Remarkable Horses in Canada: Midnight
By Margaret Evans
In the summer of 2017, we celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary with stories of 20 exceptional horses that have reflected our values and fired our national pride. One of those horses was Midnight.
One of the wildest saddle bronc bucking horses was the legendary Midnight. Foaled in 1916 on Jim McNab’s Cottonwood Ranch in the Porcupine Hills west of Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Midnight was a crossbred between a Thoroughbred on his dam’s side and a Percheron/Morgan cross on his sire’s side. He grew to a sturdy 1300-pounds and stood 15.1 hands.
Midnight with owner Jim McNab in 1923. Photo: Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
By the age of three the black colt was gelded and broke to ride, but he proved difficult and unpredictable. By the time Midnight was eight years old, McNab decided he was too dangerous as a saddle horse, and tried him out as a bucking horse. Midnight would go down in history as one of the greatest bucking horses in the world.
McNab started out with local rodeos, but soon entered Midnight in the Calgary Stampede in 1924, where no rider was able to stay on his back. The horse was quiet to handle on the ground, but the moment anyone got on his back he was a flying demon, bucking wildly, leaping and twisting. Cowboys would bite the dust after just two to three seconds. He rapidly became the champion bucking horse of Western Canada with a reputation for being unrideable. It is said the horse took delight in adding a final insult to injury by bucking in a circle around his fallen rider before leaving the arena.
Over the years Midnight did the circuit of the biggest rodeos in North America – Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Madison Square Gardens – and defeated the very best bronc riders. The renegade gelding was a huge draw and featured attraction at rodeos.
Midnight in action. Photo: Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
Midnight kept bucking cowboys off until 1933 when he was retired due to a ringbone disorder. But, with his last owner Vern Elliott, Midnight was brought out of retirement and taken to England where he did four exhibition rides in Wembley Stadium just outside London. On return to Elliott’s ranch in Colorado, Midnight was turned loose on pasture to live out his days. He died on November 5, 1936 at age 20. The following is said to be written by a Colorado senator and is inscribed on Midnight’s tombstone:
Underneath this sod lies a great bucking horse.
There never lived a cowboy he couldn't toss.
His name was Midnight, his coat as black as coal.
If there is a hoss-heaven, God please, rest his soul.
His remains were later moved and interred on the grounds of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. In honour of his horse, Jim McNab opened the Midnight Stadium in Fort Macleod on July 9, 1967. Midnight was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.
Main image: Joe Fisher attempts to ride Midnight at the Calgary Stampede, circa 1925. Photo: Glenbow Archives NA-1234-5