Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cowboy Wisdom -- Speak softly and carry a big stick

Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick," and he described his style of foreign policy as "the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis."  In other words, you gotta make sure they respect you if you expect them to pay attention to your message.

The same concept works perfectly good with horses--especially pushy mares.  My mare Kasidy is an absolute sweetheart, but she's a wee bit willful, and occasionally she needs to be reminded who's running the show.

When I first got her I trailered her all over the Western United States to mounted shooting events and never had a problem.  Then suddenly one day--just as she turned five years-old--a switch went off in her head, and she tested every move I made.  I have never had a "heavy hand" with any horse I've owned.  To be quite frank Kasidy had me completely buffaloed. 

Her willfulness reached a high point during a shoot in 2008.  Just as I was aligning my sights on a target with my finger on the trigger of my colt .45, she pitched, reared and tossed me like a rag doll.  I had to cowboy up and finish the shoot, but when I went to load her in the trailer a new battle was on.  Rearing was her favorite form of intimidation, and it was working pretty good.  Things went along okay for another month until she repeated her rearing trick during another shoot.  This time she added in a crow hop just before the rear, and as before she did it when I transferred my attention from her to a target.

Have you ever been mid-air, flat on your back, about a foot above a fully extended rearing horse's head, and realized gravity is not your friend?  Well, later that night--after I got home from the hospital--I knew I needed some help with the mare.  In a few weeks I found a horse trainer that seemed to savvy my dilemma, so I put the mare in the trailer and headed for Fort Collins, Colorado (1300 miles away).  The first night I camped at a little ranch in Gallup, New Mexico, and I put the mare in a pipe corral for the night.

The next morning when I went to load her at 4 a.m.,  she decided it was the end of the ride for her.  So here I am, it's pitch black except for the lights in the trailer, and I've got a rearing 1100 pound horse on the other end of an 8-foot lead rope.  Fortunately a mounted shooter friend had suggested I purchase a 5' crop to carry in the trailer.  I led the mare to the tack room door--she was willing to go anywhere that wasn't in the trailer box.  I got my "big stick" 'er I mean crop.  I led her back to the trailer box, and as soon as I asked her to get in up she reared.  You'd have thought I was the great Babe Ruth the way I wound up and walloped her on the butt.  She swung about ten feet to my right and went up again, so I gave her backhand wallop on the other cheek.  She got in the trailer!

If I had been a little smarter I could have saved myself $5000.00 in training fees, and could have turned around headed home right then and there.

When I got to Colorado the trainer (who shall remain anonymous)  took my mare into an arena, and proceeded to put her through a series of drills.  He was a fine rider and used an unwrapped fiberglass quirt for correction.  When the mare came out of the arena and I saw the welts on her butt I realized his quirt was being used a lot more forcefully than anything I would have done. 

Now, four years later, my mare still pushes now and then, but I've added some tools to my tool box.  I always lunge her before a ride, especially if the weather's been bad and we haven't been out for a few days.  And, I also carry a big noisy quirt.  I've only had to use it a time or two, but I show it to Kasidy often, so she knows it's on the saddlehorn.

So my cowboy wisdom for dealing with a pushy horse is this: Speak softly and carry a big stick.

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