My Story with Gus

I was teaching in Coos Bay when a student of mine told me about this really large Appaloosa that was for sale.  He was owned by a Coos County Posse member and was used to park cars at the fair and do other miscellaneous Posse things.  He was part Thoroughbred (which explained his size of 17 hands) and had a beautiful mane and tail for an Appaloosa.  I always had a soft spot for appaloosas since my good event mare was an appaloosa and I’d dealt with many throughout my career.  I never minded their strong, smart personalities.  I tried “Cowboy” and liked him, although he was starving and was hauled to me in a stock rack on the back of a pickup truck.  It was the funniest sight I had ever seen, this huge Appaloosa towering over the top of the truck.  I paid $900 for him on January 14, 1989 and changed his name to “Gus” after the Lonesome Dove character played by Robert Duvall.  The two were so much alike, just the most lovable gentlemen.

I immediately started feeding him up and training him to jump.  He turned into quite a beautiful horse after many months of good care.  Within a year I was showing him in the 3’3” and 3’6” jumpers.  He was not the most careful horse, had many a rail down, but he tried hard and was always safe.  I showed him for four or five years at ‘A’ shows under the show name “Grounds for Divorce”.  The name evolved from my husband telling me if I bought another horse he would divorce me.  (Sigh) I bought him anyway.

The time came when a more competitive horse came along for me to jump, so Gus started being passed around for my students to ride.  He went to Ogden, Utah twice for the Pony Club Championships; once with Cassie Quinn in Eventing, once with Stacey Vetch in Show Jumping.  Several of my adult students also had fun riding him when they were in need of a horse.  I soon had a person nagging me to sell him to them, so I finally sold Gus on May 11, 1995.

Gus was eventually traded to a Pony Club barn in Vancouver, Washington and I saw him a few times at horse shows over the years.  He was well loved and had the show name “The BFG”, meaning the Big Friendly Guy.  He was well used by the pony club community.

When Gus was 21 I got a phone call from Gus’ owner asking if I would like to take him back to retire him.  I hesitated, not needing another horse, but my husband talked me into it.  Yes, this is the same husband who was going to divorce me over buying him.  I picked him up in May of 2005 and immediately put shoes on him, fattened him up and put him back to work.  He did not want to retire!

Gus taught a young Amelia Jackson how to jump, do lead changes, dressage movements and took her to many shows in the 2’-2’3 division.  After Amelia outgrew Gus’ aging talents, he again became an extra horse for anyone to ride.  He was especially good on the trail and cross-country.  I attempted to use him for “little kid” lessons, but he really hated that.  He was much happier with “big kids” and adults.  His favorite riders actually were men.  Whenever a man got on him he looked so happy, even if they were beginners.  It must have been those old Posse memories.

Over the last year or so Gus started losing his topline to age and became tired more easily and, at times, less steady on his feet.  He still was used in an adult camp this summer by a student of mine who had been horseless for several years.  He was perfect for her and very happy.  They were both out of shape and took it easy.  He also spent the summer doing a trail ride or easy arena ride once or twice a week.  In his “off time” he got to hang out with the mares in the pasture, a rare opportunity for one of the geldings.

On October 11, 2010 Gus had a severe bout of Colic and was humanely euthanized at age 27.  We’ll miss you Gus, you “big friendly guy”.  God Bless You and Rest In Peace. 
Love, Norma    


In early June of 2008 Norma generously loaned Gus to my daughter, Katrina, to ride at Devonwood in the USPC Oregon Region Dressage Rally. We spent the morning before we left at Wildtree Farm clipping and bathing him. Gus, who was always a pretty good sport about most things, was a bit grumpy at all the sprucing up. The last item on that day's agenda was a photo of Gus to put on his stall card. Well, he had had enough by that point and refused to stand still for the photo. He'd move, or put his ears back, or he'd just flat out refuse to look at the camera. Finally, I was so frustrated that I flung a carrot up in the air to try and get his attention. The camera snapped and I got the stall card photo - unfortunately, the carrot is in just the right place that it looks like it's impaled in poor Gus' neck! That's the one we used though, and I had to listen to comments about stabbing horses with carrots all weekend! He was super at the show and turned in two solid training level rides. Katrina has a 2nd and a 7th place ribbon to remember that weekend by. At 25 years old Gus could still charm those Dressage judges - just like he charmed everyone who ever met him. We'll miss him and always remember his gentlemanly ways.
                                    Valarie Johns


Gus was a wonderful and big hearted guy.  He taught us so much and was so generous about it.   I will really miss him. I'll never forget hearing him come up behind me in lessons, sounding like a freight train, still doing what was asked of him with gusto and a kind of big, spotted dignity.  I bet the barn gang will sure miss him...all the best and I hope he's grazing with his buddies, at peace.  With love and big respect,
Amy Holbrook


So sad to hear about Gus.  I have always had a soft spot for appaloosers (if I can quote Betsy) as they always have 10 times the personality of an average horse.
This is my story about Gus.   When I was a working student for the Brawleys in the early 1990's Gus was one of the horses in training there (either that or he was having a "come to Jesus" weekend sleepover with Bob!)  One day he was turned loose in their round pen and I was told to bring him back into the barn.  A woman who rode there had two young twin girls who were sitting outside watching me halter up Gus.  As I was opening the gate and stepping outside the pen I noticed the girls looking at me horrified, which was quickly followed by ear piercing screams and fingers pointing at me.  I turned around to see Gus standing on his hind feet in a full rear right on top of me!  Seriously, that horse was GIANT, it was like a polar bear ready to clobber a seal pup (and, if it isn't totally obvious, seal pup=Leslie.)  I was able to jump out of the way and escape becoming a railroad tie permanently pounded into the Brawley's round pen.  
R.I.P Gus!  I'm glad I knew you.
Leslie Peterson


I have tons of good memories of Gus. One of my favorites was when I won the 2' jump off on him and everyone, including me, was completely surprised. Gus on the other hand was more like "Yep, I've still got it." I loved to ride him because not only was he fun, but you could do just about anything on him. I took him to a Pony Club Dressage Rally at Devonwood, I'd ride him in lessons when I didn't have a horse, and I'd ride him bareback over the cross-country course at Norma's. He was also the first horse I rode that knew how to do lead changes. Gus made me a better rider, and I will always have a special place in my heart for him.
Katrina Johns


            I never rode Gus, but I certainly watched a number of others who did.  He carried small children on his back for their first leadline class at horseshows (with a bit of an indignant look on his face to have been relegated to a school horse when he thought he was still a show stopper) and when Sandy Miller climbed aboard he got that appy glint in his eye that I imagine he had with Norma in the jumper ring during his younger years.  A couple of summers ago I was spotting on the little cross country course that goes through the trails at Wildtree Farm and watched as first a wiry, flea-bitten thoroughbred trotted cautiously up to the little logs and hay bales, and then a galoot of a bay came crashing a bit clumsily down the wooded path, and finally Gus- flashing swirls of gray and white, ears pricked, spry like a 5 year old and Amelia on him bareback- all smiles and laughter.  It was a picture of free-spirited joy and it is what I like to think he is doing now. 
But, my favorite Gus memory is from a few years ago at a Bill Martineau clinic.  For those of you who know Norma- you know she is not one to boast or brag- but she couldn’t help but tack Gus up for Bill to ride and to show off Gus’ lead changes.  She climbed up- in Bill’s western saddle no less- and Gus arose to the occasion, changing his canter lead every two strides.  You could see in her face the pride and love she had for this gangly appaloosa who, even in his old age, tried his best.  And for those of us who knew Gus, we know that he was special and well worth this very rare Norma moment. 
Farewell Gus- See you in greener pastures.
Rachael Chilton


            Well, this is actually my favorite horse story of all time. I remember many years ago, being a life of the party kind of guy, Gus let himself out of his stall at Trillium Farms one night and proceeded to squeeze his large butt into the tack room through the human sized door where it shut behind. He spent the entire night in the tack room. I'm sure he had fun overturning things and checking things out. The first sign of trouble the next day, was the big picture window in the front of the tack room was completely covered in steam. 
I still chuckle to myself every time I think of that story. Gus had such a good heart and a mind of his own. I thank him for all he taught me, and am very honored to have been able to kiss him goodbye.
Sandy Miller

I was sorry to hear that Gus had passed on.  He joins all the other wonderful horses we have known and loved.  You may be glad that you were able to give him a happy retirement and loving home to the end of his days.  I had some wonderful rides on him when he was at Robin Snazuk's.  A very Special Guy!
Mary Spini


I have so many memories of Gus. I think I was 10 when I started riding him; my legs only reached about halfway down his sides. He taught me so much; he was the best horse I could ever ask to learn on. I trusted him so much. In the beginning he drug me around cross-rail and 2-ft. courses, finally, he let me steer him around at 2’6. He was still dragging me through them for the most part, but he trusted me just enough to let me have a little control.

One of my favorite memories is when we were up at Devonwood for a team dressage show. During our test in the lower arena he would extend across the diagonal and about halfway down the sides start doing haunches in; it’s as if he remembered tests from a long time ago. The second test was in the small arena. We made it down each side in about 3 steps; I think we probably hold a record for the fastest dressage test ever.

Another time, at one of Norma’s Kid’s Camps, there was a girl whose pony wasn’t cooperating on the cross-country course. So I offered for her to use Gus so she could at least go around it once. She got on him for a little bit in the arena and told me he was “So lazy!” They jumped out of the arena to start the course and then we could hear Gus roaring along course. When they came flying back to the arena she had a big grin on her face, was out of breath, and said “He’s strong!”

He is probably the only horse I will ever be able to trust enough to go galloping around Norma’s cross country courses bareback in shorts and sneakers with just a halter and lead rope – sometimes double with Amber. He is also, probably, the only horse who will ever have just enough patience to let me practice, for an entire summer, swinging up like an Indian onto his back. He was and still is the best horse. I feel so lucky that I got the chance to learn to ride on him. He was a very special guy.
Amelia Jackson


My favorite Gus memory:

At our earlier Adult Horse Camps, we did not have the wonderful pipe corrals we have now. Like all farms, Wildtree is a work in progress.  We would have a few horses that had to stay in the extra stalls in the barn, and the rest of our horses would be put in home-made pens or even allowed to roam free in a big herd, like a remuda.  One night, one camper was suddenly awakened from a deep sleep in her camper by a shaking, rocking motion all around her.  She knew it was an earthquake and she jumped out of bed.  She opened her camper door and started shouting to wake everybody up.  Just then she noticed that the ground outside her camper did not seem to be moving at all.  She walked around her camper and there on the other side was Gus, scratching his butt against the corner of her camper!! He was the only horse with a butt tall enough to reach that high...It was really funny.


Other favorite Gus memories:  I was fortunate to keep Gus for a few weeks and use him in lessons and also one show at Family Four. He was a blast to ride, and the first horse I ever got to do flying changes on.  I won my first Championship at 2'6" on him.  I was very fortunate to have the experience of such a schoolmaster to ride. 
Gus got along pretty well with my elderly appy, Shy Guy.  Gus would "herd" Shy Guy around quite a bit, but never got aggressive or faster than a working walk.  I figured it was good exercise for them both.  It was ironic that in his old age Gus was the one getting herded around...

Gus stayed at Susan Bradley’s several times, when he was used by one of Susan's kids or by Judy Duffy. We would often have lessons outdoors at Susan's Trillium Farm, and you had to ride across the pasture to get to the jumping field.  If Gus was turned out in the pasture, he would always try to come along and he was so tall he would LOOM above you, especially when I was riding Shy Guy who was only 14'3" ...

I was very fond of Gus and so happy that he came home to retire.  It has been fun to get to see him and feed him peppermints.  I know he was happy to come back to a familiar place and know that he was loved and cared for by so many people who had the chance to get to ride him.  Rest in peace big guy.
Debbie Newcomb