Alumni Horse Stories

Presented with minimal editing in order of class year.
 
Nick Cunningham MD Dr P.H. CdeP 1946
 
I’d never been on a horse before Thacher, and yes Pow Wow taught me a lot and changed my life.

He'd been a cow pony in a previous life and had a "hard" mouth, but when it got through to him that I really wanted to stop, he just sat down with such conviction that I flew over the bow and landed in the dust (on the way to the "Pop Stand"). Guess he thought there was a steer on the other end of a rope around the pommel? Once I understood that, we got along great, I could do anything with him...totally gentle... mount him by vaulting over his rump, crawl under him...no problem. He taught me how to swim astride him in the Sespe. Once when on a steep shale slope the trail ahead had washed out. There was no room to dismount on the upside and no place to stand on the down side. I was stymied but not Pow Wow; he reared up and executed an 180 degree turn before I had a clue...smart horse.

Ten years later, after my internship at the L.A,. County Hospital, I joined the US PHS Indian Health Service and was posted to Peach Springs Arizona, where I was the GP responsible for the Hualapai Tribe, some Yavapai, a few Mescalero Apache and all the Havasupai people in the bottom of the Grand Canon. There was no road so every two weeks I took my horse and rode down to hold clinic. Dick was a smallish horse who had to share a corral with a large stallion, who would have killed him, had I not gelded him. My Hualapai friends/patients told me that cooking and consuming the fruits of this endeavor was, by their custom, de rigeur. I tried to comply but maybe hadn't fried them sufficiently since when I took my first bite, it seemed to me that they were moving and I couldn't go on...so much for "mountain oysters".

They also dared me to ride "bareback bronc" in a small rodeo in Kingman, and I watched in horror as the skilled Indian rider scheduled before me got thrown, stomped  and carted off to the hospital...riding the same horse on which I was next scheduled. Fortunately, I lasted only about as long as that first experience with Pow Wow, and was unhurt in body though bruised in spirit, Pow Wow having taught me how to roll after ejection!

In 1945-6, Mr Beck was our horse and camping instructor and he was taciturn but perfect in the role.I was a proud member of the "Pack & Saddle", (as had been my brother Ty '39). Our two week Easter trip (with Nixon and Doug Smith) was unforgettable...especially Wheeler Hot Springs, where we were warned to clamber out onto the slimy green stone before 10 minutes in the steamy water... while we still had the strength to do so, our tired muscles otherwise becoming so relaxed as to be useless. I s that still a camping destination?

----
 
Sid Liebes CdeP 1948
 
One day, in 1948, Harry Allen, along with another classmate and myself, were descending a hillside trail sloping down to our left.  Suddenly, Harry’s horse slipped off the trail, Harry landing on the path, the horse’s descent arrested by a trailside barb wire fence.  

Harry instantly slid down to discover that the animal had somehow twisted a loop of wire 360 degrees tautly around its foreleg fetlock.  Harry, in a flash, yanked out and snapped open a pocket knife, and commenced furiously to saw away at the wire.  Within seconds the wire, amazingly, snapped!  We managed to get the horse back up onto the trail, and despite torn flesh, the animal was able to walk back to the school.

This awesome experience remains vivid after seventy years.  Harry, one of the brightest of our classmates, demonstrated smarts beyond books, unflinching character in crisis, and an instinct to tackle the seemingly impossible when there appeared no other recourse.

Bless you, Harry Allen.
 
----
 
David Laylin CdeP 1955

My paint horse, Bandit, taught me a lot, over three years. I still miss him. It's a pity that  students no longer have to keep a horse throughout their Thacher experience.
 
In 1965, I went into the safari business  in Iran. We needed horses for clients, so I imported Western saddles. The trees were too big for those small horses, so we switched to McClellans. They were useful, but uncomfortable.
 
My personal horse was a Kord-Dareshuri cross stallion. (Dareshuris are an Iranian horse similar to today's Arabs.) We used him for breeding, so he was pretty "hot." But what a ride!
 
Yes, the Thacher horse program greatly influenced my life.
 
------
 
Lincoln Hollister CdeP 1956

My four years at Thacher and the horse program were immeasurably important to my maturing and for the launch into my career.  Following Thacher, as a student at Harvard, I had two spectacular horse experiences.  One was as a field assistant for a graduate student doing a geology thesis in the Peruvian Andes.  We often took ponies from one remote mountain village to another.  One moonlit night, still some 3 hours from our destination, the ponies were tired and going slower and slower.  I remembered from my Thacher days that one could get out in front of horses on foot and the horses would be inclined to go a bit faster.  This worked.  Walking alone in front of the ponies I sang my repertoire of about eight songs, many from the Thacher song book.  After repeating the repertoire once, I stopped.  Well, the grad student on his pony scurried up behind me and said I had to keep singing.  Why, I asked?  He said that it was because I was scaring away the goblins.
 
The next summer I landed a job with the US Geological Survey as a field assistant on a project in the Colorado Rockies.  I got the job because I could throw two pack hitches.  That cut out the competition.  While on the job, a horse needed to be re-shoed.  I did that, and my bosses were very pleased.  Thank you, Jesse Kahle!
 
My career thus launched, I entered grad school at Caltech and embarked on field work in the southern Coast Mountains of British Columbia.  That was in 1963, which was before helicopters were available for carrying heavy loads at altitude (these came later, a result of technological innovations spurred by the Vietnam war).  I had read that there were pack trails in the area that I was about to enter, and I thought I would be able to use pack animals to get supplies in and rocks out.  Thacher very kindly loaned me a pair of kyacks and a packsaddle, which I took with me to BC.  Unfortunately huge fallen trees blocked the trappers’ trails I expected to use.  We had to resort to backpacking, and living off the land with my trusty rifle; I had a permit from the BC Provincial government to take game as needed for food.
 
My next horse experiences were in the Himalayas of Bhutan. Four geological expeditions there, beginning in 1987, used ponies, and at higher elevations yaks, for transporting our supplies, and rocks.  The Bhutanese pony drivers and yack drivers were very skilled, but the skill of judging weights of loads, which I had acquired at Thacher, came in handy.
 
It has now been some 20 years since I used/needed horses in my work, but I still smell the perfume from cleaning the corrals.  This has become part of my DNA.
Jesse Kahle was one of the three or so most influential teachers I had at Thacher.  Jesse’s calmness and patience and wisdom in helping us to learn to manage in unpredictable situations has served me well, even where horses were not involved.
 
-----
 
Tony Dann CdeP 1957
 
Growing up in Los Angeles surrounded by concrete and asphalt, I had never been on the back of a horse until the late Jesse Kahle got me in the stable arena in Sept. 1954 when I entered Thacher as a Middle Schooler. Of course I was nervous (to be truthful, probably really scared) and concerned but Jesse instilled in me an immediate confidence in what to do with myself and the horse.  I cannot say enough about what a fine man he was and what a great job he did with running the horse program and working with students.

I can definitively say that the horse program altered the course of my recreational life in that I had a latent horse gene which Jesse and the horse program allowed to develop and blossom.  My wife had owned a horse as a teenager so she already had the gene.  Once we were empty nesters, we acquired horses for camping and trail riding and in our mid to late 50s those experiences  morphed into an interest in endurance racing to which we were introduced.  We thoroughly enjoyed that equine discipline until, very regretfully, physical problems caused us to quit riding three years ago.

The horse program also taught me to exercise better personal responsibility and discipline characteristics. Getting involved in required activities such as grooming, mucking stalls, gymkhana and frequent trail riding to exercise the horses made me a better person.  I had three horses in three years at Thacher and, of course, each one had different personalities which taught me to better understand horses and enhance my experiences.

I am so pleased that the horse program continues today and has greatly expanded over the years to include an English program with dressage, etc. It is very much an integral part of Thacher life.

----
 
Dan Abbot CdeP 1959
 
My story begins shortly after arriving at Thacher as a freshman in the fall of '55. I was assigned a mighty white beast 18 hands tall named Duke. Duke could be a stubborn cuss who often took great pleasure during the winter months rolling in his muddy corral just before the daily grooming requirement.He was generally OK on the trail but once thanked me for my companionship by dumping me on the upper baseball field and taking off for his corral (it was feeding time). During the next three years, I had my Dad's beautiful Arabian mare, Rasi. The first night she arrived, she had a panic attack and managed to cut her chest up pretty badly on the rolled wire of her corral.Always to the rescue, Jesse Kahle nursed her back to health with no physical damage. Unfortunately, Rasi was not sure- footed on the trails  and also had a distinct dislike for the pack animals on our camping trips. On one occasion, she ended up being kicked. The result was a long walk leading her back home. In spite of these minor incidents, I personally found the horse program to be one of the more unique and enriching experiences of my life, and I'm pleased that Thacher is continuing its long tradition. I have since owned horses on and off and have enjoyed occasional trail riding here in Arizona.  
 
-----
 
David Pinkham CdeP 1961
 
In my 12 or 13 year old mind, Thacher would not have been interesting had it not been for the Horse Program. I arrived at the School with my own horse, and already worked summers at a pack station in the High Sierra.

Jesse Kahle was my second mentor concerning horsemanship. The first was Bill Smith, who had been a teamster in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Effectively, a Missouri Muleskinner passed on his pupil to an Oklahoma Cowboy. Jack Huyler was my advisor, so I had a lot of horse sense to pick from.

Luckily, I have been able to work with equines late in life. My team of Belgian mules, Samsara and Khenpo, (Sam and Ken) have crossed Death Valley, driven the Bidwell Road from Chico to Silver City Idaho; plowed, disced, harrowed, and drilled countless fields; pulled various carriages and wagons through parades all over California; acted as my therapists for PTSD from the Vietnam war; and now reside with One Spade Youth Packers in Kernville.

My team and I work with a program of kids at risk. We use the team to teach the same principles Thacher teaches with the Horse Program. The difference is in the clientele. These kids are profoundly changed by their exposure to mules--Thacher kids merely enhanced. All our successes and failures are on display each year at Mule Days in Bishop.

Both Thacher and One Spade use the motto of the "outside of a horse good for the inside of a boy." Thacher attributes the quote to Sherman Day, One Spade to Winston Churchill.

I am using the same principles taught to me by the Thacher Horse Program to affect young people's' lives today. Principles such as respect for manual labor, partnership with an animal to achieve a goal, responsibility that comes with owning and caring for mules, and the sensitivity it takes to convince a 3,000 pound pair of animals to do delicate work. In the end, I want these kids to feel as I do and as Thacher taught me--feeding animals is a privilege, not a chore. Life is enhanced by an intimate relationship with mules and Nature.
 
----
 
Barry H. Smith CdeP 1961

Boots and I were good friends.  I am not quite certain who taught whom.  What I do know is that Boots, my Quarter Horse friend and companion for 4 years at Thacher, gave me an enormous amount of the very best things that this life can provide: courage, loyalty, friendship, kindness, patience, and self-reliance (always by two!).  All of this came with the privilege and pleasure of knowing that Boots would take me anywhere from church in Ojai on a Sunday to the Sespe and beyond over the Topa Topa Ridge and back.  Bareback riding up Horn Canyon at a gallop to the exploration of every trail we could find around the School were pleasures that only Boots could give me.  The lessons he taught me are as fresh today as they ever were, and I have never forgotten him.  In fact, what he taught me are lessons I use with the patients I treat and everyone with whom I work. I still ride with him in my mind and heart, just as I did 56 years ago.  He may have gone on to Boot Hill, but we are still together. That says more than I can put into words.  Of course, there was also Jesse Kahle....!!
 
----
 
Arnie Moore CdeP 1963
 
One thing I learned from the horse program was the great personal satisfaction to be achieved through hard work. The hardest work I had at Thatcher was transferring bales of hay from a flatbed truck to the hay barn.  A three-man team would stack them high, all the way to the top.  Each of us with our hooks, one on the truck, one on the floor of the barn, and one at the top of the stack,  we would throw those bales from one station to the next.  It wasn't a bucket brigade, but a hay brigade.  At the end of the job our bare chests would be glistening with sweat, which acted as a glue to affix the hay particles all over our bodies. Our reward from Jesse Kahle was a cold bottle of soda pop.

While home for our winter break during my Lower School year I received a call from Jesse, informing me that my horse, Pinto Chief,  had died of colic while turned out. He said I would be assigned a new horse when I returned in the new year. The worse I got was a wise old mare named Sonny Gal. She saw me coming,  I can tell you that. One day I saddled her up and headed for the gymkhana field to drill her in running the Tilting course.  Several times I walked her through the run up and down the course. Then add at a lope. I felt pretty good about my lessons for her and decided to give it a try at a full run. Of course she had outsmarted me by puffing up when I was tightening her cinch, and after making the curve of the run up just as we approached the first standard with the ring, she spooked, and bolted obliquely to the left. Naturally, the saddle went in the opposite direction and I found myself in the dirt, and in pain.  As it turned out I had bruised my hip, and had to spend the next two nights in the infirmary.  The morning after the fall, during morning assembly in the Study Hall, Anson Thacher announced to the student body that,  "Arnie Moore fell from his horse yesterday........ and great was the fall thereof."
 
Soon I was assigned a newly arrived horse, the great Appaloosa, Gander. Upon my departure it is my understanding he became David Lavender's horse for many years.  Of that, I am most proud.

----
 
Ted Rhodes CdeP 1965: It’s Not Just About the Horse

My first day at Thacher found me, a city boy from Pasadena, standing out in the barnyard and manure of the Thacher School meeting Jesse Kayle from the horse program and a saddled roan horse they randomly had picked for me. The horse appeared to be as nervous and skittish as I. My intuitions proved correct, for as soon as I climbed awkwardly into the saddle, the horse reared up, snapping his tie-down straps.  His head thrust straight back into mine, smacking me out of the saddle and onto the ground like a mail pouch dropped from a passing train.

I later would come to appreciate Sherman Day’s credo about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of a man, but, on my first day as a freshman “smut,” I sat on the ground stunned, teary-eyed, and anxious about being able to weather four years at this same school my older brother, our father and his three brothers all had graduated from. There were even two trails at the school, the Rhodes-Metcalf and the Rhodes-Harwood, named after two of my uncles and, I presume, built by them. High bars set for me to measure up to.

I was pondering a lot that first morning, but it soon became apparent that this gentle but persistent resident cowboy wrangler named Jesse Kayle wasn’t about to give up on me.  He immediately assigned me another horse.  This one, Pharaoh, was less skittish than the first, more of a stable plug, really, but he could have a feisty side as well. I learned this a few days later when he bit the top of my head when I unknowingly stood between him and another horse that he was angrily trying to bite and kick.  Thus began my long, patient, but determined journey to become an accomplished horseman.

The camping side of the Thacher horse program came to me quicker and easier than the horsemanship one.  Camping and the love for the out of doors was something I had acquired already from my mother and father, who had taken my brothers, sister, and I all camping starting when we were very young.  In fact, my first camping trip was to Patton’s cabin with my family and another alumni family, the Lisles, when I was about three years old.  As a result, I did a lot of back country camping at Thacher right from the get-go.  By the time I met the tough standards back then of becoming an “A” camper my senior year, a handful of us more adventurous would camp in the snow in the Sespe and up at Ladybug with just our saddle blankets and tarps to protect us and our sleeping bags from the storms.

Struggling with my horsemanship, I rode many trail miles on countless afternoons at Thacher after class: the Hoyt-Isaacson, the Rhodes-Metcalf, Rhodes-Harwood, Horn Canyon, or just the Wheaton, if time was short.  I went out for gymkhana and worked on pole bending, barrels, and trail horse, as well as the packing race.  When Jack Huyler brought Monty Foreman to the school to hold a workshop on the new technique of lead changes, I enrolled in that as well.  By junior year, with the gentle but firm prodding of Jesse Kayle and the help of others such as Jack Huyler and Jug Reynolds, I had “graduated’ from Pharaoh to a gentle but stubborn Contessa to a beautiful, fast-walking, white sock footed horse name Lorenzo.  Lead changes came easily to Lorenzo on the gymkhana field, and out along the trails, with his Tennessee Walker like gait, I floated with the wind.  Alas, my time on this beautiful, magnificent horse was short lived.

On our extra day trip that year around the Fillmore Loop, while we all were sleeping after a long, lingering campfire one night, Lorenzo strangled to death on his halter rope after pawing the ground in anticipation, I like to think, of our next day’s ride.  Alas, he had hoofed the ground so exuberantly during the night that he caught his front leg tragically up into the rope and neither I nor anyone else awoke to untangle him.   I found him the next morning lying dead beneath the tree where I had tied him.

The loss of Lorenzo was heart breaking and left me stunned for the second time at Thacher.  Again, Jesse Kayle did not give up on me.  Not only did he encourage me to get another horse and climb back into the saddle, he selected for me one of his best but most challenging horses, Ike.  I was a bit anxious about such a horse, but Jesse said, “You can handle him” and never wavered in his encouragement more me to take Ike.

As I suspected, Ike proved skittish and prone to shy on a dime at anything that surprised him waving or flapping long the trail or around the barnyard, but, once atop of Ike, I found that I could handle whatever he threw at me.  I gave him the nickname “Psyche,” out of no disrespect for Thacher alumnus and former packer Ike Livermore whom I suspect he was named for, but somehow name seemed more fitting.   

Jesse Kahle, of course, had been right.  Riding, handling, and caring for a high-strung horse like Ike measured the arc I had traveled in horsemanship from my first troubling days at the school.   And, of course, what Sherman Day Thacher had spoken about regarding the outside of horse wasn’t only about a horse either, was it?  Certainly it was about caring for a being other than oneself, but, more importantly, it was about taking on a challenge, no matter how daunting, and giving that challenge the best shot one can.   For at least some of us less accomplished at horses when we arrived at Thacher, it was about going for it, never giving up, and overcoming adversity.  Expect the unexpected.  And it was about believing in oneself and building self-confidence.   It was also about knowing and trusting others, whether it be a horse named Pharaoh or Lorenzo or a wise ol’ now-legendary horse wizard cowboy named Jesse Kahle.

I didn’t fully appreciate my transformation at Thacher from greenhorn city slicker to accomplished horseman, however, until the spring of my freshmen year at Dartmouth, when Ben Rich of the Midland School telephoned me one evening long distance to the pay phone in my dorm to ask if I might be interested in heading up the horse program the following summer at Silver Pines Camp and leading overnight pack trips out of the camp with the nine to fourteen-year-old young campers.  Silver Pines was a wonderful summer camp for boys way up in Northern California near Redding that both Ben Rich and his family at Midland and former Thacher headmaster Newton Chase and his family ran and were part owners of and that I had gone to as a camper back in the fifties.   Now, thanks to meeting “head on,” literally, all the challenges I had encountered at Thacher with ornery horses, I was being asked back to the camp to head up their horse program.

And so, I readily agreed and prepared to return to Silver Pines for what would become a stint of three challenging but fun-filled summers running their horse program featuring mini-gymkhanas, trail rides, and overnight pack trips with dozens of young boys as green at riding as I once had been.  Little did I know beforehand, however, that a few of the horses Thacher and Midland would send to the camp for my first summer as the new horse counselor were ones, including ol’ Contessa, I had ridden once as a young Thacher greenhorn, but that is another story.

Today, I no longer own a horse, but I still have a pair of cowboy boots, my spurs, an old lariat, and a strong sense of self-confidence, all intact thanks to Jesse Kayle, Sherman Day Thacher, and a Thacher horse program that has continued to thrive, more recently, under the steady guidance of  Cam Shryver and, now, Richard Winters.
 
------
 
John Taylor CdeP 1965

Horses became a part of my life at Thacher and have continued so to this day.  We have two horses--we ride both and drive a mini-Conestoga with one of them.  One small exception to the equine continuity was the period of time I was an officer on a nuclear submarine--storing the hay would have been a challenge! I am a firm believer in the "outside of a horse being good for the inside of a boy (or girl, now!)" adage.
 
When I came to Thacher in the fall of 1961, Jack Huyler and Jesse Kahle thought it would be great fun to give me the same horse that my father had had when he taught at Thacher in the late 1940s. So I was given Spice, a nasty, mean-spirited, temperamental mare.  I managed to learn which end bites and which end kicks from Spice, but was very happy to get Geronimo, a fast but spooky gelding, midway through my freshman year.  Geronimo and I had great times for the next 3 ½  years!
 
-----
 
Ken Jacobs CdeP 1968
 
The day before Thanksgiving break, 1964, I was giving my horse Paul one last exercise, and at a gallop, he stepped into a gopher hole, and suddenly, the ground came up to meet my face.
 
We both grunted and rolled around before getting up. I thought I’d broken my leg, but when I went to put away the saddle, it was my shoulder that really hurt. It turned out to be a broken collarbone, and I was in a cast for six weeks. Only a week after returning to Thacher, there was a knock on my door, and it was Jesse Kahle. Not a normal thing to see Jesse in a dorm! He took off his hat and sadly told me that Paul had been found dead in the pasture. He’d hit his head in our fall, and got locked bowels. A horrible death!
 
I named my next horse Paula, after Paul.
 
The next Fall, Jesse was at my door with his hat off again. Paula had been kicked and broke her leg, so they had to put her down.
 
My Dad was a little upset that he was getting his third bill to buy a horse (with a special Ventura County livestock sales tax), when I got Bar Hook.
 
This horse tripped over his own feet and fell during my test ride, taking me down just like Paul had. I dusted myself off and said “no way!” and Jesse shook his head and said “meet your new horse!”.
 
I called him Rufus, and though he was big and dumb, he was also very skittish. He could panic, just seeing a rock by the side of the road. Never a restful ride!
 
Senior year, I took Mertz’s horse Florence, and she directed me through all the gymkhana races. All I had to do was hold on tight, and lean at the right times.
 
Much to my Dad’s relief, Florence didn’t die, and I was sad to take her to the summer pasture before leaving for college. (have a photo somewhere)
 
At Dartmouth, one of my quarters of Physical Education was…  horseback riding.
 
Nailed it!
 
And no dead horses, either….
 
---
 
Stephen Huyler CdeP 1969

Every evening after a long, hard ride during my junior year at Thacher, I would return with 'Ranger' to my corral above the Twichell? Barn (Chris: it's the older one highest on the hill). I would unsaddle my sweaty horse and take off his bridal. He would kick up his heels in delight as he ran down the hill to the sandpit where he would roll energetically by himself. In the meantime, I would go to the barn, pick up a couple of flakes of hay and climb up to Ranger's corral, opening the gate just in time for him to gleefully run back in. That experience never failed to make me laugh...

For many of my years growing up, Dad's horse was 'Jeep', a buckskin gelding he had carefully trained to be ridden without a bridle. I had never particularly liked Jeep at that time. He was high-strung, aggressive and somewhat mean - strictly honed for the competitive edge that helped Dad and him set several state gymkhana records. But when Jeep was about eighteen, Dad bought and trained another, younger horse - his first registered quarter horse, 'El Paso Gap', and Jeep was allowed to age gracefully. I was given him to ride during my senior year at Thacher and I quickly learned to love him. By that point after a couple of years of pasturage, Jeep was gentle and sweet-natured and yet he never forgot all the signals he had learned from Dad. I liked nothing better than to ride Jeep bareback with no bridal and, exactly copying Dad's voice and specific knee-pressure and body signals, guide him through trails or through various obstacle races at the field. We became pals and I still remember his soft nickering of greeting whenever I would arrive before breakfast to clean out his corral.

----
 
Reuben Haller CdeP 1974

I loved having a horse at Thacher; and I can still, forty years later, smell the sage and dust of the trail in my memory. But as an inexperienced city boy, my most vivid memories are of the dumb mistakes I made that led to equestrian disasters. One especially comes to mind: as a freshman I was tasked with gathering pots and pans from the camping shed and bringing them to the stables to pack for a camping trip. I very cleverly decided to save my precious energy and, instead of carrying the pots and pans myself, I'd use my convenient living, breathing vehicle: Hugo, my horse. I somehow managed to mount the horse with an armful of aluminum, and off we went, walking down the hill toward the stables. But when Hugo stumbled a little, those pans clanked together. Ears thrown back, his whole body tensed up at the noise, which only made the pots bang together more. And it was off to the races! Hugo ran for his life, pots and pans littering the road behind, while I endeavored to stay on my mount. It was a short, downhill run to the stables, and Hugo headed full tilt toward a large solid tie up bar. I can still see it! I was sure we would smash against it, and I saw myself getting launched airborne over the barn. But somehow Hugo managed to stop, and somehow I managed to stay on his back. Red-faced and embarrassed, I walked back up the road, collecting the pots and pans.
 
---
 
Phoebe Collins (Emma Willard, 1975): Upper School April Fools
 
April Fool’s Day, 1974 and Middle School has been inundated by the first influx of female students in Thacher’s history. Imported from Emma Willard School in dreary Troy, NY, we were overjoyed at our new circumstances. Circumstances which not only included the rare delight of daily affiliation with boys, but access to the stables. So it came to pass that, at three am on the morning of April First, having been regaled by much braggadocio from the sophomore boys of their own pranks of the past—small-time stuff involving rolls of toilet paper and tennis racquets—my classmates Phyllis and Ashley and I realized that, with the novelty of equine access, the chance had come to make history. Our adolescent brains spun at full throttle and a strange carpe diem was now inevitable. Factor in the thrill of being wide awake in the middle of the night, and the stage was set. As neuroscientist Sarah-Jane Blakemore has written,  “…adolescence [is] associated with this phenomenon of increased risk taking and especially when adolescents are with their peers…”  
 
And, as adolescent females, while our sense of military strategy may have been hazy, we clearly valued the importance of a surprise attack. As well, the correct apparel seemed key, and time was of the essence. Ashley came up with an authentic Edwardian lace dress of her Virginia grandmother’s, Phyllis did something original with leotard, tights and a bed sheet used as a cape, while I combined an old velvet evening coat with jeans and the then-essential Tretorn sneakers. The fun escalated with the addition of cosmetics as we frantically defiled our faces with lipstick in what we considered to be an approximation of “Injuns.” Surely, this would terrify our victims, now innocently asleep in Upper School.
 
Our stealthy trip through the woods remains a blur. Grabbing tack, we saddled up three drowsy horses and headed toward the thrillingly forbidden precincts of the boys’ dorm. While the rules were clear that any visits,at all, between the boys and girls dormitories were strictly verboten, the rule book’s author had not foreseen the possibility of our unique approach. Nowhere did it specify that you could not ride a horse into the hallowed quarters of the opposite sex.
 
Nature cooperated and dawn broke as we arrived at Upper School, our horses carefully navigating the steps with loud clip-clops. We joyfully made our presence known at the large entryway with loud cries of “April Fools!” To our delight, the boys spilled out of their rooms, clad only in undershorts, rubbing their eyes in anger and amazement. Too overcome with laughter to realize that humorless prefects had also been awakened, that the phone line to headmaster Ted Sanford’s house was afire, we continued to bask in our turn at center stage. Suddenly, Mr. Sanford’s white Toyota was speeding in our direction. We panicked and tried to canter away, but alas our courage failed us. A grove of thin trees proved woefully ineffective as cover and our bravado was now replaced by humiliation.
 
Nothing really came of it. I don’t think the rulebook was altered in any way, though our beloved Jug Reynolds made it clear that he was not amused. Years later, I learned that Ted Sanford was related to a close friend of my parents—perhaps that had kept us from getting thrown out. How the horses felt about their reluctant involvement we shall never know. But the thrill of our explosion upon the placid Ojai daybreak, the mad spontaneity, and jubilant recklessness… It all remains vivid some forty years on. Best of all, Ashley, Phyllis and I remain the closest of friends.
 
----
 
Willard Wyman CdeP 1978
 
When my father was getting his PhD and working at Stanford in the 60's he had a herd of sweet little donkeys and big ornery horses up on Langley Hill. He loved to ride and I didn't, as a result I was bucked off, kicked, and bit by these horses many a time as a youngster. This experience did not endear me to the concept of participating in Thacher's storied Horse Program when my father arrived on the scene at C de P... In fact, I also bucked and pulled back at Jack Huyler's suggestion when he was Director of Admissions that because of my relatively young age, entering as a 14-year old Sophomore in 1975 with a December birthday, that I repeat my Freshman year. I was much younger compared to my classmates, so he kindly encouraged me to consider enrolling as a Freshman so I "could enjoy the horse experience." I didn't take his advice, and steered clear of the stables and avoided the Horse Program entirely by playing soccer, basketball, and baseball all three years as as student, much to the chagrin of my father. In retrospect, this is something I now actually regret, having watched my three children benefit greatly from the Horse Program, and all of whom also especially enjoyed participating in Gymkhana, even son Casey. I did have one exciting equestrian moment at the Centennial Gymkhana in 1989, while working as Director of Annual Giving and Alumni Affairs, I partnered with Dave Livermore and Chuck Warren in the packing race and we won, although the horse practically stampeded over me on the race back to the finish line, with ropes dragging and spooking him, clipping my heels with its hooves. Still have the ribbon, not bad for a timid horse rider... And, yet I always look forward to hitting the trail, tying the diamond hitch, and packing donkeys up in the Golden Trout Wilderness and High Sierra!
 
----
 
John Winsell Davies CdeP 1982

The horse programme is the single most important, distinguishing factor of the school – bar none.
Yes – the horse programme changed and shaped my future life.
 
I have unfortunately never had to chance to meet Mr. Cam Schryver and hope to do so someday.
But my sense is that he was the perfect man to run the horse programme.
He is probably the right man to be the head master.
He is more likely the best man to be the Chancellor of Germany and Save Europe from the tyranny of Merkel Volksverräter.
This is exactly the kind of “right thinking” – that we need to save the country and the planet.
 
From a world away, I recognise that my two cents my be worth less than “two cents.”
That is fine ))
I know that all of you in the Ojai are doing an extraordinary job.
 
So while I am very sad to see him retire, we all have supreme confidence that Richard Winters is the equally extraordinary man, to keep our traditions alive.
Thank God for our school!
 
---

Bob Kahn CdeP 1983: Five Horses for the Price of One  

Generally a school year is divided up into four quarters. My freshman year at Thacher was divided into uneven fifths. In the fall of 1979, my first 'term' was called Smokey, a small but spirited apache colored horse. I was not an experienced rider by any means and certainly was not able to handle such an energetic beast. Some weeks into the school year, I don't remember exactly, Smokey decided to test my resolve by bucking me off in the training ring and launching me completely over his head. Being an extremely homesick, runt of a kid, this experience was not edifying for me.

I have often wondered who thought my second term would go any better with a horse named Joker. He was another small spirited horse, light brown in color and with white markings down his face and legs. Again, the time frame escapes me, but not the location, where Joker lived up to his name. We were doing our thing at the far corner of the gymkhana field when he decided that he wished to socialize with others milling about the gate. Without warning, he took off at a full gallop (I hadn't done that yet) along the hypotenuse of the field towards the other horses. I, of course, not knowing what his plans were, burst into tears. He came to the group of horses and stopped on a dime, (or maybe it was a silver dollar). It was jolting to say the least. I remember Jack Huyler stopping whatever conversation he was engaged in, looking at Joker and me, pausing, telling me to stop crying, and then getting back to his conversation.

My third horse term was the shortest of all as it was time for a horse camping trip. A wise decision was made by the higher ups in the horse program not to let Joker be my horse on this trip. Still, I wonder who made the decision to give me Stetson, a 10-foot tall muscular jet black horse that I could not mount unless I led him to a large rock or stump or something so that I could reach the stirrups and horn.  He was a gentle horse, so I guess that was the trade off. The camping trip was wonderful, but uneventful with respect to horses.

Upon returning, I was given Princess, a docile, light brown mare whose head, neck back, and rump were dependably aligned horizontally to the ground. She was indeed, a princess. Her girth was so impressive that my classmates constantly joked that one morning I was going to find a foal in her corral. Still, she helped me gain confidence, and in the Spring I asked for Smokey back. Smokey was unavailable; I did not ask why.

So instead, Drummer. He was another small but mighty horse, dark brown with a black mane and tail. When I rode Drummer, his neck and head were practically straight up in front of me. My hands, arms and shoulders could never relax as I fought to control him with the reigns. I remember Keith [horse program instructor] instructing me on how to work with Drummer, and not against him. He rarely simply walked; instead he trotted forward or sideways or diagonally. He was truly a challenge for me, but I embraced the challenge. And, I loved Drummer. I can still picture his head popping up in the morning as I whistled and called his name while walking to the barn to get his food. Drummer was the horse that I rode during Gymkhana weekend. We did the barrels together and I believe we did very well, although there was some controversial decision (according to my parents anyways) that resulted in me not receiving any ribbons on that day.

I know that thousands of students have taken care of horses while going to school at Thacher. I am sure that there are many other wonderful stories, but I contend that I must hold the record for the number of horses ridden in a single freshman year.

I wish I could remember the moment when I decided to ask for Smokey back. It seems to me that whatever went through my mind at that precise instant encapsulates what the Thacher Horse Program is all about. I guess, it moved me one step closer to being a man.

I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on, write about and share my experiences in the Thacher Horse Program.

p.s. I also remember April 1st of that year. I went to clean Drummer's stall and found a huge mound of at least two wheelbarrows worth of horse manure. I missed breakfast that morning.
 
----
 
Kent Brown CdeP 1987
 
Forgive me stating for the obvious, but the horse program makes Thacher Thacher because it builds real confidence.  Mastering beast and hills can not be faked or avoided.  
 
I remember the kindest man I have ever met, my history teacher/advisor Mr. Lamb, telling me I had to work off months of missed breakfast check-in, community service hours, to graduate.  By luck Mr Jones, the head of the horse department, asked all of his students with the horseshoe pin (I still have it) if they would like to volunteer to help the Forest Service by delivering 8 mules worth of grain deep into the Sespe over Spring Break.  Tom Huntley and Michael Mahan agreed to help me.  
 
Of course it rained/sleeted/snowed the entire six days.  As we finally made it back to Patton's cabin (we could see it!) "Chilly" the mule had had enough.  She was not going to swim across the river a single time more- campus was the other way.  Tom, Mike and I defined miserable. We certainly were in no mood to negotiate with Chilly.  
 
Out came the twitch (a medieval stick and chain used to twist a mule's muzzle till they do what you want).  But still I could not get Chilly to move.  Then in a sudden flash she launched into the river with a mighty jump taking me, the twitch, two other mules tied to her, and herself straight into the Sespe at full flood while it was snowing.  Hello hypothermia.  We couldn't get the Patton's cabin fireplace going fast enough.  Into the sleeping bags we went with intense gratitude.  
 
However we all heard these mysterious, tiny little pocking sounds that sparked just enough curiosity to preclude desperately desired sleep.  Out came the flashlight to reveal dozens of ticks falling off the ceiling onto our plastic sleeping bags.  We looked at each other in horror, and then suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter.
 
To this day I do not know if Mr. Lamb and Mr. Jones collaborated to find a way for me to graduate, although I suspect it.  But it is certain the USFS got a Thacher favor, Tom, Mike and I had mastered hill and beast, and Thacher 'confidence" is one of my treasured gifts.  
 
---
 
Lodovico Pizzati CdeP 1991
 
I rode a horse at Thacher over a quarter century ago, so my memories of the Horse Program are ancient. I even remember Jess Kahle who, although long retired as a director, was still active helping at the Gymkhana field. I vividly remember him whipping my horse, Candyman, which was refusing to walk over the tire obstacle course. However, the horse program faculty that I would like to celebrate with my story is Jack Huyler. He was also already retired by the time I was a student at Thacher, but he still came to horse camping trips. I was lucky to be in the same horse-packing week as Jack Huyler in the spring of 1991.

It was a memorable excursion, and once we reached the Sespe Creek, we students decided to go swimming in a large and deep pool. That is when Jack Huyler taught us how to swim with horses, Native American style. I removed the saddle from the horse and placed the reins crossed over Candyman’s back. I was in my swimsuit, of course. I leaped on my horse from behind and had Candyman dash into the water. As soon as the water was too deep and I could feel the horse sinking, I slid back and grabbed Candyman’s tail. The horse swam around the natural creek pool, taking me for a ride. As soon as the horse would come back to shore, that was when I let the tail go. It was an unforgettable experience, and I am sure that many other Thacher students before and after me had a chance to try.
 
Other classmates in that trip were Jason Wenz CdeP 1991, Lara Phelps CdeP 1991, Rukmini Callimachi CdeP 1991, and Aaron Wyle CdeP 1993. And, of course, Mr. Mulligan was in that trip also. There were a couple of other memorable events in that trip, like having a cargo horse fall down the woods (fortunately the horse was fine).
 
----
 
J.R. Valenzuela CdeP 1997

I suppose you could call this "Why I Always Carry A Flashlight" --

I rode all four of my years at Thacher and as part of my PTS Club duties, I was to ride up to The Pines one Friday afternoon with a group of freshman on their first overnight horse camping trip. Me, my horse, and a mule (who shall remain nameless) were to head up with the group to help out with any problems, drop off some big bags of feed, and get back to school before dark. Well, one of the freshman (who shall remain nameless) had completely forgotten about the trip and by the time he was rounded up and we were on our way, we were a good two hours late.

Getting up there was no problem. I undid the hitch, dropped the bags, said my goodbye, and we headed back down at a brisk walk. But a few hundred feet down the trail the mule remembered that he was a mule. Dead stop. Not moving. Didn't see why we couldn't all just stay with the others for the night and head back in tomorrow after breakfast. Well, after some fits and starts, I finally dismounted and tied off the lead rope of the mule with a slipknot around the pommel of my saddle. I walked out front, my horse would follow me and pull the mule along, who continually voiced his disapproval over the whole scenario.

This wouldn't have been too bad during the day, but the sun had set a while back. No moon, patchy clouds, just the tiniest bit of starlight to make out the strange black shape walking up the hillside, then parking itself in the middle of the trail about fifteen feet in front of me. Horse and mule getting jittery and pulling back, me waving my free arm and hollering like crazy to shoo it off. After I had just about tired myself out, the black shape nonchalantly rose up off the trail and kept creeping up the mountain. A few hundred vertical feet lower at the creek crossing right after the railroad-tie staircase, I had to feel out the path through memory in pitch black, hoping my horse and mule would follow safely after.

I finally made it back to the stables, got everyone washed and fed, then ran to my dorm to change my clothes and run to make it on time to my next engagement -- Friday night detention.

----
 
Eliza Gregory CdeP 1999

1. Dialogue overheard between two freshmen boys when I lived in Lower School as a 24 year old faculty member in 2004-5
 
Boy 1: Where are you going?
Boy 2: (Breathless, running past) To feed my horse an apple!
Boy 1: Do they eat apples?
Boy 2: (Getting farther away) I THINK SO!
 
2. I am not sure whether this happened when I was a young faculty member or when I was a junior, but I was out riding on my own on the Phelps trail near the barns. Whatever horse I was on got the better of me and threw me into the bushes, and then scurried back to the barns. I ran after it clumsily, yelling something like "Come baaaack!" and caught up just enough to see it hustle into the barns, clearly riderless, and stop immediately in front of Mr. Schryver. My heart sank. I saw him look around for the rider and see me emerge from the scrub. But he just smiled at me as I struggled over towards him and I don't think he said anything at all. He didn't make a big deal about it. He just kept going on about his business and I finally got close enough to gather up my reins and get back on.
 
----
 
Tania Al-Awar Parker CdeP 1999

How about how we used to sneak horses out of turnout or our stalls after check-in and go for full moon rides!! After the time the bobcat followed us we started waking Sam Swan up by throwing rocks at his window (praying Mike wouldn't hear us) and would make him come ride with us :)
 
----
 
Martha Gregory CdeP 2006

Chuck had kept that horse hoof in the fridge for possibly years -- at one point it had been part of a demo I think for his vet med class but then remained in the pack station fridge (which had little else in it ever).  I remember occasionally wandering over while I was working just to check if it was still there. It always was.
 
When I was actually in Chuck's vet med class, it was the a winter with particularly heavy mountain lion traffic. An old horse died (or was finished off) in carpenter's orchard and Chuck decided it was an optimum teaching moment; we would collect all the bones and reconstruct this ill fated beast. He obtained a recipe for boiling tendons and muscle and fur off of bones from his taxidermist buddy and set us to work. By the time we went out there to pick up the carcass it was fairly well decomposed but still a large amount of tendons and other fleshy detritus remained..
 
I then spent many evenings, with explicit permission from Chuck to be up at the pack station during study hall for this absurdist cooking experiment, boiling the bits and pieces off all these bones in a giant ancient metal bucket that was way too large for the camp stove we were told to use. At the end of each boil we then had to carry the refuse -- the vat of boiling lard - out into the darkness, about 10 min away from the barn on a trail to dump it far enough away from the barns that it wouldn't attract the lions.
 
One of my most treasured memories of Cam was camping with him, spring of my senior year. We had 3 particularly industrious mules with us on this trip - one was named Moses - who we would return to camp after an excursion on foot to find them slowly crossing the nearest body of water in their hobbles, attempting yet another escape. One morning we woke to find the mules and over half our horses disappeared -- having breached the makeshift horse blanket/shrubbery gate we had constructed... I hopped on the closest horse bareback and in a halter and raced up the hill after them, sending my classmate back to rouse Mr. Schryver and send some back up. I got to live out cowgirl fantasy -- being given a real task to save our trip -- and test my knowledge and ability. About 20 min up the trail I found our mules, leading the rest of our horses across the sespe and through the water, still hobbled but moving efficiently. I knew I wouldn't be able to corral them all myself and no sooner did I realize this but mr. schryver appeared in the underbrush -- between the two of us we were able to surround them and lead them all back. It was a most exhilarating and merry chase -- and a point at which I felt I had proven to both myself and to him my competence in a setting ever more real than Gymkhana.
 
Perhaps my proudest moment in the horse dept. was when, while on a camping trip, we were loading tack back into the horse trailer. Cam was standing nearby chatting with someone while I stepped up into the trailer tack room, my heavy saddle in hand. I didn't quite have my footing, stepped on a dangling strap and slipped, falling stiff legged directly backwards, the saddle landing on top of me. I was laughing so hard I couldn't breath and Cam was laughing even harder. That I could elicit from him such a laugh was deeply satisfying.
 
Also, Cam's famous ramen noodle salad (a camping meal) -- lettuce, veggies and dried ramen noodles. Excellent.
 
---
 
Sarah Brown-Campello CdeP 2008

I am not sure if this is an appropriate story for the newsletter, and it's certainly not a serious one.  Thought I'd share anyway for the vaults.
 
Everyone in CdeP 2008 will remember the rains that came with our first year at Thacher. The ground got so saturated, that the Horse Dept. sent some of the horses away from campus so they wouldn't be trapped in their stalls,  knee-deep in water. This meant a lot of extra work mucking and draining the stalls of water (and other matter) in lieu of afternoon riding. One particular afternoon, a group of us were mucking a stall together. Ankle deep in water, we were directed to put hay and manure in the water to soak, then shovel the saturated matter back into the wheelbarrow, and wheel out, dump, repeat. Not clean work. After one hour, I remember Holden Miller accidentally kicking some of this matter up, splattering Tim Brown everywhere. Tim kicked back, but Holden anticipated and ducked. I was behind Holden.  Trying to get my justice, I returned the favor, but Tim ducked.... leaving me only a split second to process the fact that the manure was heading towards Ms. Hardenbergh, who had just entered the stall to check in on us. This story ends in a few work crews for everyone, even poor Bruno Ferrari who an innocent bystander watching from the corner.
 
----
 
Hailey Everett CdeP 2012

I had the great privilege of working closely with the Schryvers and Mr. Winters during my time at Thacher. In the fall of my junior year I participated in the colt training program with Mr. Winters where I got train a young horse to be ridden, which culminated in a final demonstration at parents weekend. I was eager to find out what horse they would find for me to train, and when I found out it was the Schryvers’ very own filly, suddenly the pressure was on! Weeks of ground work and conditioning turned into placing the first saddle on her back, which suddenly became me sitting in that saddle while she romped around the round pen. I’ll never forget the time when we were getting close parents weekend, and Mr. Winters took me on a trail ride with my still quite wild filly. We ended up in his backyard with Mrs. Winters bringing us out some cold lemonade to enjoy. Only at Thacher would this be how I spent my high school afternoons!
 
Everything I learned in the horse program at Thacher has followed me. The Schryvers, Mr. Winters, Mrs. Mahoney, Mr. Swan, Dr. Finch and so many more taught me not only the hard working traits every student gains, but a new depth of horse knowledge. I am proud to say I can owe it in part to the Thacher horse program--and all its faculty--that I find myself in veterinary school today. Thank you for all you have done for me and every other student who now knows how to muck a stall, ride a horse, and navigate the trails up to the pines.
 
Mr. Swan and Mrs. Mahoney also were major mentors to me, if no one else writes anything about them, I’d love to so they get their fair mention. Those 2 shaped my horse experience even more so than all the other faculty.
 
----
 
Brisha Howe CdeP 2013

My most memorable lesson from the horse department was to always tighten your cinch.  Freshman year, my riding group was riding down a ridge behind the gymkhana field. When we stopped at the top to wait for the rest of the group, I noticed my saddle had slid to the shoulders of my horse (Babe). I asked Mr. Duykaerts for permission to get off and tighten my cinch. But before I had time to get out of the saddle, Babe lowered her head to graze, sending me toppling off over her head, saddle and all. Lesson learned, always tighten your cinch.
 
Back

More About Thacher

Interested in learning more about Thacher? Get to know us better here or request additional materials here.