My other post for today "Shame in the Horse Show Ring" made me think of the most wonderful Quarter Horse I ever rode. I was working as a Livestock Supervisor for Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice. I watched for three years this horse being ridden by another individual doing what one does with cattle: checking cattle daily, penning cattle for working, and checking fence. His name was Shortie. A fire orange sorrel gelding built like a little bulldog standing just 14.1 hands. The time came when his rider left the ranch. I was able to pick him up. Why that rider loved to have this horse's nose in the air was beyond me. I was drawn to Shortie because he loved his job and had a real gutsy attitude. He just knew he could do anything the bigger horses could, and he could.
Well that rough nose in the air gate had to go. Patience was the rule every day I stepped onto his back. After three weeks of a get to know you period I set up a series of cavaletti for Shortie. We would work about five minutes everyday at a walk and trot across them. At first it was like a fish out of water. This powerhouse athletic gelding couldn't even walk across them with out almost falling down. It took two weeks for him to begin to look down at the ground. It was the beginning for him to realize he didn't have to stick his nose in the air. Slowly over the next year he began to drop his head, learned to cadence his gait. We could head across open ground at an extended trot and I could sit and ride with ease. His jog was exquisite and balanced. His lope like a gentle rocking chair, easy and free lead changes with just a shift of the opposite leg by me. His neck level and collected at all gaits. All I had to do was lift my hand and he would stop. A year and half later other employees took notice, the gutsy little gelding was the envy of the ranch. Time and again I would hear someone say, I can't believe Shortie is the same horse. Can I ride him, the answer was always some other time.
Then one day as I climbed on his back, something was amiss. After twenty minutes I got off and check the girth, the pad, the saddle, the bridle, the bit.....I mean I checked everything. He was off, he wouldn't collect, wouldn't cadence any gait. After two hours I felt beaten to death like when I first started to ride him. On top of that I'd felt I was fighting him all morning. He wasn't tossing his head, he wasn't angry....it felt like a test. He didn't accept a single cue I gave him. I was trying to get a cadenced jog when I finally had enough. I didn't raise my hand to stop as I just stepped off of him. Roping horses are trained to stop when the rider comes off. He wasn't collected like he should have been. The result taught him a simple lesson he would never forget. He stumbled, scrambling to stop, and his knees hit the ground followed by his nose. He picked himself up as quickly as he fell. Stunned he stood there eyeing me.....I touched his neck lightly stroking him. 'Shortie,' I said, 'I hope that taught you a lesson.' I mounted and my wonderful gelding moved off at a walk, no soreness. I gently asked for a jog, and my gutsy little gelding was in fine form, collected and cadenced. He never again tested me. I never asked Shortie to drop his head so low he couldn't collect himself. I never forced him into an unnatural gait. I asked him to be on the bit and drive off his hindquarter. He was a horse I will never forget. A gutsy little guy that had one of the biggest hearts I've ever seen in a horse.
Some of the best horses I've ever mounted were ranch horses or PRCA Ropers. Working animals with hearts of fire and the patience to go all day long, day after day.