New tricks for old dogs (or horses?)

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

How about an old horse?

How about an old person?

I’ll start with the horse.

Remember Norman the New Guy?  He came to us at age five, untrained, completely green and a backyard pet.  Oh no, we were warned, he’ll be spoiled, they said.  Fine, I replied, I’ll take him.  And I ended up with a horse who loves people, and was willing to listen and work with me. Within three weeks, Norman was reasonably proficient at pulling, driving, packing and riding.  After his first summer working with us, he moved approximately ten ton dirt, and became possibly the highest paid horse in Hinsdale County.  Right on.

Canella was our first born here at the Ranch.  That was seven years ago.  When she was two weeks old, she got on the wrong side of the fence, and a playful gelding ran her back through.  Only she didn’t quite make it, and the gangly little foal found herself terribly tangled.  No serious cuts or swelling, just a little limp ensued.

But the limp lasted, and if anything, got worse.  Her front leg seemed to grow in ever so slightly cock-eyed.  Not really enough for most folks to notice, but we did.

For years, I kept the front feet trimmed myself, trying to tilt her leg back in.  I ground trained her, but never let her carry a load.  My hope was that she’d straighten up, or at least strengthen up where a little swing to her step would not cause her pain, discomfort or imbalance.

She’ll never be anything, they told me, if you can’t get her going by two or three.  Why not, I wondered? What’s wrong with starting an older horse?

After years of having her hang over the fence and sadly watch us leave for the high country without her, just the other day, I decided to take her for her first test ride.  Seven years of handling paid off.  Up and down the mountain she carried me, with the lightest of touch of the lead rope looped about her neck, no need for a bit, never breaking gate, spooking or misbehaving, sticking to the trail, crossing creeks and stepping high over fallen trees.  Where was the thrill of the first ride?  You have to start ‘em young, I was told, or they’ll be spoiled and won’t listen.  Oh, really now?  Well, I’d say the bucking bronc or indolent child was long gone from her disposition, and I am left now with a willing and eager partner. Interesting.

If it works for you and is respectful for the horse, why not give it a try?

But who am I to say.  I’m “just” an outfitter.  No, now not even.  A ditch digger.  Someone who relies on horses for transporting our selves and our gear deep into the Wilderness, and once there, moving dirt.  Nothing fancy.  But I am out there working with my horses, making a modest living with them, as dependent upon them as they are of me.

No, I don’t have the fancy gear or dress just right.  My jeans are never pressed and usually dirty.   I don’t have a particulary title or style or stick to a book.  I don’t follow one method or trainer like a religon or guru, though I can say I should be able to learn something from everyone if I keep an open mind.  Sometimes, that something is what not to do.  I can tell you I don’t like old school methods and am open to the new.  You won’t convince me that force and fight are the answer.

Always more to learn. At any age.  Me and the horse.

This much I have learned, both from the horse, and those that I’ve seen working and playing with them.

He who speaks the most probably knows the least.

A horse has no words, but plenty to say if you’re willing to listen.

Thus when it comes to horses, I am learning (trying?) to keep my mouth shut, and just do what works for me.

How quick we are to judge, and how foolish we are if unable to learn something from everyone (and every horse) we meet.

And finally, the most important, get on and enjoy the ride. That’s what it’s all about, I guess.  At least for me.

Well, really, what I wanted to share with you was about this old dog:  my husband, Bob.   But I’ll save that for another day.  Have a good one.  I’m off!


photo taken by Forrest.

6 thoughts on “New tricks for old dogs (or horses?)

  1. This finds me crying little tears of joy. Sweet Canella…she must be so joyful that you put your faith in her, that you believed in her. How proud she must be. And I know you were probably smiling pretty big at the end of the day.

  2. I think it may be a bit like learning to use a computer. There is a push to have even the youngest kids (I teach four year olds) using computers. Highly overrated in my book. It can take weeks or even months for some of them to really grasp how to use that mouse. But give the same task to a seven year old who has not used a computer, and they’ll have it figured out in a few minutes.

    Your story today also makes me think of how we treat disabled people. We often assume they can’t, or don’t want to take on physical challenges. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being given the opportunity, and the expectation that it can be done.

    We could not be happier that Norman found you. If horses do take on the traits of their parents, he gets much of that kind soul of his from his mom. It warms out hearts every time we read about him.

    • Gay, what excellent examples of similar stories. “If you don’t do it early/this way/my way… it won’t work.” Bologna. Yes, give the horse, the kid, the human, the being the chance to shine, the job to do, and chances are pretty sweet he/she will shine!

      Norman is indeed a shining star. All who have had the pleasure to meet him I’ll bet will agree… How lucky we all are to know him.

Thank you for your interest in Gin's writing.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s