A Horse On A Treadmill, And A Kangaroo

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DENTON – On the same day, we saw:

  • A reining horse that could slam on the brakes from a gallop and slide through the dirt of the largest indoor horse arena in America, then put it into reverse and rapidly turn circles that made me dizzy just to watch.
  • A horse clomping along on a giant treadmill as a trainer loosely held the reins.
  • Sydney the kangaroo, who wore a diaper and hopped about inside a prime steakhouse, which is a feature of another horse farm.
  • JoJo the camel, who is fond of licking folks’ ears and hangs out in a pen with a cuddly lamb and a stinky goat.
  • Mounted cowboys racing down an arena in the drizzle firing pistols at balloons stuck on poles. Their guns were loaded with black powder to keep us spectators from being in the line of fire. It’s a sport. Didn’t know that.


On a cold, windy and drizzly March morning, my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I boarded a motorcoach in an old Safeway store parking lot, along with about 20 other folks. We were headed for a nearly day-long tour of a sampling of Denton County’s horse farms, which number more than 300 and house at least 25,000 horses.

Who knew? Our guide — who also owns a horse farm and jokes that the easiest way to make $1 million in the horse business is to start with $2 million —- says the county’s sandy soil and mild winters make the area ideal.  All manner of horses are raised in the county, from Appaloosas to Arabians, quarter horses to thoroughbreds. Some farms specialize in reining horses, who perform the tight maneuvers described above. Others raise racehorses, while some farms concentrate on roping steeds.

Our first stop was Cardinal Reining Horses ranch, which sits on 200 acres and is owned by a Brazilian attorney. That is where the huge horse arena was located. The woodwork and furniture in the plush observation area above the arena rivaled some of the fancy homes I have visited. The mare stables were spacious and spotless. Each stall had a placard with the horse’s name and lifetime winnings. Two of the riders employed by Cardinal have earned more than $1 million in reining competitions. In other stalls, mares and their foals stood, the mama shielding the baby with her body from our inquisitive eyes.

In another facility at the ranch, a veterinarian had her arm buried nearly to her shoulder inside a pregnant mare, while she stared at a computer screen — a rather awkward position but necessary to snap a sonogram. Except for thoroughbreds, most mares on these ranches in Denton County are conceived via artificial insemination. Stallions with fancy bloodlines can fetch a lot of money for their sperm — certainly far more than can be won through competing. But as our guide said, most folks don’t get in the horse business at this level for the money. They made their money elsewhere.

Fred Thomasson might be an exception. His operation is considerably more modest than Cardinal’s but still impressive with 200 reining horses. Thomasson is originally from Sweden and noted there are more horses in Denton County than all of his native country. He has developed a successful business specializing in equine sports medicine, rehabilitating horses. That is where we saw a horse trotting on a treadmill. Thomasson also demonstrated how well-trained one of his reining horses was. He removed the bridle and bit from the horse and performed the intricate moves — sliding stop, tight circles, reversing course — with only a pair of reins and voice commands. It was an impressive display.

Horses are magnificent creatures, and the specimens on these farms were truly stunning. I have no intention of owning a horse, but we had a fine time taking the tour. I highly recommend it. (For more information, go to www.discoverdenton.com and click “what to do.”)

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