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A Heritage of Horses H Written By Robin Shepherd W e owe a lot to the horse. The South County’s history and heritage of ranching and farming was literally fueled by horse power. These big, beautiful and graceful animals have been generous to us for centuries. Horses have tremendous ability to learn from and work for us, but it’s their ability to teach and even heal us that may be their greatest gift of all. Early settlers spent a lot of time in the saddle, herding cattle, plowing fields, clearing and hauling lumber, and just plain getting around. Horses were used to pull heavy wagons of apricots and prunes from the orchards to the depot to be shipped out for sale. They transported families into town to pick up their mail, visit the doctor’s office and attend local gatherings. The livery stable was an integral part of the downtown, and there was always work for skilled cowboys. In the 1800s, having high-quality horses was a status symbol. Historical records say that a Missouri man named Hiram Morgan Hill swept ranch heiress Diana Murphy off her feet with his charm as well as his skillful handling of a fine horse-drawn carriage at top speed. It wasn’t until assembly-line mass manufacturing of automobiles took hold in the early to mid 1900s that life began to change for the horses of South County. Horse Country Heroes H Fast-forward to the new millennium. Our relationship with horses has evolved…and they are giving to us in new ways, as companions, healers, teachers and teammates. People from all walks of life have made our South County the Horse Country hub of Northern California. They have unique backgrounds, experiences and sources of inspiration – but all have built their lives around a love of horses. Dennis Bright got hooked on horses the moment he entered the gates of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, and by the age of nine, he was involved in the local 4-H and Pony Clubs. Bright was eleven years old when he got his first horse, a Palomino mare that turned out to be a package deal with a two- month old filly in tow. It was the perfect opportunity for Bright to train that filly from the ground up. G M H T O D A Y M A G A Z I N E “I named her Bocobonita Babe,” Bright said. “She was talented. A year later we were winning every class at the 4-H Club events.” As a teenager, Bright joined the junior rodeo circuit where he met a cast of colorful characters like Chauncey Forte, a descendant of the Sioux Indian tribe, who taught Bright how to ride broncs and rope calves. He took a break from horses during school and then built a successful career in broadcast media and advertising. However, by the late ‘80s, he longed to return to life on the ranch. “I always knew one day I’d go back to horses,” Bright said. In 1991, he established Bright Ranch in San Martin with his wife Kristin, and they raised their three daughters in the ranching lifestyle. Rather than leaving his media expertise behind, Bright integrated it into the ranching business. Today, Bright Ranch provides educational horsemanship programs for novice riders to experienced riders who want to get a taste of the Western ranching lifestyle, including roping and cow herding. Video cameras installed around the ranch capture the staff as they provide riding instruction, which clients can view online as live streams or recorded sessions. Bright has led executive development seminars and team- building workshops for high tech, financial and retail companies. He has also provided riding instruction to police departments and emergency rescue teams. He and his daughters run summer youth camps in partnership with the YMCA Leader in Training (LIT) program. “It’s a balance of education, encouragement and entertainment,” Bright said. “The best learning is self-paced, and a good riding program can empower people to do more than they thought they were capable of.” Justin Fields is a fifth-generation rancher, President of the Santa Clara County Cattlemen’s Association, and an advocate for the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. Fields, his wife Arleah and the couple’s school-aged daughters all ride, and Arleah is also involved in the family’s ranch operations. “Using a horse to work cattle is a gentler, more relaxed way of managing them,” Fields said. “They grow accustomed to the presence of horses as a sign of normalcy when you are out inspecting a herd or moving them through pasture lands. Using a four-wheeler can make them nervous or stressed which will cause them to drop weight.” MARCH / APRIL 2015 gmhtoday.com 15