By Laura Crum
I have a new horse in my barn. Well, not new exactly. My one boarder, who is my friend and old team roping partner, bought Smoky a couple of years ago. The horse had just turned three. His previous owner (who was the breeder) had put about ten rides on him. Both Wally and I rode the colt and liked him. Wally took the small blue roan gelding in exchange for a debt, though neither Wally nor I wanted to train another colt. We promptly turned him out for six months in my sixty acre pasture (which has lots of topography), so that the colt, who had been raised in corrals and had a very babyish, tentative way of moving, could grow up a little and learn to use himself. Wally had a good hand that we know put sixty days on Smoky the summer of his three year old year. Then we turned him out again.
The summer of his four year old year Smoky got ninety days of riding by this same good hand, which included working cattle, going on gathers, and being ridden outside. Then he got turned back out. By this time the horse was a very strong mover, and could gallop across the pasture, up and down hill, leaping the creek, in perfect balance, never breaking stride. He could outrun the fastest horse turned out there. In the spring of his five year old year, Wally sent Smoky back to the same trainer for ninety more days. Then he sent him to a rope horse trainer for another ninety days. And at the end of this time (Sept 1st) he brought him back to my place and the two of us starting riding him.
Its been interesting. The four horses I keep here (my old team roping horse, my trail horse, my son’s horse, and Wally’s team roping horse) are all over ten years old and settled, steady horses, each in their own way. Smoky, though a very gentle, easy-going colt who never once challenged his trainers, (they both reported zero bucking, spooking, or bolting episodes), is still a colt. He doesn’t have that steady quality that an older horse has. Both Wally and I questioned if we ought to be doing this, as we both feel we are past our colt riding days. But Smoky has convinced us.
Yes, we have to work at it to keep his head carriage steady, yes he sometimes bounces when he stops, but that’s about the worst of it. He’s reliable and quiet on the trail, good with other horses, never fresh, not spooky, completely flat-backed. You can make a team roping run on him, though he’s a ways from being ready for competition. His worst fault is being lazy and a little pushy (the people who raised him until he was three were the sort who fed treats). But he takes correction well, and I’d rather one that was lazy then one that’s on the muscle.
There’s just one little thing. Smoky likes to paw. The first day I had him here, I noticed this habit. As I began my evening feeding routine, distributing hay to each horse, Smoky stood next to his feeder and pounded on the ground in a steady repetitive fashion with a front foot. It was annoying.
“Quit!” I yelled.
Smoky ignored me and raised clouds of dust with his emphatic digging.
I started to yell at him again and stopped. I was teaching this horse to ignore me. Without thinking about it much, I grabbed a small rock, about one inch in diameter, said “Quit’ again in a calm voice, and nailed the colt in the shoulder.
Smoky jumped, unsure what bee had stung him, and went right back to pawing. I nailed him again in the barrel. I’m a pretty good shot with a rock.
This time Smoky jumped and crowhopped a little. He still wasn’t sure what was going on, but he eyed me suspiciously.
I stood there waiting. Smoky began to paw again and I hit him right in the side. He saw me this time and jumped away from me to the far side of his pen. Since he’s in my one small pen, which is thirty by thirty, he still wasn’t too far away. He began pawing again. I nailed him in the butt.
Smoky jumped, turned around, and faced me with his ears up, looking distinctly wary. This was fine with me. I began the feeding routine again. Smoky stood at the far side of his corral and watched me. He did not paw. When I put his hay in his feeder, he stayed back, looking nervous. After awhile he approached cautiously and began to eat. When I reached out to stroke him between the bars of the corral, he flinched away from me.
In another horse, I might have found this response worrying, but in Smoky’s case, it was just right. Smoky is annoyingly gentle, as I’ve said, and always wants his nose in your pocket, the result of how he was raised before I got him. I was quite happy that he should learn to be a little more wary and respectful of me.
Thus my feeding routine became one of loading my pockets with a few small rocks as I walked down the driveway, and zinging Smoky as soon as he began to paw. In a very short time, Smoky gave up the pawing. Yesterday, when he was tied to the trailer, he lifted his front leg to begin the gesture. I said, “Quit” in a low voice and his ears came up, he looked at me, and he put that foot down quietly. Wally laughed. “He’s afraid of you,” he said.
“Oh yeah. He thinks I’m the wicked witch of the west. Except that I also feed him. But do you notice, he doesn’t crowd me any more.”
Wally acknowledged that this was true. We both wish that the colt had been raised in a turned out situation—he will always be a little too willing to get in your space for our taste. But he’s a good colt and he learns fast and is gentle to ride, so he has a lot going for him. And I’m well on the way to curing him of his annoying habit.
Any one else have an annoying equine habit that they’ve found a cure for? I’d love to hear your story.