The handsome young Paint arcs his neck awkwardly against the bit. His head comes up, his eyes are big. His feet are stuck and he doesn’t know what to do.
I have just enough tension on the rein to let him know he needs to figure out a way to get relief but not so much as to freak him out and possibly end up upside down in a very bad way.
I wait. I am in no hurry. We are parking cars for the hayrack rides at the ranch and I am setting up situations to help this guy learn to move his feet while it’s quiet. Once the chips are down and we are sending cars this way, trucks that way, no ma’am, you pay the lady down at the barn I will just spend your money foolishly, there’s no time to teach only to do.
The outfit on the horse’s head does not improve our situation. The ranch used him as a wrangle horse most of the summer and the quick fix to the head tossing, locked up feet was to run a leather strap from his halter to his cinch in a makeshift tie down. It did keep anyone from getting hurt so that part was definitely successful.
“Don’t back him up. The guy that owned him all his life said he might flip over if you try to back him up.”
I had felt that in him when I rode the Paint out in the hills to see if he’d be a parking candidate. A real good horse, I don’t have to ride long at all to know what I have. One that’s real bad, not going to ride him long either.
It’s the ones that land in the middle, kinda dicey but wait, what if I ask like this? How do you like that, and they say, yeah that might be okay. Those, I ride longer.
I rode Huey almost 45 minutes that first day. At the end, he was backing a few steps softly on a loose rein and I figured he’d be okay if we were careful.
Sometimes I think it does a horse no favor to get him really broke, soft to the hand and leg. Not if you are going to send him out to a world that often had the best intentions in the world when it comes to a horse, but not the knowledge or ability to ride one that knows more than they do. Nobody knows what they don’t know until they know better.
This horse had some decent experiences back in his young life somewhere but had become very confused when the rules he knew changed without warning.
We decided I better ride that one, and we’d put my crew on less complicated horses. Most people think, oh! Park cars on horses! Fun, easy job. Nope. It’s not. It IS sometimes fun but it’s not easy and when you are parking 50 to 60 cars at a time in a tight space in the dark, no lines to guide them as they are in a rush to get to their party, it’s high end stressful for horse and rider alike.
So, here I am, heading up the hill to the terrace, our first parking area. Huey is in his tie down and tom thumb bit. I know the owner, my friend, is thinking he’s keeping me safer with this rig. I am not in agreement but it’s his horse and I can work with what I have.
I have a magic bullet rant. Here’s a piece of that. Your issue is not your halter, your lead, your bit, whatever. The best tools for a job absolutely raise the odds of successfully completing the task and if you don’t have the skill to pound a nail with a toothpick, you better grab a hammer. If you are unhandy with the hammer, it’s not the nail’s fault if you smash your finger.
Tack fit does not fit in this rant. I have seen many nice horses get upset and downright dangerous over pinching bits, poorly fitting saddles and the like. Make sure your stuff fits your horse. I don’t really care at all if it fits you, until it fits your horse.
Here’s the test to my theory. Can I pound a nail with a tie down and a bit I really don’t like? Going to have to. I understand how the leverage works on a shank bit that is broken in the middle. There are about a hundred ways to use that thing wrong so it jabs the horse in the side of the face, his tongue, roof of his mouth. Then if he raises his head to escape the pain, there’s that tie down saying nope, stay here and take it big boy.
I pick up a rein, raising it cautiously along the big horse’s neck. I want him to feel it but not become afraid. He’s already afraid so this is delicate. I don’t care if he moves his feet while he searches out what he can do.
His neck arcs awkwardly, and here’s where we came in, gentle reader. I just sit and wait. It’s not impossible I would have put too much pressure there while I am also trying to figure things out and if he were to get upset, I know not to try to get through something bad to get to something good. I’d let him go and start over.
Also not impossible I wouldn’t send enough down the rein to mean anything to him and he’d just stand there. That’s tricky because sometimes what I think is just standing there is the horse trying to sort things out and me adding pressure right there can really mess things up. This stuff takes trial and error for a person where I am in my journey.
Peter, my teacher? He knows how much to send before he ever twitches a muscle. He’s human and might have to make an adjustment along the way too, but he’s the least human horse person I have seen and I’ve watched a few.
Huey sits there for a moment in that oddly bent position. I know he’s thinking about what comes next and I sure hope I have guessed right. A horse can get unhappy and come over on you in one quick moment when the mind and the feet are stuck. They don’t think they have anywhere else to go.
He begins to shift his weight and I release pressure. I could not care less where he is going, as long as it’s not up. He is trying and I am going to reward that all day long, build back a confidence in his rider to stay with him and not leave him in the clinches. Hugh, you can thank Royal T and Peter Campbell for that one.
I ask again, thinking to myself I’d really like that right hind to step under. It doesn’t take long at all and the foot goes where I am thinking it should.
After that, it was pretty much fun, games and good times for us. Huey learned he could operate on a soft feel and never touch that tie down.
I may or may not have made a point of backing him in half and full circles up there on that terrace in full view for the world to see. (“It changes a horse” says Peter and he is right as rain.)
Huey just gets softer and happier. As the day goes on, we do our part. It’s not a super hot heavy omigod here they come kind of a day. My daughter, Sarah, is working with me and that adds an untold measure of delight to the whole deal. She’s been on a horse maybe five times in the past ten years but she was a pretty decent hand as a kid and it’s coming back to her fast.
Sarah and her palomino park the cars on one side, me and Huey sort off the trucks and SUV’s to park against the steeper hill on the other side. We do it with the biggest smile and soft happy footsteps.
Here’s Sarah, Rhonda and Jane who ended up on Huey as I took on yet another complicated Paint!
Here we are, getting ready to park the big pasture. There’s a rhyme, rhythm and reason to everything we do and it takes a game plan to get it done!Jane and Huey (we did later convince the owner things would go much smoother in a snaffle bit bridle and sans tie down. When it worked out, he grinned at me and said “See Terri, I told you we needed to change that bit!” I laughed and threatened him with a shovel full of horse manure . . .
Here I am on Cisco, a horse I stepped up on for about five seconds last year when he first arrived at the ranch. He’d blown hard, squatted like a frog and I knew my best bet was step off while I still could. He’s seen a lot of life since then and was hands down the best car parking partner I have had to date.
This is why I ride with Peter Campbell. Yeah, it’s still all about him. What he gives me works not just for my horse there in the clinic setting but at home, on the trail, doing a job that doesn’t have a thing to do with horses.
I study hard when I am around the Campbell’s, I bring it home and work hard. I don’t have to be anywhere near a horse to be turning over in my head how I can better get along with one. That learning sometimes also helps me with getting along with people, though that’s definitely a tougher nut to crack!
Thank you, Peter and Trina, too