The Giant Mr. Jigs

by Dianna Dandridge-Rystrom

I met Mr. Jigs the year we lived in Montana. It was kind of hard not to notice him after all he stood nearly 18 hands high.

The first time I saw Mr. Jigs he was lying in knee high wheat. What I saw of him was just a soft brown mound. I remember thinking that the rancher who owned that land must really have some big cattle. I just couldn’t imagine it being a horse.

A few days later, I was driving by the pasture again and this time Mr. Jigs was standing near the fence. The first sight of him standing next to the fence nearly took my breath away. Not only was it not a cow, but it was one of the biggest horses I had ever seen. I knew I had chores to do and errands to run, but I had to stop and look at this horse.

I pulled my old station wagon over into the bar ditch and got out. Mr. Jigs never moved. He seemed to expect people to stop and talk to him. He stuck his head over a four rail fence that he could nearly walk over and gave me the chance to pet his neck. About then, I heard tires grind along the old dirt road and turned to see a beat up old farm truck pull in behind my car.

At first I thought the man might be angry that I was messing with his horse uninvited, Colbert Clarkson was used to people looking at his giant.

He offered me his hand and introduced himself. He said he owned the land I was driving through and the big brown horse next to the fence. Then he told me the horse’s name.—Mr. Jigs.

On closer inspection, Mr. Jigs really wasn’t brown but instead he was a sandy roan. He seemed quiet and gentle and friendly, but the one point I couldn’t get past was his size. I had met Clydesdales that weren’t as big.

Mr. Clarkson gave me a quick history of the big horse. It seems he was part Clydesdale, the other part nobody really knew for sure. Clarkson said he had found Mr. Jigs about 10 years ago, pulling a wagon that an Amish man had been driving. Like everyone else he had been fascinated by the sheer size of the animal. In somewhat of a joking manner he had told the driver of the wagon that if he ever wanted to sell him let him know. A few months later an older lady knocked on his door.

She had introduced herself as the wife of the man with the big horse. She told Clarkson that her husband had died and she couldn’t afford to keep the big animal and no one from her community wanted him. She was wondering if he would be interested.

Clarkson jumped at the chance and paid the woman $800 on the spot for the gentle giant. He laughed when he recalled the expression on his wife’s face when she saw the horse for the first time.

“Edna made it real clear she thought I had fallen off the turnip truck and landed too hard on my head,” he said. “But there was just something about him that made me want to own him.”

Clarkson told me that Mr. Jigs came by his name because of the way he moved his feet trying not to step on his young grandkids.

“Those kids could do anything around the old boy,” Clarkson told me. “And they just about did. From the time I brought him home all six of the grandkids would pester him to no end. All he ever did was lift one hoof after another and try not to set it down on a moving kid.”

He went on to tell me that the grandkids crawled all over him, made him pull make-shift sleds and had even been known to dress him up for Halloween.

“Yeah, one year my oldest grandson had the bright idea that since his name was Mr. Jigs that he ought to be dressed up for dancing, so the kids all rigged up a pink tutu for him to wear while he pulled the hay wagon. That was a sight. Now, it’s my great-grandkids that bedevil the poor old boy. He still takes it all with a sense of humor.”

The Clarkson’s didn’t use the horse much anymore except to pull the 4H or FFA parade float.

That fall I got to see Mr. Jigs in action. He was truly magnificent hooked to the float loaded with hay and kids. While waiting for the start of the parade, people of all ages clamored to get close to the gentle giant. To each admirer Mr. Jigs would lip them ever so softly with his velvet lips. Graciously he accepted every treat or morsel offered him.

Mr. Jigs dwarfed the horses ridden by the sheriff’s posse and the rodeo riders.

After the band and the fire trucks, Mr. Jigs led the horses out. He stepped so high, making his harness bells ring and tinkle with each step. He walked the two miles with his head held high, nodding at all the watchers. He loved the crowds and the attention. He never got tired of it.

I don’t know how often that summer I would drive by and see the big horse, just waiting for someone to stop and say hello.

Then one day Mr. Clarkson saw me picking up supplies and invited me out to celebrate his 80th birthday. All the kids, grandkids and great grand kids would be there.

Sunday at 2 p.m. I pulled into the long drive and parked behind a line of cars. Walking up to the house I realized the party was around back and followed the sounds of music and laughter.

The Clarkson’s accepted me like I was family. In no time I was laughing with the rest of them.

About sundown one of the older great-grandkids came around and asked if I wanted to help the kids get the gift ready for their grandpa.

Before I knew it they were pulling me into the barn to see what they had done.

Everyone who knew Colbert Clarkson knew he liked football. He never missed a home game and managed to go to most of out-of-town games. I nearly died laughing, though, when I saw what those kids had done.

Standing in the middle of the barn was this huge, gentle horse decked out in full football regalia. One of the boys had found an old football helmet and cut it so it would fit over Mr. Jigs’ head and ears. I’m not real sure how they attached the shoulder pads or all the rest.

Mr. Jigs was wearing a very altered football jersey. On his back was a tiny box wrapped in blue and silver with a pair of tickets for their grandpa to go see the Dallas Cowboys. That poor horse just went along with it like it was a big joke.

After the adults had let Mr. Clarkson cut his birthday cake, all the great-grandkids insisted that he call Mr. Jigs. Clarkson curled his lip and whistled and like always Mr. Jigs came at a run. You could nearly feel the ground shake with every step.

Mr. Clarkson saw that big old horse and laughed till the tears ran down his face. He went over to pet Mr. Jigs and that was when he saw the package. Then he really cried. He had wanted to see the Dallas Cowboys all his life.

Mr. Jigs seemed to be pleased to be the messenger, even if it meant wearing a football uniform.

I watched Mr. Jigs that winter and into spring. It wasn’t unusual to see him out in the pasture with four or five kids using him as a jungle gym. Every now and then I would see him lying down.

The last time I saw him was as I was heading back to Texas. He was standing right where I met him, hanging over the fence letting someone pet him. I stopped and spoke to the lady. She said she rode her bicycle by every day and always brought him a carrot. I told her she needed to meet his owner and said good-bye.

I patted the neck of the gentle giant one last time, straightened his forelock and had to leave. Driving away, I watched him in my rear view mirror. Yes, it would be hard to forget the gentle giant with a sense of humor.