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Head Wrangler's Blog

My Father's Boots ~

Posted by Head Wrangler, 17 August 2012 · 507 views

I used to own an even dozen pair of Western boots, of various styles, designs & color combinations, but due to chainsaw accidents, motorcycle injuries & advancing age, I’ve had to eBay all but 4 pair ~ those that are left in the remuda don’t cause me pain or discomfort in the foot, knee or back regions! But the one pair of boots I’ll never part with, as long as I live, is a pair of Wellingtons that were my Dad’s ~ and they don’t even fit me! But, nevertheless, they’ll always occupy a position of honor on my mantle ~ in tribute to the man who taught me so many of life’s lessons.

They’re the boots he used to wear whenever he was “dressin’ up” to go to town, or to take my Mom square dancin’ ~ heck, he’d done so many do-si-does & alamande lefts & “swing yer partner”s in them ‘bad boys’ that he’d had to take ‘em down to the boot shop & have ‘em re-soled! Not once, but twice!! I told him, after the 2nd time, he should have ‘em done up like a pair of ‘Ho Chi Minh sandals’, with an ol’ chunk of truck tire “Gorilla Glue’d” to the soles!

I would dearly love to be able to wear my father’s boots, but since his feet were wider and shorter than mine, there’s no way I can ~ not & still be comfortable, anyway! So my next thought was that they’d fit one of my sons, but since the older one already wears a larger shoe size than I do, and the younger one is into the exact same size I am (already), there’s no way that’s ever gonna happen, either! Heck, at this rate, I’ll be wearin’ my sons’ “hand-me-downs” before long (:

So, for now, I’ll just keep Dad’s boots in their place of honor, and gaze at ‘em, & dust ‘em off and polish ‘em every once in awhile, as a tribute to the man who meant so much to me, on so Many levels. But, if my lil’ granddaughter, Lillian, keeps growin’ at the rate she is right now, it wouldn’t surprise me if those boots of Pa’s would fit her pretty quick ~ and ya know what?! I know that’d suit my Dad just fine….

Horse Wrangling 101

Posted by Head Wrangler, 15 August 2012 · 552 views

Now, I’ve been around horses, in one capacity or another, for most of my life. But this particular recollection comes from the year I was working out on Cumberland Head, wranglin’ horses on a small horse farm out there. More of a “gentleman’s ranch”, really ~ we only had 5 head of horses at the time, and heck, one of them was a pretty little buckskin filly that was born the week after I started workin’ there. Cumberland Head is a peninsula, of sorts ~ almost an island, really ~ in that it is approximately 90% surrounded by Lake Champlain, and our ‘ranch’ sat smack-dab in the middle of that peninsula.

I’d left the last stable I’d been wranglin’ at, after a slight misunderstanding between myself and a 16.3 hand Thoroughbred gelding. The upshot of it was that I ended up in the ER with a compound fracture to my right ankle, and he ended up back out in the paddock, enjoyin’ his semi-retirement.

Once I got healed up from that little fracas, I took the job at the JT Ranch, even though they had a couple of thoroughbreds, too! They were both retired (read: ‘washed out’) from the racetrack down in Florida. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but there probably isn’t 1 racehorse in 100 that really makes a name for itself on the track ~ if it was easy, they’d all be Secretariat. So when I say these 2 had washed out, it’s not meant as a put-down or anything; they either weren’t fast enough, had sustained a career-ending injury, or just weren’t ‘hungry’ enough ~ they didn’t possess the head, heart and soul of a winner.

But they were perfectly-suited for life on the ‘ranch’, where we just wanted to do some light, recreational riding, and have some companion horses around. The first time I got aboard the younger one, named Dancer, I had my hands full, at least for the initial 15 or 20 minutes. See, TBs have all this nervous energy ~ heck, they’re bred to RACE, all out, full-bore, counter-clockwise around a circular or oval track. They don’t realize that it’s equally acceptable just to saunter along at a walk or a trot, or that it’s OK to travel in a clockwise direction sometimes!!

One of the carpenters who was working out there at the time asked me what it was like when I took that first ride on Dance. I said, “Well, for awhile there, it was akin to sittin’ on a powder keg, and just waitin’ for somebody to light the fuse!” But, after enough circuits around the large outdoor riding arena, the nervous energy began to subside and the balance of the session was actually quite relaxed and enjoyable.

Fast-forward 3 months….

As we near the middle of September, I am both surprised and pleased at how well the 2 TB’s are progressing. Beane, the 11-year-old, is pretty well-mannered, and stands nicely to be mounted. She also neck-reins better than I expected, considering that she was trained for the track and not for ranch work. She does have a tendency to want to ‘keep moving’ and doesn’t like to stand around while you’re seated on her ~ her philosophy seems to be: “If there’s a rider on my back, I’m supposed to GO!” But, we’re working on that….

Dancer, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite ~ she does not like to stand still while you’re mounting, so we have been constantly working on that aspect of her training, by doing many repetitions of getting on & off her, both with the mounting block and without it, to de-sensitize her to the whole process. Additionally, this eases her into the idea that she isn’t to “walk on” until the rider has a good, secure seat and gives her the command to go.

However, once you are aboard and have your feet planted securely in the stirrups, Dance is truly a joy to ride. You can almost forget that she is a Thoroughbred ~ she doesn’t have a lot of that trademark ‘spookiness’ that is inherent in most TBs I’ve encountered. I think that she is going to be an excellent trail horse, with a few more months of exposure to the trails, and a little bit of fine-tuning here & there. I can honestly say that Dancer is my favorite, coming in ahead of Abby, the 6-year-old QH mare, and the others. I’ve always liked a horse that “rides big”, and at 16.3 hands, Dance certainly fits that description! Plus, she is a very willing student and exhibits a lot of “try”, which is an important quality, in horses and in people.

By ‘try’, I mean that when I ask her to do something new, or maybe a little bit scary for her, she won’t balk or attempt to twist away from it, but displays a willingness to at least “give it a go”, and try to do what I’m asking of her. See, we’re building a strong bond of trust, as time passes, and she’s discovering that I won’t ask her to do anything dangerous or threatening ~ which helps me to move into the ‘Alpha’ role, where the horse looks to me for leadership. And as long as I never make a misstep, or do anything to jeopardize her safety and well-being, Dancer is content and satisfied to relinquish that leadership role to me.

So, each time that I start her down a strange, new trail, or ask her to cross a water hazard (which may be only a small puddle, or possibly a ditch with an inch or 2 of standing water in the bottom of it), she tentatively steps out to “try it”, trusting that I won’t point her in a direction that will cause either of us harm. And each time we cross a new threshold, I reassure her and praise her, with some gentle pats and a soothing voice, to not only reinforce the lesson, but also as a reward for the ‘try’, and for her willingness and good effort. Then, it’s time to just enjoy the balance of the trail ride, and end on a positive note. Just as when working with children, you never want to ask more of your horse than they can realistically give, during any particular training session. Additionally, you always strive to conclude each session in a positive way, which helps support all the good work that was done that day, and further strengthen the bond of trust between you.

And that’s how it’s done, with consistency and repetition, a slow step at a time, with each one forming a building block, or “stepping stone”, to the next lesson!

August 2012


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