The Horse Thieves ~ painting by Charles Russell
About a month ago, I bragged about stealing a horse. I’d like to take full credit for this nefarious deed, but I must admit that I had help.
Well, (kicking the dirt) actually I was just an accomplice. Here’s the story:
I briefly ran with a horse thief gang. Fortunately we weren’t caught, or our necks would be as long as a giraffe’s. Anyway, it wasn’t my fault. My sister put us up to this crime, with her lousy choice in husbands.
Her first husband made a practice of stealing airplanes. He’d fly them down to Mexico, and then fly cocaine back across the border, low under the radar. He was a fun, rough-and-tumble guy when sober. But he was a scary, violent, son-of-a-bitch when drunk or high.
After a few broken jaws and noses, she finally left him, and changed her name so that he and his family could not track her down and kill her.
Her second husband was a cold-shouldered, boorish math teacher and volunteer deputy sheriff. He treated my family like scum, and treated his own family worse. But I think he hated his math students the most.
He got a mistress, and one morning calmly announced, as he was heading out the door for work, that he wanted a divorce. Later, his new wife divorced him, and he begged for my sister to take him back. But she was already on her third husband.
Her third husband was a cruel, bipolar, lunatic, fucking madman. I’ll call him Bubba, to protect his guilty, sorry, motherfucking ass. They built a successful business together, and it was a horse ranch. My sister did most of the work, but I’ll grudgingly admit that Bubba was useful at times too, when he wasn’t laying around nagging her about everything.
My sister broke and trained Missouri Foxtrotters. She had the knowledge, and was widely regarded as an expert in this breed of horse. In fact, she was one of the best in the business, and still is. Bubba didn’t know shit, but sure knew how to holler at her whenever he imagined she was making mistakes.
But at least he stayed out of her way enough for her to make their ranch popular. Equestrians from all over the country flocked to their ranch, for these smooth-gaited horses that took the pain-in-the-ass out of trail riding.
Their best horse was a grey, dappled stallion named Zane’s Diamond Head. Zane was a prize Foxtrotter of legendary pedigree. His sire was the famous Zane Grey, considered the finest stallion in the history of the Foxtrotter breed.
Zane had won many awards over the course of his long life. His stud fees were high, and he got plenty of action. Everyone loved Zane. Except me. I envied that lucky bastard.
One morning I got a phone call from sis, and I could sense something was wrong. She’s five years older than me, and had done a better job at breaking and training me than my own mother. We’ve had a soul-to-soul connection since the day of my birth. Somehow, someway, through that soul connection, I knew something was wrong, even though she was trying to make this sound like a routine conversation.
“Did you leave Bubba?” I finally ventured, right out of the blue.
She hesitated, then said, “Yes.”
“Do you need a place to hide out?”
“Mmm . . . maybe.” It ain’t easy to admit you’re on a third failed marriage.
She’d fled for her life the night before. A young female ranchhand had shown up unexpectedly at a desperate moment. This distracted Bubba, and gave my sister just enough time to grab her purse and car keys, jump into her little Chevy Geo, and speed off, leaving him in a cloud of driveway dust.
We hid her out while she began divorce proceedings. We kept her safe, but she just couldn’t get Zane off her mind. She hated that the prize horse she loved so much, was left to Bubba’s mercy.
Zane was worth some money, but that wasn’t my sister’s biggest concern. She just loved that horse, and knew that Bubba knew this. So she expected Bubba to shoot Zane. Especially after Bubba shot her two dogs.
And so we hatched a scheme. A horse thievin’ scheme.
By community property law, my sister had to have a judge’s order to remove anything from the ranch. Especially things like horses. Because technically, she left him. He didn’t leave her.
And Bubba was guarding the ranch with perfervid zeal, to keep my sister from recovering any of her abandoned possessions. He had guns. He had an insane temper. And he had the law on his side.
But my sister also had something. She had knowledge of his schedule and knew when he’d probably be away from home. He was a religious fanatic, who liked to attend all his fanatical church gatherings. When it came to church attendance, Bubba was very faithful.
In the dark of a very important fanatical religious meeting night, we rolled up a dirt drive about fifty yards from the corrals, with headlights switched off. We were banking on Bubba being gone, unwilling to miss such a pressing conclave of church elders.
But we felt nervous. Bubba was crazy and unpredictable. He could have skipped the meeting, and might be lurking in the brush with a shotgun, planning an ambuscade. Nearly three women are killed every day in the U.S. by domestic violence, and friends and relatives are sometimes taken out with them. We wanted to avoid becoming statistics.
The young female ranchhand was part of our horse thief gang. She was driving the pickup. She remained behind the wheel, and I stood in the pickup bed on lookout, while my sister headed out on foot to Zane’s stall. She could handle Zane better than anyone, and had the best chance of securing the stallion’s cooperation.
A horse snorted. There were about 30 head on the ranch, and they thought it was feeding time, because Bubba hadn’t tossed them their hay yet. Apparently he was in too much of a holy-assed hurry to make his fanatical church meeting, to bother with feeding. Besides, he didn’t really give a damn if they ate.
They began stamping their feet, kicking corral bars, and whinnying. So much for our plans to be quiet and stealthy.
She found Zane, haltered him, and attached the lead rope. Quickly, through the gauntlet of pathetic, protesting equines, she and her stolen horse returned to the pickup truck.
She vaulted into the pickup bed, hanging onto Zane’s lead rope. The engine fired, and off we lurched, Zane tagging along obediently to the pull of the rope. What a good horse that Zane was.
I’ve never forgotten the sight of that magnificent grey-dappled stallion, foxtrotting behind us, nostrils flaring, eyeballs glaring, and plumes of moonlit dust billowing about his flying mane.
We bounced and bumped in the moonshadowed desert for a few miles, on dirt roads that led to Leopard Spring Ranch, and to another friend who was in on the caper. Zane was hid out at the friend’s ranch overnight, before being transported out of town.
Of course Bubba was furious, as I could tell from his trembling voice when he called me the next day and asked if I knew what had happened. And of course I denied everything. That’s what horse thieves do.
Divorce lawyers eventually sorted everything out, though Bubba got the much better end of the deal.
He married again, to a devoutly religious woman. Then he proceeded to render her obedient, with punishments of biblical proportions, and with biblical justification.
My sister finally found a good man, and she’s been with him for the past 20 years now. She runs a very successful Foxtrotter ranch, and is highly regarded throughout the horse world of southern California.
Helping to steal a horse was one of the funnest and proudest moments of my life. It left me with a sense of prepotency, and helped me feel as much the stallion as the horse, himself. There’s nothing like a little horse thievin’ to stroke a man’s ego.
As for Zane, well he was old. He couldn’t cover anymore mares, or sire anymore offspring, because his pecker was worn out. And just eight months after we stole him, at the age of 25, he succumbed to old age and cancer.
And now Zane is in the great paddock in the sky. His offspring populate generations of the breed of Foxtrotters. They’re the best of the breed. If you want a good Foxtrotter, look for one with the name “Zane” in its pedigree.
My sister didn’t get much out of this marital breakup, but she did get to keep Zane a little while longer. For her it was a moral victory of love for an animal, and thus one of the few shining things she was awarded in the divorce settlement.
Hell, you might just say it was a steal.