Friday, March 27, 2009
Mort and Blizzards
We had a wicked blizzard here in Colorado the last few days. It was great to see it, our state is parched and dusty this year. I had to leave work early yesterday and drive home in white-out conditions. Typical Colorado we went from blue skies to white-outs, drifting and vehicles off the road in 45 minutes.
Everybody made it safely home, we had plenty of wood and groceries so it was kind of fun. Today the worst is over, we have lots of hay and pasture growing snow on the ground and the sun has come back out. I haven't written about Mort for awhile. I think it's time, since he's always on my mind on a bright and beautiful day after a snow storm.
Snow Drifts and Reining
There should be a law. Blizzards during spring break are just wrong. Especially when the month before burned hot enough to bring out the freckles on my face and arms in the short hours after school.
I had day dreamed through the last few weeks before break, helplessly watching my grades slide down the tubes right before our quarterly report cards. I couldn't make myself care. There were two, count 'em two full shows scheduled at Kit Carson Riding Club arena. My head was full of patterns and rules, stops and starts, seconds I might shave off of my timed events.
I had discovered reining. I officially competed in the "morning events." I had no patience for halter, we were a high speed nightmare in pleasure and I didn't ride pretty enough for horsemanship. But Mort and I had discovered reining. Since we still ran the speed events in the afternoon we qualified for the all around trophies awarded at the end of the show season. I was crazy with wanting one of those trophies.
Trainer Mike Craig had opened the doors to the Monte Foreman balanced ride approach and I had embraced it with everything I had. Reining offered me a chance to show what I had learned and not penalize us for going too fast.
I had maybe 12 lessons with Mike over the course of three years. I hung onto those lessons with every word. I thought and practiced and tried my best. I never learned how to slow Mort down. He either did or he didn't. I did learn how to guide him straight and in a circle. I learned how to change leads without effort. I learned how to do a roll back and spin. And we could stop.
Mort could stop better than any horse I knew. The balanced ride stop had us sliding on a loose rein, something which absolutely didn't happen back then. Monte was inventive, thoughtful and precise. I loved the methodical approach and the feel I developed.
Mort loved anything which didn't involve me hanging on his face.
The photos above will give you an idea of how earth shattering and forward Monte's thinking was in the early 70's. The guy on top is winning the Colorado State Fair reining in the late 60's. The guy on the Appy is doing a Monte Foreman stop just a few years later. Cool huh? Monte was all about balance, rhythm and staying out of the horses way.
Because of these amazing stops, me and my high headed hot horse were winning the reining in our local clubs. Every time. Every show. It was absolutely amazing.
I had found I liked winning. So I was destroyed when, the very first day of spring break we got zapped with a monumental blizzard that shut the town down and filled the KCRC arena to the tippy-top with sloppy spring snow. I knew this meant both shows would be canceled. So I was pretty cranky as I crawled into my winter garb and drug my way to the barn to feed.
"Don't stay out there too long, there's more snow coming in this afternoon," my mom said.
"I won't, it's not like there's any point," I sulked and headed out the door.
When I got to the barn I fed and cleared some of the snow from Mort's pen, around the pump and out of his shed.
By the time Mort had finished his breakfast I had cheered considerably. The sky was blue, the air was calm and the drifts rolled like sand dunes across the prairie. I slipped on his bridle, vaulted up and we headed out into the fields. The snow was past his knees and he trotted out high-kneed and snorty. His hooves kicked up a fine spray of the beautiful powder and I squinted against the glare of the sun sparkling on the snow.
WUMP! Mort and I were slammed to a stop as we sunk up to his chest in a snow drift. We stood, Mort nibbling at the snow in front of him, his front end sunk completely into the snow and his hind half propped on the ground behind us.
I realized the snow had filled in the dips and swells of the prairie. The even swatch of snow I though I was trotting through was actually hiding a fairly steep drop-off . My boots were slowly filling with snow and I felt Mort's front feet sink a little deeper. He snorted and tossed his head.
"Get us out of here Mort," I hung onto his mane and clucked some encouragement. He tried to jump forward and sunk even deeper in the snow. Now his hind end was beginning to slide into the snow-filled hole.
I looked around and saw nothing but endless acres of snow. It seemed I was the only idiot out that morning. I tried to fight down the little tickle of panic. Maybe I needed to get off. I slid my leg over and immediately sunk to my armpits in the snow.
"Oh great, just great."
I clung to Mort's neck and he tossed his head away from my weight. It was just enough to lever me out of the snow. I half swam and half crawled back onto his back. I sat on his sweaty back, with my hands on my thighs and steam swirling around my head.
I was really stumped. And stuck. Mort suddenly lurched backwards, struggling to find a purchase in the snow. I held his mane and sat as straight as I could, trying to stay out of his way.
He stopped his struggle and I looked around.
He had backed out a couple inches. So I sat still and waited. Mort threw himself backwards again, his front legs pushing and struggling against his weight as his hind feet stepped back a few more inches. I breathed a silent prayer to whoever the patron saint of stupid girls on horses was and hung on.
We had a little room around us now, so I angled his shoulders a bit. On his next thrust back he had fresh snow to grab hold of.
We got a rhythm going. I would place him and he would throw himself back. I'd let him decide how long to air up and when to struggle again. He let me angle him before each try. We were both calm. I had complete faith in what he was doing. For the first time I think Mort considered me a partner he trusted.
Finally we lurched out of the hole. We stood in the bright Colorado sun, sweat soaked and covered with snow. I patted him on the neck and looked around. There was no way to tell where the snow ended and the ground began.
Who needed a horse show? All thoughts of patron saints forgotten, I pointed him across the fields toward my friends house. I couldn't wait to tell Karen. Mort and I had invented a new sport. We were champion drift divers. I was sure we'd have time to pile drive into a few more drifts before the next storm rolled in.