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Holten: My buddy Jack

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Kevin Holten2 / 2

I do a lot of things with my horses including team roping, rounding up cattle, branding, giving people riding lessons and even venting in front of them, just to get things off my chest. Therefore, I have to ride them a lot to keep them in shape if I expect them to perform at a high level.

After all, you can't expect a horse to spend a day or two rounding up cattle in the Badlands without being in shape. That'd be like asking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to swim from Cuba to Florida.

So I ride them in the hills just south of town a lot in a pasture that is empty of cattle, and offers just enough peaks and valleys to give one an interesting view in all directions to give them a mild workout.

The coyotes yap from the hilltops there at night and during the day, during our ride, my buddy Jack hops alongside, covering amazing distances with each hop, uphill or downhill, getting ahead of us and then stopping and looking back, waiting for us to catch up and then hopping alongside again. At the end of the ride, he just sits on a hilltop with his back against the sun, his body a silhouette and I've sometimes caught myself half expecting him to wave or give us a salute. But he never does.

Of course, I call him Jack because he's a rabbit. Or at least I thought he was until I looked it up and discovered that he's probably not a rabbit, but a hare.

Hares are larger than rabbits, and typically have taller hind legs and longer ears, and my buddy Jack definitely has tall hind legs and really long ears. And I didn't know until now that the term "Jackrabbit" originated with Mark Twain when he used it in his western adventure entitled "Roughing It."

Back then, people were calling long-eared rabbits "jackassrabbits," but Mark Twain shortened it for his book and the new name has stuck ever since.

It turns out there are five species of jackrabbits, all found in central and western North America, and they are very fast and capable of reaching speeds of up to 40 mph. Not only that, their powerful hind legs can propel them on leaps of more than 10 feet and they use those leaps and a zigzag running style to evade predators, like those hungry coyotes who howl at Jack at night from our pasture's hills.

The other day, I was stacking round bales in a hay field east of the pasture when, out of the blue, Jack appeared and just sat there and watched me.

He was probably a little bit puzzled, seeing me mounted on a tractor instead of a horse and eventually he became bored, seeing as how I was mostly going around in circles and I eventually spotted him hopping leisurely through the hayfield, to the pasture fence, under it and into the pasture, reaching the top of the hills in no time.

Now a tractor is a great place to think things through, contemplate life and solve personal problems, and that day I was definitely doing that and also wondering if it's okay for a human being to have a friend who isn't a human or a dog or a horse? I guess it is. After all, when I was 12 years old, I had a pet crow that flew around and landed on my arm, until that one day in the fall when he flew away with the other crows.

I was also wondering how wide-ranging Jack's territory was and how much ground he could cover in a day and assumed that it was quite a bit and hoped it wasn't enough to include Highway 22, which was well to the west.

Then while driving home the other night from the Antelope Creek Ranch, 12 miles south of Dickinson, at a roadway that crosses Highway 22 and leads to my horses, I discovered Jack or his clone laying peacefully by the side of the rode with barely a mark on him, a victim of hit and run.

Of course it saddened me and for some reason reminded me of an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, "True friends will leave footprints in your heart."

Which led me to wonder, can a hare really put a footprint in your heart?

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at