Horses were a year round, daily part of our lives. Each day was a new adventure – not work.
Our dad took in top quality quarter horse sire stallions from the Eaton Brother’s horse outfit out of Glendive, Mont., and later a Steele Dust sire from our neighbor, Tom Tescher, to run with his 40 head band of brood mares for a colt share stipend. He always had an eye for a good cow horse.
We were constantly trimming hooves, thinning tail hair, halter breaking colts, starting two year olds, roughing out threes and fours, all along with daily ranch riding of calving, branding and breeding season, fall round-ups and winter feeding. Just out of high school I took in outside horses to break and train to gain cash flow for my “off ranch activities.”
They’ve come a long way in horse training in my lifetime. Years ago it was common to hear some big tough guy boast of how he took a green cut club and beat it over his horse’s ears to “knock some sense in them.” That always irked all of us really bad.
We grew up with daily kindness and respect for all animals, big or small, except for calf-killing coyotes, skunks, badgers, prairie dogs and rattlesnakes. I guess we were ahead of our time as “horse whisperers.” Yet today there’s a scattering of people out there claiming to be horse trainers that still practice the “old way,” with their tempers out of control, clubbing horses and cattle to relieve their own frustrations.
It’s always been my personal evaluation that they are actually afraid of their subject and have to club them into submission and intimidation to build their own confidence and mastery.
I’ve only rode one horse that I was afraid of. My first winter out of high school, I ran Jim Tescher’s outfit while he and Loretta boarded their young family out and went south rodeoing. Chimp was a stout-built four year old that Jim said was the best, toughest saddle horse he ever had, with the worst attitude.
One time Jim was coming in from a long, hard ride, shortcutting down a steep mule deer runlet, when Chimp cut loose. He said he was in trouble leap after leap, and the only reason he didn’t buck off was that there was no place to land. Jim was a world class bronc rider.
Every morning at -10 or -30, I would saddle Chimp and ride him up the frozen river bottom to pail out oats to the replacement heifers in the next river bottom. I rode Chimp with a loose cinch and a tight rein, talking to him quietly and softly stroking his neck. Neighbors were miles away, the nearest phone was 30 miles.
In my early married years, I purchased a tall, lanky, athletic, cat-quick, dapple gray two year old from a guy I worked construction with. Without guilt he told me he had clubbed some sense in him over the ears several times.
My first sighting of him showed me a very calm, quiet eye. Dad always taught us to judge a horse, cow, dog or person by their eyes. Some are high strung and nervous. Then there’s that cold “dead eye” or “killer” stare that follows your every step, while others are calm and trusting.
It’s natural for a horse to gather and coil before they “blow up,” giving you that split second to react and prepare. This horse named Badger didn’t. With any small arm movement, he’d jerk his head away from you and swap ends before you could blink. He turfed me a half dozen times before I got him figured out. He was just ducking as what he perceived a clubbing over the ears.
Once he put me in the hospital overnight, diagnosed as a bruised kidney. Forty years later, a pre-hip joint replacement x-ray revealed a full length, healed over pelvic fracture.
At first he was nearly impossible to bridle. He didn’t want his ears touched. I never forced him, but spent countless minutes stroking his neck and side jaw while quietly talking to him and giving him pellet treats. We built a bond of trust and friendship.
I had him started on a rope and was dragging calves to the wrestlers at a neighbor’s branding. He was still young and learning, and after about 20 pulls he starting snapping and biting at his bit shanks, off to the side. A couple of drags later he blew up and turfed me. He was telling me he was played out and wanted to quit. I just hadn’t learned how to listen to him yet.
He was an extremely kind and affectionate horse, he just didn’t want to be mistreated. From the very first time he bucked me off, to the very last; he would always walk back up to me nickering and nuzzle his nose under my armpit as he trembled.
It took several years to get him past his “nightmares” and to quit bucking as we built a lasting trust and friendship.