Kathy Daly

Opportunities to perform were scarce in comparison to the demand for airbrushed artwork on motor homes. My life with the horse and mule between periods of work frenzy, settled into something that resembled a hobby. During the summer, my animals were up north in Michigan and during the winter they were with me in Florida.

By this time, due to encouragement by Dorita, I began to work spring and fall – before and after River Ranch – with her protégé in Gainesville, Florida.  Kathy Daly provided training for my horse in addition to the riding lessons started by Dorita. Kathy’s farm was a lovely wooded area filled with old oak trees. The situation at Kathy’s stable offered lots of camaraderie, due to the abundance of horses, students from the University of Florida and the nearby horse show facility called Canterbury.

Kathy had the distinction of being the trainer and dressage rider of a famous horse. Mistie’s Twilight is the title of a book written by Marguerite Henry. The true story is about Dr. Sandy Price and her children who acquired a horse at the Chincoteague pony sale.

With Dr. Sandy as her patron, Kathy trained Mistie’s Twilight into a dressage horse. This talented duo scored high at all the regional dressage shows. They eventually achieved the level of Prix St Georges. Several times during the years I worked with Kathy, I rode Twi who also became one of the Breyers Horses – plastic statues of famous horses. I enjoyed many moments observing the harmony of Kathy on Twi as they prepared for another dressage event. Observing advanced horsemanship accelerated my appreciation and awareness of the skills utilized.

 Souveran had a friendly personality and proved to be a playful escape artist. Upon settling into a stall, he first investigated the integrity of the fastening device on the door. A sliding latch he could reach with his lips was open in a short time. Having escaped, he found grass nearby or went directly into an abundance of girls to receive affection.

The criteria for my lessons was suggested by Dorita. Under Kathy’s watchful eye, my command of this horsemanship art form continued to develop. Training sessions with other horses often coincided with my being on horseback. Kathy and I rode in the arena together. We attended to her hand on particular tasks on our horses while we observed, reported what we saw and interacted with each other with jocularity the whole time. 

Dorita had a patron near Kathy’s farm with a guest house. She occasionally traveled up from Sarasota to teach. When in our area, Dorita came to Kathy’s to observe our progress and reflect.

One of my all-time favorite memories occurred one picture-perfect autumn day in the shady setting at Kathy’s stable. In the soft pattern of leafy shadows, the sandy arena under tall trees provided a picturesque place for our riding to take place.

At an observation bench at one end of the arena, Dorita sat flanked by Kathy and Wendy, the tall event-rider who ran Canterbury. My observation point was on Souveran. I demonstrated my progress to my mentor.  I still recall those beautiful ladies beaming up at me with shining faces. They looked up with affection and awe during that special chapter of my life. The growth taking place in that oak hammock was evident to all of us that day.


Through an agent I found an interesting opportunity to perform with my horse and mule on a five-week circus tour of Quebec. I signed up for what proved to be an exhaustive tour. The first part of April, my entourage left Florida. The weather cooled with each mile driven north.

The tour started east of Montréal mid-April. On my way to the first town I saw ice still on the lakes. Like the other Canadian tours, this circus utilized Hockey arenas abundant throughout the province. Being surrounded by French-speaking people exposed me to extremes they have a reputation for, being rude and unkind. But at the other end of the spectrum, I found many to be kind and a fun-loving people. 

I became part of a troupe that included the usual attractions for an indoor show. We had trapeze, magic, jugglers, a dog act, plate spinning, trampoline and Gary Sladack with his chair stacking act. The tour went first through the farm country of central Quebec and wound around the capital of the same name. Then the show went east on the mainland to the easternmost city. Mataine proved to be the most boorish place on the tour.

The entire show was loaded onto a ferry boat mid tour. We sailed north across the St Lawrence Seaway to continue our trek. The hour and a half long boat ride had an interesting highlight – a whale sighting. The trip continued northeast to Sept Isles, or seven islands, as our easternmost destination.

This season became a man-killer because we showed a new town every day, seven days a week, with an average of a thousand miles per week. A pace like this was hard on everyone. Three weeks into the tour, I was rattled mentally, physically and emotionally due to these demands, plus I was away from my sobriety group back home. I knew an AA meeting would help. Hopefully I would find serenity with my fellowship here in this strange country.

While in northeast Quebec I looked up the number for a local AA group. I wanted to attend a meeting close-by and called, only to find an answering machine with a message on it in French. Not knowing what else to do, I left my request for help using English. I hoped for the best. I found out later that the lady who retrieved the messages spoke no English. She had to scramble to find someone to translate my message.

When my request was finally understood, they were able to call and gave me the address of a meeting. The gathering ended up being in the building next door to the arena where the circus played. I was relieved. I could walk. I found the group. While I sat in the setting around a table, I listened to a language I did not understand, I was none-the-less connected to the others who sought relief from our affliction. I was relieved. I found an hour’s vacation from all my concerns.

The tour went north. Although the May weather was warming, occasionally the sky spit cold rain at us. Conditions between the performers in the backyard were not ideal.  The management did not utilize the customary parking privilege system employed on most circuses. The result of this lack was a first-come first-served hap-hazard formula that pitted performer against performer in the backyard.

Every man for himself further aggravated emotions taxed by the rigorous man-killing schedule. Many times, I arrived to find rigs parked in disarray that completely blocked reasonable access to the door that the animals had to use. I then parked a block away. I was on my own until show time.

The routine I presented with my horse was abbreviated due to the lack of proper footing in the arenas. They put carpet over the surface – concrete or ice. Souveran wore clamp on rubber boots for traction. We did no canter work. We did trot and lateral work, the three-step, march, backwards double three-step, bow and camel stretch. I invented the box-double-dance-step, a new part of the routine. This addition to the routine encouraged participation from the audience and proved to be a crowd pleaser.

The box double dance step began with us standing in the center of the ring.

“Clap along with the horse,” the announcer introduced the concept of audience participation, “as the horse dances to the music.”

The organist played a highly recognizable hat dance riff and we side-stepped to one side and produced two foreleg strikes coordinated with two staccato music notes. Then the riff repeated and we moved the other direction and concluded with another two leg strikes in time with the music. The sequence utilized four stanzas and concluded with a chord and a style.

 The lack of a good place to stable the livestock during this tour due to long jumps, the weather and unsuitable parking lots made the trailer an almost full-time stall situation for my stock. Betty and Souveran were getting cranky from not having an opportunity to lie down in comfortable bedding.

Way up north, beyond the 49th parallel, we played at a school where Eskimos and Indians lived. Although very poor, they enjoyed our show. Then the tour headed west towards gold country. I saw spectacular scenery on the longest jump of the entire tour, but the frost heaves made travel painfully slow.

As the rig hit a regular rhythm of ba-bump ba-bump ba-bump, the sheer numbers of those painful bumps – due to the length of the jump – became a form of torture that drove me mad. This ordeal was sort of like getting kicked to death by rabbits. I had no alternative except to press on at a slow pace. The slow pace elongated the excruciation.

Halfway through that grueling trek, at a truck stop out in the middle of nowhere, I saw Gary Sladack, the trampoline artist, pull in behind me. I zeroed in on him in my twisted mental state and spouted off in an attempt to get some relief from the mental frustration. Kind hearted Gary let me vent, and after breakfast, we continued on our way.

In an extreme northern location, halfway between towns, a swift river interrupted the highway. This locale had been assessed as being too difficult a place to ever build a bridge. Ferry boats carried traffic across this raging river. The circus rigs were loaded one at a time onto the boats. When we left the dock, the captain gunned the accelerator and steered the craft upstream. The swiftness of the current caused the path of the boat to make an arc like the path of a howitzer across the river. As I watched this madness, I realized the level of skill such a feat required. We arrived on the other side at the dock built to receive the trajectory ferry. While making the passage, one of the sailors told me about how much ice accumulated on the ferry during the winter because this service continued year-round.

In gold country, near Val Dor, a young French-Canadian girl was hanging around after the show. She displayed interest in my horse. Soon the prop boss, who spoke both languages, appeared with her and served as a translator. She wanted me to go with her. I was complimented and hoped she wanted romance.

We walked through the city streets to a Casbah. Instead of going inside, we stood out in front. I wondered what was going on. Soon a car pulled up. We got in. The night time ride was mysterious, and due to the lack of ability to have a conversation, I continued to wonder what she had in mind. Eventually we pulled up to a large farm complex. As I stood in the frosty illumination of the yard light at one end of the barn, she went inside for a minute and reappeared with a horse.

She then went into verbal gyrations with an unknown language as she attempted to communicate to me something that involved this sleepy animal. She waved her arms and produced a flow of a beautiful language that I concentrated to no avail to understand. I finally decided that she was challenging me to show her how to get that horse to do all the things I had my horse doing.

                The bizarre nocturnal experience became even more ridiculous when I began to lead her horse around in a circle in the dark and attempt to communicate with her, as well as possible, using gestures and words that only meant something to me. Although, my understanding of the complicated process of making a dancing horse was available on that cold starlit night, I was using a language that she clearly did not understand.

After this nighttime rendezvous with my cute French admirer, the grueling pace of our tour continued. We cautiously made our way through moose country toward the capital, Ottawa. The performing locations in this urban area contrasted greatly with the venues in the extreme north. Grand arenas for larger crowds made our little show look good.

An amazing thing happens between man and horse when you take the horse away from the barn. Every time I unloaded Souveran from the horse trailer, the scenery looked different. Everything he was familiar with was gone in this constantly changing environment. The particulars of the venue, although they contained similar basics, had different characteristics. The situations that occurred during each performing routine in a new location each day were varied.

The stimulation of the ever-changing variety finally got the horse to the point of non-resistance and a bond developed between us. The only constant presence in his life was me.

My role in his life was to be a source of consistent guidance, love and encouragement. Trust developed. Even though I mounted up and pointed him towards the ever-changing, my confidence helped him settle into trust. He had a good work ethic. We developed the good nature of a true friends. I refer to this dynamic as connection. Every living being has, deep down inside, a desire for connection. I found it first with horses.

I must be careful when I attempt to communicate this real to me, special concept to others who have never taken a horse out of a typical situation. Most people cannot relate to the experience of becoming true partners with an animal, or empathize with finding a silent, unspoken bond. Souveran and I had an almost spiritual connection. He trusted me during all aspects of our life together. Love influenced all of our behavior with one another.

I hope you as the reader can appreciate just a fraction of the idea that each moment we were together was filled with regard and wonder. I gently talked to him and he responded with mellow nickers and nudges. I often think that the relational experience that happens with a horse may be a valuable, qualifying prerequisite for the complicated relationships that involve people. I have tasted true bonding. I have enjoyed union with a horse. I know strong connection with another living being is possible.  

Around Montreal, the venues were closer together with short jumps. We finally had a chance to catch up on our rest. The weather warmed up and at the conclusion of the tour, a moment of togetherness occurred amongst the performers. We all laughed, breathed a sigh of relief and were glad this grueling tour was over. Then a long jump occurred; the trek back into my role as a motorhome airbrush mural artist.

This show biz diversion took place at the same time my reputation in the RV industry gathered momentum. Letterfly was rapidly becoming established as the top producer of high-quality airbrushed murals on motorhomes.

Barry Fouts

Christmas time in Sarasota always looked different. My bi-annual visit to work with Dorita allowed me to fit into other situations in this city I have grown to love. On my quest for spiritual enlightenment, I found the Unity Church. My friendship with the pastor led to a surprise occurrence during the service on Christmas eve. I usually sat near the front. Prior to the beginning of the service the minister came down to where I sat.

“Dave,” Don began, “it would be okay for you to sit over there next to Barry.”

He gestured towards a woman in my row sitting alone. I got up and moved to her side and sat down. She was a tall blonde with an asymmetrical haircut. We sat side by side during the service and enjoyed the traditional holiday inclusions.

When the service was over, she turned to me and asked, “would you like to come over for Christmas dinner?”

Thus, began my friendship with Barry. The next day I drove through the luxurious barrier islands off of Sarasota to the northernmost called Anna Maria Island. I found her house nestled between trees across the street from the homes on the ocean.

Her quaint home was filled with antiques and the setting at the dining room table reflected her connection with opulence. The half dozen guests included her daughter and husband and other close friends. I discovered later that her boyfriend of several years had also been invited.  Barry told me later that she wondered how she would explain my presence. But he never showed up.

Barry and I merged through this friendship into coupledom. Barry was fifteen years my senior. She had grown up next to Mobile bay in the affluent Daphne, the granddaughter of importers of Azalais from Japan. Her mother and father were never part of her childhood. She was raised by her aunt and grandmother. With me on the road most of the year, our relational pattern became only occasional access to each other. This suited her just fine.  Over the next several years we remained dedicated to each other. Barry had a lot to love. She had a magical ability to see nuance in her surroundings and erupt into appreciation.

One day we were bobbing up and down in the deep water off the beach and she pointed out the little flashes of color reflected on the surface of the constantly moving water. I have a developed ability to see thanks to becoming sensitive through mentorship and being a visual artist. I looked to find what she referred to and sure enough, there it was. Little miniature flashes of a color that had no source, no doubt the result of some refraction of light taking place between all the amorphous elements involved.

Barry saw magic. Since she grew up with no playmates, she created her own that included fairies in a secret world. This propelled her to find subtle nuance in her surroundings that brought pure delight.

This magic propelled her in her profession as a psyche nurse. She explained that there was very little difference between the wackiness of the patients and staff.

I learned that her previous boyfriend of seventeen years never lived with her. He just came and went as he pleased. Since she never had a primary male figure in her childhood, this left a void where most women had desire for a life companion. This dynamic made my irregular inclusion in her life as normal as she had ever known.

Barry loved to join me at River Ranch. She put on her cowboy boots and fit right in on the dance floor. She also liked the long hair on orchestra conductor Andre Rieu. So, I discontinued getting my hair cut. 

Big Apple

I spent nine years solid living alone on the road chasing motorhomes. Opportunities to create one-of-a-kind murals on motorhomes took me to an endless list of new places. My route went from River Ranch each winter to a multitude of motorhome rallies across the country from Michigan to Virginia, Missouri to Georgia and back again to Florida. At these get-togethers I met people who invited me to travel to their homes and businesses to create murals on their motorhomes. I enjoyed occasional quiet time with my horse up north in South Haven during the summer or down south in Sarasota near my circus friends.

Having the ability to place myself into the next opportunity that came along was a big reason for the success I enjoyed but was not the only one. What must also be apparent by now is that serendipitous events and gracious people influenced the twists and turns of this interesting life I have been blessed with.

One goal that just wouldn’t go away was performing with the circus. I always kept one eye out for quality circus companies. In New York City, a performing troupe started long ago to perform at the Lincoln Center under a big top each winter. The Big Apple Circus produced a unique program with quality acts for an equally impressive urban audience.

The increasing ability with my performing horse attracted the attention of Katja Schumann of the circus horse-training family from England. She presented several horse acts on the Big Apple Circus, including her dancing horse. She visualized producing a pas des deaux – two riders on two horses – as one act for the upcoming season. She wanted to talk with me about doing this.

When the Big Apple Circus was at its closest point to my tour, I was in Georgia. I planned to go and talk with Katja when the annual Blue Bird Wanderlodge Rally in the Valley was complete. This gave me an opportunity to give my latest acquisition a shakedown. I drove my improved Vanagon with the rebuilt engine and new paint job from nearby Columbus, up to Atlanta to meet Katja and to be her guest on the circus. My friends, Buckles and Barbara Woodcock had their elephants on the show. They also had a bunk in the cab of their semi where I could sleep. Alas, I had found another adventure.

I found the big top set up in a park alongside the river that threaded through an area of town. Then, I found a place to park. In the backyard of this big tented show I found the portable stable tent for the half dozen horses used for liberty presentations and Katja’s dancing horses. I fit right in to this familiar situation. As her guest, I enjoyed orientation with the horses. As show time neared, I helped as a groom until time came for me to go into the big top and enjoy the performance.

Her performance entered the realm of art, with elements not necessarily part of traditional circus entertainment or classic horsemanship, similar to how ballet tells a story through dance and music. Part of her act had two gentlemen in formal attire sitting at a table in the ring sipping tea. At a crucial point, she and her horse jumped over their table as the actors looked startled.

Later in the show, her liberty act of six horses worked in the ring that included a theatrical storefront with doors and windows.  During the routine, the horses went behind this prop, found a window to stick their head through and looked at us. After the prop was removed from the ring, the liberty horses demonstrated classic moves from this genre of the circus arts.

Between shows, I enjoyed one–on-one with Katja and her horse. Her style of riding greatly contrasted with what I had learned. Her horse commanded a more freewheeling style of moving around the circus ring since jumping, spinning, and the rear was part of her routine. My foundation with the classic seat gave me an advantage on her horse. She welcomed my demonstration and we shared ideas for our potential duet with horses.

Our conversation continued after the interview. She was hopeful about the upcoming season but had a concern. The Big Apple Circus was becoming sensitive to the emerging animal rights voice. Some activists were promoting an agenda for stopping the traditional part of the circus where animal trainers enrolled admirable behavior from their charges. Their efforts used ugly references for what happened to the animals not based on the truth. Because of that emerging concern, the show was leaning in the direction of having no animals in future performances. We vowed to stay in touch. I was naturally excited. Accomplishing a horse duet with her would be an extraordinary feather for my cap.

At the end of the day, I climbed into the sleeper bunk of Buckles elephant semi. I slept soundly after that intense day. Rain came down in the middle of the night, I was awakened in the morning by a rapid knock on the side of the truck.

“Dave! Get up!” Buckles son yelled, “there’s been a flood!” 

I looked out and saw Shannon standing in two feet of water. After pulling my pants and boots on, I jumped out into the water. I sloshed toward the high ground. I saw the area of the backyard, where the elephants and horses were stabled, had standing water. All the sawdust in the horse tent was soaked.

                The handlers and grooms were busy moving and calming the animals who had their routine disturbed.  Some water even reached the sides of the big top that was on higher ground. The water receded just as fast as it had come. Apparently, a thunderstorm upriver had triggered the sudden rise in the water level.

The grooms got busy and shoveled out the mess. Soon fresh sawdust would be restored and the normal feeding would resume while canvas, trunks and props were dried out. My original plan was to head south this morning. This reminder of the reality of life on the road punctuated what I already knew with a fresh reality.

I thanked my busy host who was now distracted while getting ready for the matinee. I jumped into the Vanagon to return to the Blue Bird company where a multitude of projects awaited. As I drove away from the natural disaster site that would be cleaned up by show time, I had another reminder of the vulnerability of the traveling showman.

Magazine Coup

My life changed as the result of embracing the design for living as taught by Alcoholics Anonymous. I have Mary to thank for encouraging me to attend. In sobriety we found something in common. She found a new life and although we didn’t succeed as a couple, she remained interested in my life as an artist as it continued to unfold.

During occasional conversations with Mary, who became a journalist, I had the idea of hiring her as an advocate to research and write an article for the Family Motor Coach Magazine. After having a conversation with the editor, she received a commission to write this article about custom paint on the exteriors of motorhomes, especially mural artwork.

My marketing mentor Robert Maxwell Case suggested the strategy of including other top names in my field so that Letterfly would be associated with that group. I provided her with those names. Her article included all the premier producers of high-quality paintwork.

Paint jobs for upper-end coaches were produced by specialty service providers. In those days all spectacular stripe work on motorhomes was hand-taped, hand-masked and hand sprayed. That was why only high-end coaches had spectacular paint jobs. One RV manufacturer had an in-house artist who produced production murals on the assembly line.

Mary included Letterfly as being the premier producer of custom one-up works of art. She wrote about Letterfly being unique in this group as an artist who lived the RV lifestyle on the road while creating these murals for Ma and Pa USA.

My niche as explained in her article was due to my gift with people and art. Letterfly used the interview process for inspiration for the perfect idea for each mural. The story went on about my freehand talents as a lettering painter, gold leaf gilder and producer of spectacular vistas of all kinds. The article helped to cement the name Letterfly in the Family Motor Coach Association readership and across the RV industry.

Build It

The new one-ton truck elevated my ability to serve on the road but I had some loose ends. After the busy winter at River Ranch prior to my annual tour, I needed to attend to a tire vibration problem. While getting the tires balanced, I had some time to kill. I walked across the street to browse vehicles in a car lot.

I saw a blue Vanagon sitting in the back. Long ago I learned the first thing to inspect on a vehicle. I went up to the van and crawled underneath to look at the body and under-gear. I found them to be clean.

I went to the sales office to inquire. I discovered the van had sat on the lot for so long they were getting ready to take it to the auction.

I purchased the Vanagon that day. I didn’t need it but was inspired to start to process of making another work vehicle. There was no hurry to get this done since I was already busy and had a great bus to use. I have used VW busses my entire career.

The first step was to take this Vanagon to the VW shop I liked in Sarasota to get the engine rebuilt. When the engine was complete later that summer, the van went to a body shop to receive a new paint job.

The project of making this van into an efficient work vehicle took several years. I had a clear idea of how to rack the interior for my supplies due to having worked out of other busses to create sign work. Now I specialize in airbrushed murals. The procedure and the materials used had changed. I had additional equipment, paints and a huge assortment of glass bottles for the specially thinned urethanes used for these works. I kept in mind the efficiency learned from the circus combined with awareness of the typical motions made while preparing paint. This information influenced how I arranged the custom drawers I had built.

Also, inside, was an area for the air compressor, electric cords, air hoses, magnetic tool strips and special storage places for folders and road maps. At the time I did not need this Vanagon. Being a good showman, I took into consideration the possibility of an unforeseen tragedy. Having a replacement work vehicle in the wings made good sense.

When the Vanagon was complete and ready for decorative paint, I wanted the square shape of the van softened with a gradual shift in the two-tone paint job. Having the bottom yellow and the top white with a soft spray transition between colors accomplished this goal.

I wanted a classy look for the exterior artwork. I took a full week to carefully paint what looked like marble with incised letters that placed ‘hand painted murals’ down each side.

The effect was stunning. The finished van was efficiently racked to work out of and the clean exterior artwork conveyed quality.

Sailing South Haven

Souveran spent every summer with Rosalind near South Haven, Michigan. He enjoyed trail rides with her while I returned to the rhythm of motor home rallies all across the Midwest. One weekend Roz invited me to go on a sailboat outing. Two of her horsey friends had a beautiful boat.

I was so used to using every available moment to accomplish something, that I wanted this leisure time to also be utilized productively. I went with Roz and her friends on that beautiful summer day. Once on the boat, I announced that the creation of a nickname for Souveran was the order of the day. As we tacked across the cold, blue water of Lake Michigan, we bounced around many ideas for a shorter name to call him. Finally, I was inspired. I stood up.

“His name is Souveran,” I announced, “but you may call him Sir.”

Then we all laughed. With that segment of business complete, I lightened up and enjoyed the rest of the day with my friends.

Circus Time

An eight-week tour of Kentucky performing on the Shrine Circus materialized for the spring of 1993. By this time in his career, Souveran was performing consistently everywhere I took him. This circus tour went to small armories, gymnasiums and large coliseums all over Kentucky to raise money for the Shriners.

The spring of the year is an especially wonderful time to be in the Kentucky mountains. The extensive tour took this circus troupe all over this beautiful state. The rolling countryside, board fences and burley barns provided contrast to urban sprawl. I enjoyed the picturesque kaleidoscope of landscape features as I drove between engagements. A few openings in the tour occurred with which to visit Kentucky Horse Park, the Red Mile race track, and the big sale barn called Tattersall’s.

A friend in Williamsburg, Kentucky has a lifelong relationship with Saddlebred horses and an aspiration to perform. He visited often during the tour to watch me. Backstage he told many stories involving numerous horses. Phil Perkins also has the distinction of not missing a Kentucky Derby in forty-two years. Seeking adventure, when he goes to the most exciting two minutes in sports, he never has a plan. Sometimes he goes and pays the scalper’s price for a ticket. Other times, a happenstance meeting led to being invited to a skybox where an elegant party overlooked the racetrack at Churchill Downs.

His son Clay is a highly regarded cutting-horse and cow-horse trainer in his own right. With two days off near his ranch, Clay offered me two stalls so my stock could get some rest. In the cavernous indoor arena, I watched as he put cutting horses through their paces.

Seeing my interest, a conversation started about the differences and similarities between the High School and Cutting horses. We then realized they actually share much of the same prowess. We compared the signals between rider and horse. Although the results were similar we concluded the way we got them were quite different.

As we enlightened each other with this information, he finally asked, “have you ever been on a cow horse?”

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a western saddle on a spotted quarter horse, and my host told me where the buttons were for getting this horse to work. I leaned forward to exaggerate my seat to signal the horse to move forward. This is the opposite of how I communicate with a dressage horse. I had to learn new signals. Soon I had the cow horse going, halting and spinning.

Excited with my progress, I blurted, “Bring in some cows!”

Soon I sat on the horse while my host provided me the criteria for cutting a calf from the herd.

“There is absolutely nothing at all unmanly about holding onto the horn of the saddle,” he suggested, “As a matter of fact, I strongly recommend that you do.”

Soon, I walked the horse on a loose rein and guided him with legs only. We headed toward the herd. As we stepped closer to the cows, they moved cautiously as a group, away from us. Then, true to his word, one of them volunteered, or turned in a different direction from the rest. As we walked between him and the group the horse went into auto-pilot. As the calf attempted to find a route back to the herd, the horse took a stance that, would not only block the way, but would also allow him to launch in either direction the calf might take.

From this low stance, the calf finally did start running down the rail and the horse stayed right on his tail. Suddenly, the calf did a one-eighty and turned to run back. As the horse stayed in the advantageous position he was trained for alongside the renegade calf, I began to relate to a cartoon of Wiley Coyote I remembered. During his self-launching attempts to catch the Roadrunner, when, as the rocket device launched his body, his head, with a quizzical expression, would stay behind for just a moment, until, it too, became launched as a projectile. I was glad to be holding on to the saddle horn.

Later, over dinner, my friend Phil reported that while the group was watching my display that afternoon, Clay exclaimed, “That man can ride a horse!” 

I cherish the memories of riding a working cow horse that day. The next morning, I loaded up Sir and Betty and headed for my next town.

The conclusion of the tour led to a series of circus performances at Rupp Arena in Lexington. When the tour was over, I took the livestock north to Roz in South Haven, Michigan and resumed chasing motorhomes. Week in and week out, the mural painting tour took me just as many places as the circus and the whole time I kept dreaming about the future with performing horses and the opportunity to do it again.

The River Ranch Talent Show

The residents at the ranch were going to have an amateur talent show. Word got around about this exciting event. When I heard about it, I thought that would perhaps be a good place to show off Betty the mule’s comedy routine.

The show planned to use an outdoor picnic shelter for the venue that had an open area adjacent to it. When I inspected the location, I saw enough room for a circus ring.

I had no ring curb but a few of the residents raked the leaves into an equivalent shape. I rehearsed with the help of two men – the announcer and a prop man – and Betty did just fine.

Every animal trainer knows: if it works don’t change a thing. I had walked Betty a half mile from the stables to the venue to rehearse. For showtime I figured I’d save some steps and have the horse trailer nearby to tie her to. Since the horse and mule were constant companions, whenever I separated them to work, the other one experienced separation anxiety, because they were herd-bound.

With the horse trailer about a block away with the horse tied to it, I readied Betty and then got dressed. The talent show attracted quite a crowd. They brought folding chairs and were seated in a circle all around the makeshift ring. The volunteer announcer introduced us.

“Direct from the California gold mines, here to launch their career in show business, please welcome Gold Dust and the Old Cuss.”

I guided Betty into the midst of my friends and guests of the ranch. After I waved to the crowd, I asked Betty to begin the routine in the usual way.


She took off. She made a bee-line through the crowd, back from where we came to her companion on the side of the horse trailer. The crowd roared. I ran after her.

I caught up with her and led her back to the ring. After I caught my breath, I made another attempt.


She took off again.

As I ran after her, I realized my mistake. We hadn’t rehearsed with the horse nearby. Now I was in a pinch. It was showtime. I did not know what to do.

As I walked her back to the ring I pleaded, “come on Betty, you have just got to do this thing.”

Back in front of the audience, I had no other option. I started her again.


This time she stayed in the ring and did the entire routine flawlessly. The crowd loved us. Our conclusion included several well-deserved carrots. There is never a dull moment in show business.  Such is the life of living with and performing with animals.

Montana Slim

The River Ranch luxury RV resort had a Saturday night rodeo. During my winter time role as resident artist I created an opportunity to perform with my horse. I visualized an entertaining act with my horse in a different style. This gave me the ability to keep my horse on the property. Knowing that classic horsemanship, especially while riding an English saddle, would probably not be appreciated by this cowboy crowd, I created a new concept with which to perform. I became “Montana Slim” who, like most cowboys, wanted to go dancing on Saturday night with his constant companion, his horse.

I wrote some patter for the rodeo announcer to accompany my presence in the arena as there was no source of music. Our turn came when barrel racing was over. The announcement I composed began.

“After riding the range on his horse all week,” the tinny drawl came over the loudspeaker, “every cowboy likes to take a break from the rigors of his job on Saturday night.”

As I entered the large arena, he continued, “And what is it that he likes to do with his faithful companion on Saturday night?”

“Just like you and me,” he would exclaim, “they like to go dancing!”

By this time, I had ridden a few circles and became situated central in the arena. While I faced the audience, we began to side pass down the front side.

“Here, as you can clearly see,” he began, “is the Watermelon Crawl.”

The mixed audience of cowboys, cowgirls and RV folks responded with a blend of groans and noisy appreciation.

As I continued Souveran’s vast repertoire, the announcer, gave out names of the other western line dances that were all the rage, and would be mimicked by the folks in the saloon later that night.

“There you see the Tush Push,” he would say. 

“That, ladies and gentlemen,” as I changed maneuvers, “is the Electric Slide.”

Then later he would banter, “There’s the Boot Scoot Boogie.”

My contribution at the rodeo, not only kept my horse and his skills fresh, but the glimpse at another facet of the artist was something the guests, many of whom were also my customers, enjoyed. Plus, this gave me the ability to keep my horse and mule with me on the ranch.