Keith Hunt - Wrangling on the Range - Page Thirty- nine   Restitution of All Things

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Wrangling on the Range #39

My Birthday - Horse lesson


     September 11th - the now infamous day, yet it is my
birthday, and I was born before the Two Towers in New York city
came crashing down in 2001. I am 67 years old today.
     It was a glorious warm and sunny day. I was going to Betty's
before the Ranch to ride one of her mares that really needs to
have some steady work to make her into a fine dependable horse;
Shaunee is her name, and Betty has had her from a foal; she 7 or
8 says Betty. I arrived at the appointed time of 10 am but
Shaunee was out on the range with other horses and is one of
those horses that you cannot catch unless you send her into a
small corral. So that plan of mine did not even start. Shaunee
has been ridden, but it's been a while and I was offering to ride
her once a week, but I doubt now it will materialize, time will

     Michael, Betty's nephew, was off to Banff and Jasper, up
through the Canadian Rockies, with his parents, who had come out
from Ontario. They arrived at Betty's before I left so I did get
to meet them and have a visit.

     I arrived at the Ranch just before noon. There was a Mom and
son coming for a guided ride at 1 pm and 5 people at 3pm for a
guided ride, with a couple of members coming to ride for an hour
or so.

     Two ladies (who volunteer work for the Ranch) came in from a
ride they had enjoyed together. Sandi and Rachelle told them it
was my birthday. The four ladies presented me with hugs and
kisses on the cheek while photos were taken - wow, I told them it
was the best birthday I'd had for many years!!

     I brought Goldie in and did the usual with her, my she was
looking good today. Her coat is now a beautiful dark gold color
and just a shining, whatever it was she just looked exceptionally
lovely today. The Mom and son arrived nice and early - 12:30, so
we were off on the trail well before 1 pm. I asked the usual
questions: "Are you from here? Where in town do you live?
Do you have more children? To the last question she told me she
had a 14 year old boy also. I asked, "Did he not want to come and
ride also with you and his brother?" To which she answered, "Oh,
he is in school, but Jordan here does not have school today." I
had actually forgotten it was Friday.
     "He will come next Friday, as he does not have school. He
was some envious of his brother and I coming out to ride today."
     "Oh, nice that he's coming next Friday, I'll get to meet
him," I replied.

     We talked about the Ranch and horses and riding. When you
chit-chat the hour seems to fly by, and before we knew it we were
back at the barn.
     The 5 adults at 3 pm phoned to say they would a little late.
They did arrive at 3:15 and we were out on the trail by 3:30.
They were 4 men and 1 lady. The lady had never ridden before, the
men had. Rachelle came along with me as outrider. We had not gone
too far when she came alongside and said, "Keith, the men are
wondering if we can do some trotting sometime."
     "Well .... the lady has never been on a horse before, and
the basic rule is we go as fast as our least experienced rider,
so really this should be only a walk ride ... but, we'll see how
things go."
     The first half of the trail was certainly not good enough
for a trot, it was a pretty stony trail, though a path was there
from all the horses going over it time and time again in the last
three months. We passed through the first gate and down hill
towards the valley north of the barn. This part of the trail cuts
through the trees and is very pleasant. Rachelle was talking to
the riders and everyone was enjoying themselves. The second gate
brings us to the valley, but the far north end of it, so we start
then to go south back to the barn. This was the only part of the
trail I felt it safe to do any trotting. I asked Rachelle to stay
along-side the lady. I turned and told the lady to put both reins
in one hand and hold on to the saddle horn. I called out, "If
everyone is ready we shall trot!" They all said they were ready.
     "Okay, Goldie, slow trot." My horse is voice trained so when
she hears "trot" she trots. Off we all went. I looked back every
5 seconds to see how our lady rider was doing, and she was doing
well. After about 20 seconds I asked her if she was okay, and she
answered, "Yes I'm good." And indeed it was so, she did real
     "And walk..." I told Goldie. Our line of horses came to a
     "Well done all of you," I shouted back. "I'll give you
another trot just over the rise ahead."
     Now on the other side of the little dimple in the trail, I
shouted back again, "Get ready for a trot!"
     The lady directly behind me put the reins in one hand and
the other hand on the saddle horn.
     "This will be a longer trot if you all are okay with it, " I
told everyone.
     "Goldie ... trot!"
     Away we went, and I kept looking back to see that everyone
was doing okay. A few times I asked the lady if she was still
feeling good and was fine with more trotting. Each time she
answered in the affirmative. I shouting back that we wound then
keep trotting till we got to the gate, about 50 yards away, from
where I told them this. Everyone was fine with that, and did real
well right up to the gate. It was probably a couple of hundred
yards that we had trotted, and it was good to see the smiles on
each face, obviously all were enjoying it all.
     Instead of just walking on the roadway back to the barn, I
took them up on the side of the small hill that is east of the
roadway; you get a much different perspective of the outdoor
arena and the barn and corrals from up there. We then drop down a
gradual trail that brings us back to the roadway and the outdoor
arena directly to our right.
     Back in the barn, all dismounted, I patted the lady on her
arm and told her she did real well. She had one big smile on her
face, the men were all thrilled with the ride, and thanked me. It
is very satisfying to see people happy with just one hour trail

     Betty was at the Ranch, getting ready for her week-end
horse/pony teaching, which she does till about the end of
October. I help her in whatever way I can on the Sunday afternoon

     There was one lesson for me today. Oh, you learn things all
the time. It was not a huge serious mistake of mine, but just one
of those "nothing thinking down the line" lessons. At the main
barn I usually put Goldie in a box stall. I ride out into the
barn to lead the rides. Goldie loves to push the box stall door
open with her nose and also the iron swing gate into the barn.
Today I put Goldie next to Applejack as they are buddy-pals. I
use roping reins on Goldie, which snap on to the bottom of the
shanks of the curb bit I use on her. I unsnapped one and just
wrapped the rein around the pitching post rail. After the 3 pm
ride was over, we were unsaddling the horses. Sandi was
unsaddling Applejack and I was further down the barn wall
unsaddling another horse. Sandi led out Applejack and the horse
next to him, taking them out to the back of the barn corral where
all the horses not being used today were gathered. We hear this
commotion and "snap" - I look over and Goldie is walking
alongside Sandi, but on the other-side to the horses Sandi is
leading by the halter lead ropes. I immediately knew what had
happened, when Sandi led Applejack away from the hitching rail,
that was the cue for Goldie to go also, and in so doing pulled on
the rein, broke the little snap at the end of the rein to the
shank of the bit and was free to follow Applejack. 

     I kicked myself, figuratively, I was so mad with myself.
Sandi did not know Goldie would follow Applejack, she was
completely innocent.
     Mistake one: do not in a riding barn tie horses up with the
reins. I only had the rein wrapped around the hitching post, not
tied in any way, but do not even do that. What you see in
"westerns" is one thing, tying horses to hitching rails, but in a
public riding barn you should not do it. I broke a basic rule,
and it smacked me in the face.
     Mistake two: Never in a public riding barn take things for
granted, for other people, staff or public are in the barn at
times and do not know what you know. I knew as long as Applejack
was haltered to the hitching rail, Goldie would stand there, no
questions asked. Sandi did not know if Applejack was unsaddled
and taken to the outside corral, Goldie would follow.
     Mistake three: I should have tied Goldie up with the halter
lead rope, then her trying to follow Applejack would have come to
a quick halt, but a rein that has only a weak "snap" on to the
shank of the bit ... well a good pull on that, and it's broken
mighty fast. That is exactly what Goldie was able to do, one
strong pull and the snap was ... goodbye, and my horse is saying
to me, "See I can get free from that pretty easy, and follow my
friend, and I don't care that you have to repair it."
     Goldie is very much a herd horse, she likes to go where the
herd is, and especially if Applejack is going there. I was not
thinking down the line. Fortunately this mistake of mine was not
serious in a physical way, but it is a lesson nevertheless.
Working with horses and people in the same space means you need
to be mentally alert, sharp, thinking ahead, thinking down the
line. Never let up, never let your guard down where horses and
people are together. 
     This was just a small reminder to me that today I did not
fully think down the road. Always think down the road, be
thinking all the time when working with horses.

     I walked back to barn "B" with Goldie and my now broken rein
snap, kicking myself all the way. I unsaddled Goldie, turned her
out with the rest of the herd in the corral at the back of barn
"A" - talked for a little while with Betty, and then headed back
to town.
     The weather is to be in the low 80s F over the week-end, so
it should be a busy day at the Ranch when I'm out there on Sunday


To be continued

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