Nik the Qwik is one of the championship horses bred by Clint and Kyle Bunch, who inherited their love of horses and breeding from their grandfather. (Staff photo: CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer
Clovis sure has a lot of horsing around going on — and it all means business.
At the quarterly Clovis Livestock Auction horse sales, an average of 800 to 1,000 horses are moved, according to owner Charlie Rogers.
“It’s one of the largest horse sales in the country,” Rogers said, estimating some 3,000 folks show up for the auctions.
“For the horse sale all the motels are booked, all restaurants are full — it’s a big do,” said Charlie Roger’s wife Nancy. She said people come from as far as New York to attend the sale, where cream of the crop horses can sell for $14,000 a pop.
The Clovis area is also home to dozens of farriers, trainers, veterinarians and breeders.
“It’s nothing like your railroad or your air base but I imagine (the horse industry) is a pretty nice part of the economy,” equine vet Richard Mobley said. He added people come from out of state to Clovis just to breed their mares.
Mobley’s wife Lana agreed the industry is nothing to whinny at.
“For a lot of people their job includes using horses,” she said, adding horses are used as a work tool to herd cattle. “Some may use tractors for herding, but the real guys who have been at it a long time use horses.”
The horses are content workers, too, as long as the get their employee benefits, she said.
“Most of the time if a horse is taken care of they love people. They’re good to people, they do what you ask them to,” she said. “ They are live beings; they’ve got feelings; they appreciate what people do for them.”
Brothers Kyle and Clint Bunch continue legacy of raising race horses
Brothers Kyle and Clint Bunch inherited the horse breeding business — and an acute love of horses — from their grandfather.
“We treat them like part of the family,” Kyle Bunch said of their current brood of 15 they keep divided between Kyle Bunch’s eight acres of grass pasture and Clint Bunch’s 10 stalls and barn in Clovis. On hand at the moment are four thoroughbreds, seven quarterhorses and four colts.
“Raising our horses is all hands-on,” Kyle Bunch said.
Papa Harper, who they later just called “Pop,” learned how to spot a good horse while travelling through Texas and Oklahoma breeding mares, they said.
The bloodline in the Bunch brothers’ race horse collection is one Pop started in 1970, they said. And one that’s produced its share of winners.
In particular, two of the Bunch’s quarterhorses have stood out. Now I Know and Nik the Qwik have trotted home with high honors, the latter netting them thousands of dollars in winnings the last year alone, they said.
Kyle Bunch said the money goes back into caring for the horses — the feed, the housing, the training, the shoes.
“Some people think they can just take any horse and put him in a race,” Kyle Bunch said, “but that’s not the case.
There is a lot involved. A lot of people think they have an old ranch horse that is fast,” he continued, “but the slowest one off the track will smoke him.”
Although Pop, who died a mere four months ago, left a legacy of 18 grandchild, Kyle and Clint Bunch are the only ones who kept on with the horse breeding business, which serves more as a hobby than an occupation, Kyle Bunch said.
The Bunch brothers have full-time positions with the city.
“The goal of every breeder is to win the All-American,” Kyle Bunch said of the race in which the winning horse brings home a cool $1.2 million, with a total winning purse of $2.2 million.
“There is no greater gamble than being in the horse business but there is no greater reward when your horse wins a race,” Clint Bunch said.
Perkins says shoeing horses can be hard
Richard Perkins would prefer to be called a “horse shoe-er,” rather than a farrier.
“Farrier is the term they use back east, where it’s more proper,” said this laid-back gent who spends every
Wednesday at the Clovis Equine Center and the rest of the week making house calls putting shoes on horses.
Perkins said shodding a horse is more than simply lifting a hoof and pounding in a nail.
After two semesters at Mesa Technical College (now Mesalands) in Tucumcari, an American Farrier’s Association certification exam, a written exam on the anatomy of the horse, and a hands-on test wherein Perkins had to create new horseshoes from strips of metal, he entered the world of shodding 10 years ago.
The whole procedure includes lifting each hoof without getting clocked in the head; cleaning and removing the old shoe, if there is one; and trimming the excess hoof to make for easy walking. Perkins then shapes the standard-size shoe he gets from a distributor with a hammer and anvil, and attaching them with 2-inch nails.
Shoeing horses can be a dangerous job.
Although Perkins said he has never been kicked in the head, he said has been pawed by a hoof, which resulted in at least six stitches across the side of his scalp. “Luckily the horse’s owner was a doctor,” Perkins said.
Perkins, who charges $60 per shoeing session, said most of his customers come from word of mouth.
Although B.J. Eschleman said he first shod his own horse at the age of 14 or 15, he didn’t ply the trade full-time until five years ago at the age of 47.
“There was a lot of people asking for it,” he said, “so I went to horse shoeing school.”
The most important thing Eschleman said he learned at the farrier school was “how to handle horses and how to handle people.”
He cites an example of the lip rope, which is placed in a horse’s mouth where it releases soothing endorphins into the bloodstream.
“You have to calm a horse down a natural way. You can’t wrestle or fight with a horse,” Eschleman said, adding it would be great if the lip rope worked on humans, too. “I’m not sure but I think they do it (calm humans) a little differently,” he said with a laugh.
Trainers try to acclimate horses with people
Austin Graham has spent more than half his life atop a horse — and he’s only 15. With more than 35 horses milling about his family’s 4G Stables just north of Clovis, he has ample opportunities to ride.
Graham has parlayed his experience and unbridled enthusiasm into a horse training business in which he charges $10 per ride.
He hopes to attend Texas A&M University to become an equine veterinarian.
“Horses are fun; horses are different (from other animals),” Graham said. “They are kind of like a big puppy.”
Ken Kowalke started training horses at 17 because he got angry — and wanted to prove a point.
Specifically, he wanted to show he could do a better job training his horse than the trainer he had chosen, who he said essentially gave the horse back three months later in the same disobedient condition.
Kowalke’s skills have since grown so much on his 10-hour per day, seven-day-a-week job that the cantankerous Kansas transplant said he can get a horse ready for riding in about three months.
Kowalke said a common scenario in his work involves starting from scratch.
“A lot of people bring horses in that have never been touched by a human,” he said. “I have to get them used to being caught and tied, do a lot of groundwork, get them ready for a saddle.”
Some of his toughest clients are not the horses themselves but the owners as they don’re realize the amount of technique involved.
“(Some owners) watched too many John Wayne movies,” Kowalke said. “They think in 10 minutes they’ll be ready to go riding on a saddle.”
He’s only met three horses in his 30-year career in which he felt there was no hope.
“If I see a horse is not taking to me or me to it,” Kowalke said, “then I call the owner and tell them ‘Your horse is still as dumb as when you brought it in.’”
Horse veterinarians never go off the clock
No, pregnant horses don’t crave pickles and ice cream, but they can get pretty cranky, said Lana Mobley, who helps out her horse veterinarian husband Richard Mobley at his clinic south of town.
Lana Mobley added if the mare is not getting cranky, she gets extra nice — not to mention beautiful.
“She gets shiny and dappled and looks really pretty,” Lana Mobley said.
Pregnant horses are one of the most common patients Richard Mobley sees at the New Mexico Large Animal Hospital, where he’s practiced for 15 years, especially since he and his wife breed quarterhorses.
With a caseload of four to six horses per day, Richard Mobley prepared for his trade by attending college and vet school at Colorado State University, not to mention growing up in Clovis around cattle and horses.
He started with cattle but now treats only equine patients during what his wife calls a “24-hour 365-day a year job that we wouldn’t be in if we didn’t love it.”
Fellow veterinarian David Orton also found a demand for horse veterinarians. He said he was only one of four in his class of 70 that specialized in horses at Oklahoma State University.
Orton said he sees so many pregnant horses that “one of my specialties is being on the southbound side of a northbound mare.”
A routine pregnancy check on a horse involves patience, a soft touch — and a latex glove that reaches up to his armpit, according to Orton, who owns 10 horses.
Orton has been working in Clovis for a year and a half at the Clovis Equine Center on Humphrey Street after practicing 19 years in Santa Fe.
Lameness is probably the most common ailment Orton treats during his 70-hour week, he said, with other procedures including reproduction work such as artificial insemination.
Not all cases, however, are so easy, Orton said.
One of the veterinarian’s most recent traumatic cases was a horse whose nose had been bitten by a rattlesnake.
“The amount of swelling was so extreme the horse couldn’t breath,” Orton said. “We had to perform an emergency tracheotomy,” he said.
Although the majority of patients are horses, Orton said last summer he worked on a camel.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Orton of his humpbacked client, adding it was an easy treatment of draining an abscess from the camel’s lip. “He was very polite and well-behaved.”