Fire breathing death belching demons straight from the bowels of Hades, were you to ask Royal T not all that very long ago. I used to dread seeing cattle off in the distance when we were road riding, especially if their fence line came anywhere close to any where we might end up.
Royal hated seeing them too. Neck would arch, head would grow skyward throwing unwelcome slack in my reins and fear in my heart. His body would arc against my leg and I knew if the curious bunch came a’running down to see us as cows often will, I would probably see my demise reflected back from their big brown eyes.
This year’s Peter Campbell clinic filled fast. So fast, we had enough riders to schedule a third class. Peter uses cattle to teach horsemanship so we often see them the third and fourth days of our Horsemanship 1 class but here was an opportunity to ride four days in a row in the presence of the bovine. I sucked my stomach against my spine, found some steel and called us in for the duration.
The horse that showed up at Peter’s clinic, Day 1 Foundation class was a soft gentle guy. A horse that wanted to be with me more than he wanted to be some other place. A horse I have been searching out in golden moments for the past four years.
When we added cows to the equation it was nothing compared to two years ago. Royal was so upset then as we came pounding in, late for the class and me on foot that Trina had to come hold him for me. He wouldn’t stand still enough to even attempt a flying mount, much less get on proper.
I rode with Trina that afternoon, and we got him relaxed enough to follow a steer on a loose rein. HUGE win for us! I still couldn’t get much done when we were in the line trying to keep the steer in the center of our two groups. It would give Royal a look and he’d be a’spinnin’ and a’whirlin’ out of the way allowing the steer a nice big breach in the line to come through at his pleasure.
I could not set his hip over an eighth, I got full on turns, hindquarter slinging out of control “slippery little bar of soap”. Couldn’t bring his front end through and stand, ask for one step, would get ten, until the last day and we finally got those things accomplished.
Couldn’t lope around even the riders in a bunch because the dreaded cattle were off to one side, and could not be ignored.
That was then, this was now.
The cows were worth a glance askance. I feel Royal’s ribs bulge against my leg as he siddled away from the scary smelly beasts, but I let my inside rein and leg present a barrier, and finally he is broke enough to not just blow through and leave the country. He is politely concerned.
Peter shows us the game on Lollipop, the little Palomino mare he’s riding in our last class. “She knows she’s pretty,” he says, and I can believe the classy thing does, indeed. He also says she is handier than Superman was and I did not believe that, until I saw it.
Our turn to move the steer. My horse moves forward bravely, willing to take on the task. He’s no cowpony and he got scared when we got close. I could hear Peter telling me to get to the fence, which would have put us effectively between the steer and his herd in the pen. It took me a bit but I figured it out on the return trip.
The steer didn’t really believe Royal could push him and was quite content to stop along the rail while it considered it’s options. I set Royal between the steer and the rail. No go. I gave the cow a solid kick with the toe of my boot. A few steps. C’mon dude, geez!
My mecate whizzes through the air, snap on the cow’s rear end. More steps. Peter says get my horse’s chest up against him and push him. All the while, Royal is gaining in courage. Once upon a time had I smacked something in front of him with my rope like that, he’d have been over and out. Now, he sorts it, understands that is not meant for him. We push the steer.
Tex the steer finally takes us seriously and sets off. Down the fence, and then it dashes between the line of riders. We cut it off so it can’t get back to the herd and it scurries down the other end of the arena.
I forget what horse I am on and set my spurs to his sides. GO! GET THAT SUMMAGUN!! The horse under me surges forward, happy to respond. I remember belatedly it’s Royal and have a moment’s delight I am not on the ground.
We come around behind the steer and we bring that sucker up the rail. We aren’t stopping and we told him the truth. He was not stopping either.
Thing escapes us a little bit later after we’d got him back up to where we wanted him to go and Peter says no worries, we are good.
It’s a complete total solid win as far as I am concerned. My Arabian/Saddlebred may never get on his belly and crawl to turn back a feisty critter. He WILL however, look at them and be broke enough to stay between my hands, legs and get a job done.
That part there is what I am here for. A horse that will stay between my hands and legs no matter what his instincts tell him to. That is the horse I can take places and do things with.
First thing that morning, Peter has us check in, he asks how we are doing and what we want to work on. I had decided to not say anything as he will know before I do what I am there for. He pauses at me. “You – what ‘s going on with yours?”
“Well he still gets a little excited in the trail ride environment when horses disappear in front of us.” It’s so much better but that’s still an issue so I might as well spit it out.
Peter makes reference as to how I should not pull on him with both reins when Royal is excited and right then I am thinking I don’t do that, not really . . .
He says I should take him on the corner, get him to move his hind . . . I am thinking, yeah, I do that. Works sometimes, sometimes he only grows more frantic . . .
Then he asks if I ever just let the horse go with his friends, how bad could that be rather than causing an event I might not be able to ride the end result of (he’s not talking to just me now but all of us. Don’t pick a fight you are not sure you can win.)
I think of the CTR when that first set of horses passed us by and the escalation was so fast and so furious I was pretty sure if it kept going, Royal T would be on the ride without me.
Peter says, heck how far can he go? Ocean on each side, right?
At the time I scowl a little on the inside. I don’t wanna go to any ocean. I want the damn thing to not freak out when he sees horses in the distance. I let him go every time that happens, I’ll be riding with people in Kansas who’s names I don’t even know.
Clinic’s end, I have a strategy in mind that might keep us from crossing any state lines . . . can’t wait to get some friends together to help me try it out . . .
And yes, there’s more about cows. Let’s just say, to begin with none of us were all that great.
None except Trina and she doesn’t count