Category Archives: Duncan Steele-Park

Horseman, trainer of Fanny.

Bearable lightness of humans with horses

Courtney Hampton on Fanny in Missouri (2011)

Considering all the events of the past week, I thought I would pass this e-mail along to you from Courtney Hampton who traveled to Oklahoma City on a mission to see and evaluate Fanny.  She bought Fanny and this is her comment on riding her the first day.

I just thought I’d give you an update on how Fanny is doing. We arrived at Heritage Place at about 5 a.m. Friday morning and loaded her and Diesel (the other mare we bought) up and headed to Missouri. It was about an eight-hour drive, but we stopped several times to let them stretch.   She handled everything very well. When we got her home (about 1:30 p.m.) we turned her and Diesel (aka Ms Royal Fever) out in the big arena (their new home for two weeks until the others get used to them).   As soon as we let them go they took off and started running and bucking.  They were definitely happy to get out of the trailer!  It was about 55 degrees out, so all my other horses started running around too.  (It hasn’t been that warm in weeks.)  What a sight to be sure!  Fanny was sure strutting her stuff! (I will attach pictures.)  She and Diesel ran around that arena for half an hour. So cool to watch!  After their energy had worn down some I threw some alfalfa out and they went to munching.  Later that day, about 4:30 or so, I went down and decided to ride them both for a few minutes just to see how they did.  I started with Fanny first as I wasn’t sure how the race mare was going to be (I’ve bought off the track horses before and they can be a little hard to handle).   I saddled Fanny and of course she just stood there like a pro.  I got on her and rode her around for about 30 minutes and put her through some paces just to see what she could do. She did everything I asked like a champ: roll-backs, counter-bending, side-passing, stop *which that mare can STOP!*  Then I took her out and walked her around the pasture that we have our weanling calves in.  Of course she was very alert and nervous but she never spooked — even when our flock of guinea hens flew by her.  She started shaking (poor baby), but then just snorted and walked on.  Since she was doing so good I quit her and unsaddled and fed her while I rode Diesel (who has a pretty good handle on her for a race mare and I was pleasantly surprised).

— Courtney Hampton to Jack Matthews, January 16, 2011

This is the sweet side of handing off horses to young people whose attachment to animals renews those of us that have become coarse.  Some of the bitter goes away when you hear-tell this kind of narrative.

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Fanny with Verbena

Fanny with Verbena, Spring 2010

I thought you might like this photograph.  I do.  It doesn’t have all the right composition angles, but it’s a good snapshot.  But, ’tis not a Kodak moment any more, folks, is it?  Digital.

Anyway, it’s a picture of Shiners Fannin Peppy on a warm spring day a few weeks ago.  Fanny is coming up the pasture to where I am standing on Poprock Hill.  The sun is shining brightly, it’s probably near high noon as I recollect.  You can see that her coat is sleek and she is a good two-year old that has been trained well and tended–Duncan Steele-Park’s regime of education.

In the background, emerging and standing brilliantly, is a nice stand of purple verbena.  Verbena has been all over the place this spring–in pastures, corrals, stables, front yard, back yard.  There’s some yellow flowers also in the mix and some yucca blossom stalks about ready to burst.  It’s just a fine, sunny picture on a good day here on Flying Hat.

And, here she is up on the edge of Poprock Hill, being cute and pretty and all-horse.

Fanny with Live Oak, Spring 2010

Equus Fanny, Spring 2010

Equus. Long ago and faraway I read the play, Equus, and saw the movie with Sir Richard Burton as the psychiatrist.  Peter Shaffer wrote the play in 1973, based on a true story.  It’s not a pleasant story at all, and I won’t summarize it here, but the play and Burton’s acting inspired me to delve more into depth psychology and formative events in human development.  As a result, I became immersed in anthropology.  I was already in anthropology as a sub-field of my discipline, history, but I went way, way down into the discipline and eventually began to teach cultural and physical anthropology at a college in the Texas Panhandle.

There are many starting points for learning a field of knowledge.  Wherever you find that interest, follow it and exhaust your curiosity by reading late into the night, visiting museums and researching in libraries–wherever it takes you, go, go, go!  One of my starting points was Equus.

Did I say I liked horses?

Yes, I did say that, especially Fanny in verbena, on a sunny spring day.

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Yucca Nuzzles

I have some photos about plants, animals, terrain and fossils I would like to show you.  There’s always a photo opportunity here on Flying Hat.  April offers some comforting snapshots about the place.  There’s a lot of communication taking place, even with horses and yucca.

Fanny and Jack at Stable Alleyway

In “Fanny and Jack in the Stable Alleyway,” I am with Fanny and she wants to show her gratitude for the grain she got this morning.  She sees the camera and wants to get her picture taken as well as give me a nuzzle in the neck.

Fanny is not an aggressive horse.  Nonetheless, around horses, a person must be cautious.  They are flight animals and when frightened, they will kick or bolt forward.  Fanny is a good mare and her trainer, Duncan Steele-Park and the crew at GCH Land & Cattle Co., have taken her good qualities and improved them.  From the day of her birth, we have been familiar with Fanny, lifting her feet and touching her.

Fanny Nuzzles Jack

A nuzzle on the neck is good sign that the horse has “joined up” with a person.  “Joining up” is a trademark term of Monty Roberts, The Man Who Listens to Horses (1996) and From My Hands to Yours (2002).

Our horses have human contact–tactile contact–every day.  The touching includes a “sacking out” with the hands.  “Sacking out” is an term describing a procedure to rub the horse with a foreign object, i.e., a sack, halter, lead rope, blanket or with the hands.  A daily touching and haltering with the horse boosts the familiarity between horse and human.

In most cases, horses anticipate the tactile contact.  Lilly, our oldest mare, will glide up alongside us and stop, allowing us to rub her under her mane on the neck.  The horse’s approach should not crowd the space of humans and it is best if they stop a few feet away and present themselves, more or less, with their flanks exposed.  Even after a person becomes acquainted with equine behavior, it is always best to position the body at the flanks or broadside to the horse.

Fanny's Head on Jack's Shoulder

The daily contact with horses is a good thing for them and us.  We rub the horses once or twice between the eyes, a place they cannot see, as a sign we are trustworthy.

*   *   *

Read on, there’s more…

Pale-leaf Yucca (Y. pallida)

I have spent thirty minutes typing this yucca plant.  I may be wrong, but my factor analysis seems correct.  It is a Pale-leaf yucca (Yucca pallida).  As stated in my “Notice to Readers of Sage to Meadow,” if you discern an error in my typing this plant, please correct me.

Pale-leaf yucca is endemic (native only to a particular area) to North Central Texas and may extend into the Edwards Plateau, growing on rocky soil and outcrops of the Blackland Prairies and the Grand Prairie. It bears sage-green or bluish-green, orderly-arranged leaves having a noticeable waxy bloom, or glaucous appearance. The rosette itself is stemless and small, providing a spherical, coarse-textured look in the landscape. It may be single or have multiple offsets. Like all yuccas, Yucca pallida requires good drainage. It may be grown in the shade garden for textural interest, but may not bloom as well as those in more sun.  [Texas Plant Database, Texas A&M University.]

In my analysis, I also figured the yucca might be Yucca contricta (Buckley yucca) or Yucca necopina (Glen Rose yucca).  In the next few days, these yuccas will blossom and I will provide field photos.

*   *   *

Verbena with Poprock Hill

I write so often about Poprock Hill, I thought I would provide a photo of the hill.  This was taken earlier this April before the full eruption of grasses, but you can see the proliferation of verbena in the foreground.  Notice also the abundance of Pale-leaf yucca (Yucca pallida) on the terraces below the ranch house.  Poprock Hill is aptly named by local settlers because of the poprocks that are plentiful about the hill.  I collect them, and with each rain poprocks emerge from the soil.

Poprocks on Silver

“Poprocks on Silver” shows several poprocks, large and small, that I have collected.

These photographs I have posted illustrate that even on simple, unglamorous land, there are natural items that are noteworthy and significant for study.  The yucca plant I typed (hopefully, correct) required me to go back out to the terrace and look closer at the edges of the leaves to determine if there was a white line or if the leaves were curled, narrow or broad.  As I began to type the yucca for posting, I got interested in the yucca for its own sake: what was it?  Was it rare?  Endemic?  The Glen Rose yucca is a uncommon plant and needs some protection from extraction and destruction.  Did I have a Glen Rose or not?  I find the yucca in Texas worthy of further study.  I may start a yucca farm.

Finally, I think this post with photos shows how connections can be funny and personal between species.  Fanny and I communicated and I think both of us got pleasure and companionship out of the contact.  The yucca could not respond.   Whoa there, cowboy!  From a Native American point-of-view, the yucca and I were talking to each other, weren’t we?  It showed me its style, color and emerging blossoms.  I watched it and it “told” me what it was doing.  Yes.  Certain species of the yucca can be used for soap, shampoo.  And, when I give Lilly her supplement for her osteoarthritis, the veterinary insisted that the supplement include yucca.  This personalization of plants and animals is beneficial to us all: medicine, companionship and a unity that, however briefly, overcomes life’s estrangement.  That’s talking with the plants and animals.  Maybe they are our relatives.

I wish you a pleasant week ahead: nuzzle your yucca, but be very careful.  Like with all relatives.

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The Horses of Flying Hat

I thought I would put in one post a photograph of each of the horses I work with on a daily basis here at our place, Flying Hat.  All of these photographs can be enlarged by clicking on the photograph. By enlarging the photograph, if you have a moment, will reveal a lot of detail, as these photographs are usually 2.0 plus in megabytes.  I like to take photographs using the most detailed mode (within reason, of course) I can.  You can always lessen the detail in a photograph, but never add detail to it.

Shiners Fannin Peppy

This is Shiners Fannin Peppy or “Fanny.”  Fanny has been in training — elementary school — for a hundred days with Duncan Steele-Park at the GCH Land & Cattle Company of Weatherford, Texas.  Fanny is a daughter of Sweet Hija below.  Fanny is quite vocal.  She will begin to nicker once she knows that I am going to feed.  It is a vocalization that is more of a chortle, kind of a gargle, deep-down in her throat.  Fanny will continue to nicker-chortle every fifteen seconds or so until I put feed in her bin.  Translation to English:  “Oh, boy, I can’t wait, can’t wait for my grain.  Oh, boy, oh boy.”

Sweet Hija

This is Sweet Hija or “Hija,” as we like to call her.  I purchased her in 2003, from King Ranch.  She starred in a King Ranch video for marketing before the auction at Kingsville.  She cut cattle with J. R. Ramirez, her trainer, in front of two-hundred prospective buyers.  I bought her at the King Ranch Legacy Auction in 2003, in front of  2,000 spectators — really stressful, but fun.  When I walked to the stables to view Hija after purchase, two stalls down from her was her grandfather, Peppy San Badger.  He was looking over the crowd and his granddaughter.  Peppy San Badger was nearing the end of his days, but he was still eager to see people and his progeny — be around the excitement.  I am sorry to say that I did not appreciate his background and heritage that day as I was just beginning to understand the quarter horse culture.  Peppy San Badger, Hija’s grandsire, was one of the greatest quarter horses ever to have lived: he rewrote performance records and records in the show pen.  He died in 2005, less than two years after he saw Hija load up into our horse trailer and come to Hannibal.  I have a photograph that shows Peppy in the background, Hija in the fore.  I’ll try and retrieve it for you some day.

When I saddle and ride Hija, I have to give her a run around the round pen before I mount (it’s been a while, however, since I’ve ridden) because she has that spirit of Peppy San Badger.  He would give a little buck when you first mounted him, but not a mean buck, just an energetic buck that he was happy to be alive — so also, his granddaughter.

Ima Lil Moore

This is Lilly, the oldest mare in the remuda.  I inherited Lilly and her son, Star, upon the settlement of my parents’ estate in 2003.  Lilly is the alpha mare of the remuda.  She is challenged by Fanny for placement at the food trough.  Lilly likes to take her good time these days to come to the stall.  I favor her and let her use the alleyway to get into her stall (see the alleyway above) rather than have her walk a longer distance.  You can also see in the photograph above, the barn cat, Paint or Little Paint.  Odd, but he has the same markings of Lilly.

Shiners Fannin Pepto

Here is “Shiney.”  He is all-boy, a colt and a peppy one at that.  He is the son of Sweet Hija.  This is the guy I am having so much fun with these days.  He is an intact male and I have him for sale, but Brenda and I have talked about keeping him — me more than her — but it would require the construction of a stallion run.  Shiney is such a fine boy.  I really like working with him.

Stars Bars Moore

Star is a gelding and the baby-sitter for Shiney.  Star and Shiney inhabit the large outdoor arena and are given to playing many games of “Gotcha,” a variation of tag.  Star is a large horse.  I often refer to him with affection: The Beer Wagon Horse.  Star is the son of Lilly.  Star is known far and wide as the levitating horse of Flying Hat — check a previous post this winter on the blog.

A friend of mine at the college, Roland Stroebel, says to me almost daily, “I’m homesick, Jack.”  By that he means that he wants to go back to his farm south of Cisco, Texas, and work with the land and his cattle.  He misses his farm — homesick.  When Roland’s work is done at the college, he leaves and I can see him working with his fine Angus cattle into the evening darkness.

When I am away from all of the horses and land upon which they trod, I am homesick for their companionship, their warm breath and smell.  It is said:  “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a person.”  I believe that with all my heart.

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Fanny Returns

Shiners Fannin Peppy and Jack Matthews, GCH Land & Cattle Co., March 2010 (click to enlarge)

Shiners Fannin Peppy, “Fanny,” came back to Flying Hat yesterday.  At the hands of Duncan Steele-Park, her teacher, she has had three months of the best training I could afford.  Fanny will be a excellent pleasure horse, a fair cutter and all-around riding horse.  Duncan assessed Fanny:  She’s a good horse, but in this high-dollar business of cutting horses, she could not compete at the super-athlete level that is required to succeed.  I’m not a swimmer, either, he said, and I and you, Jack, have to play to her talents, to her disposition and behavior.  It’s unfair to force her into being the athlete she is not.

I could not have asked for a better teacher for my horse.  Let her be herself, play to her strengths.  Fanny came back home and was welcomed by the remuda: they kicked and ran and whinnied, communicating excitement.  I’ll have more photographs about Fanny, but for now, you’ll have to settle for the photograph above: myself, my companion.

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Field Log 3/25/2010

North Erath County, Texas, 32.43 lat., -98.36 long. Elev. 1,086 ft.  Turkey Creek Quad.

Rain yesterday, 0.90 inches.  Cannot work field, too wet to plow (literally, folks).

Bow hunter died this morning.  My colleague at college, David Kanady, passed away.  Forty-ish.

He taught British literature at a juco place — oh, the bowels of  pedagogy.  David would walk the hall to  invigorate himself to teach.  He saw teaching as an opportunity, not a preparation.  But, a bow hunter died this morning.  That’s what I want to write about, that’s his legacy.  A bow hunter: giving the animal a chance.   He missed his shot.  He ate what he killed.  Traveled to Wyoming, followed the herd, and took his shot.  I know it was part vain, but  he shot with honor, giving life a chance.  He was appointed on a contract to teach at a juco place, $24,000.00 a year.  Hey, but you get benefits!   He gave the antelope a chance, then he dressed it, and brought the meat to the table of his parents, an only child he was.  He missed shots.  Bow and arrow.   David hunted parttime, respected nature always.  RIP, David.

Lilly settle in to her stall.  Hija adjusts to corral again.  Oh, she is a peppy girl — see her pedigree.

Called Duncan Steele-Park.  Will pick up Fanny tomorrow.

The Origin of Urantia by Dipti Bhakti

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Fanny with Duncan Steele-Park

Shiners Fannin Peppy with Duncan Steele-Park

I went to see Fanny Wednesday morning after classes.  Duncan Steele-Park took her through her paces, circles and stops.  It was a cold morning and Fanny and Duncan followed one calf in the large indoor arena to accustom her to cattle.  At times, I saw her breath as a small cloud, rise softly, then evaporate.  Fanny has been around cattle all her short life, but having a rider to give her commands was different.  Duncan gave me a critique of her behavior in the workout and she stops really well.  Her work on right-hand circles is testing her, although her left-hand circles are good.  Fanny has about two more weeks with Duncan before we make a decision on her future.  She is out of kindergarten, Duncan says, and in elementary school.

On the one hand, with progressive improvement, Fanny can stay in school and in another year become a futurity prospect in a crop of 750 cutting horses.  Then, on the other hand, Fanny can have a good education at the hands of Duncan for a few more weeks and come back home to our place to be a good companion and safe horse for human beings.  Duncan has stated that there could be reasons to bring her out of his training and put her on a decent, average road for horses that will not be a prospect for the Fort Worth futurity, but will give her experience for a comfortable, safe life with human beings.  And, they with Fanny.

I do wish all of you could see Duncan and Fanny working together.  He lets her be free in learning.  By that I mean, he lets her be a force for herself, not him, not Duncan.  He will start every session with turning her head with the rein and hackamore (no snaffle, no bit) to the left, then to the right.  When he changes the gait in her circles, there is no overt spurring or talk, just a few clucks or pressure with his legs, and she adjusts.  I could not see the cue Duncan was applying to get her to stop.  Maybe there was a slight pressure from the hackamore for Fanny to whoa, but I could not see his cue for her to halt.  And, she stops quickly.

So, I asked Duncan, What is the cue you give Fanny to whoa?  As he was riding by on Fanny, Duncan said, Look at my leg and boot.  I looked and when Duncan takes his boot and leg away from her flank, just slightly, she stops.  All he does is take off leg and boot pressure about her flanks and she halts.  Dead so, doesn’t move.  Stays immobile, stopped.  I thought: That’s why I pay tuition.

Fanny is fortunate.  Fanny is under a stoa, a porch, of ancient pedagogy, a place with a teacher that doesn’t use a cudgel to beat the cursive into the student, but a stoa-arena that allows her to draw out of herself a strength and performance that instills confidence that she will possess, whether she is futurity bound or is ridden by a young, blondhaired lass in the greenest of nature’s pastures, enjoying the wind on her face and the gentle pressure of rider around her soft, sorrel flanks.  Go, my darling, Fanny, go.  I have given you the best I could.

Fanny and Duncan Under the Stoa (Click image for enlargement.)

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Duncan Steele-Park Lane

South Poprock Hill Pasture, Flying Hat Ranch, January 7, 2010

By the calendar it is January 7, 2010, and I am in the pickup, near the barn.  Looking east from the Well House corral in south Poprock Hill pasture, the early morning sky configures a cold day for livestock and young men and women on horseback who manage them.  Currently, we have no cattle herd to tend, but five horses need our daily attention.  I rose early before daylight and planned the first feed of the day for Lilly the oldest mare and alpha, Star the gelding-son of Lilly, Sweet Hija the King Ranch legacy mare, and Shiney the colt of Sweet Hija.

Presently, I do not tend the fifth horse.  The fifth horse is off-site, at Duncan Steele-Park’s place near Weatherford, Texas, going to school in the round pen of equine education.  This horse, Fanny, is with ten others in her cohort, learning and gaining confidence to join-up and toil with cowboys and cowgirls that must use horses that are strong and even-tempered.

Duncan has a philosophy about horse training.  Before we even unloaded Fanny from the stock trailer, he stated his way of working with young horses.  Duncan grew up in Australia and his methods presage directness, no frills, no nonsense.  He spoke clearly, precisely, in clipped tones of the Down Under, and with the authority of a thousand rides upon young horses needing guidance to confirm man as a friend, not predator.

The most important lesson you must teach a young horse, who is having his first few rides, is to go forward which is why I don’t spend much time in a round pen because there is no where for a horse to go in an arena.  I find myself a fence line or a lane and kick the latch of the arena open and let my young horse just run.  You see if you leave a young horse’s feet free you keep his mind free.  And if things are getting a little radical,  just one-rein stop him and then let him go and before you know it he begins to relax.  People and clinicians now days take too  much of the impulsion out of young horses because they spend too much time doing groundwork [in the roundpen].

I think I’ll play with Fanny this afternoon and see what she does [1].

My grandfather, J.W. “Jake” Parks trained or as they used to say, “broke” horses.  My mother told me that her father would use a forceful technique to train horses and that the “screams” of the horses upset her as a child and caused her to resent the method Jake used, even Jake.  My grandfather did not have a coarse or abusive nature; he loved jokes and took my mother and his sisters fishing along the Colorado River.   He was, unfortunately, taught to use the aggressive method by his teachers and peers; that was what he saw in the 1910s and 1920s in central Texas.  I think if my grandfather had seen another method to train without force, he would have used it.  Those methods were not present in his background, although the method of respectful, non-forceful training has been around in recorded history since Xenophon, the Greek cavalry officer, 5th century B.C.E.  General Stephen W. Kearny who marched American troops through New Mexico to California in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, reportedly used non-abusive techniques in handling horses.  My grandfather probably never knew Xenophon’s way or Kearney’s.  He was, like us all, a man of his times and it ended badly.

In the 1930s, while working on the Sorrel Ranch in Sonora, Texas, my grandfather was critically injured riding a horse named Hell’s Canyon as they popped brush for cattle.  Riding fast, he struck a low-hanging tree branch and was knocked unconscious.  Unfound for three days, he almost died before ranch hands rescued him.  He never regained his health following the accident.  I do not believe Hell’s Canyon delivered a mystical counterforce to Jake, re-aligning balance to horse screams and my mother’s pain, but rather the accident came as both horse and rider delighted in the chase of cattle for round-up.

The story of my grandfather and Hell’s Canyon was heaped on me when I was a child and I was told I favored my grandfather in body, but I never saw him.   In the family narrative, horses and and my grandfather were always joined, wedded, symbiotic, tragic.  I was never expected to follow my grandfather’s path.  That was just as well because I grew up in a small town, my country experiences were inconstant and we had no land, no cattle, no horses.

Time passed, I inherited horses, my grandfather’s inheritance was passed down to me and I bought more horses, good horses, fine-bloodied, and beautiful.  I bought land and I began to work with horses without force, without pain, and with respect.  And, when it is time, I take them by the halter and give them to a teacher who will help them grow in ways that take them to high places, wind-swept and sunlit that call out their strength and delight to help tend livestock with humans in the West.

Duncan Steele-Park has a fenced lane, about fifty-feet wide, that angles from his round pens into the Texas brush and trees and pasture.  Though I have not seen it, I know where the lane ends.  I can tell you where it begins.  For the horse, the lane begins with respect and it must end in a land of fun with Duncan Steele-Park.  Jake would be pleased; he would be changed.

Fanny in the Grove, Winter 2009

Notes

[1]  Conversation of Duncan Steele-Park to Jack Matthews, Weatherford, Texas, December 22, 2009; email of Duncan Steele-Park to Jack Matthews, Weatherford, Texas, January 8, 2009.

An an object lesson in writing and fact-checking, I sent Duncan an email on January 7, 2009, for him to fact-check my recollection of our conversation on December 22, 2009.  My recollection was:

I let them gain a confidence before I ask anything of them.  Some trainers just put them in the round pen and round and round they go, boring them and not letting them be.  What I do is let them go down the lane, down the lane, learning for themselves and gaining confidence before I ask anything of them in the round pen.  Then as they go down the lane, after awhile I ask something of them in the round pen.

As you can read, Duncan’s correction of my recollection carries specificity about training that my later recollection did not.  His words have greater clarity about his philosophy and present his training style in definitely his own words.  I can hear in his writing, the down-under Australian accent.

Duncan Steele-Park’s email address is duncansteelepark@yahoo.com.

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