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.


Heila said...

Oh cool, a Mort story!

Have you dealt somewhere with what to do with a horse that kicks out at people? If not, will you please?

oregonsunshine said...

The things kids think up for entertainment! (shakes head) LOL! Great story!

Justaplainsam said...

I love it! What a great horse he turned out to be :)

Redsmom said...

I love your Mort stories. I was "there" with you. Afriad and then trusting and confident. Great, as always. I am enjoying reining for the exact reasons you stated, high headed horse, too fast and/or huge strided for Western Pleasure or anything of that sort. But if you can do the maneuvers correctly, you can score! Plus, I get to wear the cool western shirt and hat.

barrelracer20x said...

I love Mort stories!

Jocelyn said...

I love Mort stories as well.

Star is not a reiner and has a great whoa, but not pretty! She has AMAZING brakes!

My first horse and I got into some tricky situations too, I know those feelings well! *goosebumps**

OTTB love said...

I've been looking on the web to answer your question about the patron saint of girls who do stupid things on horses. Right now, it looks like St. Anne, mother of Mary, although I can't really find any connection between her life and horses. We could always go with St. George, who killed the dragon from the back of his horse, which does seem like a pretty silly thing to do!

OldMorgans said...

Good Mort story.
I grew up seeing bad stops, like the one you pictured, in various horse magazines. But seeing in person the good trainers of So. Calif. like Clyde Kennedy, Ronnie Richards & others whose names I am forgetting after all this time (the mid to late 1960s). Some things definitely change for the better.

Laura Crum said...

Loved the Mort story. Though, since, as a coastal California girl I know nothing about snow, I was a little worried that you were going to end up stuck in that drift until the next blizzard blew in.

Thanks for the review of Hayburner--I'm glad you liked it. It was one of my favorites. I just finished the 11th mystery in the series today, so I am officially allowed to comment on blogs again.

badges blues N jazz said...

are you going to tell us the secrets you learned from your 12 lessons?? the stopping secrets...

Anxiously awaiting!

kestrel said...

Amazing story...isn't it funny how sometimes our worst screwups become the trust breakthrough for horse and rider!? And the memory of a lifetime.

FD said...

Sounds like Monte Foreman is one of those touchstone names of reining - like Caprilli is to showjumping.

I love how what could have been nasty, ended up reminding you of why you were riding in the first place.

i know nothing said...

I love Mort stories! My girlfriend and I used to bail off of our bareback horses into snowdrifts from a lope. I thought all horses screeched to a halt by themselves when you jumped/fell off. I also thought they all knew how to change leads every other stride. Silly me.

Joy said...

Wow! That was lovely. It made me laugh and I was touched reading about the trust/partnership that had finally happened. Great story.

(LOVED the constrasting pictures. What a huge difference.)

Slippin said...

I remember when I got my second horse, he was 4 and not very well broke and I found that out the hard way when I was riding with my sister and she went ahead of me a little ways and this gelding I had took matter how hard I pulled or tried to stop him, he was NOT stopping Until we got to the barn door. He was sent to the trainers after that.
After a few months with a trainer, my sister and I went for a ride down to the river. We were bareback and it was a hot summer day, so my sister decided to go in the river and swim her horse. I had never been in the water with this horse, so I slowly followed her in. Her horse loved the water, mine wasn't so sure. Finally we got out deep enough to where he couldn't touch anymore and he sank completly under. I just about freaked, reached down and wrapped my arms around his neck and hung on. About 2 seconds later his head popped back up and he was snorting and blowing water everywhere and shaking his head. when We got back on solid ground I said to my sister, "I don't think he is very brite...he can't even hold his head above water!" LOL He was bay with a bald face. His head was kind of big as it was, but with that bald face it made it look even bigger! I learned quite a bit on that horse after I started taking lessons from a local cow horse trainer.
Well, I am going to a cutting tomorrow...I hope the cattle are good! My horse has been good, so I don't have to worry about him! Just me!

autumnblaze said...

Okay... I'm just mesmerized with the thought of that much snow. A foot or two is the most I've ever seen in VA. Super cool Mort story.

Oh... and MY GOD that first picture. That poor mare! In what world did people come up with bracing yourself on their face like THAT to stop? Those poor horses...

gtyyup said...

Oh my gosh...what a sinking feeling that must have been...pun intended. And you kept right on riding!!

I have such a long way to go with Colt on his stops...but that appy is just what I want Colt to look like.

mugwump said...

autumnblaze- in this world.If you looked at reiners in the 60's and early 70's that's what it looked like. It gives you an idea how reining evolved. Monte Foreman did a photographic analysis of how a roping horse stopped and how a reining horse stopped. He then looked at calvary mounts and hunter jumpers and decided if the rider could get out of the horses' way things would be easier for everybody.
I'm sure he didn't invent the slide as you see it, but he did in my part of the country. His book is fascinating.
It also shows very clearly where my base comes from as a trainer. Be clear, stay out of the horse's way and look at all disciplines to shape your personal approach to riding.

Amy said...

LOL @ the paron saint of stupid girls on horses... I know that feeling, and I didn't even start riding until I was in my 20's (just a couple years ago).

The best moment was when I was trying out a mare I had no business being on as a beginner... the mare's saddle slipped, and she went bucking-bronco mad... I sat about 3 huge bucks, said "screw this, I'm bailing out," muttered that little prayer and went flying... then watched this psychotic horse buck it's way about 1/4 mile back to the barn while I tried to catch my breath...

I do love Mort stories. :)

chamoiswillow said...

Patron saint of stupid girls - I love it. I was about 12, trail riding a big, barn-sour but otherwise good Appy out around the cranberry bogs where we live. Every spring, they put out beehives for pollinating the bogs. We leave the barn, he has his usual fit in his usual place, trying to go back to the barn, I ride it out and off we go. Typically, the one fit would be it, but this day he decides to pull a second fit out on the bogs. He wants to turn around, I won't let him, so we wind up back back backing up. It finally occurs to me to look behind me, and we're about 6 inches from a beehive. I vividly remember thinking "I don't want to get stung" and letting him go forward. It NEVER occurred to me that if HE go stung, he would have put me in orbit!!!!

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