Continued from previous: Just “The Colt”
Buck showed me some tricks I could do with a soft rope. First, he demonstrated that I could flip the rope over the colt’s back, then catch the end with my boot when it swung under his belly. With one end of the rope in each hand I was taught to rub back-and-forth like a shoeshine boy. I rubbed back-and-forth from withers to flanks and down over the croup to slowly drop down around the hind legs. There was some kicking at first,but I was admonished to keep strapping until he stood still.Then I would flip the rope up over his back and continue rubbing.This way I didn’t have to be close enough to the colt to get kicked. At one point, Buck indicated that I should quit. I didn’t know until many years later that what he was looking for was the colt to lick and chew, indicating relaxation.
Over the next few weeks I was told to start rubbing him with a “croaker sack” (burlap bag), then with a saddle blanket. When Buck saw that I was able to flip the saddle blanket all over him, he let me put a saddle on him. At first I was to girt him up snug, but not super tight. At that point we went out to the working pen. There he was introduced to the work on a long rope for a few days. Finally Buck dallied the colt up to his stallion and indicated I was to crawl aboard. From that point we went so slow that the colt never never felt a big change from one stage to the next. Buck always said “Don’t never let’em buck! They don’t learn nothing from it but how to buck better. If you want to ride bucking horses, go pay your entry fee at a rodeo.”
The first horse that I ever “gentled” and started under saddle that was not my own colt was a flop-eared two year old quarter horse. If he had a name I never knew it. He was just “the colt“. My mentor, Buck, instructed me to tie the colt up to the iron ring in the barn and brush him every day.
Well, first of all, the floppy ears were more like horns on a bull. He was so nervous and scary that when I went to put a halter on him he snorted so loud I jumped back! There was no way I was going to put a halter on him. Heck, I couldn’t get that close. When I did get close he look like he was going to kick, paw, or eat me. I finally got a rope on his neck so that I was able to halter him. He had very little idea about leading, so it took a good half-hour to get him to the ring. The next challenge was to get close enough to him to begin brushing him. I started with a soft brush on his neck just in front of the withers the first day. That was all I got done the first day. By the end of the week I could brush him pretty much all over,if I was careful, and slow, and deliberate. Eventually, it being spring, he would come in with dried mud on his long winter hair so I even got to the point that I could clean off the mud and some early slipping hair with a sheddin’ blade. After nearly a month I was handling him and brushing him with relatively little problem, except for those ears, and the occasional buck-snort when he thought I’d moved too fast. (to be continued)
I thought I’d share a few words about liberty work with young horses, or even older rehabilitation project horses. What we’re trying to do with this is a sort of Yang/Yang thing that involves trust on the one side, and respect on the other.
First, I want a horse to move when I tell him to move. Then, I want him to willingly come to me, and stay beside me while I rub on him. In the small pen that starts with making noise or waving objects to make the horse move. But it’s not about wearing him out so he’ll be too tired to flee or kick or buck. An untrained animal is never too tired to kick into “evasion” gear!
As a horse is moving around the perimeter of a square or round pen he will give indications of beginning to work with you. One of the earliest signs is that he slows down, then points his inside ear at you. The way the horses vision works causes him to point an ear in the direction of his concentration. Next, he will stop, and if he faces you, and begins to lick and chew, you have achieved your goal. If he turns away, well, he gets to run more, until he figures out that it’s better to turn toward you. The next thing I work on is to walk around the side of the horse until he takes one step away from me with a hind foot. When he does,I turn away, to reward him. This gets repeated multiple times on each side. At some point, he will actually add one step toward me with a front foot. When he does, that session is now over. He goes back to the stall. He has now shown me some willingness to work, some curiosity, even maybe the beginning of trust.
So there you have started a conversation. He obeys your signal to move, and yet he shows some trust by moving toward you. In repeated sessions this mere spiderweb of trust can build into a strong bond, as long as you keep the rules of engagement in mind: ask frequently, expect little, reward the slightest try. The best reward? Turn and Walk away.
I make sourdough bread every week sometimes two or three times. I keep believing that I’m going to master the art of making a big elastic, airy, flavorful loaf. But each time it’s a crapshoot. Here lately, I’ve made some pretty nice loaves of sourdough bread with big bubbles in them, light in weight, and very edible. At least that’s what my family tells me! But then, some days I’m so disappointed at the results that I spend the rest of the day touchy as a teased rattlesnake. The hounds clear off the porch like turpentined cats when I burst out the front door to throw bread out into the pasture! The only thing worse for a feller’s self-esteem is trying to make a pie crust out of gluten-free flour! It won’t roll out and stay together like real pie dough. You end up putting it together in the pie pan like one of those thousand piece puzzles. On days when I have to do both piecrust and sourdough bread I get close to just unplugging and saddling up and riding off into the sunset.