I rode three days in a row this weekend. Three rousing "Huzzah"s for warming weather and ignoring housework in favor of feeding one's horse addiction.
Yesterday the kids and I spent the day up at Michelle and Mike's place, I rode Bugs in the arena and the kids pretty much ran all over the farm and wore themselves out. Michelle dug out Bugs papers and made a copy for me. I was reading through it and drooling a little bit over the foundation horses in his bloodline. As Quarter Horses go, Bugs' is pretty well-credentialed. His sire, Lenas Pretty Buck, a/k/a "Buck," is one of the stallions at Michelle's barn. He's a handsome buckskin with a gorgeous head and a nice build. Buck's daddy was Mr. Cool Hand Lena, a/k/a Mr. Cool. Mr. Cool was a black stallion, built like a (pardon the french) brick shithouse. He was a special horse, and he had an awesome personality. They lost him this winter to colic, it was horribly sad.
Bugs is bay in color, which for you non-horsey folks means that he is a rich dark brown color with a black mane and tail and long black stockings on his legs. His winter coat ranges from almost black to a shockingly bright reddish brown in the spring.
Bugs' bloodline on his daddy's side goes back a few generations to a historic breeding between two of the American Quarter Horse Association's Hall of Famers, Doc Bar and Poco Lena.
If you've never heard the sad story of the famous Poco Lena, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and read on. I shall regale you. It's International Women's Day. I'm writing about a horse, a mare that continues to wield great influence on her breed to this day.
Poco Lena was foaled in 1949 in Arlington Texas, a bay mare out of Poco Bueno and Sheilwin. She was owned by Paul Waggoner, and began competing in halter and cutting as a two-year old.
Now, to understand her value to the breed, you must understand the history of the American Quarter Horse. These horses are really the Cowboy Horse of the American West, built for short bursts of speed and with a low center of gravity that makes them quick turners, ideal for herding cattle on a working ranch. The name "Quarter Horse" comes from the breed's proclivity for sprint racing. While Thoroughbreds were bred to go a mile and a quarter, the Quarter Horse is designed to knock the socks off the track for just a quarter mile. When you look at pictures of the Quarter Horse, the breed standard is obvious -- barrel chested, big-hipped with superior musculature and strong legs. Think of the thoroughbred, long and lanky, like the marathon runners you see. The Quarter Horse is the Carl Lewis, the Ben Johnson of the horse world.
Cutting competitions are big-time money for the top horses, and Poco Lena was winning from the get-go. This video clip of Poco Lena shows you just how really good she was. Not only was she athletic and "cowy," she was a physically superior norse, conforming in all ways to her breed standard. She as been described as having "the head of a princess and the rump of a washer woman." Here's a list of her awards and accomplishments:
- AQHA Championship
- Performance Register of Merit (ROM)
- Superior Cutting Horse award
- Superior Halter Horse award
- AQHA High-Point Cutting Horse in 1959, 1960 and 1961
- National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Certificate of Ability
- NCHA Bronze Aware
- NCHA Silver Award
- NCHA Hall of Fame Inductee
In her cutting career she earned almost $100,000 in winnings.
B.A. Skipper of Texas bought Poco Lena from Don Dodge in 1959, and between 1959 and 1961 she won the AQHA Honor Roll and was reserve in the NCHA's world standing all three years. Its interesting to note that she managed to continue winning with Skipper aboard, as by all accounts he was not an accomplished horseman. It was reported that he rode with a seatbelt attached to his saddle.
In 1961, Poco Lena foundered badly, likely due to feed mismanagement. Founder is what we call the resulting tissue damage and complications in the hoof of a horse who suffers from Laminitis, an extremely painful inflammation of the hoof. (Founder is what claimed the life of Barbaro, the much-loved winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2006, who broke down in the Preakness.) Laminitis is most often caused by overloading on grain, eating too much lush green grass, or drinking too much water when overheated. Horses can recover from founder, but if the disease has progressed too far, the outcome is usually very sad.
In Poco Lena's case, she recovered from the first founder incident and returned to the show ring, but in 1962 a series of events occurred that nearly took her life, and resulted in her eventual death.
Her owner was having her moved back to his Texas ranch after winning a big show in Arizona. While Poco Lena and another horse were being hauled by a hired driver, B.A. Skipper flew his private plane home. On October 1, his plane crashed and he was killed. Four days later, the truck and trailer carrying Poco Lena and the other horse were found by the side of the road. For some unknown reason, the driver had abandoned his truck and trailer after hearing of the owner's death.
For four agonizing days the horses sat in the hot trailer with no food and no water. When they were found, a veterinarian was called in to assess the horses' condition. Lena was severely foundered, and this time she would not recover. She was fifteen years old, had never been bred, and was hanging to life by a thread. The other horse traveling with her was euthanized on the spot, but Poco Lena was taken to the Skipper Ranch and nursed back to some semblance of health. She was put in the estate dispersal sale, and eventually ended up in the ownership of Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Jensen of Paicines, California.
The Jensen's at that time owned a young stallion named Doc Bar, who was by that time a halter champion.
Dude is HANDSOME.
The Jensen's hoped to rehabilitate Poco Lena in order to breed her to Doc Bar. It is reported that when poor Lena hobbled off the trailer in Paicines the Jensens' were so horrified they were at first inclined to put her down. Their veterinarian convinced them to give her a chance, and so began a three-year rehabilitiation. Her feet were so bad that the Jensen's kept her on their front lawn instead of out in the pasture with the other horses. Hard ground of any kind was simply too painful for her to walk on.
One of the things that owners of performance mares do is give them medication that prevents them from coming into estrus, and as a result of years of these drugs, Poco Lena's ovaries were shrunken to the size of peas. Not only did her owners and veterinarians need to control her pain and rehabilitate her feet, they also had to bring her reproductive tract back to life. It took three years, but they managed to finally get her well enough to have a successful breeding with Doc Bar, and on June 21, 1967, her first foal was Doc O'Lena. Doc O'Lena was a small bay, with white on half of his left hind pastern. Doc O'Lena grew up to be the only horse ever to make a clean sweep of the NCHA Futurity, and is only one of two horses int he AQHA Hall of Fame with both parents also inductees. Doc O'Lena was a superior cutting horse, but his fame is probably more in his offspring, as he went on to produce some of the best cutting horses in the world.
Doc O'Lena is Bugs' great-great grandsire.
But we were talking about Poco Lena, and her story is almost finished.
Poco Lena had only one more foal, another little colt christened Dry Doc, who is also an NCHA Hall of Famer. Dry Doc was another bay, like Bugs, and he had a star on his forehead and a small white marking on his left hind coronet, just like Bugs. That last pregnancy took a great toll on the big-hearted mare. She had been on daily doses of pain medication from the time that she was pulled from that hot trailer in 1962, and two pregnancies and subsequent nursings were all she had to give. The Jensens had her humanely euthanized in December of 1968.
Poco Lena left behind an incredible legacy. Her sons sired many champion performers and the Poco Lena/Doc Bar line is considered one of the finest cutting horse pedigrees ever.
I wish Poco Lena's story had a happier ending. She was an amazing performer, with brains and talent galore. I'm thrilled to hold a little piece of her great legacy in Bugs. I would have loved to see her in action.
As the horse world judges such things, Bugs and I may never accomplish much, but we will have many happy hours together and that's worth more than any championship or title to me.