By Cindy Hale
Friday, July 30, 2010
If you ride enough young, green horses you’re eventually going to get bucked off. When you’re young, you bounce when you hit the ground. But once you reach a “mature” age your body loses that elasticity and you merely splatter. This irrefutable truth is why Cowboy is heading off to a trainer for a month.
I feel like I’ve longed and long-lined him to death. Yesterday I had him tacked up in a western saddle and while my sister stood at his head I placed my foot in the stirrup and hopped up and down off his back. I even did it on both sides to be certain he’s fully sacked out. He was such a good boy. I would’ve swung my leg completely over his back and sat down, but I kept hearing my husband’s voice in my head saying, “If you ever ride another green horse again I’ll _______________.” Your imagination can fill in the blank there.
Plus my mother was standing outside the paddock telling me, “Cindy, do not get on that colt! If he should do something, and you come off and damage that computer in you, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Ah yes, the medical equipment imbedded in me. I often forget the Bionic Woman components of my existence. Well, that and the fact that my right arm isn’t entirely functioning at full capacity sort of precludes me from clambering up on Cowboy’s back like I was a decade (or two) younger. So this weekend I’m hauling him across town to a professional trainer who specializes in starting horses under saddle. She can put a half-dozen or so rides on him and then Cowboy can come home and just hang out and grow up until next spring, when he’s three years old. That’s when his real training will start.
But before I start envisioning Cowboy’s future, I have to stop and laugh about some of my experiences with a few of the young horses we raised in the past. Remember how I said that if you work with babies you eventually get dumped? That’s especially true with sport horses that have been bred for generations to be intelligent, bold and athletic. Just when you least expect it they can contort themselves into profound demonstrations of leaping and bucking.
One such horse was a dark mahogany bay gelding we bred and raised. He was given the nickname “Snap” because he bit my Aunt Thelma’s finger during a holiday visit. But he wasn’t as obnoxious as the name makes him sound. He was truly a lovely young horse. Yet like most Trakehners, he wasn’t a dullard. Instead, he was a very quick learner and by the third ride I had switched from the western saddle to an English one and was cantering him around our arena. I was so proud of Snap that I begged my father to come out and video tape our progress. Each time there was some excuse and he’d miss recording the training session. Finally, about a week later, I was trotting Snap around the arena and here came my father, video camera perched on his shoulder, poised to document the proceedings. I clucked to Snap, got him into a big, extended trot, and smiled at the camera as we floated past. And then he leapt up into the air, briefly suspending himself above ground, and came down bucking. I was ejected like an endangered fighter pilot. And it was all caught on tape.
Fortunately I wasn’t hurt, and that was the only time Snap ever performed that act. But it convinced me of his athletic prowess and his character. After I showed him for a year in baby green hunters, he went to a new owner who campaigned him successfully for a long time in show jumping, where his knack for springing through the air was rewarded.
Another memorable youngster was a bay gelding one of our fellow warmblood breeders sent to our place. Since I was already working with several of our babies, I offered to put a few rides on this gelding as a sort of favor. When the gelding arrived, I was told that some local gal had already done all the long-lining and that she had ridden him in her round pen. Sure enough, when I worked with the gelding on the ground, he seemed to longe and long-line fine. When I tacked him up he didn’t flinch. So I put my foot in the stirrup and started to climb on. Just as my right leg crossed over his back he launched into a bucking tirade. I yanked my foot free of the stirrup and bolted off his back.
Giving the horse the benefit of a doubt, I decided that perhaps he was a little cold-backed and needed to be longed a little. So we spent a while trotting and cantering in circles until I was sure the edge was well worn off. Then I had my sister hold his head and I tried again. This time I got my leg across his back without an incident. I remember looking at my sister as if to say, “Well, let’s give it another try.”
But the second my bony butt sunk into the saddle, “Boom!” That bay gelding launched me into the air again.
This time I dusted myself off and marched into the tackroom and called the owner on the phone. They got me in touch with the so-called “trainer” who’d allegedly ridden this bronco in her round pen. It took me a while, but eventually—with a meticulously devised line of investigative questions—she admitted that the bay had proved to be a real tough cookie and that he’d unloaded her several times until she’d given up. That’s when he’d been sent to me. Needless to say, I sent him right back to his owner and their names were scratched off the top of our Christmas card list.
See how riding young, green horses can add a certain element of excitement to your life? I guess my days of riding them are over, but who knows. Perhaps after Cowboy gets a few steady rides in him I may get on his back and pick up the reins, just to see what he feels like under saddle. It’s hard to stay off the back of a nice young horse, even when you’re not so young yourself.
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