OK, I promised I would tell you about one of my experiences with doing horse exhibitions. In the eighties I was working with several different horse breeds and disciplines, Quarter horses, Arabians, Peruvians, Andalusian,even draft breeds. I’d do reining, working cow horse, dressage, and I’d mix them together for an exhibition. I was concentrating on doing bridle-less demonstrations and I had four or five horses I could go out on trail rides with,even checking cows, with no bridle at all. One of my pupils was a sixteen hand tall blue roan Peruvian horse named Caporal. I worked up a musical freestyle using reining maneuvers combined with levades, bows, and lots of lateral work. I had him cued to slide to a stop by pushing down on both stirrups, so if we got in a “jackpot” I had a safety valve. He was really reliable. In fact when we got to Fort Worth to do his dance, I practiced every day at the show’s noon break with all the gates open, running and stopping, just to make sure he’d stop on stirrup pressure.
Now, my costume was pretty “punchy”, and I was riding a really “punchy” looking old-timey high-back, “beartrap” saddle, in fact it was an authentic pre-1900’s saddle that quite possibly had “gone up the trail” with a cow herds. The music for the exhibition was a high energy Hank Williams Jr. piece called “Born to Boogie.” So, Saturday night arrived, and as a last minute thought as the announcer was giving our “intro.” I told the steward, “just in case, shut all the gates”. That way if caporal came “un-broke”, at least we’d stay in the pen instead of flying out into downtown Ft. Worth!The music blared out, and the gates opened and we blasted out into the bright lights at a full gallop. We had a bridle on for this part and we did galloping circles, sliding stops and spins. Then we side-passed and backed up halfway down the arena. Finally the moment of truth came. I rode up in front of the audience, reared him up in a full “Roy Rogers, paw the air” pessade. Then I cued him to drop, from ten feet up, to a head in the dirt bow. He did it magnificently! At that point I whipped off the bridle to begin the second half of the routine, the bridleless part. The crowd applauded really loud. “Capo” had never heard that sound before, and it spooked him. As planned he took off, but I could tell it was a little more energetically than I expected! I started halfway down the arena pushing down the stirrups, but the ancient “cack” (old cowboy slang for saddle) had all it could take, and the right stirrup leather broke through. At that point I no longer had had any brakes! A little farther down the arena I caught sight of a small pipe-framed personnel gate that opened up to a stairway into the stands. It was still open. I prayed he wouldn’t see it as he barrelled down the long side of the arena wall. My prayer wasn’t answered. He shot through the gate, I grabbed the top bar and was shucked out of the saddle like skimming scum off an East Texas swamp. (There were only a few inches between the cantle and the pipe cross-bar) As I dropped down I said “Capo, BACK”. He was looking up the stairs, like “I wonder if I could… .” But he calmly backed out. I signaled him to bow, I doffed my sombrero and we walked out the gate to more thunderous applause. I don’t know if it was because they were glad I was still alive or if it was because they thought I’d done it on purpose! As I haltered him, my right stirrup fell to the ground with a clunk! I was shaking like “A dog passing a peach pit”. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes the universe rewards your pride with a lesson in humility!