Around barns, horses and dogs are obvious and obedient. Barn cats are more elusive and independent. They flaunt the rules and ask for indulgence. Try to pet them, and they'll do a quicksilver dance between bales of hay. Push them away, and they'll run underneath your feet.
Today's top trainers might run their barns with an iron fist, but scratch the surface, and you'll find a cat who knows how to wrap a world champ around a tiny dew claw. In fact, many so-called barn cats have managed to work their way into a pampered house-cat lifestyle.
Witness Fido, a 20-pound bundle of fur who shares Debra Cooper's morning cereal - sitting at the breakfast bar. Or Texaco, the "itty-bitty kitten" that won Frank Merrill's heart at a gas station. Read on, as these famous horsepeople and six others share stories about their irrepressible felines and find out who really rules today's show barns. (Plus, find out which cats actually earn their keep, with our 0-to-5 "mouser rating.")
The owners: Troy Compton of Norman, Oklahoma, world champion Western pleasure trainer and coach.
His cat: Zooey, a female of unknown age.
Mouser rating: 1
How the cat came into his life: A client's friend had raised Zooey in his apartment, but the cat was so aggressive, my client was worried she'd seriously hurt his two pit bulls so Zooey came to live with us.
Most adorable antic: Playing with my feet while I work in my office early in the morning. She stalks, jumps out, and attacks. She's excellent company, not to mention pretty darn good entertainment.
Most devilish prank: Drawing blood. She's an attack cat that will lure people into petting her, but when she's had enough, she bites and scratches! This cat has a big-time attitude.
Favorite feline anecdote: Zooey thinks she's the toughest cat in town, but when my 2-year-old son, Cole, comes along, he tames the tiger. She adores him, and goes limp while he plays with her like a stuffed animal.
Purrs loudest when: She's lying in your lap, relaxing.
Hisses when: Anybody strange tries to touch her.
Favorite daytime napping spot: Any place shady and cool.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: Anywhere in the house she picks that particular night.
The owner: Debra Cooper of Cave Creek, Arizona, world champion trainer/competitor and American Quarter Horse Association-approved judge.
Her cat: Fido, a 6-year-old male.
Mouser rating: 5
How the cat came into her life: I'm not a "cat person," but my kids, Cayce and Garrett, begged for a cat, until I finally relented. We took Fido on a trial basis, but after 30 days, we wouldn't have given him up for anything.
Most adorable antic: His breakfast routine, which he taught himself. He hops up onto a kitchen stool, sits square on his behind, with his little back feet dangling, and his front paws flat on the countertop. Then he eats breakfast with us. He doesn't beg and a reward, he always gets the last bite.
Most devilish prank: Howling at closed bedroom doors. He hates them, as he thinks it's his duty to make a bed check every night. If a closed door stands in the way of his rounds, he'll sit in front of it and howl until it opens.
Favorite feline anecdote: Whenever we have company, and there's a lull in the conversation, we bring Fido out to entertain everyone. He comes on command, and sits up like a dog. He also lets Garrett slide him across the tile and comes back for more. We just keep our fingers crossed no one has cat allergies!
Purrs loudest when: He jumps on my chest in the middle of the night and presses his face to mine. He's in heaven, and purrs like a motorboat.
Hisses when: I've never heard him hiss. He's not threatened by anything.
Favorite daytime napping spot: On the back of the couch, lying flat on his stomach with his legs dangling over the sides.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: Everywhere. He sleeps a little while with everyone in the family, spreading his joy.
The owner: Al Dunning of Scottsdale, Arizona, world champion reining and cutting competitor, AQHA-approved judge, AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year, and a member of the USET Reining Advisory Committee. His cat: Rascal, a "very old" female.
Mouser rating: 5
How the cat came into his life: Rascal was at a feedlot, camping under the mobile snack shop, and slowly starving to death, full of worms. My son, Grady, insisted we take her home.
Most adorable antic: There's nothing "adorable" about this cat. She's mean as heck!
Most devilish prank: Feasting on a recently deceased gopher on top of my trucks cab. She'll eat half, then let the other half dribble down the windshield into the wipers.
Favorite feline anecdote: The way she acts anytime she's with my son. She's strictly a wild thing, without a warm-and-fuzzy bone in her body unless she's with Grady. Then there's an amazing transformation, and she's all affection. He's the center of her universe.
Purrs loudest when: She's perched on the back of my recliner, when I'm stretched out in it. She also purrs when she's being fed.
Hisses when: She's in what we call "guard cat mode." With the exception of our dogs, she won't allow animals on our property. Rascal looks real feminine but she'll send a dog running with his tail tucked between his legs!
Favorite daytime napping spot: Outside my office, on a Mexican-tile pot that has a fleece sheepskin on top.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: In the tack room, on a saddle.
The owner: Jackie Krshka of Ukon, Oklahoma, AQHA Superhorse exhibitor, top reining and all-around trainer/coach, AQHA Horsewoman of the Year, and an AQHA-approved judge.
Her cat: Sasha, a 3-year-old female.
Mouser rating: 5
How the cat came into her life: One of my students gave Sasha to us. She was just a tiny bit of a thing, and we loved her immediately.
Most adorable antic: Her hunting behavior. She'll sit in a field, staring at a gopher hole for hours, waiting patiently. Then, she "struts her stuff" as she drags her victim (often nearly as big as she is) to the house for our praise. I admire her focus and single-mindedness.
Most devilish prank: Perching on a saddle rack and lying in wait for a passing horse. Usually, she waits until I'm walking by with the greenest horse in the barn -- then she jumps onto his back!
Favorite feline anecdote: The barn is Sasha's domain. There, she goes into "empress mode" -- fierce, aloof, and regal. She reminds me of a lioness in the jungle. I get a real chuckle watching our other cat, Angle, trying to copy Sasha with no success. She's far too sweet and affectionate to be a cat with an attitude. Sasha comes by that naturally.
Purrs loudest when: She wants affection. But she has a very quiet motor.
Hisses when: Our Corgi puppy, Lily, comes into the barn. Lily snoops right up to the cat's toes. That's when Sasha teaches the puppy about boundaries.
Favorite daytime napping spot: On a big pile of saddle pads, when the sun shines on the saddle rack. Cats know comfort!
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: In the barn, on top of the highest bale in the haystack.
Fill 'Er Up
The owner: Frank Merrill of Purcell, Oklahoma, top reining and cutting breeder, and cutting champion.
His cat: Texaco, a 7-year-old male.
Mouser rating: 5
How the cat came into his life I was filling up my car at the gas station, and an itty-bitty kitten wandered into view. Did I mention, he was looking very lost? I couldn't just leave him there, so I brought him home.
Most adorable antic: Marching in the "critter parade." Our animals always travel around the ranch in the same formation: our Dalmation in the lead position, followed by our Corgi and our Jack Russell. Texaco rides drag. They've rehearsed it to perfection and follow the same route every day.
Most devilish prank: "Talking." It's more of a nuisance than anything, but Texaco is the most vocal creature I've ever been around -- it must be the Siamese in him. He meets me at the bedroom door the first thing in the morning, telling me he's hungry and asking "Where's the food?" He talks at every opportunity, until the last thing at night. If he was a person, he'd talk your ear off!
Favorite feline anecdote: One morning, I made my ritual 4-mile drive into town to get the paper. When I got to the store, I stepped out of the truck, and there was Texaco on top -- with a death-grip on the edge of the cab! I could barely believe my eyes. Needless to say, he moved inside the cab for the ride home.
Purrs loudest when: He's sitting in my lap, and I'm scratching his chin.
Hisses when: Any foreign, four-legged visitor comes onto the premises. He particularly abhors other felines.
Favorite daytime napping spot: Either in the shade under a tree, or on our sofa, with one eye keeping a lookout through a big picture window.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: Always in the house -- and if he's really lucky, with my son, Tyler.
The "aunt": Carol Metcalf of Pilot Point, Texas, world champion Western pleasure trainer, exhibitor, and coach.
Her cat: Oreo, a middle-aged male.
Mouser rating: 0
How the cat came into her life: Sadly, this is a remembrance as Oreo is now deceased. He lived on our farm with our associate, Jan Hoskins. When Jan adopted him, the veterinarian found a pellet lodged behind one eye. This injury must've finally caught up with him. Just after Horse & Rider took his photo, Oreo was roughhousing with Jan's miniature Australian shepherd, Chili, when the cat collapsed without warning. It was devastating to lose him. But, if it's your time to go, then going quickly, and in a moment of joy, is a pretty good exit.
Most adorable antic: Following Jan and Chili around. They were an inseparable trio. At lunchtime, Jan would march toward her house, followed by Chili, with Oreo bringing up the rear.
Most devilish prank: Staking out the kitchen. Oreo was very aggressive toward dogs. When he first arrived, he decided that the kitchen, where both he and Chili were fed, was his territory. Poor little Chili wasn't used to being bossed around by a cat. Until they worked out a truce, Chili couldn't even get to his food. Eventually, they became best friends -- although Chili always showed Oreo great respect.
Favorite feline anecdote: One day, I went to Jan's house looking for her -- before I'd been properly introduced to Oreo. I knocked, no answer. So I opened the unlocked door a crack to call Jan's name, and found the doorway obstructed by a kitty-linebacker! He was already in "guard cat mode," taking his job seriously. No strangers were getting past him!
Purrs loudest when: Anyone petted him. He adored attention.
Hissed when: He set boundaries for our canines. He took pride in his ability to boss them around, and he did it well. Afterward, he'd swagger a bit.
Favorite daytime napping spot: right outside the tack-room door, on the cool cement.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: Anywhere he wanted to.
The owner: Michele Pearson of Pilot Point, Texas, world champion American Paint Horse Association competitor, and an approved judge for the Appaloosa Horse Club, the AQHA, and the National Snaffle Bit Association.
Her cat: Miss Kitty, a female of unknown age.
Mouser rating: 4
How the cat came into her life: Miss Kitty appeared on our front porch late one night, barefoot, pregnant, and very hungry. Of course, it didn't take long for us to offer her a meal, which turned a one-night-stand into a long-term relationship. We've discovered she's very selective, and think she probably interviewed several other farms before she chose ours.
Most adorable antic: Demanding food. Maybe because she was a half-starved stray, she keeps a close eye on her food bowl. If she can see the bottom, she find me and complains very loudly. "Outrageous treatment," Miss Kitty says. "And after all the work I do here!" She absolutely won't leave me alone until I've filled her bowl to the very top.
Most devilish prank:Catching birds and bringing them through my office's doggie-door. If I happen to be there at the time, I catch and release. If I'm not, I'm afraid they're subjected to slow, feline torture.
Favorite feline anecdote: A week after Miss Kitty had her kittens, she moved them into my office -- which she thought was the perfect place to raise them. As they explored "their" new territory, I had to be careful not to close them in drawers or dump a wastebasket that happened to be full of kittens! When they could climb onto my desk, it became impossible to work on papers without kittens in the middle of them. It was like being in the middle of a Disney movie. However, there will be no reruns, as she's now spayed.
Purrs loudest when: We briefly pet her as she walks by. Then she moves on. She doesn't like to be held.
Hissed when: Her kittens were threatened. She just hissed once, when our Australian blue heeler unwittingly wandered into my office where the kittens were. Miss Kitty jumped on his head and didn't let loose until he was halfway to the next farm.
Favorite daytime napping spot: One of her special joys is to find a new, unique place to sleep every day. I'll find her on the top of my highest cabinets, sprawled over a warm dryer, or in the middle of a stack of papers on my desk. She's very imaginative.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: I don't believe she ever sleeps at night. She roams and hunts.
The owner: Kelly Yates of Pueblo, Colorado, barrel-horse trainer and top Women's Professional Rodeo Association barrel racer; qualified for the 2000 National Finals Rodeo.
Her cat: Traveler, a 2-year-old female.
Mouser rating: 0
How the cat came into her life: At a barrel racing futurity, I found a skinny little kitten camped under my horse trailer. When it came time to leave, she was still there, so we brought her home and named her Traveler. We put her on top of the haystack, with everything she needed to be comfy, thinking she'd make a great barn cat. When she didn't leave that spot, we took a closer look and discovered she was blind. She immediately became our house kitty.
Most adorable antic: Playing with her stuffed, terry-cloth octopus, which she loves. She rolls onto her back, and kick-boxes the octopus with her back legs. Ecstasy!
Most devilish prank: Boxing our dogs' ears. Because she can't see, she has no fear of them -- or any other critters. She'll let our dogs get close, then with no warning, she'll sharply box their ears, just to let them know they've crossed into her territory.
Favorite feline anecdote: When she explored the house for the first time, committing it to memory, it was extraordinary. She bumped into things -- but usually not more than once. Now that she has it wired, she streaks around as though she could see. Her sense of smell and hearing are heightened, and she alerts me to people approaching long before I'm aware of them. Her eyes are mesmerizing -- pale, pale blue during the day, and red at night.
Purrs loudest when: Someone is showering her with love.
Hisses when: She's scared of what she can't see, so feels vulnerable. She panics.
Favorite daytime napping spot: On the loveseat in my living room.
Preferred nighttime sleeping spot: Anywhere I am, with her nose cuddled into my neck, and two paws resting on my shoulder. I'm her security blanket.
This article first appeared in Horse & Rider magazine.