Updated: Feb 25
It’s always tough when you lose a friend, be it two-legged or four.
Mickers in the middle of our family photo, fall 2022. Photo by Trent Schlamp.
On February 7th, our dear Mickers passed away. It’s taken me a while to share this news, although I know many people will want to hear it. Mainly because I feel that loss and grief are something to be dealt with in private, rather than broadcasting it to the world. However, this horse touched so many lives and was so beloved that he deserves for his story and his praises to be sung far and wide.
Mickers, AKA Sonita’s McBo, was 35 years old and had been a resident of the The Key Ranch for over 15 years. Mickers was born on the Hansma ranch in Granum, Alberta, on April 3rd 1988, making him older than both of my daughters. In October that year, as a weanling, he was bought by The Willow Springs Ranch in Nanton, where Carl Gerwin would train and show him as a cutting horse. Mickers was a tall sorrel with a diamond shaped star on his forehead and scars on the left side of his neck. Scars he earned by surviving a cougar attack as a youngin'.
Mickers with his tongue out!
Mickers’s sire was the great Sonita's Last out of Doc’s Jack Frost mare, Showy Frost. Carl had much success with the youngster, but his real claim to fame was the many people, both young and old, that Mickers introduced to the cutting game. Mickers had a way of making cutting so fun and exciting to anyone who rode him. I believe cutting was a passion of his as much as it was mine.
I would joke that his papers looked like a telephone book with the long line of owners he had had. All loving him, I’m sure, and then passing him on to the next family who would love him as well. Mickers was sort of like a pony in that way, he went from family to family, teaching mainly youngsters cutting.
We were first introduced to Mickers when he was being boarded at Cub Wrights Prairie Oak Ranch, where he was being used as a lesson horse. Shelby would have been around ten or eleven then, and had become interested in cutting. At that time, I didn’t really have anything that I felt would be a good lesson horse for her to learn on, and Cub suggested she come over a for a couple lessons a week on an older gelding that she had there, Mickers.
Well Shelby & Mickers hit it off right away, and she absolutely adored her new mentor. With the mighty fine instruction from Cub, and the many sleepovers Shelby would have at Cub’s ranch, riding Mickers, eating pizza and watching cutting DVD’s which we called “Cub Camp,” she and Mickers were off to the races, showing in the youth classes.
Well, fast forward a year or two, and Mickers came up for sale. Shelby desperately wanted to own him, and the current owner and Cub wanted Shelby to have him, too. Shelby told me he was for sale and not so subtly let me know that she would really like to have him as her own. So I surprised her and brought him home one day. That was back in 08, and he had been at our ranch ever since.
Mickers during a beautiful summer sunset at the ranch
Mickers went on to have a career in the Alberta High School Rodeo cutting pens, where he packed both my daughters, Shelby and Hailey, and others! The girls soon found out that he also had a wicked barrel pattern installed on him and, according to folklore, had also had some race track experience. Mickers was so much more than just a cutting horse.
As he got older, we would haul him less and less and utilize him as a lesson horse from time to time. When we first tried to retire him, he protested. Shelby walked by his pasture one day, after we decided to hang his bridle up for good, and he trotted up and down the fence line. She thought he seemed like he wanted to go do something, so she saddled him up and took him to the arena. Well, while she was trotting him out, he playfully crow hopped with her. We just laughed, maybe he wasn't ready to retire after all.
Over the years, he transitioned from being a lesson horse to being a babysitter and counsellor to the weanling colts that we had around. This was another job he seemed to excel at, teaching the youngsters manners and helping them navigate their lives at the ranch.
For the last 5-6 years or so, old Mickers did exactly what he liked. As anyone coming over for a lesson or a visit can attest to, he had free range of the entire ranch. Mickers could roam at will, wandering around and visiting with the different horses in their pens, always returning to the barn for his evening meals.
As he got older, his teeth were worn down so much that he had trouble grazing or eating hay, so it was an unwritten rule that anytime he came over to the barn, he was to be given a scoop of senior feed! Mickers would chew on the hay and grass but then spit it out of his mouth onto the ground. His wads of half chewed grass looked like plugs of tobacco. I’ll miss seeing those lying around the ranch.
Mickers would often wander into the arena and watch young horses working the flag and would even occasionally make a few moves on it himself, a real testament to his enjoyment of the game.
More often than not, he would just come strolling in and stand in the corner watching the action with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, reminding me more of an old hound dog than a horse. In the winter, his stall was next to the heater in the barn, which he sure seemed to enjoy. Occasionally sharing his stall with Shelby’s pet pig, Winston, who would wander in and out of the stall. Winston & Mickers were pals.
Photo of Mickers & Winston I took the day before he passed away. I love how the sun is shining on his face.
I could tell early in February that something wasn’t quite right. He seemed to be losing his appetite and was having trouble getting up after lying down. I changed his feed and started making him a homemade mash in the house, which enticed him to eat for a few days before he gradually lost interest in eating that as well.
On the morning of February 6th I turned him out of his stall, as usual, and
went along my morning routine. I noticed that day that he seemed to make a circle around the property. Going to each and every pen on the ranch, checking in on all of his old friends and some new ones.
I caught him up that night, took him back to the barn, and put him in his stall by the heater, gave him some more senior feed and water, and tucked him in for the night. The next morning I discoved that he had passed away some time during the night. I was sad, of course, but not surprised. Sweet old Mickers was 35 years old. That’s damn old for a horse. He had lived a long and, I trust, enjoyable life. His retirement is one we could all wish for. Doing exactly what he wanted, when he wanted to and being loved and appreciated.
When I reflect on his last day, it all make sense to me now. He went around and said goodbye to all his friends at his home for the last part of his life. He knew it was his time. He transitioned peacefully, in the warm barn, after what would be my final goodnight.
We will miss him dearly, but we all feel fortunate and blessed to have had him in our lives. Our friend and animal communicator Paige Callaway said it best, “he was both the Walmart greeter and guardian angel of your property and will still continue to be now.”
Rest in peace, Mickers. It was a hell of a ride.