Jerry's View: Billy Boy was smarter than your average horse
By Jerry Robinson
Publisher Emeritus 1920-2014
Way back in the 60s we lived at the end of a stubby dead end street on Southwest 124th.
Archie Pompeo had a small acreage on the corner where it meets Ambaum and number one son Mike, age 16 worked there during the summer as a pickle slicer or something.
Buddy Alexander lived on across the street from Pompeo's pickle factory. He and his brother, Monty, had horses and talked their friend Ken Robinson, then 14 into talking me into letting him buy a horse. Ken had no place to ride t but the Alexanders had a big field and said Ken could keep it there. I knew next to nothing about horses but figured they were likely less dangerous and trouble than girls so we worked a deal where he paid for it with his paper route money.
We found a handsome Welsh Quarter horse advertised for $300 .
So we drove to a cleared lot off 356th Street in Federal Way. It was 1956 and the area was still dotted with small city farms. At the lot was a paddock about the size of a football field. Horses stood in clots of two or three around the lot. There was shack near the middle.
Next to it was a big galvanized tub with water for the horses and at one end, clumps of hay with horses tearing at it.
A man with in a dirty white cowboy hat and a straw in his mouth leaned against the door of the shack. I asked him about the horse he advertised and he pointed to one that was chocolate brown with a mane the color of newsprint and dappled sides and tail the off-white shade.
"He neck reins," the man said.
The words sounded foreign and neither I nor Ken, really knew its meaning. But it was clear that for Ken, it was love at first sight.
"He was a trick pony,” the man explained,”If you tell him to walk, he walks. If you say 'trot', he trots. If you say 'canter' he will canter. He can count to
his age by stamping his foot..He also can open gates.”
His name is "Billy Boy" the man told us.
The horse stood 14 and a half hands, smaller than a quarter horse but larger than a Welsh pony. When Ken asked his age Billy stamped it out.
Ken was stricken with love so we made an arrangement for the horse to be delivered to Alexanders, where there was a small corral.
The day Billy Boy arrived, Ken dressed in a white shirt and slacks and was out the door and went to the corral, about a block away, to ride his new horse for the first time.
He had no saddle and had to borrow a bridle from his pal, Monty.
He rode Billy Boy at a walk between the sheds that housed Pompeo's Pickle Factory and down onto the sandy access road that leads through the woods to Puget Sound along Salmon Creek.
About halfway down the low canyon, he urged Billy Boy to trot, using the voice command he had been told about. The horse picked up the pace for few strides, then abruptly planted his forelegs in the dirt. Ken said he flew off the horse like a boulder out of a catapult and hit the soft soil in a roll. He said he never let go of the reins.
This was his first lesson in horsemanship in which he learned that his horse might be smarter than he first thought. He walked the horse home that day.
Billy Boy was corralled with his pal, Monty's horse, Goldie, but Billy soon learned to escape.
After a number of escapes, we built a small red barn on our property right behind our garage. The barn was just right for one horse and was surrounded by a small corral. We built a loft above the main floor to store hay.
Billy Boy was smarter than the average horse. Once in a while, he would get out of his corral and take a tour of the neighborhood. He made a memorable trip to Dominic Mastro's orderly garden, trampling nasturtiums, radishes and eating tomato plants and generally tearing up weeks of work by our neighbor on Ambaum Boulevard. Mr. Mastro offered to shoot Billy Boy. For free.
Whenever Billy got bored he opened his corral and went to White Center. We think he figured out how to work the cash machine at the bank.
Another time, Billy Boy headed south and left his hoof prints in the newly planted lawn of another neighbor. Ken offered to replant the deep pocks. The neighbor was not pleased.
Ken ordered a subscription to Western Horseman, and read it like a bible. He learned about horse health and lore and the trappings of horsemanship. He drooled over photos of the richly tooled saddles and it was not long before we made the pilgrimage to Duncan and Sons, the legendary Western outfitter in Seattle.
You may remember the place. The tall figure of a horse sat out front. Once inside the visitors were transported to another time, another lifestyle, to the cowboy life. There was no other place like it. The thick aroma of leather saddles and boots, belts and bridles hung in the air. It was as potent as bread smell in a bakery. Crisp new saddles lined the entrance.
We bought a saddle for $200 and called it a Christmas present.
Ken owned his horse for several years, then discovered girls and cars.
We sold Billy Boy and the saddle for $200. I think Billy counted the money when the man came with his 16 year old daughter.
Ken was sad but not for long. He already had a generator, and a 55 Chevy tranny under his bed. He likely also had the phone number of Billy's new owner.
Ken then became a regular visitor at Filthy Phils auto wrecking yard near Magic bowl in White Center. He no longer smelled like oats and hay.
Maybe cup grease.