Regional, Monthly All-Breed Horse Magazine • Since 1993
Idaho • Montana • Nevada • Oregon • Utah • Washington • Wyoming



Current Issue


Horse Sale Results

Past Covers

Photo Albums


Calendar of Events


Classified Ads


Advertiser Links

Stallion Profiles

Business Profiles

Event Profiles

Horse Sale Profiles

Western Mercantile


Contact Us


Green Information

Made in USA

Editorial Guidelines



Ad Rates

Distribution area

Camera Ready Req.


Club Directory


Competition Results

Extra News Section  


Extra News Section

Health & Emergency Alerts

Horsepeople's Forum



Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Old Possum

My First Horse

Part 1

By Heather Smith Thomas, Salmon, Idaho


September 2011 issue


      When I was a little girl, I wanted a horse. When I was nine years old (in 1953), my wish for a horse came true. This is the story about my first horse    the beginning of a long love affair with horses.

      I can’t remember when I first fell in love with horses. My parents told me that before I could walk or talk, I liked to look at pictures of horses in storybooks. My favorite stuffed animal was a funny-looking, long-necked horse with a string mane. I called him “Shore-shay,” which was the closest I could come to saying “horsie.”

      My parents lived in Salmon, Idaho — in “town” — but I always dreamed about living on a ranch. When I was very young, I spent much of my time playing with small plastic horses, making my own farms with tinker-toy corrals in our living room, or galloping the little herds of “wild horses” over the front yard lawn and flower beds. If my young friends came to our house to play, we usually played with toy horses.

      Sometimes we pretended to be wild horses, snorting and galloping around the back yard, or else we rode broom-handle stick horses, playing cowboy. I had a sleek, black handle from an old janitor’s mop; in my vivid imagination this was a fiery black steed with a long black mane and tail.



      I wanted a real horse, but we didn’t have a place to keep one. My dream seemed impossible, but I started saving all my pennies, nickels and dimes (allowance money) and birthday dollars from grandparents, in hopes that someday I could buy a horse.

      My parents were probably exasperated sometimes, wishing that I could be more interested in sensible, practical things like learning to cook or sew, or music lessons. They wanted me to learn to play the piano (like my mother), but I preferred to spend as much time as possible outdoors instead of taking lessons after school.

      My father even bribed me a little — promising to get me a horse (and I wanted a black one or a palomino!) if I could learn to play the piano as well as Mom did. So for a while I resigned myself to the lessons, but my heart wasn’t in it. I daydreamed about riding horses.

      Finally my father must have realized that the piano would never be a serious interest, and maybe he and mom got tired of my constant badgering for a horse. Maybe they sensed that my desire might not be just a passing fancy. For whatever reason, they eventually decided that I could have a horse.


      The spring I turned nine, my dad started looking for a horse. A retired rancher, Fred Kohl, lived on a few acres at the edge of town, where the mountain behind our town got steeper, and he agreed to pasture a horse for us. After looking at several horses, my father found one he felt was suitable for a child. One warm afternoon, a few weeks before school ended for the summer, my parents took my little brother and me to see the horse.

      The horse’s name was Possum — perhaps because he was lazy and often pretended to be asleep. He was owned by a teenage girl who was buying a younger, faster horse. Possum was a medium-sized, bay gelding with a white face, and a blue eye on the side of his face where the white marking surrounded the eye. He was calm and gentle and very accustomed to being handled by children.



      He’d been retired from a riding stable in a larger town some years earlier because he was getting old, had been purchased by a family with young children, resold when those children grew older, and resold again. It would be hard to guess how many children had learned to ride on him.

      It was also hard to tell how old he was. The present owners didn’t know, and it was difficult to tell by looking at his teeth. He was long past the point where a horse’s age could be accurately determined by the teeth. He was somewhere between 15 and 25 years of age, probably in his early 20’s. But in spite of his advanced age, he was healthy and sound, and seemed to be a very safe mount for a small, nine-year-old girl.

      Linda Jo, the teenager who was selling him, put on his bridle, and my dad boosted me up onto Possum’s broad back. I rode him slowly around the pasture bareback, after a few instructions from Linda Jo about how to pull on the reins to stop him, and how to make him turn right or left. It was so wonderful to be sitting on a real, live, furry horse!

      He was lazy and wise, very accustomed to children who didn’t know how to ride, and at first he just stood there — until Linda Jo told me I had to kick with my heels or slap him on the rump with the reins. I finally got him into a plodding walk, but I didn’t care if he was slow and lazy. I was just so happy to have a horse. It was love at first sight.

      My dad paid for the horse ($50), and I chipped in my life savings ($5.55) as part of the payment. This was the happiest day of my life. My dad went to the saddle shop in town and bought a bridle. He adjusted the headstall to fit old Possum, boosted me onto him again, and I rode him out of the pasture and along the road — with my parents and brother following slowly in our car to make sure I didn’t have any trouble. I rode Possum the two miles around the outskirts of town and up to Mr. Kohl’s pasture, which would be Possum’s new home.

      Possum and I had an immediate understanding. I didn’t care if he went slowly, or if he stopped now and then to eat grass. I was just so happy to be up there on his back. The old horse was wise and experienced and didn’t pay any attention to all the cars and trucks going by. In his long life he had encountered many things and had been ridden by so many children that nothing bothered him.

      He was a perfect horse for a beginner like me.

[to be continued]  - Click here to read Part Two

Click here to read Part Three


Heather Smith Thomas is the author of numerous articles and 20 books. She and her husband ranch near Salmon, Idaho . For more information about her books, visit

     Heather’s blog online is:

Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Back to Articles Page



Rocky Mountain Rider Magazine • Montana Owned & Operated 
PO Box 995 • Hamilton, MT 59840 • 888-747-1000  •  406-363-4085 •