"But was the dog okay?'" Those five words, uttered last June by world champion western pleasure trainer Steve Heckaman, provided an insight to the hearts and minds of professional horse-people, whose reputations for being aloof, steely-eyed, ice-water-in-their-veins show-ring gods would belie such a comment. Steve's query came in response to the tale of "whoa" I was relating to him after experiencing a disaster-filled photo shoot with one of his north Texas neighbors, Clint and Liz Haverty. (You saw the results of that shoot in our April '94 cover story.)
First, I'd told Steve how photographer Cappy Jackson and I had pulled up at Clint's, only to learn that Liz had just backed her car over the neck of Clint's numero uno canine compadre, Poncho. I went on to tell Steve how a subsequent fire at the Haverty ranch had raged undetected during our photo shoot, gutting a trailer house that was home to several hands. Steve politely waited for me to finish my fire story, but his mind was on Poncho, not the now-homeless hands. As soon as he sensed a pause in my disasterlogue, he slipped in the but-what-about-the-dog query.
My answer to his question was, "Yes, Poncho's okay" (as you'll see on page 39). But it was the compassion and concern expressed in Steve's query that solidified observations recorded during many treks into trainerdom: These though-as-nails competitors do love and respect their equine partners-but they get positively mushy over their four-legged, waggy-tailed critters
On the next few pages, you'll hear six top trainers gush about their ?teachers' pets." You'll see why these four-legged friends bring out the souls of their two-legged buddies, and open a window to the hearts and minds of some of today's top trainers.
The trainer: World champion Western pleasure rider/trainer Steve Heckaman, of Aubrey, Texas.
His pet: Fred a 1-year-old, male Pembroke Welsh Corgi
How they met: "My mother-in-law wanted a Corgi, so my brother-in-law brought her a puppy for her birthday. My wife, Mary Carole, and I agreed to pick up the puppy from some folks at a horse show, keep him for the few weeks we'd be on the road, then bring him home and give him to her mom.
"We named the puppy ?Fred.' He was so cute-I kept warning Mary Carole not to get too attached to him. But when my mother-in-law arrived, after a 3-hour drive to our house to fetch her puppy, Mary Carole cried, ?I can't give up Fred!" her mom went home with a saddle blanket, instead of a puppy."
Pet personality: "He's a happy guy, and loves people. He'll run up to complete strangers, jump up, then flip over on his back, begging them to rub his belly."
Favorite pet story: "Fred travels with us to all the shows, but because I'm a fanatic about keeping the inside of my truck clean, Mary Carole and I always brush him before we let him in the truck, and have him lay on his blanket in the cab. Fred knows the routine, and stays pretty clean.
At the end of a recent show, we'd loaded up the horses, and were ready to caravan home with some other trainers. It was rainy and muddy, and we were tired. Just as Mary Carole and I were knocking the crud off our boots to step in the truck, I noticed Fred wasn't behind us. I went looking for him-and found him belly deep in a mud puddle, rooting around like a hog. He looked up at me with such a happy expression, I know he knew he was throwing a wrench in the works. We held up the entire caravan, so Mary Carole and I could bathe Fred for the ride home."
Favorite pet trick: "Fred plays dead: when I point my finger at him and say ?bang,' he'll roll over and ?die'."Pet's favorite non-human: "Vegas, my Border Collie (pictured), but Fred really loves everybody."
Pet's favorite treat: Rawhide chews.
The trainer: Top reiner and judge Mario Boisjoli, of Marietta, Oklahoma
His pet: Lucky, a 1 1/2-yer-old, female "rat terrier"
How they met: "I was hauling horses home to Oklahoma, from reiner Brett Stone's ranch in Arizona. Somewhere in the West Texas plains, I stopped to stretch my legs. It was about 2 A.M., and pitch black our-not a light in sight. I was standing around, staring off at nothing in particular, when suddenly a snarling thing lept out of the darkness, and grabbed my leg.
"I must've jumped about as high as the top of my horse trailer! When I landed, I opened the truck door, to shed some light on the roadside. There sat my ?attacker'-a tiny puppy, not bigger than my hand. I figured someone abandoned her along that highway, so I took her home, and named her ?Lucky'-lucky that I found her before some coyote did!"
Pet personality: She's just happy to be alive. Lucky's always hoppin' around, chasin' birds and butterflies. Just watching her puts me in a good mood."
Favorite pet story: "One of my assistants, Clayton Garcia, came to pick me up at the airport. He brought Lucky with him, actually carrying her into the terminal. After he passed through the security checkpoint, Clayton put Lucky down. She took off, making a beeline for my gate, which was nine away from the checkpoint. As I deplaned, she ran up to me through a sea of people, and jumped on my leg. Clayton followed shortly after, scratching his head-to this day, we haven't figured out how Lucky knew which gate to run to".
Favorite pet trick: "Hunting fish. Lucky runs up and down the bank of my pond, spots a fish, then dives completely under water to try and catch it. She's never caught one, but she loves the hunt."
Pet's favorite non-human: "Faye, her Rottweiler buddy. When Faye's walking, Lucky will jump up and swing from her ear by her teeth, like a doggy earring-and Faye lets her!"
Pet's favorite treats: Bananas
The trainer: Champion reiner/cutter and judge Al Dunning, of Scottsdale, Arizona.
His pet: On Q Murphy Not So Brown, a 3-year-old, male Australian Shepherd.
How they met: "I had my family along at a cutting in California one summer. My son, Grady, who was 7 at the time, discovered a lady selling puppies. He picked one out, then dragged me over to show me the puppy.
"This puppy was the cutest thing; he looked just like Patty, the Australian Shepherd I'd had when I was Grady's age. I'd always wanted to find another dog like her, but I hadn't found the right one-until I saw Murphy. Grady helped me strike a deal on the puppy, and we took him home to Arizona."
Pet personality: "He's smart, loyal, and extremely possessive of me. He's also eccentric, the kind of dog that if someone stole him, they'd bring him right back."
Favorite pet story: "Murphy follows me wherever I go. But, he gets real car sick, so rather than ride with me in my golf cart, he'll run along beside it. One day, Murphy jumped right in front of the cart. Before I could hit the brakes, I ran over him. He was lodged beneath the golf cart. I have a bad back, but without thinking, I jumped out, lifted up the cart with one hand, then reached beneath it with my other hand and pulled Murphy out. It wasn't until I got to the vet and learned he was going to be okay, that it concerned to me: I can't lift the golf cart with two hands, let alone one. But somehow, I'd found the strength to do it for Murphy."
Favorite pet trick: "Murphy doesn't do tricks, but he will bite you in the butt if you yell and run around. He sure helps keep rowdy kids in line."
Pet's favorite non-human: "A stray cat Grady found. Murphy chases her every day; when she's had enough, she stops, and the game's over-Murphy has found himself on the receiving end of her claws for thinking otherwise."
Pet's favorite treat: Ice cubes.
The trainer: Top reiner John Slack, of Cave Creek, Arizona.
His pet: Lucky, a 2 ?-yeat-old, male pot-bellied pig.
How they met: "early one morning, I went down to the ranch's front entrance, and saw this little pig standing there with the dogs. He probably only weighed about 15 pounds. I called out, ?Here, pig pig,' and he trotted right over to me. I showed him to Brett (Stone, at whose Stone Ranch John trains), and we kept him. I put up ?pig found' signs in the area, but no one ever claimed him.'
Pet personality: "He's real smart, and kind of pushy about food; he runs up and butts people he doesn't like.
Favorite pet story: "A hailer (horse transporter) dropped off Brett and me at a show in California, then headed to Texas. On his way back to California, he stopped off at our ranch in Arizona. When he opened up the trailer door and walked away, lucky smelled the hay stashed inside, snuck in, and headed straight for the chow. The hauler didn't know he had a pig on board until two days later, when he unloaded some horses in northern California, and lucky came barrelin' out.
"He asked some ranch hands to take care of lucky for a few days, until he could swing back by and pick him up. In the meantime, Brett's parents had called us in California, to tell us Lucky was stolen. They'd printed up fliers offering a $500 reward, and plastered them all over the area-they'd even hired a kid to go door-to-door, looking for lucky.
"The last day of the show, the hauler came to pick us up, and told me I owed him a steak dinner as he opened the trailer door. I couldn't believe my eyes- out stepped Lucky. When he saw me, he made his happy oink. My pig was glad to see me, and we were all sure glad to get him back!"
Favorite pet trick: "He sits on command. He also does a killer couch-potato imitation-he lies on my couch, and watches TV."
Pet's favorite non-human: "Linda, my Border Collie/mix. When Lucky was little, they used to sleep together."
Pet's favorite treat: Carrots and ice cubes.
The trainer: World champion reiner and Appaloosa trainer Clint Haverty, of Krum, Texas
His pet: Poncho, an 11-year-old, male Blue Heeler
How they met: "I had a customer who was raising Heelers, and she tried to give me a puppy. I wouldn't take the dog for nothin', so I traded her seven bales of hay for him. Now this was in a drought year, when alfalfa was at $7 a bale, so that was a lot to give for a dog. Some days, I still think it was too much."
Pet personality: "He's tough, loyal, and real protective of the place and my wife, Liz, and son, Zane."
Favorite pet story: "Poncho used to be bad as bitin' people, ?cause he so territorial. Well, one day we had a plumber come out to do some work under the house. I told the guy I'd tie up Poncho, and he said, ?No, don't do that. I get on good with dogs.' After arguin' with the plumber for awhile, I figured ?what the heck, I ain't gonna fight with him about it', and left the dog loose.
"The plumber goes partway under the house, so just his legs are stickin' out. Next thing I know, I hear all this hollerin' and racket-Poncho's after those legs like a shark! The poor dog-lovin' dude under the house is trying to get away, bangin' his head and elbows on the house, but has nowhere to go. I finally got Poncho off of him. The guy tried to quit, but I wouldn't let him."
Favorite pet trick: ?The dumb son of a gun wants to shake hands with everybody."
Pet's favorite non-human: "Poncho has a cat he likes, who is as a kitten use to rub against him. I guess they just bonded. It's a good thing he likes her, ?cause he doesn't take kindly to strange cats
Pet's favorite treat: "Every day, Liz's mother brings Poncho bones from the butcher. Other than that, he likes food, any kind, as long as it's chewable."
The trainer: world champion hunter/jumper trainer Colleen McQuay, or Tioga, Texas (shown with reiner husband, Tim).
Her pet: Tinker, an 11-year-old, female Miniature Dachshund.
How they met: "I bought Tinker home as a Christmas puppy for my daughter, Mandy, who was 6 or 7 at the time. On Christmas day, I slipped Tinker into Mandy's Christmas stocking. She was so tiny-and so cute. She was just the right size for the stocking. It was a great surprise for Mandy."
Pet personality: "She's loyal and affectionate-Tinker loves Mandy, nut she's ?my' dog. She climbs into my suitcase when I'm packing-she won't take ?no' for an answer when it comes to going to horse shows."
Favorite pet story: "Tinker never leaves my side. Recently, I was sitting by out pool with my nephew, Trevor. He looked over at Tinker, and asked me if she knew how to swim. I said, ?No,' and started thinking that I should teach her to swim, in case she ever fell in the pool. As soon as I started thinking that, Tinker got up, bolted to the house, and hid under my bed. I couldn't get her out for anything. It's not the first time she's ?read my mind'-she also did it recently when I was thinking of giving her a bath!"
Favorite pet tricks: No tricks
Pet's favorite non-human: "Our Jack Russell terrier puppy, Emmett, and our Rottweiler, Heidi."
Pet's favorite treat: "We don't feed her treats, but at horse shows, Tinker always heads to the food stands and begs for some. She's usually successful."