October 7, 2013

Alvin Moroni Jensen Trained Horses to Win Races

Alvin was barely 11 years old when his family moved onto a ranch in Circleville, Utah.  The family moved there from Parowan to allow Alvin’s father Jorgen Peder Jensen to assume the role of Bishop to a congregation of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Leasing some land from Mr. Ambrose Thompson, Jorgen took on 500 acres of farmland.  Alvin resumed his duties on a farm caring for animals and milking the cows.  Alvin’s older brother John had been hired by Mr. Ambrose to work with his horses.  As Alvin got older and stronger, he began to work with his brother John.  Alvin showed such prowess with horses that Mr. Thompson hired him to also work with his horses.

Ambrose, or ‘Brose’ Thompson knew horses well and wanted to have the fastest horses in the valley.  He had John and Alvin train a set of ‘Sulky[1]’ horses differently than the norm:  Instead of training the horses to stop when pulling back on the reins, they were to increase their speed.  To stop them, one should let up on the reins, which normally caused horses to accelerate.  These differences, among others, allowed these horses to only respond properly to Alvin and John, and somehow made a difference in their racing techniques.

Although John and Alvin were only teenagers, using these techniques and spending hours working with this particular team of horses, these young men won several races in the first Iron County Fair.  The horses won Mr. Thompson first prize and top money in the white-top buggy team races, top money in the buckboard races, and they also won all the Sulky races, both for the trotters and the pacers.  Alvin remembered, “John and I were the drivers, and needless to say, this brought us a slight increase in wages.  You should have seen the monkey suits we wore—bright shirts, tight britches, purple neckerchiefs and goggles!  We were really dudified!!”

Hard work, determination and different training techniques had made winners out of these horses.  But the story doesn’t end here; it also caused problems.  Once when Alvin’s father needed to pick up a gentleman, he mistakenly took one of the Sulky horses.  Somehow he managed to get where he needed to go, but when he tried to stop by pulling back on the reins, the horse took off in a gallop.  He rode around in circles in the Kingston town square several times unable to get the horse to stop.  Finally in exasperation, he let up on the reins and the horse stopped.  

Another time John and Alvin had hitched up the Sulky’s to a wagon and were working in a field.  When their dad came to call them into dinner, the boys asked him to take the wagon and horses into the barn for them.  As Jorgen climbed up into the wagon, he tried to warm himself in the chill by jumping up and down and beating his arms about him.  This was a signal to the horses to run, which they did.  Alvin laughed, “Poor father was somersaulted to the back of the wagon and John and I had to walk all the way back to the barn.”   More than once, Jorgan said to his sons, “You crazy kids—how can you train them like this?  No one else knows how to handle them.”

Their unusual training and speed came in handy when church leader and Prophet Lorenzo Snow died in October 1901.  Church leaders and dignitaries were called back to Salt Lake City to participate in his funeral.  Needing a fast ride to Marysville, three gentlemen (Apostle Frances M. Lyman, Professor Howard Driggs and Professor Ward) were brought to the Jensen home looking for conveyance.  Church leader Mahonri Steele had brought them to the Jensen home knowing that Alvin, although young, could bring them to Marysville in time to catch their train.  

Alvin was at a dance when he got word of the situation.  Stopping at the Thompson farm to retrieve the Sulky horses delayed young Alvin in getting home, making the gentlemen worry even more about missing their train.  Alvin hitched up a good buggy and settled in his passengers, who all seemed a bit skeptical about this young man’s ability to get them there on time.  Alvin vowed to get them there EARLY.  After all, this was the team that took all honors at the county fair!  Alvin rode the horses hard, delivering the passengers a full 50 minutes early to the train station.  Driving that fast caused one seat spring to break and the passengers to have to hold on tightly to their seats.  Professor Driggs, who sat in the front with Alvin, said it was the best ride he ever had.  

Training these horses using different techniques gave Alvin and John the edge to win many races in the county fair, but also gave them unintended challenges.  Fortunately, with good humor and hindsight, one can laugh about the challenges.  

Source:  Jensen, Alvin Moroni.  “My Life Story.”  1974 pp. 4-7.  Found at http://johnsonfamilyhistorystories.blogspot.com/2013/08/alvin-moroni-jensen.html

[1] A Sulky is a two wheeled cart pulled by horses like a chariot.  Alvin called these specially trained horses ‘Sulky’s.’

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