To say I was horse crazy, from the time I could point and say “horsey-horsey”, is an understatement. From my very earliest memories, I was completely bewitched by the equine animal. It didn’t matter to me-what breed, color, or type of horse it was-if it had four hooves, and I could see, stroke, or-better yet, sit on it…then it was my idea of pure heaven. I was lucky enough to grow up in Salinas, California, on the outskirts of town, out on a stretch of road, where the hills were speckled with cattle and old growth oak trees were visible as far as the eye could see. River Road stables was owned and ran by Marvin Roberts and his wife Marguerite. Everyday I would pass that stable going to and from the school I attended. Every time I passed it, I would look longingly at those horses and wish someday I could call one of them my own. I was lucky enough to have an Aunt that lived in Redding that had purchased a pony named, Rusty, for us kids to ride. Rusty was a dark chestnut with a white mane and tail. He was Welsh and Shetland, if I remember correctly, but to me he was the Black Stallion, Zorro’s Thunder, the Lone Ranger’s Silver, and Tonto’s Scout all wrapped up in one.
The years slipped by and my eyes and ears were always on sharp alert for any chance to be near any horses, burros, donkeys, or mules. Every time I was asked if there was something special I wanted, it was always the same answer….”a horse, of any sort, would do”. The magic day did come and a horse named, Eclipse, was purchased and from that day on the course of my life was altered forever. We boarded Eclipse at Marvin Roberts. Marvin was a well-known, long-time, horseman and good friends with the Dorrance’-also, respected horsemen. Marvin would come out, as I rode in his large sand arena, and give me instruction. I remember him yelling out to me, “Get those heels down. And when you get around to this corner-over here, I want you to shift your weight down-in that inside heel, and hip and bump your horse lightly. Then you will get a flying lead change!” I only had to follow his instruction to the letter and it was like magic.
Marvin Roberts was a huge influence in my life. He always told me that a person had to feel from the horse’s point of view and to never forget that the relationship is always a two way street. He gave volumes of sage advice, which I remember and apply to this day. Marvin Roberts’s influence will always be present in my heart and his words of advice…I can still hear when the right situation presents itself. Marvin Roberts passed away-shortly, after his wife, Marguerite. He and his wife’s death was a blow to the whole Tri-Monterey county area. I didn’t even realize, how much he was respected and loved by an entire community.
My Mom continued running River Road Stables, and by then, we had more than one horse. I liked the tall, hunter jumper types and entertained thoughts of showing. More years passed, and horses were always a very large part of everything I thought life should be about. I married, and divorced, but-still, horses were the constant. I met-what was to be my second husband, and one of his favorite places to go was Pismo Beach. At Pismo there was a rental stables called Silver Spur, owned by Ken Craig, and run by Arlene Guzzi. This is where my love for horses, became a love of a breed-a love and admiration of one stallion, in particular. This is where the real story begins…
Silver Spur Stables was a place where you could rent horses and ride on the beach. There were a group of horses there that especially caught my attention. They were well built, deep-bodied, had lots of bone and touted lush manes and tails. On top of it, they possessed the sweetest dispositions, as I had ever met.
At the center of this stable, was a round enclosure with a very perky horse residing in it. Fire engine red was his color and he had a mane-so thick and long, that his small face was almost obscured. His tiny slipper ears were tuned into my every move. There was no resisting my horse-curious nature, so I gave in and I went right over to get a better look. At first, I was only humoring myself…for this horse was too short to be one that I would prefer-and I couldn’t for the life of me, decipher what breed he might be. He had so much spirit. He was built powerfully-but had such a style about him, that it made a person keep looking at him. One had to almost rip their eyes away. He watched me, in turn, with large, sparkly eyes, under a long, fluffy forelock. He would toss his head-just enough, to move the hair from his eyes to get a better vantage-in which, to observe me. It came to dawn on me that this horse was looking me over-as much as, I was him. I chuckled to myself, but then…I was shocked! For I soon realized, he was looking back at me with those big, brown, intelligent eyes-not questioning, what I was looking at-but rather, taking me in, and making his own mind up about me! Well, I can tell you…it was a unsettling feeling-in many ways, but one that also lured me in closer and opened my eyes a little wider.
As I came closer to the perimeter of his enclosure, the light played beautifully on his bright coat and I could see that his mane and tail was-not only thick and long, but was fine and soft in texture. His face-that of a look of old Arab, was short in length; wide in brow; held large eyes with tiny ears and large nostrils-only the dish, was absent. As I looked him over, I caught-what I could have sworn, was a look of pure laughter in his eyes. He had so much energy dancing over him-although, he never moved from the place he was standing. During all this, horses were coming and going-as were people, and this horse paid no attention to them-at all. He just kept looking at me…waiting for me to come closer. At that point, I figured I might as well, get an even closer look, and went right up to the fence. The horse leaned into my hands and permitted me to caress, and pet, his entire face. I thought to myself, “He must be the stable pet”. I found myself appreciating his confirmation-and coming up with all sorts of pros, for a horse not being 16 hands tall.
I was lost in enjoyment, when the woman that ran the place, came up. She was a rather imposing person-although short in stature, her piercing blue eyes just jumped out at a person-leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind, who ran the show around there. We had a bit of small talk, and then, I got around to asking her just what breed of horse this was. She told me, he was a Morgan, and then asked, if I wanted to ride him. Well, I was more than anxious to climb on his back, so she walked me in; snapped on a halter and a lead; tossed the rope over his shoulder; gave me a boost up on his broad, bare back; and then-with the devil in her smile, told me that he was a stallion. I thought she was kidding, of course, and openly laughed. Anticipating the ride with great excitement, I proceeded to put him through the paces.
My legs easily guided him-and his movement, was as smooth as glass. His top line never moved in trot, or collected canter. I enjoyed the ride, as much as he did-and it was obvious to me, that my wish was his command. As we went around his large enclosure, his mane covered my lap like a blanket. I felt like, I was riding a huge horse. Yet amazingly, every stride was much longer-than many taller horses, I had ridden. I was in a word…thrilled, but that was not all. As I came back and slid off, I glanced in the ‘right place’-and to my horror, found that this horse I had been riding-was indeed, a stallion. As I turned to express my shock, I found myself looking at this horse differently. It was-as if, I had lived my whole life looking at horses in black and white-and suddenly, been introduced to color. Here, this horse was looking at me with eyes-more intelligent and kind, than was comfortable. He wasn’t tall. He wasn’t a breed I had any experience, or knowledge about-but there was something about him, that I was having a hard time putting my thumb on. One thing was for sure, though, I knew-without a doubt, there was something very special about this horse.
Arlene had called him by his nickname, “Bandy”. I asked, what his registered name was, and she said, “Higuera Bandido”. I left the rental stable that day thinking-by all accounts, that I would never see this stallion again and feeling, strangely, very sad about it. However, as fate would have it, this was only the beginning of my relationship with this very special horse.
Time went on, and my second husband transferred jobs to Pismo Beach, which was only 5 miles from the Silver Spur rental stables. At that time, I didn’t have a horse of my own and my thoughts kept drifting back to Bandido-over, and over again. I wondered if it would be possible to go and just groom, or help saddle, the rental horses. The memories of that day, when I first met those Morgans and rode that bright red stallion-Bandido, especially kept tickling my mind. I had never forgotten him and had always compared every horse I had ridden-since, to him. No horse ever compared.
Finally, I decided to stop in for a visit to Silver Spur. I told myself, I was just doing it to see, if I remembered the way, or if, I could even find it. I found myself sitting in the large dirt parking lot in 10 minutes flat. From where I was parked, I could see Bandido. His over all appearance was idle, but I could see that he didn’t miss a beat. He watched everything from under that long, fluffy forelock. I watched from a short distance, as all sorts of people went to his enclosure, most I could tell, were inexperienced rental riders and many were wary and stood back-as if, there was a tiger, not a horse, behind the fence. Time and time again, I would see Bandido walk to the fence and stand, patiently, lowering his head and stretching his neck out-encouraging the person closer. I would watch, as the fear, or apprehension, would drift away from his victim at hand. They would give in to Bandido’s tractor beam gaze, and step to the fence to pet his face and neck. It seemed that Bandido honestly enjoyed this interaction and his body posture always seemed to take on a look of accomplishment, whenever-yet another, person stepped up to the fence.
Then suddenly, I found myself completely engaged, as I watched the antics Bandido was putting into play, to seduce a rather round, older lady to the fence. I had watched her drive up and noticed that she had a look of utter distain, concerning the whole place. She was with two teenagers, and after paying for their riding fees, she was then stuck for-at least an hour, until they returned from their ride. At first, she sort of ambled around-not looking at much of anything, but every once in a while, she would brush off her clothes-as if just being in such a place, was dirtying. I saw Bandido watching her closely. He had the look of a fisherman who knew the big one was in front of him, and was debating, what the perfect bait would be to land her. The lady had not yet, even noticed he was there, but Bandido was studying her and he was in the ZONE.
She waddled a little nearer; unaware she was playing into Bandido’s hands-err, hooves. Some children laughing caught her attention, and that is when she saw Bandido. Oh he had her attention now. All he needed was, to get her to take the bait, and then, he could carefully reel her in. I saw him slightly toss his forelock, so he could present the coyest of pictures and-although I can’t be sure, I bet he even batted his eyelashes at her. I saw her harrumph; toss her head away; move off down the fence line, huffing and puffing every step, and to my astonishment, I saw Bandido mimic her movement. He tossed his forelock and mane, and then moved jauntily along the fence line in the same direction. She noticed too, and stopped. Then, so did Bandido. She turned to face him and he mirrored her. By then, I could tell she didn’t quite know what to make of this. I watched, as Bandido stood-very patiently, looking at her with those twinkling, intelligent eyes that had to have been dancing with mirth at the sight of this rather stuffy, older lady, who was gawking at him. The lady then decided that she had had enough of this creature and went to the end of the enclosure to find shade. Once there, she found a bench and plopped herself down with her back to him, crossing her hands over her chest. Bandido followed her, not giving up the chase so easily. She had placed her small handbag on the end of the bench-somewhat, behind her.
I hadn’t noticed the handbag, until Bandido had…somehow, reached out and-unable to get the woman’s attention, decided to snatch her purse, instead! Bandido simply stood there with the little handbag-sort of, mouthing it. The woman stood up, so quickly, it was as if someone stuck her with a pin. She seemed furious, but Bandido didn’t move a muscle. He just stood there, mouthing that purse, until the woman-most likely, out of frustration and realization that he was not going to extend the purse to her, stepped to the fence. At that same moment, Bandido dropped the purse and met her hand with his face. I could tell her hand, at least touched him, if only by accident. She retrieved her purse, and then, sort of hesitated. She was wiping off, what had to be horse slobber, from the handle of her handbag. I thought, for sure, she was going to stomp off to find the manager and ask, if he was up to date on his rabies shots. But to my surprise, she started giggling-or at least, she was smiling, and her body was jiggling like she had the giggles.
Bandido had the look on his face of having the fish on the hook, and the hook was set, and he was reeling it in-but it wasn’t quite in the net, yet. So, he sided up to the fence. His sides moved, as I am sure he was nickering to her. She stepped up, and with the hands that had only-too recently, brushed off invisible dust from her blouse, she stroked Bandido’s neck. She permitted him to nuzzle her, and then, she played with his mane and touched his ears. I think she stayed about five minutes, before walking away. She scouted out some grass, returned to Bandido, and fed it to him. He had seduced her!
About then, the two teenagers had come back from their ride. I saw the woman walk over to them and she was talking excitedly, laughing, holding up her purse, and pointing towards Bandido. Both of the girls ran over and petted him, before they packed it into the car-all three, bubbling with laughter.
I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left the refuge of my car. I tried to act inconspicuous, as I made a beeline for Bandido’s pen. I found him waiting for me and looking at me like, “What took you so long?” I wondered, how many other scores of people had been touched by this gentle prankster. I kissed him on his red velvet nose, as his warm breath snuffled my cheek. I knew then, I was enchanted by this flame-colored, Morgan. I didn’t give a wit, how tall he was, or anything else…he was simply, so special and unique. I couldn’t help, but want one-just like him, for my own. I stood there wondering, why? Why had destiny taken so long to introduce me to the Morgan horses?
I began spending time down at the rental stables getting to know Arlene and the rental string, where many of the horses were Bandido off spring-fondly known to the area, as ‘Bandido Babies’. As I got to know the people in the area, I found more and more of them owned these Bandido Babies-and all of them, were ‘cookie-cutter’ in confirmation, and disposition-no matter, what sort of mare the dam was.
The years continued to go by, and throughout those years, I met at least 50 of Bandido’s off spring-most of whom, were only half Morgans-and yet…I still didn’t have one of my own. It was so hard to acquire a Bandido baby, one almost had to buy a mare to breed to him-for no one, ever let them go once they had one. It was nothing less than amazing that this little red stallion could be so popular within a community. His babies were used in all disciplines-hunter jumpers, dressage, cutting cow horses, gymkhana, roping, trail, search and rescue, police horses, driving, and all around pleasure. There eventually came a day, when I had to move away from the ocean side community. I knew-before I even left, that my heart belonged to Bandido. And the time would be short, before I longed to be near him and all those Bandido Babies, once again.
My life’s path took me back to Salinas. I began looking around at the Morgans, but as I went from one place to another, I would find that…what I was told was a Morgan…didn’t resemble, in looks-or disposition, the Morgans that I had been accustomed too. Time, and time again, I would awkwardly ask the owner (holding a jittery, narrow, thin-boned, eye rolling, horse), if they were absolutely sure, that this horse was a Morgan. Or, I would ask, “Is this a registered Morgan?” The response would always be the same…”Well, of course, he is registered…and of the finest pedigree, I assure you!” They would name off horses that they said, were ‘prestigious Morgans’-none of whom, I could find-on any, of the copied registration papers, which I had on all the Morgans down at Silver Spur. It was then that I began to wonder, if the little group of Morgans that I had met, were somehow unique.
So, the next step was to study pedigrees and to find someone with the knowledge to tell me why I couldn’t find any Morgans, as the ones I had stumbled across in Pismo Beach. At that point, I had purchased one of the full-blooded Morgan mares named, WoodRose Katrina from Silver Spur. I had also met a woman named, Nina Bates, who was leasing a stallion from Canada named, CanDon Joshua Danny. I subsequently, bred my mare to him and the foal born was, OGO WindSwept Soleil. Through Nina, I met Laura Algranti, a Morgan horse breeder and historian, and also, Carol Simpson, who owns Primavera Valdez. It was then that the pieces really began to fit in place. I learned that these little groups of Morgan horses were very strongly bred Sellman Hill breeding. They were in high regard of the noted breeder, Sid Spencer, who ran a working ranch in the Pismo Beach area, called Arroyo Grande. Sid had bought Higuera Bandido as a herd sire, and had used him to breed many of her ‘Lucia’ prefix. Higuera Bandido, and the little group of Morgan mares I had stumbled on too, were a small pocket of amazingly old, and pure, breeding. Higuera Bandido goes back to the original Justin Morgan, himself, in just 10 generations.
I had looked high and low, and found so very few that could compare to his disposition, conformation, and ability to consistently produce-in his offspring, the same traits-no matter, how awful the mare he was bred too. The more I learned, the more alarmed I became, finding that Morgans-such as, Bandido, were rare and hard to find. I decided that there just were not enough Bandido babies in the world-or those with his old type of breeding, and embarked on a new mission for my life. First, I needed a defining name to my newfound passion. I decided on OGO, my Old Growth Oak Morgans prefix-thinking back, on all those old growth oaks of my childhood and those that cover the hills of Hollister, where I live today. The old growth oaks resemble many things that the old bred Morgan’s mark. Old oaks were used many times as landmarks in the old days; they are long living, durable beings of grand, tireless beauty with limbs whose strength are unequaled. Old oaks are associated, as wise and timeless survivors of drought, fire, and pestilence. Old oaks have been struck by lightening; split in half, but yet, they will spring forth-new, green leaves in the spring. An old oak tree has a timeless grace, which never fades, and only becomes more revered, as the years go by. All these things, I felt, directly related to the old bred Morgan, in some way, or another.
I began my quest to acquire mares to breed to the old type Morgan stallions, such as, Higuera Bandido. Surprisingly, it seemed most of the mares that I ended up with, were dropped in my lap. I had not searched out for them. But rather, they sort of just popped up. Jane York was the first who offered such a mare, when she sold me Castle Monterey. Then came, Linnea Sidi, with Circle H Merlita; and then, Funquest Swallow, from April P. I met Libby Flower, of Flower Horse Farm, and she selflessly offered me pick of her outstanding herd of Brunk mares. In a very short time, I found myself with some of the best old bred Morgan mares and a well-established breeding program.
Higuera Bandido will turn 31 on April, of 2005. Although it is obvious he is in his twilight years, he still settles every mare I bring to him. My friendship with this bright red stallion has now spanned 17 years. I have bred 6 of his babies with my OGO prefix-with 4 more, to be born this year. I struggled to get the few ‘full-bred’ Morgans that he produced-in the days of the rental stable, registered with great success. It is my hope to retain a Higuera Bandido son, to carry on in his footstep-for Bandido had no registered, intact sons to carry on his name. There is now, OGO Higuera Rio Bravo and OGO Higuera Lucky Seven, that are stallion prospects-but it will be some time, before they can be proven, and most likely, Bandido will have passed on, before-either of them, has produced a foal.
It still amazes me that such a treasure could have been hidden in a small, but bustling, ocean side town. As the sand dunes hid the gem…that is, Higuera Bandido, from sight. I count myself blessed to have known this stallion, when he was still in prime, and to have had him share with me, his twinkling sense of humor, and sparkling ability to entice-even the shyest, or begrudging, or breed-loyal person, into his personal admiration club. Then to watch, as they are left with an indelible mark from this stallion’s positive energy, then forced by that newfound admiration, to comment like-wise. Bandido thawed-even the most devote of QH enthusiasts. For a true horseman, can’t help but nod approval of that which-Bandido, showed off so well.
I hold dear, every mare Higuera Bandido settles-knowing, that the day is not far off…that I will get the dreaded phone call that Bandido has passed from this earth. No beautiful poems, or comforting words of running in greener pastures, will soothe my broken heart, then. And no reminder-of the amount of years he lived, will take away the sorrow that will descend upon me that day. The only place I will find comfort, will be in those-so few, beautiful, old bred Bandido babies that were born, or conceived, before his chapter in history turned. Through those precious few…all the beautiful things Bandido encompassed will carry on in this breed, called the Morgan Horse. And through them, the legacy of…Bringing the Best of the Past, into the Future…will continue.