Mac and Danny – Two Stars in 2WF History by Fran Feldstein

Mac & Danny:  Two Stars in 2WF History
By Fran Feldstein
January 30, 2004
San Francisco

Late in winter 1996 during my lengthy Morgan search, my vet suggested an elderly gentleman with a well-trained Morgan for sale south of San Francisco near Half Moon Bay.  I immediately phoned for an appointment and headed down the coast to meet this man and check out his Morgan.

When I arrived at Mac's Hitchrack, nestled at the base of gently rolling hills in the lovely coastal town of El Granada, I was astonished at what I found.  On the porch of a small one-story wooden building sat a man in his mid-nineties, legs crossed, in a swivel rocking chair, reading Western Horseman magazine.  He rose to greet me appearing to be at least six feet tall and lanky as the day is long.

He introduced himself simply as Mac, inviting me to join him on his porch.   Mac began to tell me about himself and his Morgan, Danny.  He showed me a calendar with pictures of him riding Danny including one jumping through a flaming hoop!   Mac said they had traveled to almost every continent to perform.  Danny had a repertoire of 18 tricks Mac had taught him.  I was fascinated because I had never met a man of his years or a trick-trained horse, or for that matter, a real cowboy.

Mac produced Danny's registration papers for my inspection.  The certificate had been beautifully rendered by hand calligraphy.  It was the only one of this kind I ever did see.  Danny was then 21.  When I read Gay Mac on his Morgan registrations papers, I exclaimed to Mac, "I recognize that name, Gay Mac, he was an important Western Morgan sire!"  Mac nodded in agreement and I think that was why he finally brought Danny out of the pasture to introduce us.  I had passed my first test.  Mac quietly said to his horse, "Danny, meet your new owner."

Danny was chestnut with a large blaze and some chrome on his lower lip, in full winter coat, about 14.3 if I remember correctly now, and a bit long in the tooth.   However, it was obvious that Mac was very proud of Danny.  Danny demonstrated a few tricks for me including "say your prayers" (bow with forelegs extended) and "give me some skin" (hoof-handshake).

While Danny slurped a soggy mash, Mac asked me to follow him into his tack room.  Inside were two beautiful parade saddles that Mac offered to sell.  One was custom-made by Olson Nolte, and the other by Pat Gill.  These silver laden saddles were so heavy I could not lift either off their saddle stands.  However, I was distracted wanting to get back outside to Danny.  (To this day I wish I had paid more attention to those saddles.)  Mac grabbed a bridle and we went back outside.

Mac watched me brush Danny, yelled at me for touching his muzzle (but I'm not sure why), and then Mac bridled him.  I mounted Danny bareback at the block and Mac admonished, "Be careful with that bridle, it once belonged to Pancho Villa."   I thought he was kidding.  He wasn't, I later discovered.

Mac gave Danny a pat on the rump and sent us out alone for a ride through the neighborhood.  We passed skateboarders and barking dogs as well as cars whizzing by.  Danny never flinched.  When I returned, Mac asked how our ride had gone.   When I said "great" he chuckled in his crusty manner and commented, "Well that's good because nobody's been on his back for three years."  I wasn't sure whether to laugh or be annoyed so instead I contemplated what a wonderful horse Danny must be to behave so very well on his first ride in three years.  Mac was surely a clever salesman, but Danny required no hype.

After our ride, Mac asked me where Danny would live.  Only box stalls were available at my local stable.  Mac told me Danny had always lived in pasture, and hearing that, I knew Danny would not flourish in a box stall.  I hung out a bit longer, watching Mac do some ranch chores as he cared for his own horses and his boarders, about 20 horses in all.  I found it totally incredible that a man of his age was still doing physically demanding ranch chores.  Heck, I was amazed that a man of his years was still alive!{mospagebreak}

Knowing I could not give Danny the type of real estate he needed, I thanked Mac but told him I was also going to see a palomino in San Diego.   "Palomino?" he shouted at me.  "If it's not black, bay or chestnut, it's not a Morgan."  He apparently ascribed to the prejudice against colorful Morgans.  I assured him I had already seen the palomino's AMHA papers but Mac was still shaking his head in disbelief as I left.  I thought about my meeting with Mac and Danny many times and for many years afterwards.

I returned once more to Mac's Hitchrack to show off pictures of my Morgan, Trouble (Apple Pi Rambling Man).  Mac asked how much I'd paid for him and to my answer he cantankerously barked "you paid too much!"  Because of his remark, after I'd moved Trouble away from San Francisco, I had hoped to ride him over to Mac's to prove what a wonderful Morgan I had found, but that never came to pass because Trouble became neurological unstable due to EPM shortly after our move south.

Over the next several years I heard bits of Mac's history from the local horse folks.  He'd introduced horses to Half Moon Bay's 4th of July annual parade down Main Street in 1975, in which he and Danny had later become crowd favorites, doing their tricks as they passed.  I found out that Mac had ridden 16 years in the US Cavalry, and he'd been Errol Flynn's stunt double as General George Custer in the classic 1941 film, They Died With Their Boots On.  In Hollywood he had also worked with real cowboys including Tom Mix.  During those early movie-making days one of his stunts had been to ride his horse off a cliff 62-1/2 feet high into a lake, and he did it more than once.  He'd ridden the rodeo circuit, trained horses, had been a trick rider, and mule skinner.  He had also taught many of the local coastside kids how to ride and had established 30 years earlier a rent riding stable near the beach that is still a thriving business in Half Moon Bay to this day.

When Mac turned 100 years old in 2001 the local residents organized a big birthday bash to honor him.  Mac showed up for his 100th birthday celebration on horseback.  Not only that, he ran his horse to a sliding stop immediately followed by a rear, for maximum effect, no doubt.  I sure wish I had seen that.  However, this description has been recounted by so many eye witnesses I am sure it is true.

I'd always wondered what had become of Danny and then I heard Mac had passed away, fully ready to meet his Maker, at 101.  Mac had said he wouldn't have traded his life for anyone else's.  After hearing of Mac's passing, I asked around to discover Danny's disposition.  Mac had put him into the excellent care of a good horseman friend locally, to boss a small herd of horses on about 100 acres.  Both Mac and Danny were mentally sharp and physically active until almost their very end, with Danny at age 28 passing away peacefully in the spring of 2003 after only two days of being a little "off," not long after Mac's passing on August 30, 2002.  Mac always said he preferred horses to humans because "they're smarter, they listen, they don't talk back and they never forget.  You've got a friend in a horse."

The photos of Mac (Ralph McNamer) and Danny (Ham Upstart Indy, AMHA 29458, foaled May 25,1975 in Modesto, California) that accompany this article were graciously shared with me for the 2WF by Oscar Braun of Half Moon Bay.  Without his generous assistance, this story might never have found its way onto paper or into Morgan history.   Mr. Braun also sent a copy of Danny's original breeder's AMHA papers (not the hand-calligraphy version or I would have shared it here) saying he didn't know much about Morgan bloodlines, being basically a Quarter horse man.  However, Mr. Braun had most definitely experienced the Morgan personality!  He shared many anecdotes about Danny and all were quintessentially Morgan.  He also said that Danny was not his easiest ride because Danny had "too many ideas of his own."  But he said when Mac rode Danny, it was a beautiful sight to behold, but unfortunately one I never witnessed.   Mr. Braun also told me Mac had allowed very few people to ride Danny so I was flattered to realize what a privilege Mac had accorded me.

Mr. Braun asked whether my Morgan was related to Danny.  I thought not, but when I examined Danny's papers this time, I was touched and delighted to see that Danny's grandsire Dapper Dan is Trouble's great grandsire.  They were related through Dapper Dan's grandsire, Gay Mac!  Danny's papers four generations back read like a Who's Who of Western Working Morgan lines including Redman, Easter Lass, Katrilan Prince, Roseta May, Gay Mac, Bessie Ro, and Tehachapi Allan.  I'm pretty sure Mac would have approved of my WWF Morgan choice, had they met in person.  And I'm certain Mac would have been pleased to know he was an inspiration to me, as I've managed to teach Trouble a number of tricks, including a smile.  When Trouble smiles, it puts a smile on my face also which only grows broader as I imagine Mac and Danny riding together forever over the rainbow bridge.