Somewhere in Iowa, there’s a healthy, young, mostly pampered paint carriage horse with a checkered past that has no effect on her sound body and mind.
If she could talk, she’d laugh and tell you the story of a dumb thing she did when she was a baby. She can’t, however, talk … and her childhood incident sparked rumors of cruelty and abuse that are so farfetched, even if she could, her honest, simple mind couldn’t comprehend most of the story as it’s grown to viral status around a typically dumb baby move.
Her name has been changed to protect the innocent. Let’s call her ‘Belle’.
Way back in 2010, Belle was a strapping young suckling filly when her owner, Jeff Schneiderman carried on his family’s 18 year tradition of attending Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“We raise good sensible, using horses,” said Schneiderman of his well-traveled harness horse types.
“This year, we had two teams of horses pulling floats in the daily parades during Cheyenne . We bring them along right. From the time they’re born, they travel locally with their mama’s to the smaller, local parades and events like Redneck Days. Safety first is our motto, for both our horses and the people they’ll go on to entertain, work around and become family members to.”
Cheyenne Frontier Days is more than just a rodeo. It’s steeped in not just the hallowed traditions of Western Heritage, but also the traditions that have evolved over the last 118 years of the intense labor of love that has made truly made Cheyenne ‘the Daddy of ‘Em All’.
One such tradition is the Dinner Bell Derby, thought up by the Cheyenne committee decades ago as a way get kids involved in The Daddy. Over the years, entries have been opened to adult handlers. Here’s how it works.
Big strapping babies (of the fairly cold blooded variety, ready to be weaned but not just yet) and their mama’s are led onto the track. A handler keeps the baby at the starting line while mare is led on to the finish line. Like the various little family pairs the Schneiderman’s have entered 16 times over the years, it’s not any of these horse’s first rodeo. It will be, however, their first Cheyenne and that’s a big deal for any contestant.
Amid big ado and lots of laughing, appreciative fans, the babies are turned loose at the sound of the starting gun to run to mama. By the second or third day, each little race baby contestant has figured out the game and starts to bring his own personality and favorite moves to the big race at Cheyenne.
Make no mistake about it. There aren’t organized Dinner Bell Derby racing syndicates looking to profit from this just for fun, unique event. The prize money is minimal, but the ribbons? They’ll hang in family trophy rooms and dens as heirlooms until those days on the hallowed ground of Cheyenne are dusty memories, much like the faded ribbons themselves.
Four years ago, Belle and her mother went to the track for their daily sprint in the hands of Schneiderman and other trusted family and friends. At the finish line, Belle thought a hard left turn would be fun and ended up in the rail. It was scary for a few seconds, but baby everythings are built to bounce in order to survive their own immaturity. Belle bounced … trotted off down the racetrack with only her dignity injured and even that was merely bruised.
Here’s where it gets really scary. Soon after Belle’s little bash, a video appeared on YouTube. It was highly edited and narrated with huge, negative bias. Schneiderman’s were made to appear cruel and uncaring, they were said to have exploited Belle for profit and a very crude sort of entertainment. To those who know horses, the spin was laughable. Sadly, for those who don’t have any understanding of horses or the commitment their people feel to them, the intentionally misleading, imaginative mess was shocking and totally believable.
“I just wish people would remember to use common sense,” said Schneiderman. “Our relationship with animals, with rodeo, has been part of this country’s history forever. No one has the intention of deliberately hurting animals.”
This year, the Schneiderman team of 17 year old Blondie and her filly, Macie, were again delighting crowds of up to 13,000 people in the Dinner Bell Derby. Little Macie didn’t just understand the game, she excelled at it, claiming the 2014 championship for her own and the family who raised her. The same family who will see her educated and fit into a new home as a well-adjusted citizen of this world.
Just like Belle.
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