By Steve Stevens
If you have been lucky enough in your life, you have met a true legend, a human who has transcended life and myth. Sometimes that is an artist, a sports figure, a first responder or just a neighbor whom everybody around town knows for a lifetime of goodwill. My dear friend Sonny Jim was one of those legends. He passed a few years back in a gunfight helping a man in need. He would have celebrated his 76th birthday recently, so I have been thinking about him a lot lately.
Sonny lived ten lifetimes: he was a basketball player, musician, and one of the all time great rodeo cowboys. If you walk down the streets of Gallup, New Mexico, and have a conversation with someone about Sonny, the stories they tell are straight out of a movie.
A guy once told me at the Indian rodeo finals that when Sonny won the world in the steer wrestling championship, that he had a cast all the way up his leg with blood squirting out, and that it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. If I remember correctly, I think Sonny just had a knee brace on. But Sonny did things people had never seen before.
He was proud of his Native American heritage. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Sonny give his last dollar to someone in need. If anybody ever wanted to learn how to ride horses or rodeo, his door was always open. And that was to anyone. If you wanted to learn, there wasn’t a man in the world who enjoyed teaching more than Sonny. I saw him do things that most normal humans couldn’t do in toughness, kindness and spirituality.
Sonny’s greatest gift was that if he saw that you tried hard at anything, he believed in you and would support and inspire your dreams.
He truly was a legend. The other day, I wanted to honor him so I made sure to put a first ride on a little filly we have in training on his birthday. Sonny loved starting horses and working with them probably more than anyone I had ever been around. So although it wasn’t as wild as he might have liked, I started the mare the way I used to start colts with him, which was with another colt being in the pen with us. It is really a great technique because it puts your colt’s mind on the other horse and if you can get the other horse to move out, yours will follow easily.
I say legends never die because every step I take on a horse, Sonny’s spirit is with me.
I was proud to start this little filly in his honor. Miss you old friend. HAPPY BIRTHDAY.