Saturday, February 27, 2010

Horse Rescues

I'm guessing a few of you may have noticed the photo of the nice old horse and the plea for donations on the side of my blog. this is Goliath. He is a 20 + gelding who's 17hh ahead of the saggy parts.

I have stayed away from the horse rescue arena, at least on this blog, for a lot of reasons. One is the rescue conversation is best left to Fugly, she's the master as far as I'm concerned.

Another reason is this blog is about horse training and our relationships with our horses. I feel like you need to stick with what you know, so I do.

But then came Dreamcatcher Equine Rescue. I did a story on Julie and Paul DeMusey for my paper last fall.

I'm not an easy sell, so I went out to their place and drilled them pretty good before I decided they were OK.

They are. They work hard at outside jobs, pay for hay out of pocket when they need to and put their horses first.

The horses are happy and healthy and carefully maintained.

I think Julie had me hooked when she pointed out to the pasture and said, "See that group out there? Those are the old farts. They don't have two teeth between them but they like to pretend they can graze."

She feeds them their mash in the morning then turns them out for the day. They're the first at the gate to come in for dinner.

I like people who appreciate old horses.

Dreamcatcher is full to the brim with horses.They took on 30 head of starved horses from a rescue in Colorado that went hoarder. On top of the 50 head they normally carry.

So now they have more than they should have, but they're cheerful about it and doing the best they can.

Along comes Mugs. The retired trainer who is really missing working with horses. They just happen to have a bunch that need some training.

Since I'm waiting to get my amateur card I can't take any remuneration for my services. But I can donate.

Soooo.....I started working a few head and getting some ground work done. Then I noticed there was a need for some riding instruction and horse 101 around the ranch. You see there is Julie, who knows her way around a horse and a whole bunch of eager but green volunteers.

Now we're planning some clinics and talking about a training/riding program for volunteers. If it works we'll open the clinics to outsiders and let the rescue make a little money.

So I guess I'm involved in horse rescue now. But what I'm actually involved in is training horses and horse people. So I'll have lots to write about.

I'm not going to beg for donations for this group. I will say the Pay Pal button goes straight to the Dreamcatcher account. Julie sends out a thank you for every donation, so you'll get to cyber-meet her if you donate. She's laid back, friendly and grateful for every little bit.

So there's my horse rescue talk.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scared or Mad/Tally 4

“Okay, let’s try an easy jog, relax your hands, let the tension run down your back, into your legs and out your toes,” I had choked down enough arena dust to keep me full until the next morning.

The school horses were about over the thrill of teaching kids to ride, as they shuffled past Annie wrinkled her nostril and glared at me, Brandy went so far as to shake her head until rings on her sidepull jingled.

They knew whose fault this third lesson was.

“OK girls, now we’re relaxed, we’re going to keep our legs loose, our seat balanced, chins up aaaaaaaand lope.”

The last lope around the arena was for Brandy’s benefit. If she hadn’t made that face I’d have let them quit.

The girls were giggling when they stopped and the two wise school horses headed for the tie-rail. They knew it was five-o-clock and they weren’t packing the squeakers for another single step.

Tally came up to the gate of her pen and watched the girls unsaddle the old mares. I walked past and went to sit in my chair in the corner.

She flicked an ear at me as I went by but kept her attention on the girls. Bill hobbled down the alleyway and sat down next to me. It was the first time I had seen him in six weeks.

“Hey Bill,” I said.

“Hey yourself,” he said.

We sat in a fairly friendly silence and watched the girls groom the horses.

“Are they too hot to put them up?” One of the girls asked with hope vibrating
in her voice.

“Maybe a little,” I answered, “why don’t you hop on them and walk
around awhile.”

The kids didn’t ask twice, they scrambled up bareback and rode off whispering and laughing, the mares walking in tandem with their heads low.

“Those mares ain’t hot,” Bill said with a laugh.

I reached out my boot and kicked him a little.

“They can ride around until their folks show up,” I told him, “ I like
those two.”

“You know they tell their folks to come late so they can ‘cool them
out’”, he said.

“It doesn’t hurt anything, besides they’ll feed for me. How’re you
feeling?” I asked.

“Pretty good, Dad says you’ve taken good care of my mare,” Bill said.

“I haven’t done anything,” I said, "she is quieting down some.”

“Can you touch her?”

“I haven’t tried,” I said, and got up stiff legged to dust off my jeans.

“C’mon girls,” I called out, “let’s go feed.”

I left Bill sitting in his chair, watching the bay mare. I saw her start
to pace around her small pen. The pressure from his steady gaze began to make her twitch like she had a fly.

The next morning I brought Sonita in to run off a little snort. She was full of pep and jigged a little at the end of the lead rope. She kept plenty of slack and didn’t try to pass my shoulder so I let her be, even when she kicked up a little.

She stood quiet while I untied her halter and walked out to the middle of the arena for a long luxurious roll. She exploded as she stood up and took off without taking the time to shake off the dust.

I leaned against the empty holding pen and watched her play. Tally twirled in place like a circus dog, so excited to see Sonita run she forgot to worry about me being so close.

“Hey you, hey, hey, I’d like to let you out,” I said in a low, quiet singsong, ”but I can’t.”

Tally glanced over at me and settled back at the gate.

She turned her attention to Sonita and watched her blast down the wall of the indoor. I walked out into the middle of the arena and Sonita charged, I ducked left and she buried her hocks into the ground to cut left. She lowered her head and bared her teeth. I dodged right and she moved with me. I took off running and she flew along side, blocking me neat as a pin. We kept it up until she started leaning into me.

“That’s enough,” I raised my hands and stood straight. Sonita could tell I was only mildly serious and snorted at me before taking off with a fart and a buck.

I went back to the fence and pulled my halter and lead off the pen.

Bill came around the corner. Tally spun off the gate and scrambled into the corner, her head low and her feet dancing.

“You’re mare has her all fired up,” he grumbled.

I went back to the middle of the arena and waited. Sonita trotted around me a few times with her tail flagged, snorting and inviting me to play. When she saw I was serious she stopped and waited for me to tie her halter back on.

I tied Sonita to the wall and went to get the first of my rides. When I came back Bill was in the pen with Tally. She stood with her head jammed tight between her front legs, shoved as far into her corner as she could get.

Bill stood next to her, murmuring and rubbing her back, neck and butt. Her feet drummed a steady rhythm and I could see the tremors ripple across her flanks.

The boss came in and stood watching Bill, his chest puffed with pride. He walked over to me and stood across from the filly I was currying.

“He’s a hand isn’t he,” he asked.

“He’s something,” I answered.

The boss stepped back and folded his arms. I watched the light cool in his eyes but managed to keep my gaze level. Something had shifted between us and I felt an uneasy knot tangle in my stomach.

Bills quiet murmurs cut through the dusty air.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Scared or Mad/Cupcake2

"I'm sorry I got you into this," my boss, Rainie, told me,"she didn't give many details."

The red colt spun around in the stock trailer. He whinnied a scared baby call to the horses in the pasture. The plaintive sound was enough to make the broodmares raise their heads and nicker back to him.

"How many days have I got?" I asked her.

"30, from what I understand," Rainie told me.

"Huh," I shook my head and walked to the front of the trailer to look at him again.
"It sure didn't take 30 days to turn him into this," I grumbled.

I opened the back of the trailer and walked to the divider in the stock trailer. The red colt flattened himself against the far wall. He pinned his ears and drew his nostrils back in disgust, or hate, or rage. Whatever it was it sure wasn't love.

"Hey Bud, hey Bud, hey hey hey," I talked to him in a low sing song,"C'mon you stupid bastard, come on now, come on, how am I going to get your lead rope, hey Bud, hey Bud."

He relaxed a little. I put my hand through the slats in the divider.

He whipped across the floor like a snake and lunged at my hand. I pulled my hand through the bars and slapped the wood a few times. He bit the slats and the splinters flew.

I kept slapping and brought my other hand through, hooking the lead rope. I worked the rope through the divider and pulled the colt up against the side of the trailer. He squealed and kicked at the restraint, but I was able to reach through and make sure his halter was knotted tight.

I attached a second lead rope to his halter and my boss and I took a strong hold on him and we eased him out of the trailer, keeping him balanced between us.

The shape he was in became evident once we had him out in the sun. His harsh, dry coat stood out stark against his ribby sides. His matted mane and tail were thick with manure and his long feet had big chunks broken out of the side. He was just a little thing.

He glared at us from under his heavy forelock.

"He looks like the horses we rode back in high school," I said.

"His head is sure Arab-y," Rainy said, "he'd be kind of cute with a couple hundred pounds on him."

"He's barely bigger than the dogs," I said, "I don't understand why he's a stud."

The colt decided he had stood long enough and we soon had our hands full wrestling him to the barn.

When we brought him into the barn he completely lost it when he saw the pricked ears and curious faces of the other horses.

He hollered as loud as any herd stud and reared his full height. He hit the ground running and charged the horses. They spun and roared in their stalls and Madonna started to kick the walls. It was complete chaos.

"I have about had enough," I said,"let go of your rope."

Rainie let go of the rope and scooted out of the way.

I gathered up her rope and started swinging. I would snap the end of one lead rope and swing the other at his shoulders. The bull snap on the end of the lead would pop him in the jaw with every swing. The knot at the end of the lead rope left welts.

I jerked and swung and cursed while he squealed and charged and struck.

I was the grown up. He was the baby. Within minutes he stood at the end of the rope, his legs spraddled and his head down low. He shook all over.

"Hurry up and open the stall door, could ya?" I asked Rainie,"he's going to catch his air in a minute."

Rainie slid open the door and I turned and headed straight for it. When I hit the end of the lead rope the red colt jumped forward and ran past me. He shot into the stall and about pulled me in with him.

I stood in the doorway and tried to catch my breath. The colt cowered in the corner. His head was rubbed raw from the halter and his jaw dripped a steady stream of blood. The bull snap had really torn him up.

I stepped in a few feet and his head shot up and he pinned his ears. I backed off a step and he lowered his head just a little.

"Get out of there," Rainie said, "what are you doing?"

"I want to get the halter off of him," I said, "he's a bloody mess."

"He's going to eat you. Get out of there."

"It's all right,hey Bud, hey Bud, hey little Bud," I was already lost in our song.

I'm not sure how long it took, but Cupcake finally agreed to let me untie his halter. There was a long moment when I was wrestling with the sweat soaked knot and I looked deep into his rolling, white rimmed eye. He looked back into mine and I felt he was taking my measure. His ears flattened for a brief second and I held my breath. The sharp smell of sweat and old manure filled my nostrils. I could see his pulse beating in the hollow over his eyes.

He relaxed his ears just a hair and I was able to loosen the halter.

I turned and left the stall, letting the leads drag behind me. I could feel his hot breath and his teeth sinking into the meat between my shoulders with every step.

When I stepped out of the stall and turned to shut the door Cupcake was still, pressed as far into the corner as he could go. I shut off the light and left him in the dark. I heard his sigh of relief.

Rainie was sitting across the barn on a bale of hay.

"Either she gelds him and he stays at least 60 days or she can come pick him up," I said.

We started the evening chores in silence. I was too tired to talk anymore.

Mouthy Monday

Alexi's mom made her send me this story. I'm glad she did. The discription is beautiful, simple and clear. I want to know though, who's Jackson?

Go Alexis mom!!

There seems to be some confusion on the Tally/Cupcake stories. I accidentally posted a snippet of my next story, then yanked it. Call it a teaser if you want. If you hit scared/mad off of my labels list you'll get the four I've written so far. 3 about Tally and 1 about Cupcake.

Our geldings are having good time this morning. Bucking, playing, running-just acting goofy for the most part.

It's just cool enough to make them frisky, but not so cold that they stand with their tails turned to the wind, trying to keep warm. They have four or five acres that they can play on, the span of the little trap we keep them in.

They run up and down the fence with my filly who happens to be on the other side of the fence. They run as far as they can, wheel, then run the other way. Jason's sorrel horse looks like a dressage horse, trotting along doing an extended trot, almost floating above the ground. Woodrow's not quite so graceful--he runs across in front of Smoke, bucking and throwing dust up behind him. Smoke's too dignified to cut up like the other two, but he gives in just in the wink of an eye, catching full speed in two strides, catching and moving past Woodrow like he's not even there.

He throws his head up-"Ha-catch me."

Sorrely falls in behind Smoke, happy to play a game of catch me if you can. Barbie squeals and prances at the corner of her pasture, jealous of the three boys that can play together.

She spins and takes off after one of our pokey little calves, who don't satisfy her with much of a chase. The calf ambles out of her way, only to make his way back to the round bale, and resigns himself to chewing his cud as he lays down.

Our nurse cow watches everything from the peace of her pen behind the barn. She's skittish this morning, the cool air seems to make her feel lively as well. Clementine isn't much for attention from people today, she got a good dose of being whacked with a water hose last night--she wouldn't go in the chute so we could worm her.

She's such a pet she normally goes anywhere we want, but she knows full well what goes on when we drive her towards the chute with the head gate. Normally a shot or two, nothing too horrible, but horrible enough for her just the same. A vitamin shot and some Ivomec and she was back to eating her feed for the evening, none the worse for the wear, other than her delicate feelings.

This evening when I go to feed her she'll be back to her old habits, nearly knocking me down to get to her feed trough before I pour her feed in.The horses are still now, grazing peacefully on some of the last few blades of bermuda.

In the summer there was grass belly deep in their trap, and in some spots there's still some left. They've been through three round bales since it started getting cold, but most of it went to Woodrow and Clementine.

They don't stray far from the bale feeder, usually just far enough to go in the pens for a drink from the big trough, then back out to nap or munch on hay.

Jackson's goat watches everything from her little pen, pacing back and forth intermittently. When she tires of wearing a track around her pen, she hops up on the roof of her house, and rests in the sun.

The horses find this delightful, usually lipping at her ears or any little tuft of her hair that happens to press it's way through the squares of the wire on her pen. She's a character, she bleats to beat the band anytime anyone comes outside, she's a bottomless pit when it comes to eating. Hay, scraps, some wheat mids of an evening...they all keep her much fatter than most goats would be.

She loves to be turned out with the horses, but has a tendency to wander if left our for too long. She's faithful in her way, a shake of a bucket or a feed scoop sends her scrambling back towards her pen as fast as her short legs can go.

The horses will play with her when she is turned out, exceedingly gentle with her, they seem to know she shouldn't really be out with them but have a good time while she's there none the less.

Our life is filled with animals of all kinds, and I'm reminded at times like this how thankful I am to have them in my life. Not only to have them in my life, but to be able to afford them, and to take care of them like they all deserve.

No, we don't need a goat, or the two dogs, or even the little short, fat, paint mare that Jackson loves so much. We could manage fine without all of them, but why? They bring a smile to our faces everyday, between their silly habits and the silly things that they let Jackson do.

Jackson's little mare will flip her feed pan towards him, closer to the gate when she sees him coming with her supper in the evening. If Jason or I come in the pen with her, she bucks and runs for the other end, but if Jackson comes in, she stands quietly by until he pours her feed in the rubber pan. He'll more often than not give her a big hug around her neck as she dips her nose in the tub for her first bite, or he may pat all down one side and walk around to pat down the other. She's different with Jackson than she is with Jason or me, almost forgiving to an extent.

She won't hesitate to run sideways or jump on my foot if it's just me around, but with Jackson, she never moves a muscle. Suzy takes Jackson's tough love in stride, and can't wait for the next time he decides to come and play.

Between wrestling, trying to ride her, and throwing her toys where she can't reach them, it would be enough to drive any other dog crazy, but Suzy doesn't mind a bit. She wags her tail, and licks his face if he lets her get close enough. He'll smack her, tell her to get down, then she usually does it again as she runs off with whatever toy he's brought her.

Our border collie is just as good with him, much better than I could have hoped for with a dog that someone dumped on us. He loves to roll around on the ground with Jackson, often letting Jackson pull his tail, legs, ears, what ever Jackson happens to get his hands on. Their favorite game is to take turns chasing each other, giggling and barking, one right after the other.

Stitch is funny about things, he loves to sit in my lap and be scratched, but doesn't care at all to ride on the back of a truck. He can stand flat footed next to our four foot tall round bales, and jump on top of them with never a thought. For a long time that was his perch-it seemed like he was watching over things. There when we left, there when we came back. It was almost comforting, knowing that he was always there.

In the summer when I'd exercise my horses in the pasture, he'd often follow me, matching them step for step, stride for stride as we went around the fence line. He'd find a spot nearby when I'd start to lope circles, watching all the time with his head resting on his paws.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tally 3

I opened the door to the arena and felt the wild scuffle it caused before I heard it.

I peered behind the door into the holding pen in back of the arena.

Tally was crouched in the corner, her nose pressed into the wall.

Her feet tapped a nervous dance in the shavings and her ears flicked back to me.

The dust swirled a hazy tornado in the pen.

I shut the door and backed away a step. She stayed in the corner, but her feet stilled. I backed another step and another. When I stood a good 20 feet from her she dropped her head and relaxed. She didn’t turn to look at me.

I turned and walked down the alleyway into the barn. Sonita nickered to me as I came around the corner. Loki stood attentive and relaxed, her ears forward and her eyes soft. The door clanged and banged as I stepped into her stall. Still skittish in her new surroundings, Loki walked out into her run and turned around to watch me.

I turned my back to her and looked across the aisle at Sonita. She raised her head up and snorted, impatient to start the day.

Tally was an interesting puzzle. I wondered what had blown her up.

Bill was an idiot but his intentions were good. I had watched him bumble through more than one horse and he had managed.Most horses blessed him with the same level of tolerance they give all of us as we find our way, they understood he was essentially harmless.

Tally’s terror was complete. Her flight reactions were stronger than any range colt or mustang I had worked with.

Loki came into the stall and whuffled my elbow. I reached a hand back and scratched her neck. She stood and relaxed as I scratched back to her withers, down her shoulders and under her belly. I slid my hand down her legs and picked up her feet, one by one. She sniffed my back and her lips grazed the fabric of my coat. This time she stood her ground when I slid the door shut and stepped into the alley.

I led Sonita and my first two rides into the arena.“I guess you get to stand tied today,” I told her, “somebody’s in your pen.”

Any day Sonita stood tied was a good training day for both of us. I had begun to understand I tried her patience as much as she tried mine.

I tied the other two alongside her on the tie wall and they carefully moved out of kick range. Sonita glared at them both and ground her teeth.

“Leave those babies be, you evil thing,” I said as I went to haul out my gear.

Tally whirled in place and landed with her nose in the corner again as I walked past. I caught a glimpse of her knee as she spun. It was swollen and weepy.

The boss came into and settled into his chair right as I started my first ride.

“That mare is sure athletic,” I said as I jogged past him.

“That mare is going to kill somebody,” the boss replied.

Sonita pinned her ears and threatened with a hind leg as I rode by her. My colt skittered and danced sideways. I started to swing the long end of my rein. I swung it in a lazy circle, fast and then slow, letting my little horse get used to the sight and feel as it whizzed past his ear. I came around the long side of the arena and headed around to Sonita.

“Watch yourself, he’s going to go,” I told the boss as we made our approach. Sonita gave my colt the stink eye and threatened him again, I swung my rein around and caught her a sharp one on the butt, once, twice, before she squealed and crowhopped out of my reach.

My colt spooked and leaped out into the middle of the arena. I urged him forward and got him loping. By the time we had loped a few circles he was ready to go by Sonita again. She acted like we weren’t there.

I let him come down to a walk and gave him his head. He walked along the wall, snorting and blowing the dust from his nostrils.

“I don’t know why you do that, you just scared the colt,” the boss told me.

“It’s OK, he’ll think about it and figure out what I did,” I said, “next time I pick up my rein they’ll both know what’s going on.”

I dismounted and led the colt back to the tie wall. He pushed his head into my hand as I went to slip the bridle over his ears. I switched sides and brought the crown piece over the other ear. I let him drop the bit and tied his halter on. I went ahead and pulled his saddle, he wanted to rub and I didn’t have more than a minute before he would be leaning into me.

I went and sat down next to the boss. He had brought down a thermos and handed me a cup of coffee.

“Thank you,” I said, “what’s up with the little bay?”

“I was hoping we could get her doctored,” he said.“We couldn’t get near her, we had to build a chute with panels and herd her in here. You can see how she’s acting now,” the disgust was plain in his voice.

He slid down into his chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His coat scrunched up around his ears and he held his steaming coffee mug with both hands.

“The vet said he’d have to rope her and drug her to treat the knee. It’s an old wound that healed bad. She must have reopened it when she trampled Bill.

“He didn’t think there was much point in fighting her, it’s been open too long. So if she heals, she heals I guess. What a waste of money.”

I looked over at the little mare. Her bay coat was shiny with sweat andher muscular shoulders and hindquarters popped with tension. She felt my gaze and started her nervous dance. I looked away and she stilled.

“What are you going to do with her?” I asked.

“Bill is still determined to work her,” I could hear anger and pride in his voice.

“I figure she can stay in here with you until Bill is up and around. Maybe she’ll get use to your coming and going and calm down.”

“That might work,” I answered.

“Don’t touch her though,” he warned.

“Not a problem,” I said.

I got up and walked stiff backed over to my horses. I decided to ride Sonita. I knew I would unsettle the colts.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mouthy Monday

I'm working on the next story with our anger, fear thing. We'll have a good respite with this poem from AKPonygirl. I love the poem....but I have to admit, I want both. I suppose in my men and my horses.

Here's another thought. I got an email from a reader who wonders if we're given an unreal expectation about horses from reading the books we did as children. Was the Black the reason so many people think they want stallions?

Personally, I feel I knew the difference. The Black was my pretend horse. Mort was my real horse. I bought a horse who was waaaaaay over my head, but he was a gelding. I think you guys are probably aware he became my dream horse.

I was covering a clinic for the paper yesterday. I watched a young woman ride in the clinic on a paint stud. She was a good rider. Her stud was almost socially acceptable. He was very, very pretty. He had pretty serous conformation faults. He not just pretty, he was pretty useless. She was very proud of herself. She was obviously riding her dream horse. Maybe she read too many of the Black stallion books.

But every other rider there was on a mare or a gelding, obviously were fond of their horses and had the same opinion of this young woman as I did.

"Whatever," we collectively thought and shrugged.

Nobody was impressed or envious. I didn't see a line of people getting ready to dump their nice horses to get a stud like hers. It seems the majority of us survived the Black.

It didn't matter, she was impressed enough with herself to cover all her bases.


I talked to a friend just the other day who’s got lots of opinions and plenty to say.

We discussed what we both like to see in a horse

His requirements and mine were different of course…

He likes a clean throatlatch and a long skinny neck, and prefers that their hocks are set close to the deck.

Short backs and hard feet and clean slopin’ shoulder, and a gaskin that looks like it swallered a boulder.

He likes a short face and a big ol’soft eye, and says these are the horses he’s likely to buy.

And when he’d completed his lengthy discourse, on all of the attributes of the quality horse.

He asked my opinion, and where do I start?

And I said that I….just want horses with heart.

I said I want heart above all the other.

I don’t care if he’s Smart Little Lena’s full brother.

Or just how much money that his grandmother won, or whether he’s roan, palomino or dun.

But give me a horse with some grit and some try, and some heart and some guts and that’s one that I’ll buy.

And I’ve found it’s the same with a woman or man…. the good ones won’t quit you when the poop hits the fan

by Monte Baker

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scared or Mad

Badges asked me to discuss the difference between how I knew the difference between an angry horse and a frightened horse and how I handled each.

This is a loaded question in more than one way.

I learned the difference between a frightened horse and an angry horse by having to train both kinds and having to learn to tell the difference in order to stop myself from getting killed.

When I started training I had a tendency to be tender hearted with every horse that came my way. I was a hard core advocate for the horse.

As time went on I found I had to truly understand how a horse worked in order to be their advocate. I had to quit putting my human emotions on the horse and try to put horse emotions on them instead.

I learned more about being kind to horses from the hardest horse trainers I have ever worked with.

I learned more about cruelty to horses from the softest, sweetest, weepiest woman I ever worked for.

In order to explain this I'm going to tell two stories. We can talk about this as the stories go along. One I've already started. It's the one about Tally.

I think you guys are all aware she was afraid.

The other horse was the angriest horse I ever worked with.

The most important thing to remember is both horses started out the same. They were big eyed foals who approached their first experience with a human the same way they all do. With their little ears pricked forward and their eyes wide with the excitement of it all.

It's funny. I don't even remember his name. He was a runty, 3-year-old,red, stud colt.

My boss pretty much took the job for me. She worked in the same office as Stacy, the woman who owned the colt.

"The colt is out of my favorite mare. She died last year, so he's all I have of her," Stacy's voice trembled a little.

"I haven't had the time to work with him and with my little boy I can't focus on him like I should," she continued.

The young woman had a lively 4-year-old boy and was an at-home mom on a busy alfalfa and cattle farm.

I could sympathise.

Stacy had owned and shown some pretty fancy paint reiners before she had gotten married and her horses were well bred and professionally trained.

We made arrangements to meet at her place, "I don't know if I can get him loaded," she told me.

I pulled up to her barn and sat parked in the yard until she came out of the house, her little boy was buzzing around her heels.

"He's in here," Stacy said.

We walked up to a large barn and she pulled back a big barn door.

The barn had been converted to an equipment shed. I felt the movement rather than heard him. He was back in a dark corner behind a couple of wired together heavily dented and bent panels. He was standing in about two feet of manure, it ranged from wet muck to powdery piles that sent rivulets of dust running as he paced from corner to corner.

"Hey son," I said.

The colt flew at me. His ears were flat and his teeth were bared as he snaked through the bars towards my stomach.

I stepped back and he resumed his pacing. His ears stayed flat.

"He's been like this for awhile," Stacy said, "I don't know what happened."

"Is there a reason he's a stud?" I asked.

"He's really well bred and he's all I have of my mare..."

"He's a breeding stock?" I pressed.

"Well, yeah," she told me,"but like I said, he's really well bred."

I opened the door wider and we backed the stock trailer as close to the colt as we could.

My boss and I undid the panels and used one to press him against the barn wall. Once he was smashed against the wall tight enough to keep his head still we worked a halter and my 25 foot rope on him.

He squealed and struck and bit the panel until his mouth bled.

I had the owner take the lead rope and run it through the slats inside the trailer at about the halfway point. She came out, put her son in the truck and then settled onto the end of the rope.

We eased the panel off and ran as the colt jumped free and came charging after us. He came like a freight train until he hit the end of the rope. Stacy squeaked as he sucked back and pulled her into the wall of the trailer. She was tougher than she looked though, she hung on.

My boss went around to help Stacy hold the lead rope and I got my longe whip out to work his legs.

The first time he felt the whip against his fetlocks he whirled and charged straight at me. He squealed when he hit the end of the rope. He surprised the boss and the colt's owner so much they almost lost him.

"Jeez, hold onto him!" I yelled.

"Imagine what he'd have done if you actually whipped him," my boss said.

We got reorganized and started again.

He reared and roared and kicked in the deepest rage I had ever seen in a horse.
This time they hung on and I was able to keep flicking his fetlocks until he jumped into the trailer.
I slid the gate shut and he immediately began kicking the trailer apart.

"Whew," I said and leaned against the door. He came running to the back of the trailer and tried to ram his nose between the slats.

I jumped and turned to look back at him.

He stood spraddle legged with his sides heaving. His flared nostrils were pulled back in a snarl and his eyes glittered hard like marbles.

"How long has he been in the barn?" I asked.

"Well, a while. I haven't been able to handle him since he was a yearling."

I sighed. My boss gave me a troubled, apologetic look.

I peered in at the colt. His mane was half rubbed out, the rest was a mass of mats. Dry, sparse winter hair stood up over his ribs.

He snorted and tossed his head up and down.

"Well hello there Cupcake," I said, "let's go home."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fantasy Horses

I have been thinking of the fantasy horses in my life, real and imaginary. Which is what I do when I should be working and can't get my focus on. It's the horses I loved as a kid and the breeds I wish I could ride today.

Here's my list.
Flicka. The movie or the book. First love, still my favorite color. Sigh.

Thunderhead. Probably the reason I wanted to ride the wild ones.

Scout. Way cooler than that sissy head Silver.

Sport, Buck and Cochise. In that order. I wouldn't have turned down Chub if somebody had handed me the reins, or Little Joe for that matter.

Macaroni. I hated Caroline Kennedy, I truly did. I wanted her pony so bad. Then her Dad died and I didn't hate her anymore. I figured she needed her pony more than I did.

My pre-Breyers. There was a Thoroughbred mare I named Southwind. She was an elegant dark bay and looked just like the police man's horse in the parks in Chicago.

A zebra. Any zebra.

The Pied Piper. Yeah baby.

Sea Star. I knew I could save him.

Justin Morgan's Horse.

Sham. I thought he was the epitome of what a horse should be.

Until....The Black.
Nothing ever overcame the Black.

He was freedom, acceptance, bravery and badass. No other horse could touch him.

I used to ride in the car and imagine him running through the countryside, breaking his heart staying even with us so he could whisk me away as soon as we pulled over for lunch.

I have the image of the Black so ingrained in my head I still see him out of the corner of my eye when I'm driving down a highway or galloping my horse out in the open.

When the movie came out I sat through it twice, even though the movie Black wasn't as good as the one in my mind.

Then came my real horses. I still have horses I would like to ride long enough to really understand.

A Morgan who can cow. They are so pretty. I would like to ride fence on one on a big ranch in Montana.

An Andalusian. I want one of the shorter, stockier ones and yes, I want to do cowhorse on him. It would be so cool. A fairy horse who can whack one down the fence.
I think about that one a lot.

A Shagya Arabian. We would do endurance. Probably the Tevis. And we would kick ass.

The Black. Still.

Mouthy Mondays

The author of this cool little tale asked to stay anonymous.

I always honor these requests.

But it adds a touch of mystery. Why is she afraid to come out in the open? It's not her writing technique, because she writes very well.

Is she afraid someone who knows her on the track will read this?

Did she get the trainer in the end?

The plot thickens....

A Trackside Story, Standardbred Style

“Watch out, she kicks”

Those words floated up through my brain as I rolled up my jeans to look at the gash that now ran from my ankle, up my leg to the other side of my knee. Day two, and yes, she kicks. And bites, rears, strikes, and pins. Her name was Sweet n Easy Too, someone’s sick sense of racetrack humor.

I was determined not to quit, not so soon. It was my first real break at being a pro groom, I was finally in a big stable, one that raced A-circuit, Grand Circuit, Stakes, none of the B-tracks. Big name horses, big name owners, big name trainer.

I had my string of four, and as low man on the totem pole, they were the ones no one else wanted. Including Sweet n Easy Too.

She was a little bay mare, no white at all, a beautiful deep red with long black stockings, distinctive points, and as pretty as a bay mare can be when her ears were up.

Too bad for me that wasn’t often. I had no idea what made her the way she was, all I knew was she was barely 2, sour, and hated men. Women too, but not as bad as men. I was determined not to quit. I was determined to get along with this mare. I was determined to prove I deserved to be there.

Every day, I’d come in to pinned ears and a scrunched nose. “Mornin’ mama” I’d say, and toss her my apple core.

Slowly, we learned to get along. I didn’t care if I put her bell boots on with her feet around my ears, as long as she kept those feet to herself.

I didn’t care if she kicked the walls, as long as I wasn’t in between her foot and the wall she was kicking.

If she bit someone, I told them stay away from her stall, and I wouldn’t let them touch her.

You see, I liked her, I liked her attitude, and the moment she kicked my leg wide open from my ankle to my knee I was in love.

We were a lot alike her and I, plenty to be sour about, plenty of reason to be afraid of what might be done to us, and plenty of spunk to hide that fear. Before a month had gone by, she and I were just fine.

The day she reached over her stall door and tore the shoulder out of the assistant trainer’s jacket, I laughed.

He was a jerk anyways, rough with the horses and hard on them trackside.

He figured he’d give her a beating, and when I wouldn’t get out of the way, figured I could have one too.

Wrong move buck-o. The black eye and bloody nose was worth it. Head trainer fired him when he got up from the ground. I put him there, a couple of the joggers helped keep him there for a bit.

Good girl Mama I told her, before I went to clean up.

A couple of days later, a new trainer showed up. I had my girl out in the shed row, cross tied but she was still handy with those feet.

I told him “let me put her away, she kicks”, but he just smiled. He slid along the wall, she figured that was OK. He went to pat her, and I warned him, “she bites too”. He just smiled again, lifted his arm, and pet her on the head anyways.

My lovely bay mare made me love her even more that day, when she bit him as hard as she could, right below his armpit, and held on.

The new trainer, Craig was his name, I figured he’d be like the rest, break free, curse and swear and raise a fist like most men would do. He didn’t though.

He kept smiling, even though I knew it must hurt, and stroked her head. He patted her neck, and told her what a pretty girl she was. Confused, she finally let go, and much to our surprise he gave her a hug before he walked away.

There was at least one good man left in the world. We were both stunned.

After that, Mama and I were both in love, with the same guy. He was kind, he was gentle, and he let us be who and what we were without judgment. I think both my little bay mare and I did a fair bit of healing that spring, and neither of us expected it.

Mama started to show some speed, and suddenly it was OK if she was the way she was. She wasn’t nasty, she was sharp – sharp is OK.

She wasn’t sullen, she had attitude – also OK.

The owner was nice to me, brought me a coffee one day. I smiled, and shared it with my girl.

Craig brought in muffins; she and I shared one of those too.

“That bitch” turned into “that bay mare”, or “that bay mare’s groom” depending on who they were talking about. I figured that was OK.

The track was a rough place, but I proved I deserved to be there.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Hey, I'm not gone. I'm churning out up to 10 pieces a week AND a cartoon. Good training for the future right? My new catch phrase is "Just put your head down and keep on writing."

I guess I missed Mouthy Monday. I'll try again next week.

Badges- I'll talk about angry/not angry next.....

Michelle asked me about bloodlines, which I like and what I felt safest on.

I had to think about it, because there's a lot of reasons for my feelings on breeding.

When I was in my late 20’s I started to appreciate a good bottle of wine and the taste of aged single malt scotch.

I also found out I was totally incapable of remembering the names of my favorite kinds, the vineyard,the year, the region or any of the details which make you a connoisseur of good liquor.

I learned to trust the suggestions from a few liquor store owners and a bartender or two.

I knew what I liked by flavor not name.

I have the same problem when it comes to my horses.

I’m going to be honest here, I am not a bloodline expert by any stretch.

Names and pedigrees, who does what, how they did it and what effect the bloodlines have absolutely will not stay in my head.

I tend to trust the people who know more than me and listen to their suggestions. I analyze whatever horse I’m currently riding and file the behavior away, if I have similar behavior in other horses bred the same way I remember it.

I’m incapable of remembering any of my horse’s registered names or to tell someone how they are bred.

My daughter showed with me for many years and I would rely on her to tell me what the horses registered names were when I was asked.

Now I am on my own and have to write their names on my palm.

Anybody who knows me well can appreciate what a trick that is.

I do strongly believe in the breeding and the behavior of the mare being equal or superior to the stud. I would never breed a mare who was less than the stud she was being bred to. I would never breed a mare who hasn’t proven her value in the show pen and her temperament by being a good minded partner.

I would never breed a pleasure bred horse to a cow horse, or a halter horse to a reiner.

Unfortunately AQHA has carefully developed, promoted and encouraged separate breeds within the breed and I think in order to insure value we need to breed true to type.

With this in mind I’ll go through some of the bloodlines I have ridden and the impressions I got from them.

My yellow mare has got Smart Chic O Lena on the front page of her papers three times. She has Hollywood Jack twice (I think).

I bought her on the recommendation of the Big K. He wanted me to ride a Chic O Lena because of their high trainability.

He was right, she has almost trained herself and is a delight to ride.

Sonita was out of a ranch stud named Peppy San Redd (I think) there was some Sonoitas and Sonoita Blue in there too.

I didn’t know the breeding and ended up calling the breeder of the stud. She was a rancher in Wyoming and mainly bred horses for ranch use. She told me she had been breeding these horses for 40 years, 95% percent of her horses were gray and they were known for their great temperaments. They had started gaining favor as cutting horses. Sonita was a cherry red chestnut and known for her psychotic temperament.

This was my first lesson in the reality of bloodlines. They can only do so much. She horse was really good on a cow though.

Here’s a run down of the dominant bloodlines on the cow bred horses I have ridden which stuck in my mind. These are the consistencies I noticed.

Paddy’s Irish Whiskey: Beautiful, lovely, elegant. Sweet tempered and talented.

Hi Brow Cat: Long legged, high natural head set, super talented, a lot of horse.

Hollywood Dunnit: Gorgeous, amazing head and eye, huge stopping, low headed reiners. Not known for great cow work, but I’ve seen some great Dunnits in the cow horse world.

Little Dors Lena: Really pretty, stocky, lively horses. Smart and willthink of stuff to do if you don’t keep them busy.

Shining Spark: Huge movers, giant maneuvers, rough to ride. Some have trouble falling out of lead in the back. They win and win and win. Sweet and easy to get along on.

Chic Please: Fiercely cowy, complicated, sometimes fearful.

Reminic: Lots of horse, huge on a cow. Hang on and know what you’re doing.

The Smart Smoke: Sweet and quiet. Will trick you into thinking they are lazy. They have rockets in their butt and huge acceleration. If you push them they will blow up. They’re more sensitive than they look.

I have also ridden a lot of foundation bred horses.

I like the Poco Buenos.They are pretty headed and smart.

I am not a fan of Hancock’s. In my experience they have been hard to start. I have been told they are great horses once they are up and running, but I have only had trouble with them.

I have had success with the Gay Bar King lines also. Lot’s of cow, lots of speed, a little nervy. Some f the old time cutters covet the Gay Bar King stuff.

Doc’s JJ is a Foundation cutter. My daughter has one and he is about the nicest, calmest most reliable thing I’ve ever been around. He works really low and snaky. He should be in the cutting pen. He's stops so nice he'll be fine as a cowhorse.

The thing about Foundation breeding is it’s the favorite way to go for the back yard breeders. If Doc Bar or King is within 20 generations some bozo will think it qualifies his three-legged quadruple cryptorchid as stud worthy.

I think Foundation bred horses get a bad rap because of it. If I was going to buy a Foundation bred horse I would buy a horse from a working ranch. I would watch the horses they used and pick out the type of horse which suits my needs.

I read an interesting comment by Curt Pate, an AQHA Professional Horseman featured as the AQHA Regional Experience clinician from Newell,South Dakota. He said if he was looking for the most versatility out of his quarterhorse he wouldn’t buy one that was bred with too much cow.

This comment makes sense. If I wanted a trail horse I would look at whatever horse did the job. I don’t think they need to be bred for this job, they simply need to have solid bone, a strong back, decent agility and a good mind. Qualities which any breed or any bloodline should have.

I still am a person who believes a lot can be accomplished with a horse who may not be bred right but still has the desire to do the job.