I got a call a few days ago from Sandy Arledge. Sandy is semi-retired now, but when my kids were growing up she was the owner of a magical place called Far West Farms. Just a few miles from the ocean, between the strip malls of Del Mar Highlands and the housing developments that crowd the coastal cities of Southern California, Sandy managed to live out her girlhood dream. In her thirties she gave up her lucrative law practice, bought one of the last remaining tracts of ranch land in Del Mar, and set out to establish the premier Quarter Horse breeding and training operation in California. In doing so she turned an entire generation of children, including my own, into cowboys and cowgirls.
The reason that Sandy contacted me, long after my last kid hung up his spurs, was that she had received a call from a horse rescue group up in Los Angeles. An older horse had been abandoned in Baldwin Park, starved nearly to death. A rescue group took him in, and after feeding him and getting cleaned up, they noticed a brand on his left shoulder, a simple five pointed star known internationally as the brand of Sandy Arledge Quarter Horses. Thinking he might live, they christened him Winston. They photographed his markings and notified Sandy to ask if she recognized him. She thought she did—that he might be Romeo, a handsome dark bay colt I bought sixteen years ago today, the day he came out of his mother Jinny Jiggs who was the closest thing to a saint on four legs that ever lived, when it came to teaching the young’uns how to ride. Romeo’s registered name was Justa Believer, which fit right in with my line of optimism. When Romeo was three years old, I mistakenly decided I had too many horses (can one EVER have TOO many horses?) and I sold him. I’ve made a lot of less than smart decisions when it comes to horses, but considering what I kept, that one was one of the dumbest.
When Sandy described the horse’s markings to me, I realized with a great deal of relief and a twinge of sadness that it was not Romeo, and I confirmed that when I got home from work that evening since I had kept a copy of his papers. Relief because I would be mortified to think that a horse that I sold in good faith could end up like that, abandoned and unloved, and a twinge of sadness because had he been my long ago colt, I would have brought him home. As I searched for my copy of his registration papers through old files containing pictures of horses long past, the memories of Far West came flooding back—my oldest son getting his first horse Harmony for his eighth birthday, my daughter trying to convert old Rosie from a pony hunter back into a Western trail horse, my youngest son, chubby and five years old proudly perched on an equally chubby mare holding up his ribbons at the Del Mar National Horse Show.
Sandy sold Far West Farms in 2006 to play a major role in the American Quarter Horse Association, and to travel and consult. But like the true horsewoman and the responsible breeder that she is, she never stopped caring about the horses she bred. She will find out who Winston really is, and she will make sure he never suffers again. As for me and my grown up children, we’ll never forget the lessons and the trail rides and the horses we loved there near the ocean, the sea breezes blowing us the smells of salt, sweat and love. Thanks again, Sandy, for Far West Farms.