Early Stories of Ojai, Part VIII (Horses) by Howard Bald
Note: Howard Bald was an early Ojai resident. His reminiscences were written in the early 1970s.
Having a fondness for horses, the livery stable* was the center of much of my attention. I was out of school a good deal and the livery stable was handy. Since horse and buggy, or wagon, or saddle horse was the only means of getting around (except for walking, and there was a great deal of that) there was a great deal of traffic in horses, that is trading and training horses.
Once, about 1903, Tom Clark went to Arizona and shipped in two carloads of unbroken horses. They were right off the range and not even halter broken. Two Spaniards were employed to break certain ones to ride. The corrals were in between the stable and the parking lot.
The bronc riders would lasso and drag a terrified rearing and striking horse onto Main street, where he would be blindfolded, saddled, and mounted in front of the livery stable. Then sometimes would follow some very exciting scenes. Our modern rodeos were pretty mild by comparison. In the first place the animal was not saddled in a shute as at rodeos, and secondly it was not a ten second ride but a ride to the finish, and sometimes the bronc came out the winner.
I remember one bronco in particular. He was a chestnut and far above the others in appearance. He had thrown the Spaniard twice, and the Spaniard had given up trying to ride him. My father fancied the animal and struck Tom for a trade. It galled Dad when Tom told him he wasn’t horseman enough to ride the animal and it might hurt him, but finally a trade was made.
Then for three weeks Dad kept “Arizona Charley” at his stable, each day grooming him and getting acquainted. Finally, with no one around, Dad saddled him and got aboard. The scene that followed was the talk of the village for many years after. They crossed the open lot where Rains store now is, and through the alley west of Barrow’s hardware store and east of Main street.
The more Charley bucked, the more incensed he became at being unable to dislodge Dad, and the louder he bellowed. To my everlasting disappointment, I was not a witness to the affair, but many eyewitnesses for years have told me that the bronc could be heard for blocks bellowing with rage.
I don’t remember that Arizona Charley ever bucked after that, but he never became gentle and was finally sold in Santa Barbara for a polo pony.
Some horses of that lot were trained for driving. A very handsome Spaniard and a fine horseman named Steve Rios was employed for that job. A high seated, heavy farm wagon was used, for the broncos would kick an ordinary buckboard or surrey to pieces. That animal was always hitched alongside an old steady horse.
Steve would be up in the seat; two or more helpers would get the team hitched to the wagon, then hand the reins up to Steve. Often that process had to be done all over again with another, more substantial wagon, or repaired harness.
To me the bronc riding was the most exciting, I suppose because it was beast against man, and sometimes the beast would win. Whereas with the wagon, the odds were greatly against the horse.
* The livery stable was located on the northeast corner of Ojai Avenue and Signal Street.