Friday, May 23, 2008


I have written quite a bit about the trainers I have ridden with, and the fact that I have a tendency to give Walter Farley the same weight as Monte Foreman when it comes to training tips.
My most influential teachers have been the horses I've been lucky enough to work with.
I've had the privilege of keeping a Grand Prix Dressage horse legged up while his owners were on vacation. (OK you dressage guys, I now get why you'll take 100 years to train your horse. He was the coolest thing ever. You should have seen his face when I plopped my beat up old cutting saddle on his giant WB self :)
I've also been handed some of the rankest, scabbiest, nastiest stuff you can imagine. These are always the ones that need to be finished reiners in thirty days or less. Don't get me wrong, I never promise that this can actually happen, although I have noticed the people who expect this usually can't ride well enough to tell what they've got when I'm done.
Once in a while even I get tired of my eternal, righteous yammering. So I thought I'd periodically share a story of different horses I've had come through my life. I'll try to keep a balance between my successes and my failures. The real force that has shaped me as a trainer.
If it's boring let me know. I plan on keeping up the Mort stories too.

Captain was different the day he was born. His mother was a beloved pet. His sire a well bred cowhorse. Captain hit the ground running like a mustang. He was wild eyed at the sight of anything remotely human.
As the days went by he displayed no curiosity towards the quiet, friendly people that worked around him. His mother was relaxed and mild, perfectly willing to let people see her baby. Captain was not.
His first vet visit was wild and out of control. The vet, a well seasoned and kindly horse specialist, ended up with a little tiny hoof print in his forehead.
"You're going to have fun with that one." He told the owner.
Captain and his mother were moved out to live with a broodmare band on plenty of acreage. He ran like crazy, but never socialized with the rest of the foals.
His mother was dominant in the herd, but Captain never took advantage of her status. He continued to hide from potential friends, both human and equine.
At ninety days his increasingly nervous owner asked for help getting a halter on him. The struggle that ensued became an epic tale that still resounds across the eastern Colorado plains today. There was blood. Lots. None of it on, or from, Captain.
Once the halter was finally buckled on his head he flipped over backwards, three times in succession. Keep in mind, there was no restraint, no lead ropes. Nobody was trying to hold him. Just a freaking halter.
Fast forward three years later. I got a phone call from his very weary owner. Captain was still with her. He had gotten over his fear of people. He would happily mow anybody down to say hi. As long as he wasn't tied. As long as nobody tried to catch him. Or saddle him. Or trim his feet. Or vet him.
He had gotten over his fear of other horses. He would regularly rear up and hook his front legs over the top rail of his run to say hi to the horse next to him. He was extremely studdy, even though he had been gelded as a yearling.
He had spent five months with a Morgan trainer. A trainer I knew to be a good hand. He came back to the owner unridden. He was easier to catch, and he would lead, kind of. The trainer didn't want him back.
"Please see what you can do." The owner begged. "I want to sell him, but I can't like this."
She was willing to give me 120 days to get him ridden. She was trying to give this wacky horse a fair shake.
At that time I was sure that any horse could be trained if it was approached in the right way. I had a lot of confidence in my abilities. I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
I warned her that I was going to be tough on the horse. I was going to insist that he accept each step of his training. I was sure he just needed my guidance and he would be fine.
Captain had grown into a tall, weedy, big headed bay. His chest was so narrow it looked like both front legs came out of the same hole. He was weak loined, and narrow rumped. If ever a horse need to be well broke and sociable, it was him.
The first week I had him I tried to do some basic ground work. He would run and charge over me like I wasn't there. I would snap the lead rope as discipline and he would fly into a wild panic.
Our own version of "Airs Above The Ground" would follow.
I tried some simple, free longe, NH stuff in the round pen. Captain had been there ... wouldn't do it. He just threw himself at the round pen walls with no regard to where I was.
I tried to pony him off another horse. At the first hint of pressure he freaked and threw himself on the ground. Where he commenced to lay there groaning. The groaning grew to astounding wails that I had never heard come out of a horse.
I soon grew used to Captain's weird wailing. He did it every time he felt a need to comment on anything I did to him.
At the end of the day he would go happily to his stall for dinner. Every morning he would greet me, forelegs over the stall door, stretching out his neck to nicker a friendly "Hey, how ya doin'?"
I spent a lot of time rounding him up. He kept crawling over the five foot gate at the front of his stall.
I was getting the idea that Captain had some issues with confinement. That was the base of all his troubles. I'm a little slow sometimes, but when I get it, by jingo, I'm on it.
Every morning I began wrestling him out to an isolated spot on our arena rail. I would tie him and leave.
Captain would spend the day throwing himself to the ground. Trying to jump the rail. Digging giant holes. Rearing, bucking, and of course, filling the air with his weird wailing. I kept half an eye on him, but went about my day as if he was fine.
At the end of the day I would go to untie him. Every day he was white eyed, covered in sweat, and shaking. Every day he would spook and blow as I approached him. I ignored all of it. Talked to him cheerfully as I took him back to his stall.
As soon as I put him up he would relax, take a drink, and grab a mouthful of hay. He would turn and look at me, friendly and calm as could be.
The next day we would start again. This went on for thirty days.
I noticed that Captain was never hurt in any way. With all his flinging around he never had a mark on him.
No scrapes, no bumps, no sore spots. I on the other hand was pretty dang black and blue. Hmmmm.
At the beginning of our second month Captain decided to up the ante. He started rearing high enough to get his forelegs over the top rail of the arena. Then he would climb the fence with his hind legs and flip over to the other side.
The wailing would begin. And he was in our way.
After the third time I had to untie the still unscathed Captain and take him back around to his tie spot, I made my first big mistake.
I decided to tie him to the middle rail so he couldn't get his head over the fence.
I was working another horse when my mentor came riding up to me.
"Look at your little buddy." The Big Kahuna said.
"Oh hell." Was all I could come up with.
Captain had managed to get his front legs over the top rail. His head was still tied to the middle rail. He had tried to climb the fence with his hind legs, and they had slipped through the first and second rail.
He was hung like a Salem witch in the stocks. Wailing.
The Big Kahuna and I just sat our horses, staring at my little train wreck.
"How am I going to get that undone without killing him or me?" I asked my role model, my mentor, The Big Kahuna.
"Beats me." He shrugged, and went back to loping.
Big sigh from me.
I rode over to him. I looked him in the eye. He looked back at me, not as scared as I felt he should be.
I leaned down and started working on my very tight quick release knot. Eventually I was able to quick release his head.
As soon as he felt the rope loosen he started to flail like a maniac.
He managed to pull his front legs off the fence and crashed to the ground.
I hung on to the rope, and retied him as soon as he stood up, this time back to the top rail.
Captain hit the end of the rope and started slamming against the fence.
I rode away and didn't even look at him.
When it was time to put him up I went over him carefully. He had two slight scrapes on the back of his forelegs. He felt frisky enough to buck a circle around me. That night I changed my tactics.
I'll finish this up tomorrow.


littlerunhard said...

i am laughing so hard its ridiculous....thanks for the friday giggles....

hope4more said...

I have tears running down my face I am laughing so hard. I can't wait for the rest of this story! You sound so calm and collected, I would have freaked myself (which I know is bad to do around horses). This is not boring at all, keep typin'

loneplainsman said...

Come ON!

Don't leave us hanging like that!

wolfandterriers said...

Sounds like my wicked competition prospect. Somehow the most evil, stupid ones pull out the best in you and strangely become the most reliable, kindest beasties. Last year I sold my "old one" to buy a new car. It worked--she has a nice home dealing with a wonderful child that she just has to pack around. I have a new, interesting pony for company. It's cyclic! I had a wonderful time this evening explaining to a cattle guy why he should buy an experienced horse--I explained it as learning a foreign langugae. You would prefer your French tutor to be somewhat fluent in French, right? So must be your horse...if you're a beginner, vote for a pony that knows the language of people...the weight shifts, the leg cues, the idiosyncrasies of each person. Forget trying to figure out the commands with a new one that knows no person (French) language--unless you want me to come and get it in about 4 years!

Latigo Liz said...

I am sooo enjoying your blog. Content, style, humor, horsemanship. It’s all in there!

barrelracingmom said...

Can't wait for the next installment!!!

Skint said...

hey mugwump
just wanted to say how much i'm enjoying your blog, keep writing!

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