On July 11th 2002 at 5 AM Connie stepped outside to retrieve the morning newspaper. A quick glance across the road told her there was something in the pasture. It almost looked like a spotted calf but on closer inspection she realized that Pepper had given birth to a foal. She dashed into the house.
“Johnn, Johnn! Wake up! Pepper just had a baby!” Connie shouted running up-stairs.
Johnn and Connie rushed to the pasture to see Pepper’s baby. The cute little colt was only a few hours old and tottered on his long legs. The foal followed Pepper into her stall and Johnn made them comfortable. Surprised, they admired the new addition to the farm. In fact, their surprise led to the little black and white painted foal’s name; Connie and Johnn’s Surprise abbreviated to CJ’s Surprise and just CJ for everyday. A few hours later Connie called Donna and told her the news.
For many years questions whirled around Horse Heaven concerning CJ’s sire. Some of the questions were answered a few months ago, but the exact stallion that sired CJ will probably never be known. Pepper had been rescued from an estate in the remote hills of PA near the Ohio border not far from Youngstown. The owner of the estate had many horses, all different breeds even ponies. He had become ill and died leaving the horses abandoned in the pasture. Marlene felt they had been neglected a very long time. She took her trailer, brought back several Standardbreds to her rescue facility, and within 2 or 3 weeks all the horses found new homes. Marlene didn’t own a stallion; so most likely, Pepper was breed at the estate she was rescued from. According to the horse gestation table at cowboyway.com using CJ’s birth date of 7/11/02, Pepper was exposed to a stallion September 2, 2001; about one month before Connie adopted Pepper. Marlene mentioned to Connie that several horses were euthanized at the estate, including a Walking Horse stallion with a bit of color. Perhaps, the dead stallion had been CJ’s sire.
The little colt grew very fast and before long the time came for CJ to be weaned from Pepper. There was only one pasture where the two horses were kept, so separating them proved problematic. Connie loved the little colt too much to ever sell him; however, he had to be weaned. One day Johnn came up with an instant solution. He put Vaseline on Pepper’s utter and CJ immediately stopped nursing. Pepper and CJ stayed in the pasture together; the mother and son bonds never really broken.
CJ’s high energy level prompted Connie to geld him at 6 months. Donna and Tom came over to help Connie and Johnn hold the strong, young colt. The vet administered several sedatives to calm the horse. CJ was gelded standing up with the four people holding tight to the wobbly, half-conscious, struggling colt during the operation.
Warm weather came with May and school started for CJ. Donna Horton began lunging him and worked on leading lessons using a rope halter. The halter work proceeded smoothly, but lunging was a different story. CJ learned quickly that if he crossed the circle and turned towards Donna the lunging stopped. She found it hard to make him behave and stopped for the season when the cooler weather came in late fall.
The trees lost their leaves with the approach of winter as CJ rapidly grew into an exuberant youngster. Then on a dark Christmas Eve in 2003 while Connie dressed for church, Johnn walked in from the barn and told her that CJ had been injured. She ran to the barn and found CJ was oozing blood and an eggy white fluid from a puncture wound near his fetlock.
Frantic, Connie called her vet’s cell phone number. “Robin, you have to come over here right away! CJ injured his leg. He’s oozing blood and looks really bad.”
“Calm down Connie. You’re always calling about every little scrap and cut. I’m sure he’s fine,” replied Robin.
“No this is different. You have to come over right away,” replied Connie.
“I’m at the Mall doing my last minute Christmas shopping but I’ll drop over on my way home,” she replied.
The vet pulled up to Horse Heaven on the frigid December night. Lights shone in the barn and Connie waited for her. When Robin saw CJ’s leg she became as concerned as Connie.
“Here’s your choices – Either you can send him to Cornell and for about $10,000 they can put him back together or let me take him to my barn and I’ll try to save him. He’s leaking synovial joint fluid and it’s serious,” she said.
“Ok, take him to your barn,” said Connie not really wanting to part with the little colt.
Robin pulled her livestock trailer in front of the barn, loaded CJ and drove away headed for her barn. Connie visited CJ often. Her heart broke to see the little colt hooked up to an IV, standing in his stall without windows with the wind and snow blowing in on him. Robin pumped CJ full of antibiotics, cleaned and drained the puncture wound. The colt stayed in his stall, resting, without walking around from December to March. Finally, the vet sent CJ home with a clean bill of health and instructed Connie to keep the horse on glucosamine.
A few months after CJ’s arrival back to fitness and Horse Heaven, Donna began working with him again. She worked with CJ for a couple of years and then stopped. No one at the stables would attempt riding him. The young gelding had too much mischief in him. Connie nicknamed him the “Brat”, Johnn called him a “Pain” and everyone found him annoying. CJ had grown into a restless juvenile trying to bite everything and everyone that walked by his stall. He pawed with his front feet against the stall gate, chewed the stall boards, and head butted his feed pail attached to the wall with a snap, tearing off the pail, sending it flying and crashing into the side of the stall. Finally, Johnn put a wire mesh above his stall gate so the young horse couldn’t bite anyone passing by and bolted the bucket to the wall. Out in the pasture, CJ jumped the fence into Lady’s pasture, and then jumped back again. Donna felt he was calling out for attention, everyone felt he was too rowdy to ride, so he stood in the pasture day in and day out getting into trouble.
Connie really wanted CJ to get a job and go to work. The idea of his becoming a pasture ornament for the rest of his life disturbed her, but she definitely wasn’t ever planning on selling him. Connie wasn’t able to ride him, but maybe a 4-H’er or someone would take him for a few months to their stable; work and show him. She asked her friend Rose Marie if her daughter would be interested in showing CJ. The answers came back no, nobody was interested, no one at Horse Heaven would try getting on him – everyone thought he was too wild and unpredictable. Finally, a young girl from the Binghamton area came down to look him over with the idea of showing him but Connie felt CJ would be too far away. So CJ acted up and ran around the pasture and time passed.
In the spring of 2007, CJ came in from the pasture with a massive hole in his neck. Connie felt the young horse had rolled on a rock in the pasture. Again Connie called her vet to come down to Horse Heaven and take a look at CJ.
“If the puncture wound had been 1/4th to 1/8th of an inch closer it would have ripped open his carotid artery. He would have bleed to death in the pasture. There isn’t anything for me to stitch. I’ll put CJ on antibiotics. You’ll hose down the wound daily and apply Wonder Dust,” said Robin.
In the meantime, Connie hired Anne Shafer to break CJ and Johnn built a round pen. Anne came once or twice a week to work with CJ. The horse became distracted when Connie stood outside the round pen watching so she hid herself behind bushes, snapped pictures and enjoyed watching Anne teach CJ. Anne put a halter on the gelding and rode him bareback. Then she moved to the English saddle letting the horse learn simple commands and feel the weight of a rider. Things went well, and CJ, a quick learner progressed through his lessons. Finally, the time came to put on the Western saddle. Anne stood next to the little painted horse, when suddenly he spooked catching the saddle horn in the wire mesh of the round pen. CJ panicked, ripped off the horn, freeing himself from the fence as the saddle slumped to his side. He calmed down and stood quietly for Anne to fix the saddle and resume the lesson.
Anne enjoyed working with CJ. She realized he was young and needed direction, but CJ was smart and a fast learner. The lessons went well, the only problem Anne had was getting the little gelding to stand at the mounting block. He fidgeted and scooted away as soon as she stepped into the stirrup and sat down. Now that CJ was under saddle, Connie made a final attempt to find someone to ride and show him. The answer still came back “no”. So, Connie gave up, stopped paying Anne to come over and CJ went back out to the pasture as an ornament.
The seasons changed as the earth turned, a couple of years passed before I arrived at Horse Heaven in September of 2009. I signed a lease with Connie and began riding Pepper. The mare hadn’t been ridden for several years, so Anne met me in the barn to help saddle Pepper and show me around, then we rode up to the park. Several times, Anne and I met to ride on crisp autumn days. When we turned the horses out to pasture, CJ walked over to Anne for a neck rub, and then we closed the barn door and went home. Before long most of the leaves fell from the trees to carpet the roadway, the temperature dropped into the 40’s, and Anne pulled Shadow’s shoes for the winter and called it a year.
The winter plunged the thermometer into readings between 25 and 15 degrees. I rode alone through bone chilling cold filled with grey skies, snowy days and days when the clear frigid sky turned the color of Navaho jewelry letting the warm sun beat down on us. The mud in the pasture turned brittle and hard, ice covered places that were once puddles. When I turned Pepper out to pasture, CJ was always waiting for her. He waited by the barn door for Pepper like a little boy needing his mother after a scary nightmare. The gelding walked up to me lowering his head and gave me a big brown eyed look which said, “What about me?”
In February of 2010, I knocked on Connie’s door and asked her, “Would you mind if I work with CJ?”
“I don’t mind. It would be nice to see him used,” she replied.
After I rode Pepper, I spent time with CJ and we became acquainted. Once or twice a week I played with him, took the horse for a walk, let him eat grass, saddled him up, lunged him, brought him to the round pen and rode him. Finally, one spring day I rode CJ out of the round pen and into the larger arena which had turned to grass from disuse. Machines dotted the corners of the outdoor arena, a tarp held down by tires covered hay. CJ walked carefully around the obstacles, raised his head high, tensed his muscles and stopped several times before moving on. After I unsaddled CJ, I brushed him in the arena and let him eat the new green grass.
The weather warmed and the stables came alive with people. Suddenly, I met all the other riders at Horse Heaven; Karen, Marilyn and Donna. One day I bumped into Donna at the barn.
“I can’t believe you’re riding CJ. I’m calling you Wonder Woman,” said Donna.
“I don’t know about that,” I said, appreciating the nickname. “CJ can be a handful, but he’s getting better.”
Marilyn and I rode mornings when the air sparkled, fresh with dew and the sun just began to warm the air. CJ’s turn came to ride out on the trail. He and Sam got along pretty good, so I rode CJ up to the park once a week with Marilyn, sometimes Karen joined us, and other times I rode with Annie or Donna. As long as another horse went with CJ, he was happy to follow along. Sometimes, he became brave and took the lead only to duck behind the other horses when something scared him. Then one day Karen and I hit on the idea of taking CJ and Pepper out together; both horses enjoyed the ride and were much calmer on the wooded trails knowing the other horse was there.
CJ had a few bad habits which were perplexing, even though I knew he was making improvement. He was good once I was in the saddle but his ground manners needed improving. I spoke with Gene Fletcher one day when he came to trim Pepper’s hooves. Gene gave me valuable advice on how to get CJ to stop head butting my arm, violently pulling his front foot away from me while cleaning his hooves, and how to stop him moving away from the mounting block when I swung into the saddle. Everything Gene told me worked and CJ stepped up a grade from being a totally green broke horse.
Little by little CJ improved. Emma and I rode through the fall until she left for language school. 2010 proved to be a very snowy winter, but it didn’t stop Karen, Marilyn and I from riding. CJ went out often. The New Year came and winter gave way to spring and summer. There were changes at the stables; Marilyn sold Sam and stopped riding, and Emma came back from school.
The summer brought heat and sweaty horses. CJ decided one day that he was sweaty, hot and itchy, so he decided to lie down and roll in the tall grass; regardless of the fact that a rider and saddle were on his back. The first time it happened, the horse went down, I stepped off and he stood up. The second time CJ tried rolling, I jumped off, let him know that what he was doing wasn’t allowed and climbed back into the saddle. Since then, I haven’t had a problem with his trying to roll. I have a new policy; no eating grass while I’m in the saddle.
I’ve ridden CJ a few times alone, without the company of his pasture mates. At those times, as would be expected, he felt threatened without the other horses for protection. He stopped and stood perfectly still, head up, ears pointed forward looking down the road. I gently urged him forward but he seemed to need time to familiarize himself with his surroundings, then he would move on until again he stopped and stared down the road. It was slow going. He didn’t spook or bolt or runaway or buck or rear; he just froze. The next step in his training will be riding down the trail alone, but for now CJ generally treks with his buddies.
CJ has traveled a long way from the young, wild horse running and jumping in the pasture all day munching grass. The little rascal has found a job and although still considered a green broke horse, he has a promising future on the trails at Round Top.