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.