(Penned anonymously as told by Ronald "Tex" Cauthen, who died June 1.)
I’ve always loved horses and was fortunate to find a vocation that allowed me to work with them. Thanks to the GI Bill, I attended Michigan State’s school of blacksmithing. After a long apprenticeship under a tough Dutch mentor who taught me the trade in greater detail, I was a capable farrier.
Alleged is likely the greatest horse I had the honor of shoeing, and I did that while he was a leading sire at my friend J.T.L. Jones Jr.’s Walmac Farm. He was a tough horse, so tough that he gnawed off one man’s finger, and he tried many more men to the edge of their wits and sometimes their courage. But we had an “understanding” and he allowed me to safely take care of his feet so long as I showed him his due respect. Mutual respect is something we humans often forget to honor, and we can learn a lot from a horse—I sure did.
I also learned that faith and family are the most important things in this world. Work is important, but it runs a distant third and is solely the vehicle to facilitate the first two. My faith took a long time to cultivate, as I was angry and resentful with God after my mother was killed by lightning when I was 16. That loss spurred my independence—I was on the road with a cheap truck, trailer, and two horses headed to the bright lights of Louisiana shortly thereafter. I galloped, ponied, and even trained horses to make a living until I was drafted, serving as a weatherman during the Korean War.
Afterward, I returned to the track and worked hard by day and ran sometimes harder by night with an exciting, “on the edge” list of characters, gamblers, and horsemen. When one of them, a bookmaker and “past-poster,” offered me a job as his “muscle” to collect debts and presumably break a few legs on occasion, I knew I had come to a crossroad in my life. I could keep playing in the fringes and be swept along toward dishonesty and vice, or change my course. I chose to become a blacksmith.
Shoeing horses let me make an honest living around the interesting mix of people Thoroughbred racing draws, most important among them my wife of nearly 50 years, Myra. Together, we built up a small farm where we started our family and were blessed with three healthy sons who shared our love of animals and racing. My lessons to them weren’t always as eloquent as I would now have preferred, but they learned the point most of the time. A rather crude (yet very successful) example is when I gave Steve and Doug, who were 9 and 6, each a foot-long cigar to celebrate Kerry’s birth in 1969. They spent a day or two puffing away until they were green to prove their mettle, then never smoked again. As I got older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve tried to give gentler guidance to family, friends, and others who’d listen.
Though sick off and on for five years, I’ve been off medication and feeling much better for most of the last year or so. I like to work and mulched trees the week before I passed away while taking a nap. I hate wasted words, so my message now is simple: Faith and family are our most important truths. If I’ve taught anyone anything, I hope it is this. You don’t know how many days or hours you have left with your loved ones, so tell them you love them, and be clear about it. Tell your friends, too.
Trust in things you can’t fully understand, share them with family and friends, and you will eventually see a clearer picture and breathe easier. Give those you care about a big bear hug, even if it seems awkward, until you feel the way a cat feels when he’s purring like crazy. That warm, comforting and awesome feeling comes from something that is greater than us, and to share it is a gift.
I think about my decision at that crossroad so many years ago and know I chose well. My life in horse racing has been a journey that continues on through Myra, our sons, and their love of horses. Because of faith and family, and, yes, also many horses, I cross under the wire a winner. Good Lord willing.