High-Stepping Horse a Crowd Pleaser
One gray horse stood out in a herd of 400 horses taking part in the 52nd Annual Robbins Farmers Day parade Saturday, August 1.
Spectators lining the streets clapped and cheered as Francisco "Pancho" Torres showed off his high-stepping part Quarter Horse part Spanish horse named Gitano. Torres was all decked out in a saddle and bridle with silver accents purchased in his native Mexico. He tilted his sombrero to acknowledge the crowd's appreciation of his horse.
Torres has voice-trained Gitano to "march" while he walks. ("Gitano" refers to the Romani or Gypsy people of Spain, who are known for Flamenco dancing.)
Torres refers to the marching gaits as "Volume 1" for a slow stepping march and "Volume 2" for a higher stepping march. When Torres says "one" the horse goes into the slower march and when he says "two," the horse lifts his legs higher.
"A lot of people have asked me how I trained the horse to march," says Torres.
"You start out by tying the horse in round pen and putting a piece of plywood on the side so that the horse's leg hits the plywood when you touch his leg with a whip. Then you advance to under-saddle work with a helper.
"One person pulls the lead rope, continuing to do the same thing with the whip until the horse understands what you want.
"The rider pushes the horse a little harder as the helper leads the horse."
It took Torres, who has time to ride only on weekends, one year to teach Gitano the march. Dressage riders might refer to the movement as Passage.
Living The American Dream
Riding is a hobby for Torres. During the week Torres, who lives in Vass with his wife and four children, manages his roofing business -- Pancho Roofing Champion.
Torres is a self-made man, having come a long way from working on his parents' farm in Jalisco, Mexico. (The closest big town is Santa Anita, Mexico.) "I tell my friends and family that everything I have, I made with my hands."
Back in Mexico, Torres was milking 50 cows twice a day at age 7. "I was tired, that is why I moved here," said Torres.
"I would have to milk the cows at 2:00 in the morning and again at 2:00 in the afternoon. Then once a day, my father would put two milk containers on either side of the back of our horse and two on either side of the front of our horse and I would ride to the creamery to deliver the milk. We didn't have a truck so that was the only way to get the milk to the creamery."
Life was all work and no play according to his father's rules. The children were punished if they stopped to play after Mass on Sundays. Pancho pleaded with an uncle to take him to the United States.
His prayers were answered. Torres started out in Los Angeles, where he was a champion bull rider and worked for a roofing business.
However, like any parent, he wanted to bring up his children in a safe environment. L.A. didn't fit the bill.
Twelve years ago, Torres' brother-in-law called him and convinced him to move his family to North Carolina.
"I told my wife that we would work at whatever jobs we could find," said Torres.
One of his first jobs was working for Charlie Plumb on Plumb's horse farm in Southern Pines.
Then a building contractor called Torres and told him he had a roofing job and could Torres do it.
The job was right up Torres' alley as he had 13 years of experience working for a roofing outfit in L.A.
The contractor then recommended Torres to James Demyan who was looking for a good foreman for his roofing business. Torres worked for Demyan for 10 years.
"He was very good to me," said Torres.
Two years ago, Torres went out on his own, establishing his own roofing business called Pancho Roofing Champion. "The business across the street from the roofing contractor I worked for in L.A. was named Champion Roofing. I always liked the name."
When Torres arrives on a job to do a roof, he can have as many as 13 roofers working.
Now he is in the position of hiring a good foreman and overseeing a "perfect" job.
Comes A Horseman
Like most horse people, Torres always has time to talk horses.
He carries photographs of his two horses on his cell phone. He has an obvious knack for training a horse.
"Some horses are smarter than others but I can teach any horse to do tricks."
Besides marching, Torres has trained Gitano to sit on his haunches, to say "yes," and to retrieve a hat.
Gitano will also lie down while a person dances on his back and not move a muscle.
"Maybe next year we'll do that in the parade," says Torres, who was joined by his youngest son, Samuel, riding a pony.
Farmers Day organizer Jarius Garner estimates a record-breaking crowd over the three-day festival July 30 August 1.
"Between vendors and spectators, we had over 35,000 people attending. There was barely walking room Saturday night. It was a very successful weekend. People who haven't attended think they know what it's about, but they don't really know what the Farmers Days are like until they have experienced it first-hand."
Patricia Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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