Reining it in; Rancher dedicates much of his life to his love of horses
MILNOR, N.D. — With a practiced hand, Eugene Gregor lightly tapped his nearly 3-year-old miniature ponies with a riding whip, urging them along.
It was their first full ride, and he hadn’t yet named the animals.
“I’ve been through a lot of ponies and horses,” the 87-year-old said. “I never name them until I drive them because then I find the name.”
He pointed to the one on the left, the one who lagged a bit behind and pulled to head for home shortly after Gregor turned out of the driveway.
“That one will probably be ‘Troublemaker,’ “ he said.
“That one I’ll call ‘Strawberry,’” he said of the calmer, more obedient pony on the right. “Because she’s so sweet.”
Gregor knows ponies. As much as Troublemaker lagged behind at the start of the journey, he said she would be the one to take the lead on the way home, and he was right.
Both ponies were born on his ranch. Gregor has had ponies for the past 21 years. He’s had quarter horses all of his life.
He’s sold and given a lot of ponies and horses away, but it has to be to the right person, he said.
Gregor’s love for his ponies is evident in the way he cares for them and in the way his voice trembles slightly when he talks about giving them up.
He’s down to about a dozen ponies now. At one point he had 27.
“I can’t do it no more,” he said as he sat in the driver’s seat of the buggy while Strawberry and Troublemaker plotted along, bells jingling against their hips.
Gregor doesn’t walk much anymore. Instead, he uses a golf cart to get around his rural Milnor ranch, and he calls on his friends and family members to help him harness his ponies.
The entrance to Pine Hill Ranch is surrounded by towering pine trees Gregor planted. At the back of the ranch he’s cleared out a campsite complete with pony trails and a spot for a bonfire. The front of his home is decorated by a tree stump he carved into the shape of a horse’s head.
Gregor has lived on the ranch since the early 1950s and was born and raised on farms within a few miles of his home.
The trail ride he took on a recent Saturday was in conjunction with Cowboy Up Ride Against Cancer.
Since the ride doesn’t allow buggies, Gregor and his friends and family rode separately, but they met up with the other riders on Horseshoe Hill, a rural area accessible only by dirt trails that used to be his grandmother’s homestead.
“There used to be a lot of people living up here when my grandma lived here,” he said. “A lot of Gregors lived up here. I’m about the end of the old farts, I guess.”
Gregor sat in his buggy watching the riders make their way in. He smiled at the young children who approached to pet his ponies. And he joked with friends who stopped by to say hello.
“You want this whip?” Gregor asked a friend who drove a tractor pulling a wagon full of passengers Gregor called cheaters.
“You know, if you put an engine in there you might go somewhere,” his friend replied, indicating Gregor’s buggy.
Gregor, a cancer survivor, has been participating in fundraiser trail rides for the past decade.
One of his relatives, Jodi Widhalm, organizes the Saddle Up for St. Jude ride, planned for Saturday.
Saddle Up for St. Jude is a volunteer-based fundraising event featuring horseback riding to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The event Widhalm organizes starts and ends at Gregor’s Pine Hill Ranch. It typically draws more than 200 participants and brings in more than $54,000, Widhalm said.
“I like that we’re making memories because I know it won’t last forever,” she said.
Gregor’s granddaughter, Kylie Gregor, says she likes going on the rides because it gives her more time to spend with her grandfather.
“He just wants to get us involved and ride horse forever,” she said of Gregor, who gave her and helped her train her horse, Trigger.
Gregor also has given buggy rides at Sodbuster Days in Fort Ransom, and he’s taken his buggies to neighboring town parades.
“Just getting on a horse will take all your troubles away,” Gregor said. “It slows the world down.”