American Field

Remembering a Great Little Horse


By David Fletcher | Feb 21, 2021
Brian Wood, on Poncho, getting ready to turn Grouse River Ace loose.

Morrice, Mich — Brian Wood, a fixture at the grouse trials at the Gladwin Refuge in Northern Michigan, called to ask me to write a bit of  history of a little white (14-hand even) gelding called Poncho that I owned and rode at field trials all over the United States and Canada for over two decades.

Brian acquired Poncho along with a two-horse trailer about eight years ago when my legs and strength were fading and I could no longer raise myself into the saddle without a ladder. One’s strength of arm and limb fades in your eighties.

I think Poncho was likely about 26 years old at the time.

I first saw Poncho at an Ionia, Michigan field trial being ridden by Diana Kubitz. He was owned by Brittany trainer Bob Burchett who had some of Diana’s dogs in his string. The horse seemed a bit of a handful for Diana for he was anxious to go every minute.

I took particular note of his quick, smooth gait and his size. At 14-hands he was an easy mount for me and my short legs. Bob told me he was a Missouri Foxtrotter and not a Tennessee Walker. I also spoke to Bob Burchett about the horse and I told him he was too small for his big body riding hard at trials. I offered to buy Poncho and left Bob with the offer . . .  "When you find a bigger horse to train from, call me and I’ll come and get Poncho.”

Bob called me on Christmas Day. I can’t remember the year but Poncho was about six. Bob agreed to keep him until I could get there to pick him up. That happened in March. Dennis James and I were headed for the National Bird Hinters National Championship trial at the Percy Priest Area just east of Nashville, Tennessee where I was serving about my fifth year as reporter of that fixture. We travelled in Dennis’ vehicle towing my horse trailer and our first stop was at Bob Catlett’s place in Boonville, Mo., where I purchased his 23-foot motor home, and the next day we headed for the Burchett residence to pick up Poncho.

Poncho was a pleasure to ride. He had a superb gait. Catching up and often passing larger Walking horses in the gallery heading in to the clubhouse. Few could match his speed and smoothness in those accelerated rides.

One time in southern Illinois at Larry Heskett's saddle shop in Salem, Illinois, where I had a Canadian trooper saddle being repaired, Larry told me he'd owned Poncho as a youngster and it was quite a chore to break him. He said, "Never  buy a horse younger than six."

Poncho had a steady diet of field trials. I had many invitations to judge and report trials and as much as I could, I took Poncho to ride at those trials. One’s own horse is superior to a loaned or rental horse at most trials. Poncho carried me at Grand Junction when I visited the National Championship at Ames Plantation, also at Alva Caine’s Buck Tuck qualifier, at NBHA trials in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, at the Michigan Grouse Championships, at Berea, Kentucky and in Ontario, and a host of other places. He was always the same horse, never stumbled and went to the ground. You could road dogs off him. He ground tied.

One time Dave Grubb ran a dog for me at the Pheasant Futurity. I scouted, and I had to road my dog back to the clubhouse parking lot which was quite a ways. That Derby found six pheasants in the road ditches on the way back and Poncho braced his feet and held fast when that dog broke, hit the end of the lead rope hard to chase those pheasants. Poncho handled it.

Poncho was a great little horse. I am glad to have had the pleasure of owning and riding him for over twenty years, but sooner or later everything gets old. Too bad.

Brian Wood also thought the world of Poncho and all the Michigan trialers knew the horse from the exposure Brian and I gave him at Ionia and Highland trial areas. Brian’s proudest moment came in 2011 when he was able as a handicapped person to ride and handle Grouse River Ace to the Region 4 Amateur Walking Championship over the Highland courses.

Poncho is now gone but his memory will linger for many years to come.

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