There is a horse that the ranch received a few years ago and has created quite the name for himself. Here on ranch, that’s usually not a good thing. On his resume are accomplishments such as a separated shoulder, multiple run aways, excessive rearing to the point of flipping over backwards, and a comical fondness for running people into walls, gates, fences, etc. He was always on my radar as one that needed a lot of support and one that could potentially teach me a great amount, but for some reason other wranglers kept getting a hold of him before I could.
The 2012 fall I had the honor to work with him. Worked him on the ground and found some great spots where I could see where others struggled in the saddle. Whenever I would try and break the hindquarters over and bring the front through, he would get real bothered trying to keep drifting instead of engaging the hind and bringing the front through. The real issue surfaced when I was going about the ground work outside in a tighter more confined environment. Every now and then, on his left side, I would go to switch directions where he would completely check out. Trying to run sideways rearing excessively, just like he did to others in the saddle, but by staying in correct position behind the balance point I was able to work through the issue. Two times of that and he was over that “wasted” effort. Shortly after the horse didn’t take another incorrect step, smoothing out and relaxing.
The next step was to check how he backed off the slobber strap. We will just say, that was a no go. Offered him a good deal, went to firm up on the snaffle and he just about flipped straight over backwards. After breaking his feet lose a few times, the horse would back in unison without any pressure needed.
After doing the ground work I then went through all the same things in the saddle. It all checked to an extent so that day I wrangled on him. The wrangle went great, he was pretty wound up, but we worked through it. I wrangled on him one more time, break away roping a few stragglers, and he was calm and quiet with lots of respect. We made a big change so I turned him out till this spring.
I caught him up, did a little ground work and went for a ride. Everything went well, just wanted to make sure there was no surprises in there with 4-6 months off, and put him up for the day. The next day I left him tied for several hours, but didn’t get a chance to put a ride on him. Repeated the same steps the next day, except at the end of the day he was caught up so I thought I would just wrangle on him. Of course I didn’t have time to check him out on the ground so I just got up on him and went for it. At this point I knew very well I wasn’t exactly stacking the deck in my favor for many reasons. This horse, with out ground work or prep riding to get to the feet, is the same horse that separates shoulders, runs through immovable objects, and a rearing son of a buck. About the only thing running through my mind is just go with the flow until the opportunity comes along to where he settles and I can work on getting to the feet and connecting them to the reins.
As we are picking positions for the wrangle I chose to push so that I could just flow with the horses and not have to use my reins a whole lot. I get into the corral and I can feel the engine come to life in this valiant steed. We were walking towards the back of the corral, when all of a sudden he catches a glance of his hoochy mamma. That’s when I felt the the engine turn into a performance race car engine that was revved up to the point of explosion. He starts going for his woman and I am just doing figure eights in the back of the corral trying to let him work it out. Mind you the corrals are a swampy death pit at the time from high run off. They cracked the gates to let the horses out to pasture and he became even more amped up. The figure eights turned into these giant loops through the corrals, trying to buy a little time for the horses to get out on their way to pasture so I could let him go with out worrying about guiding his life. He was on the brink, starting to circle for one last loop when he lines out to go for the corral fence. I remember this clear as day, thinking this is the point where he tries to run through immovable objects. He was running straight for the wood paneled fence determined to either run through it, jump it, or hell for all I know he thinks he is Pegasus. I was ready for all the above, trying to gently assist him to turn to the right, for the left was a sure slip on the muddy hillside into the fence. Leaving us both in a pile, that I would come out of with broken bones at best.
The moment of truth was upon us! Left to death, straight through the fence, jumping a 5 foot high wood barrier, or a sharp right turn for the best chance of survival. I was trying not to anticipate any one of the ideal options laid out before me in hopes that I would just react and go with my horse instead of making like a rocket inspired lawn dart, going head first into the swamp with only my legs sticking out of the mud flailing wildly. To make matters worse he is in a left lead as we approach the moment of impact, whether that be a slip and slide into the fence or potentially flying through the air for 10 seconds before I go splat. He had one stride left before he makes a decision, still in the left lead when all of a sudden he picks his shoulder up and evens my weight, leaning and offering right, taking his right lead. Safely turning, but so close to the fence I had to take my left leg clear up past his flank to keep from getting crushed by a fence post skimming his side.
We survived the turn with just enough time for the horses to get out of the corral. At this point I knew we were through the worst and let him air it out a bit. Taking off like batman out of the bat cave, mach 9, full speed ahead, peewwwww! The race was on to him, to reunite with his honey boo boo. It took him all of two seconds to catch up to the herd, going way to fast in tight corridors to bend him, so I had to take a hold of the reins to slow his feet to keep from beating the herd out to pasture. I was taking a huge risk, asking him to slow his feet because of his fetish with rearing in previous years. I felt confident because the one thing I was able to check out in a matter of seconds before getting on was backing him off the slobber strap. I grabbed a hold of the reins offering a good deal to just slow his feet, no response. I then firmed up to the point of stopping and backing him a few steps because of the resistance he put into slowing/stopping. We took off again and from there I was able to rate him until we were in a spot where I could bend him, working on other movements.
Once the horses cross the bridge its pretty much home free for the horses, in a sense it’s like loading a gun. Once they cross the bridge to pasture they all take off at a full out gallop, thundering into the meadow. This was my last obstacle to making it a successful wrangle on a fresh green horse. We were in the midst of crossing the bridge, watching all the other critters take off like wild banshees, and i could feel the tension rising once again. There was one more moment before the take off where I was able to position him to the left and brake the hindquarters to bring the front through, setting him up to take a right lead to get right of the gate. I wanted to get to the right so that he could lope a big circle in the nice grassy area, winding down at his own pace. Made the move, he took the right lead, taking off with out a doubt in his mind he was free. We made it to the right of the gate and he was still full throttle ahead.
After about 50 full speed circles at his own desired rate, close to 20 lead changes in about a 50 yard diameter circle, he found a his own stop away from the other horses and away from the pasture. Success! We paused there for a couple minutes just loving on him while he let down completely. We walked in at a nice lively walk, straight as an arrow, stopping with quality at the manger area where I dismounted. Took a moment to really let it all soak in for tomorrow I was going to need all the help I could get for his first wrangling of the horses in from pasture which is a whole new ball game. The night was finished with a successful ride with little to no preparation.
The only way I believe we both survived is through other preparation up to that point and letting him go at his own rate when possible. If I would have been in his way any more, I believe that we would have both been in a pile. I knew his limits from where he was at in the situation given. Knowing that I didn’t give myself or him the best chances for success, but knew that we could be successful by letting go and trusting him. It’s a hard thing to let go of yourself and just trust in your horse to do what he needs to do. In a sense your letting go of all “control” you think you have over them.
This is part of how I have learned the little bit that I have in the past years, by pushing the limits. Almost always leaving situations better then which they were at, even if it gets ugly for awhile, staying there till I am able to learn from the horse. If I don’t leave the situation better, it eats at me all through the night, until I can ride that horse the next day with more to offer. I am always learning along the way about the horses mental state, physical state, and most of all my state of being. By pushing the limits and reflecting accordingly, I always come out offering the horse a little more. All in hopes of being able to offer the horse a lot more down the road. Little by little the journey progresses, enjoying it even more with every day to come.