Tuesday, August 2, 2016
A Lifetime Horseman: An interview with writer and rider Mike Yarbro
An interview with writer and rider Mike Yarbro
by Gina McKnight
1st Publication Florida Equine Athlete June 2016 Issue
No duplication without permission.
Mike Yarbro is an all-around horseman. Throughout his lifetime he has been a roper, barrel racer, showman, breeder, and “just about anything a horseman could do.” His horsemanship is tried and true. Mike shares, “I bought and sold over 700 horses one year to pay my way through college.”
Reflecting on his vast horse knowledge and life experience, Mike has written three books, Mississippi Ponzi, Children Alone, both non-fiction about life with horses; and his new book, Champion’s Heart, fiction based on real events. I had the great opportunity to connect with Mike and ask him about horses, his books, and horsemanship…
GM: When was your first encounter with a horse?
MY: My first encounter with a horse was when I was ten years old and my father bought horses for my sister and me. We began riding, and soon participated in horse shows, barrel racing and pole bending, but the only problem was that we became so in love with horses that we wanted to own every exceptional horse that we saw.
GM: Describe your horse history so far...
MY: My horse history is seemingly unending. After participating in hundreds of horse shows all over the south, I graduated myself into shoeing, rodeo and then into breeding, buying and selling, transporting, grooming, and just about anything a person can do with horses except marry them.
GM: Buying and selling 700 horses in one year must have been a huge undertaking. How did you do it?
MY: When I entered college at Mississippi State University in 1963 I was eighteen years old and young and stupid, even though I thought I knew everything, especially about horses. It was the first time in my life than I ever had a checking account and freedom to come and go as I pleased. I wasn't forced to get up in the morning and go to class, so I found myself skipping class often and rodeoing. At the end of my freshman year when my grades were to be mailed to my parents, I knew better than to be around my father when grades arrived, because I knew he would explode when he saw F’s or 0’s for not attending class or not studying. Being a capable horseman, and trainer, I took a job in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, training horses before I had to face the wrath of an angry father.
Several months later a letter arrived in Jackson Hole from my disappointed and angry father who told me, in no uncertain terms, that I could come back home to Mississippi whenever I wanted to. But, if I did come home, he would no longer feed me or supply me with a place to live unless I got up off my butt and paid my way, because he had paid too much already, especially since I elected to skip class and not study in college. He was very angry and disappointed in my lack of effort in college and he should have been. He made it clear that he would no longer pay college tuition for a son that had only learned to play poker, skip class, drink beer, chase pretty girls, and play the guitar and rodeo. The guitar wound up being the only thing I learned during my freshman year that saved me. I realized that I had made a tremendous mistake and I knew that I needed to go back to college and study and graduate. That is where the seven hundred horses came into play. I immediately began buying and selling horses like a man possessed. I bought rank ones, skinny ones, old and new, and trained them and sold them, and any profits that were made went immediately back into buying more, which I sold. At the end of one year being away from college I found that I had bought and sold just over seven hundred horses in that one year, and I had enough money to go back to college, which I did. From that moment on I concentrated on my studies and got good grades. I also increased my guitar playing skills and joined a rock 'n roll band [The Tyrants], which supplied income for the next four years of college. So, I guess you could say that horses saved me, made me concentrate, and gave me a college education.
GM: Can you share a personal horse anecdote - one that sticks out in your lifetime?
MY: The one personal antidote about a particular horse that sticks in my mind is a sorrel mare I bought in the early 1980s. Her name was Vannetta Lee, a registered quarter horse mare who had many foals who had gone on to be winners at the racetrack. In fact, every one of her foals who started at the racetrack had won, which is a rare feat in quarter horse racing or breeding. When I bought her my goal was to breed her to the best quarter racing stallion I could find and raise a foal who could possibly win the All American Futurity in Ruidoso, New Mexico with a one-million-dollar purse. She was one of the few mares that had produced all winners on the racetrack. At that time, I was saving for college tuition for my two daughters and didn't really have enough money to pay for a top notch stud fee, so I contacted Clary Spencer in Oklahoma, who at that time owned the stallion Top Moon. Top Moon had produced a bunch of successful racehorses and I thought that he and Vannetta Lee would be a good pairing. Spencer agreed to supply the stud fee and care to get my mare in foal only because one of her fillies had made the finals of the All American Futurity a few years before. That filly ran fifth in the finals, which included the winner Rocket Wrangler, the eventual sire of Dash For Cash.
GM: Do you have advice for novice riders - barrel racers, ropers, breeders, etc.?
MY: The one piece of advice I would give any novice horseman or expert horseman would be to always take care of your stock and treat them as if they were your children. Horses in our care are dependent upon us, and many times don't have access to food and water unless we give it to them. The one mistake I have seen in my life time that concerns me the most is the incorrect use of horse blankets. While we all want our horses to be comfortable during cold weather, I often see people leave blankets on their horses during the daytime if they are outside in bright sunshine and moving freely in either a pasture or a big run pen. When a horse moves at all, and gets even the slightest bit of exercise with a blanket on, they perspire. That perspiration, even though barely visible, is there beneath that blanket between the horse’s skin and the blanket. When the sun sets in the evening and the temperature drops the blanket then becomes detrimental to the horse instead of beneficial, because the perspiration on their skin now makes them colder than if they would have had no blanket on at all during the daytime, because their perspiration would have dried with no blanket. If people want to let their horses exercise during the day outside in a pasture or a run pen, by all means take that blanket off that morning and put it back on in the evening when they are not exercising. While we think we are helping our horses, we are actually hurting them by leaving the blanket on during the daytime while they are exercising. It is different if they are inside a stall during the day and not exercising and a blanket can be left on.
GM: You've written a couple of books about your life. What is the premise for your new book Champion's Heart?
MY: The premise for “Champion’s Heart,” a novel I wrote that just came out, is to show people that when expert horseman join the PRCA and compete in pro rodeo it is not as easy to win as some people may think. We see professional rodeo on television often, and even great horseman that have never competed in rodeo don't realize how much dedication, sacrifice, and concentration it takes to win. The main character in “Champion's Heart” is Bobby Tucker, a national high school calf roping champion who joins the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit and thinks he will win a pile of money roping calves. Nowadays they call it Tie Down Roping, but since it was called calf roping when I was active, I still call it calf roping. Bobby leaves his Texas home and hits the road in order to fulfill his childhood dreams and quickly learns that beating the old tough experienced pros on the circuit is not easy, and he is near starving to death and wonders if he made a mistake. His dreams had always been to be a world champion calf roper, and everyone told him that he would be successful in pro rodeo. Eventually, when he is having self-doubts, he meets an attractive barrel racer who is having trouble with her horse balking when it enters the rodeo arena and he helps her fix that problem. Soon sparks fly between the two, but he hasn't got enough money to even by her a decent dinner. As time goes on and he is downtrodden he meets two eccentric old rodeo cowboys who take him under their wings and teach him how to win. The story really gets interesting at this point because the two old rodeo hands are about to call it quits and retire and get out of the rodeo business. One of them is a tough guy who wants nothing to do with anybody except his close friend who is a rodeo clown. Somehow they take a liking to Bobby and began teaching him the tricks of the trade and he starts becoming successful, and eventually winds up under the bright lights of Las Vegas, competing in the National Finals Rodeo. The barrel racer girlfriend encourages Bobby throughout the story, and helps him along, and he learns a few things from the barrel racer that helps him win. There is a humongous surprise when he finds out who her parents are after they get married.
It is a fascinating story and so true to life of a real rodeo cowboy. It details the difficulties of traveling from rodeo to rodeo and many of the things that professional cowboys encounter. There are several surprises toward the end of the book and I won't divulge them at this point. I am proud to say that this book was endorsed by the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, a nonprofit organization that gives aid to disabled and injured rodeo cowboys until they can get back on their feet. The board of directors of this fund includes some of country music's biggest names and well-known business people. A portion of every book sale goes to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.
GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
MY: Horsemanship to me means much more than what we do with horses. Now that I am seventy years old, I finally learned that horsemanship is something that teaches us much in our lives. When I look back over the many years of buying, selling, competing, showing, and breeding, I realize that the people we all meet in the horse business matter greatly. We make lifelong friends, and we learn from those friends as much as we do from horsemanship. About thirty-five years ago I owned the world champion calf roping horse and didn't make any money to speak of when all of the bills were paid. That experience got me into racing horses. And, that experience eventually got me into breeding, so somehow or another, it seems to all go hand-in-hand, but one thing is for sure----the people we meet in the horse business, no matter which part of the business they are in, are the ones we remember as much as the horses. My sister is sixty-six years old and she is still in the barrel racing business, buying and selling and training barrel horses. Horsemanship in many ways is much like a college education. It teaches us much that cannot be written in books, but that is written in life.
One example of this is many years ago when I thought I was the best horse conditioner, trainer, and an groomer around. I was grooming a mare getting her ready for a halter class when an old horse shoer saw me bathing her on the wash rack and made a bet with me. He bet me five dollars that I could clean her as good as I possibly could all over her body, inside her ears, her feet, and everywhere and that he could get dirt off of her, the size of a nickel within ten seconds. I thought he was full of bull so I took the bet. Five dollars back then was a lot of money. I scrubbed and washed, then scrubbed and washed some more and went over every square inch of that mare’s body and got her as clean as a pin and thought there is no way any human could get a nickel's worth of dirt off her. When he asked me if I was through and I said yes, he walked over to her and put his hand underneath her and into the center of her milk bags beneath her back legs and pulled out about a nickel’s size of dirt. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, because I thought she was as clean as could be, and I paid the five dollars. Now, forty years later, I don't remember that horse’s name, but I remember his name.
Connect with Mike www.mikeyarbro.com
Gina McKnight is an author, equestrian, and freelance writer from Ohio USA. gmcknight.com