“You gonna get on’im today?”
The question hung in the air like a challenge. It was as if a huge bell rang just over the trainer’s head. He took a deep breath and answered the best way he knew how.
“If he says ‘yes’.”
“Whaddaya mean, he can’t talk!”
“He’s telling me yes by staying near me instead of running right now. At first when I tried to get near him he said ‘no’ by running. Then as time went on I got more ‘yes’ as he discovered it was easier to stay with me and get rubbed, than to leave me and have to work.”
The trainer flapped the coiled lariat on the colt’s back. The colt snorted, raised his head and moved away.
“That’s a no. Now if I continue doing that, until he drops his head and relaxes, like that, I stop instantly. That’s when he learns. It’s not the pressure that he learns from, it’s the release of pressure.”
The trainer kept irritating the colt with the rope until the colt relaxed, then he immediately stopped. He did the same thing by lifting all four legs, and playing with the tail. He wrapped the lariat around the colt’s middle and sawed it back and forth until the colt licked and relaxed.
“Now he’s ready for the saddle. We’ll just rub this old Navajo blanket all over him. There, he’s lickin, head’s down, and he’s relaxed again. So I’ll just ease this ol’ ropin’ saddle on him, and cinch it up. But I want to warn you, this may get ‘western’!”
As he said this he pulled the cinch tight. The colt took three steps then broke in two with a magnificent high flying sun-fishing buck! He bucked and bawled like a rodeo bronc, then settled into a high lope around the pen. The trainer kept him going, turning him back both ways until he slowed to a trot.
“Now he’s saying ‘yes’ again. So I’ll ride him.” The colt sidled up to him, lowering his head for a rub.
“Holy crap, he just put on a triple herniated, wall-eyed fit! And you think you can get on him? You’re crazy!”
The trainer continued to work the colt, then quit as the colt came back and stood next to him. The trainer then began even more irritation by holding the saddle and hopping up and down beside the colt. Finally with his hand on the saddle horn he put a foot in a stirrup on each side.
“I’ll ask him if he can let me stand in the stirrup.” As he stepped in each stirrup over and over, the colt lowered his neck again and started to lick and chew.
“That’s another yes. So I’ll stand in this stirrup until he licks again. There, he’s okay with that.”
The trainer stood in the stirrup again, this time leaning across the saddle so that the colt saw him over his head with his right eye. The colt stayed calm, so the trainer got down. Then, to his friend’s surprise, he mounted the colt, putting his right foot in the stirrup! There was still no halter or bridle on the colt’s head. The colt stood for half a minute. Then he began to chew. The man dismounted.
“Well, not a bad first ride. He did everything I asked him to do, and stayed relaxed. All I have to do now is keep not asking for much, so I don’t overload his confidence and he’ll be alright.”
“I guess I can breathe, now.” Exhaled his friend. “I just saw your life flash before my eyes!”