WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #132
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - SEPTEMBER 2011
A cancer survivor and a blind gelding boost each other over
BY GRETCHEN EBERLE
MY GELDING PRETTY BOY and I have a theme song. It's "With a
Little Help from MY Friends," by the Beatles. It's very apropos.
You see, Pretty Boy, or "I'll," is blind. At one time he was an
"all business" cow horse on a working ranch in Colorado, but when
he lost his sight a couple of years ago he became vulnerable and
frightened. If anyone needed a friend, it was he.
I also needed one. After a year of chemotherapy and other
treatments for breast cancer, I was feeling vulnerable, too. I
felt as if I'd aged 10 years overnight and was old before my
At the time PB went blind, he was living at Moss Beach Ranch, a
boarding/training facility on the California coast just south of
San Francisco. His owners fretted that he might have to be put
down, as he was practically incapacitated by fear. Even eating
from a grain bucket was terrifying for him.
I befriended PB while his future was still up in the air. I
taught him how to leave his paddock and lead with confidence. He
learned to graze at the end of his lead and forget his problems
for a while. He also loved being groomed, and we soon became best
It was a learn-as-you-go proposition. Because I didn't own PB and
hadn't been active with horses for nearly 30 years, I was
tentative working around him. I didn't want to do anything that
would put either of us in danger. After six months of hand
walking, grooming, and grazing, I finally steeled my nerve to sit
on his back. The bond of trust we had by then made PB happy to
And an interesting thing happened at that point. With me on his
back, PB was suddenly able to maneuver about the ranch again. He
gladly marched into the arena, and though his "ranch horse" trot
was like a jackhammer, it was the first time he'd really moved in
nearly a year.
When he stumbled to his knees exiting the arena, however, I knew
he needed to learn about stepping up and down. With a command of
"Up! Up!," I taught him when to step up or over something. The
"popping" sound of that command helped him distinguish it from
others; I'd also twitch the reins slightly and move forward in
the saddle. Within a month we were routinely walking over ground
By the end of that summer, Pretty Boy was confident enough to
ride on the ranch's short "cool down" trail. Fall came and we
connected with another trail-buddy team, Gabi and her gelding
Willie. The four of us slogged through mud, crossed runoff
creeks, and encountered wildlife. Gabi and I were like kids
again, tromping around the hills looking for adventure.
PB continued to progress in the arena, too. In fact, Moss Beach
Ranch's head trainer, Jeannette Jacobi, urged me to try a
walk/trot class in the ranch's upcoming spring schooling show. As
I'd been actively polishing up PB's rough trot, it seemed a
Show day came - and with it, extreme nerves! I entered two
walk/trot classes, Western pleasure and Western equitation. To my
delight, PB placed fourth in his pleasure class. Our cheering
section (everyone who'd watched PB's comeback) was so proud of
Jeannette next suggested we go on the ranch's four-day trail ride
to Point Reyes. We began working on PB's endurance, but then life
intervened. A huge abscess in PB's front hoof put him out of
commission for three weeks. I, meanwhile, had another cancer
scare and was terrified as I waited for test results. In the end,
we both got clean bills of health just two weeks before our trip.
As the ride neared, I was anxious. The trails at Point Reyes
National Park are hilly and narrow. In some places, roots and
rocks cross the steep paths. I equated it to walking up a flight
of stairs ... on a blind horse! Could we do it?
We could and we did.
Our success on those trails was a testament to what a woman and a
horse can do when they team up together. Pretty Boy never
tripped. He tuned in to the sounds of his trail mates and my cues
to climb, step, and turn as expertly as the other seven horses in
our group. He was amazingand truly seemed to enjoy himself.
Our next adventure? Maybe helping Jeannette scout out new trails
in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There's also the Moss Beach Ranch
Fall Schooling Show.
All of it will be challenging, yes. But PB and I are definitely
up for it - with a little help from each other.
GRETCHEN EBERLE lives in South San Francisco, Calif. She and
Pretty Boy are still a pair.
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