to the central plains of South Dakota to take a ranch job near White River. I was scared to death but needed a change. She filled out as we calved and rode pairs. A few months later my life was thrown askew after a horse accident shattered my elbow and left me wondering if my life path was forever altered. Months of therapy helped me start again on a different place. By now we were a threesome, having added a border collie-cross puppy.
One fall when gathering the pairs off a prairie dog town, the cattle made a break for an open gate. I gave Dolly her head and we took off, too late I saw the wide and deep ditch in our path. She never faltered or broke stride as we sailed over and turned the herd. On occasion I would ride the seven miles to Murdo for an ice cream, Dolly never hesitated going under or over I-90. Early one morning we were loping across a field and hit a badger hole. It was a hellacious crash, we landed hard and she slid along on my knee. We were both bruised and sore and I ended up limping through my brother’s wedding.
Another move took us and our small herd of heifers to a ranch along the big White River. I decided to breed Dolly, ultimately choosing Scot and Jodie O’Bryan’s PC San Sugar Oaks stud. By this time I was dating a horse trainer from the Nebraska Sandhills, and when we married in February I brought a bred mare, nice herd of cows and a dog to the family ranch. A pretty bay filly arrived at the end of May and we rebred Dolly to a grandson of Peptoboonsmal, producing a roan stud colt.
Life, babies and younger horses have gotten in the way of riding Dolly much in recent years. Both her foals are now part of my husband’s string and considered some of his best. Last summer we entered a local team sorting, riding Dolly and her daughter. Dolly hadn’t been ridden in months but she never faltered and we even made the short go. Two days later she was almost too lame to walk across the yard. I bawled most of the drive to the vet, fearing a career-ending injury. A hoof abscess turned out to be the culprit. And the vets all declared her to be a sweetheart as she stood on a slack rope as the puss pocket was dug out.
Arthritis in her front ankle has slowed her down now but every chance I get I visit with the old girl. Watching my daughter sit on Dolly bareback or her head in my son’s arms makes me cry. She is living out her days on a Sandhills ranch, but I think she misses saddling up and chasing cows.
Dolly has been a huge blessing to me and for a kid with very little horse training knowledge she turned out pretty darn well!
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