The Choctaw Pony: Untamed Tradition
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The Choctaw Pony: Untamed Tradition

August 15, 2019


One of the purest free roaming bunch
of Spanish horses in the United States today are those little horses up there
and Pushmataha County, in South-East Oklahoma. And we we took that as a really
big honor, you know, and there was no way that we
would have put any other kind of horse into them whether it was Lusitano,
Saoirse or anything of good Spanish blood. We want them to stay just like we think
that they were when the Choctaw people brought them here, and the Chickasaw people brought them here, you know. And that was what was so
important, and my wife and I — we spent our life savings keeping those horses that way from that
time on, you know. Our kids gave up a lot about, you know, going to school, going to
college, going to OSU and different places, you know. To promote and
save these horses, and there’s not a day that goes by, you know, not one day
that goes by that these horses hadn’t occupied my mind for 30 years. No matter what kind of a situation, no
matter how bad it’s been with family situations or whatever you know, some
point in time during that day I know I’ve got to go tend to a horse. After we leave Chahta Issuba we’ll
go up to Fossil River and put out salt up there, and this is pretty much a
regular routine tour that I do every other day in the winter months, but now I
don’t have to go to all those pastures, unless there’s a problem with one of
them, through the summer. And now we’re fortunate enough to have a new pasture on
Highway 93 that that we’ve got 20 head on, and course they’re the ones that
really really are in horse heaven there as far as plenty to eat, and not much effort
getting the food that’s all out there on this 40 acres. A good, well-fertilized
improved pasture and they do very well there. When I go
by there, it makes it makes me a minimum of an eighty-five mile circle, and if I
don’t go by there — where we’re going it’s eighty mile round trip back to here. Spend lots of times a day getting in and of your truck opening gates, shutting gates, locking wheels in, locking them out. By 1690, Choctaws had obtained the horse from the Caddo. The Caddos called the horse by a
similar name to what the Spanish did, but the Choctaws created our own name for
the horse, and this was Isoba; It comes from the words issi and hoba. It means, “Like a deer.” Deer was the most
important animal, at least in terms of food in Choctaw society at that time
so that kind of shows how Choctaw people revered the horse at the very
beginning. The history of the Choctaw horses goes way back forever, you know. I guess to when they first came into
the South-East coast portion of the United States, as such, and Alabama and Tennessee, and Mississippi down in that country. And the ones that we know of you know
are the ones that was actually brought here — by you know the government contracted
with certain individuals. One was Greenwood Leflore. And some were the Choctaw people that brought them, and then — some were other people, you know, that the
government contracted with to bring them here for the people to have them here once they settled in the new territory. By 1829, it was at an estimated I think about 15,000 head of Choctaw horses. Tragically, a lot of these horses were
taken by Anglo-Americans late in the time the Choctaws were still in the homeland. Leading up to the Trail of Tears, Anglos started stealing Choctaw horses.
It was kind of a turn of the tables. Some of the folks who set up the
transportation for the Trail of Tears — recommended creating a barge to
transport some of this massive heard of Choctaw horses into Indian Territory, but
that never happened. So, at least two-thousand and probably many more Choctaw horses were lost on the Trail of Tears. But of course, a lot of them ended up
coming into Indian Territory and they were used by the people here. Accounts from the time period talk
about Choctaws hooking up plows to the horses and using them to plow the fields. Choctaws in Oklahoma developed a significant cattle economy, with
thousands of head of cattle. There were Choctaw cowboys, and they rode horses of
course. This in itself kind of… — it didn’t completely go out of practice, but
it was hampered by the American Civil War. The Choctaw cattle herds were
decimated through that through the famine that occurred and through stealing. But some of the Choctaw families continued to have the ponies, and that’s my understanding — of the ones out at Blackjack Mountain. Those were kept by my wife’s great-grandfather, until eventually later in time they went
wild, and then Bryant Rickman and other individuals worked to conserve that breed. That’s the only kind of horse I had when
I was a kid was a little Choctaw horse — because they were kind of considered by
people in the quarter horse ages of that time to have been the inferior broomtail,
scrub, squaw pony but they had all kind of names for them, you know. They were… I
was proud of my horse, she was my buddy, you know, but, I felt a little bit
inferior because all my friends had bigger, more blocky, stouter made kind of
horses, you know, to ride. Even though I could do anything with my
horse they ever did with their’s, and most of the time I could out do it. You know, on her. See how wild she is? Woah, woah! How many horses can you do that to? But I still wanted…you know I thought
when I grow up, and I get a job I’ll have some good quarter horses, and I did
you know, and then my kids come along, then I wanted a horse like I had when I
was a kid, and I couldn’t find them and — I looked and looked went through a lot of
different breeds and different horses you know, and finally when I… my dad my mom, and my brothers kept telling me about Gilbert Jones. A man named George Porner had told me about him having the same kind of horses is what I had as a kid, you
know. This is my old buddy here. He’s OKP. I can start to saddle another horse — this horse will come and crowd in between
me and the other horse, wanting me to put my saddle on him. So finally, when I went up and met him
and went through all of his picture albums and went out and looked at the bands of
horses running on Blackjack Mountain, — It just won my heart over, you know, and
before long, I was getting rid of all my Quarter Horses and trading straight
across when I could for a pure Choctaw, you know, of the few people around
up there that still had them. Mainly the Selfs, that still had some of them.
The LeFlores still had some of them. By 1984, I had gathered up like nine females. It was
considered by the registry, which Gilbert Jones had at that time the South-West
Spanish Mustang Association, as being pure — Oklahoma Choctaws. Most of all his horses had some
Comanche and Kiowa blood, and Apache. Some horses he brought from Horse Peak, New Mexico, that he had gathered up over the Llano Estacado the staken
plains of Texas for years and from New Mexico, and — so they were mainly mixed in all his
horses. He still considered them Choctaw — horses because if they only had a half a Choctaw, or quarter, or an eighth, or whatever he was considered Choctaw.
But when I went through the records and I was seeing all of that I was thinking that
I want horses to be just like the one I had. The same blood, full blood
you know, Choctaw, in my — opinion, you know, and he said, “Well you
sound just like Dr. Sponenberg.” And I said, “Well, what about him?” and he says well, he said, they weren’t nobody breeding them pure, you know, that they were all gonna run out one of these days, and there wouldn’t be a pure Oklahoma Choctaw. I started working with Bryant on saving these horses
back in the nineteen seventies. We were finally able to develop
breeding programs, and trying to locate horses and trying to make sure they were used appropriately to start some of their herds — and all of that’s been successful, so now there’s — quite a few more than there were say
20-30 years ago, which is reassuring. They’re all part of the same big breed group, but the Choctaw’s and Chickasaw’s especially, were careful horse breeders, quality known for centuries, so maybe finding those and being able to — concentrate on that is quite important for
continuing the lines. But actually, I think I’m saying accurately, that currently — outside of the Choctaw tribal strains. There’s really no other tribal
strains left intact, so none of the other… there’s still some Cherokee influence
in some of the horses. As far as we know — there’s been no continuation of the other Native Nations horses intact, other than the Choctaw. In the past reviews, there have been three different criteria: One is the history, and the other is — just inspecting them and looking at them, and the third is the genetics. Guss Cothran at Texas A&M actually does the genetic analysis looking at the DNA, and — over the time I’ve been involved, the results of the history and the
results of just looking at the animals to see if they’re consistent… all point in
the same direction. When he is able to — find certain links of DNA that are
fairly consistent across the Choctaw ponies ever since their removal from Mississippi. Then you look at the horses and the horses look — Spanish, they look different then anything else you have in that same area. So, the history of isolation and continuous care — go with physical appearance. And then when we look at the DNA at the same time — you find similar results there. We always think about saving national monuments and historic houses and things like that. Here, you have a living piece of history
and a living piece of that interaction with people, so I think it’s even more
important to save those. It happens that I found the movie “Hidalgo” on my computer, and after — watching this movie, at the very end it
was said that these horses shown in the movie are still living on Blackjack Mountain in Oklahoma. And first I didn’t really take it serious, “Which mountain is named Blackjack
Mountain?” But after searching for it, I — found out this mountain is really existing,
and it’s not even so far from where I was at in Texas. In the movie, it was shown
like these horses are on a very open range, and you can see them from miles
away. My original plan was just to stay for two or three days… I stayed a couple of weeks. Finally, I
ended up buying a horse from Bryant, and I shipped him to Germany in 2008, and
since I bought that horse I would never buy another horse again. He really got me hooked, and I have I have had horses since I’m 10
years old, but I have never met a horse so honest and so true, and if you
have them on your side — they are willing to do everything for
you. They are not just working with you because you call them for work — They are with you because they want to
be with you, and they want to go for you, they want to fight for you, and with you.
And that’s an experience I never had with another horse. All others were just
nice, but these become your really true friends, and they want to stay with
you. And that’s what makes me coming back for all these years. Every time I have a
chance, I have some days off from work, or I’m coming down here working with different horses helping Bryant with what he does, driving around with him feeding the
horses especially in the wintertime when it’s really hard to — Get hay to every horse that’s out on
different pastures. And it’s a lot of work, and one man can barely do all of
this. So I try to come here in the wintertime, help him doing that, help him
training some horses. These are not horses that you use like a..
just a sports horse for your next show, for the next competition, or whatever.
If you get one of these ponies, you’ve got a pony for your life, and you
will not give this horse away if if you ever own one of these horses– you are not giving this horse away.
That’s that a treasure that you have and you will keep, you will not find a
better friend. But I told him that, I said “Gilbert as long as I can” — I’ll take care of these horses, you know.
He said, “I know you will.” And now, I’m kind of into place I’m not as old as he was then, but he was
probably always a better man and what I am physically, and so I don’t think
that I will live to be 93 years old like he was, you know. I hope I do, you know, I hope I can take care of the horses. But, when I’m gone, I do worry about them,
because they are something that deserves — They have a heritage and they really
deserve to go on. And I think they really deserved not just to the Choctaw People or for the
Native American people, but for all of mankind.

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  1. Your love and care for these beautiful and amazing horses is honorable! I felt love and a sense of awe while watching and listening to the history this video presented…left me wanting more. It also reminded me of the horse I had as a child. Thank you for devoting your life, family, and resources to these horses and continuing our Choctaw heritage!

  2. LAND dedicated to preserving these horses would sure help save buying/distributing feed!  Click this link for the 501(c)3 charity to help Bryant Rickman preserve the Choctaw Pony: http://www.thespiritofblackjackmountain.com/501c3-donations.html

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