By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist
Nothing can equal the thrill of riding a horse running so fast your eyes water and your hair feels as if it’s leaving your head. If it’s a race and you and the horse are passing all the others the thrill is, of course, quadrupled.
An almost equal thrill comes with riding a fast horse in barrel racing, pole bending or any other arena event. Then, if the horse stops or turns with just a touch, you’ve really got some excitement under you. That’s just my opinion, but I bet plenty of others share it.
In New Mexico and other Southwestern states we arguably have more than our share of those talented horses. We owe it to the U.S. Cavalry Remount Program, which brought high-powered, usually retired, champion Thoroughbred racing stallions to selected ranches. The ranchers bred their mares to those stallions, and the cavalry officers purchased offspring that met their criteria. The ranchers were allowed to keep horses not chosen.
Records indicate about 75 percent of the resultant foals were purchased by the Army. Within the 25 percent of foals not chosen are descendants that make New Mexico Bred horses (meaning both sire and dam live in New Mexico) exceptional at the track and in the rodeo and roping arenas.
Maj. Gen. Hugh Scott, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, in a New York Times story published in 1915 said, “A cavalry remount should be a horse of 15.2 to 16 hands (a hand is four inches) with one-half to three-quarters of pure blood in his veins. He should have the feet and legs to cover any country. Horses of this type should have the courage to endure any hardship. Only the horses of the greatest courage and stamina can stand the requirements of cavalry work in a great many sections of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and South.”
He added, “Speed is another qualification…I prefer the thoroughbred above all others.” He noted, “We need 2,000 cavalry remounts every year and a great many more in emergency.”
The cavalry had definite parameters regarding chosen horses’ color. Sorrel or chestnut was preferred, but now and then a grulla or dark gray was chosen. A paint horse was an absolute no-no.
For several years a grandson of Man O’War stood at a ranch near us. A speedy little paint mare sorta accidentally got with that stud. Her colt, of course, was a paint, which the cavalry didn’t want.
My dad bought that paint colt. He was injured in a cattleguard at a young age, but he overcame that injury and was super fast anyway. His name was Chapo (means “Shorty”) because he stood only about 14.2 hands.
He was my best barrel racing horse. I gave up telling people about his breeding, because they didn’t believe me. Their minds couldn’t wrap around a Man O’War great-grandson in a rodeo arena.
By 1948 the Army had become mostly mechanized, and the US Cavalry Remount program was discontinued. Sixty-two years later, our ranch horses still embody that illustrious legacy.