Tag Archives: Horse Training

The eve of a new year on the ranch

Pigeons flying towards a new year above the Santa Fe plaza.

We make resolutions and there’s nothing wrong in doing so.  We plan to do better, give more and finish the big chores we have had on our list for months, maybe even curtail or give up our vices.  Well, maybe not completely give them up, but back off bad habits.

I work with students, horses and the land.  I work in order to live, not live in order to work.  That’s a big, big difference.  Working with students this last year has been more rewarding than ever before in my professional career.  I attribute that to my nearing retirement and wanting to give what I think is of value to the student before I put the chalk in the tray and walk away.  Time is fleeting and I don’t have time to cover all the points, just the most significant.  So, for this next year, I resolve to cut the excess from the lectures and discussions and get right to the core: finding your voice, writing down your voice and tending to your own garden (Voltaire, Gilgamesh, Trilling).

For my life with horses, it’s a sadder year coming.  We are selling Sweet Hija who is pregnant with a female and Shiners Fannin Peppy, the first foal out of Sweet Hija.  Brenda and I will be left with our two paints, Star and Lilly, both having their share of health problems these days.  In January, we are going to Oklahoma City for the Mixed Winter Sale at Heritage Place.  Market forces beyond my control have cut through our ranch operations with a vengeance and the cost of horse breeding and market conditions force my hand.  What Brenda and I are trying to do, in taking Hija and Fanny to the sale in Oklahoma, is to put these fine horses in the best sale around so that they will have good homes or ranches to live out their days.  So, for this next year, I resolve to focus on Star and Lilly, build some good, strong pens in the Pecan Tree Pasture for their safety.  I resolve not to think too much about our loss of Hija and Fanny and the little one — difficult to push that resolution through next year, I guarantee.

And, finally with the land, I resolve to set up brush piles for the little critters, deer and birds about the place, not shredding every single bush like some of my neighbors.  Further, I want to learn the name of every tree species on Flying Hat Ranch, or at least make a major dent in nomenclature.  I will also continue to plant native grasses about the pastures.

The eve of 2011 is here.  I toast to love, health and fortune to be found among horses and land, family and students — yours as well as mine.

Sweet Hija at full gallop in winter snow (2010).

Fanny strutting in the grove with Shiney (summer 2009).

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Lilly, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny), Sweet Hija

Running With Shiney

Shiners Fannin Pepto (2010)

Bittersweet is the moment when you perceive that the boy has become a man, the girl a woman, for then you see passageways that are closed forever.  Those days of softness and pliability are gone.  Ahead, there appears toil and disciplined hours that hopefully will insure security and comfort in all seasons, so that  life can go on with moments, perhaps hours, of rest and sociability with family and friends.  As a caretaker for the young, be they human or not, the letting-go as they walk away or as you drive away from the curb extracts a pain within that circulates around the thoughts: Have I done well enough by them?  Do they have what it takes to survive?  What could I have done different?

I trained Shiney (Shiners Fannin Pepto) in ground manners as much as I could while working and traveling at a full-time job.  My life with horses began only eight-years ago when my parents died and I inherited two paint horses.  I began to change when I worked horses.  I gradually became more patient with my life in west Texas that had turned out quite different than I thought it would.  I added another horse.  I bought a fine-blooded mare (Sweet Hija) from King Ranch and from her issued two foals, Fanny and Shiney.  The time came about three months ago to send Shiney to a professional horse trainer to fit for sale.  When I sent Shiney to Jimmie Hardin’s in Aubrey, Texas, I had carried the colt as far as I could.  Since I had only worked with mares or geldings since 2002, he was more than I could handle — or so I thought.

Jimmie Hardin and her crew, especially Peppy, her right-hand trainer, worked with Shiney to fit him for sale: standing, tying, leading, and running with the handler.  Good manners.  Midway in his training, I went up to see Shiney’s progress.  I saw his development in many areas, but one behavior held my attention:  when Shiney ran with Peppy in the corral, he held his head high and the two of them trotted in unison, turning this way and that way, Shiney showing his form and muscle and even excitement to run with a person.  As I first saw them running, I wanted to run with my horse, my colt, that young thing I had blown my breath into his nostrils on his first day, a year ago, May 15, 2009.

Four days ago, Brenda and I picked up Shiney from the trainer.  His mane was braided, coat sleek, and hair trimmed.  All fit for sale in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

We unloaded Shiney after a four-hour trip and I walked him around the sale grounds.  Then, I began to walk briskly, faster, and then broke into a trot.  I held the stud chain close under his chin, neither tight nor loose, and Shiney picked up his pace and we both ran together.  I turned and he turned with me.  I stopped, he stopped.  We ran again.  There, it happened, a powerful creature, joining with a person.

As I walked back to Brenda, she was smiling so broadly: He is so beautiful.  He holds his head so erect.  He is gorgeous.  You two looked so good together.

On sale day, I ran with Shiney three times.  I didn’t have to.  Once for buyers from Laredo and once for Steve Phipps of Springfield, Missouri, who purchased him.  We did not even lead him through the sale ring.  The price was right and Phipps was the one for Shiney.

The third time I ran with Shiney it was for me and him, alongside the barn and trailers, outside in the morning sun of Oklahoma.  I never grew tired or weary with our runs.  I was holding on to him for as long as I could and then I had to let him go.

I’ll never forget as long as I live that I once ran with a colt that was becoming a stallion.  Bittersweet, to see him grow.

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Field Log 5/7/2010 (Shiney’s Little Stud Moments)

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

Shiners Fannin Pepto (Shiney) Winter 2009-2010

Shiney at Jimmie Hardin’s

Talked with Jimmie Hardin in Aubrey about Shiners Fannin Pepto’s (Shiney) training for manners on the ground and around mares and people.  She said that “Shiney is doing really great, settling down, but he does have his little stud moments.”  What a world I thought, “Little stud moments.”  I asked Brenda, my wife, the female equivalent of “little stud moment,” and she said, maybe for women, “It’s a meltdown.”

The first time at Jimmie Hardin’s, when we put Shiney in a corral, he was between two mares and they teased him over the fence.  He was really an excited colt with two mares on either side of him.  The mares pranced in front of him and he ran around in a prancing gait, light on his feet, even though he probably didn’t know what was going on.  He became lathered up and I fretted he was over-doing his excitement, but Jimmie said he would settle down once we left with his travel buddy, Star, the paint from our place that we put in the trailer to help ease Shiney’s trip to Aubrey, north of Denton.  Star munched on his alfalfa while watching his little friend, Shiney.

In conclusion, he is doing just fine despite his little stud moments.

Called up to Triangle Sales in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  They will have handlers to help me show him through the ring.  And, knowing he is a stud, they will not put him between two mares in the stall area.

Pecan Tree Pasture Mesquite Trimming

Indian Blanket flowers are blooming over in Pecan Tree Pasture.

Went over to Pecan Tree Pasture to lob off mesquites that were growing in the field.  The grass is up to my chest in places and I can detect large animals–deer or wild boar–that have lain in the grass.

Yahoo Runs Amuck

While cutting mesquite, some yahoo drove through my gate, wanting to inquire about the trailer my neighbors have for sale.  The yahoo immediately drove off the pasture road and started coming toward me in his grey, F-250 pickup, trampling grass I wanted to let seed and grow higher.  I was a hundred-yards away and frantically waved him to stop.  What the dickens was this yahoo doing coming into a native grass field in his pickup?

I walked briskly over to where he had stopped after coming some fifty yards into the native grass field, scattering birds.  I had my pruning shears in my hand, but my pistol (.45 cal.) was in the pickup some seventy-yards away.  I did not know what to say, but this is what happened.

Yahoos Fighting by Dudley Fitts (Illustrator)

“Yew goin’ git chiggers,” he squawked, referring to the high grass I had come through to stop his onslaught into the field.  An entirely inappropriate opening of discourse after entering posted property (Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association blue sign).  Was there some chigger alert I had missed on the morning news from Stooperville’s Fox News?

Holding my anger, I said, “You don’t need to be rolling into my field crushing the grasses.  It’ll take two months for the grass to come back up.  The trailer belongs to those people,” I nodded in the direction of the Hall Place.

He looked at me, put the truck in reverse, made an abrupt turn around and sped off, then hit high speed next to my water tank and out the gate and on down the highway towards Stephenville.  I paced off how many feet he had knocked down by coming into grassland that was two to four feet high, native species I had planted six-years ago: a total of one-hundred and twenty-five feet of off-road grass crushing.  It’ll rise up again in a few months with the rains.

I’ll close the gate next time to avoid a confrontation.  I was born and reared in Texas, but I am seeing more arrogant and ill-mannered  people than ever before.  I know yahoos are all around us, but jeez!, wouldn’t you think they could all hang out at another cracker barrel in a county over?

The field log is rather caustic today.  Sorry.

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Filed under Field Log, Shiney (Shiners Fannin Pepto)

Field Log 3/15/2010

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

Cooler today than expected, lower 50s F. most of day.  Partly cloudy.

Re-checked horses for nicks, scratches and punctures.  None found.

Moved hay bin in arena for easier access by tractor and pickup.  Shiney the colt thinks it’s play.  Gallops around and rears up several times, challenging the black hay bin and noise.  Brenda climbs over arena fence to assist, adding to his fun and excitement.

Edited sale information for Shiney.  Gave a copy to Cooper’s Feed-store in Stephenville.  Amber looked carefully at the flyer and said, “Beautiful.”  Bought three (3) alfalfa, two (2) coastal bermuda, one sack of Senior feed for Lilly and one Country Times cat feed for barn.  Hay consumption is down with spring grass.  Linsey, manager, gone for lunch.  No sales tax for feed for barn cats, Bubbles and Paint.

One Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) sighted on front fence.

Composed operational instructions for caretaker, Jeannie Chisolm, while on trip to Fredericksburg, Texas, March 16-17.

Lilly has taken up a new habit.  Without halter, she walks to her stall through the alleyway from the corral, avoiding up-and-downs of terrain.  She waits for me to open the gate to the alleyway, then slowly brings her twenty-five-year-old body down the alleyway, pausing at her stall door, then turning into the stall, exhaling loudly.  I make sure that in her grain, she has her arthritis medicine, Active-X, the powder with ground yucca.  (Note: I took my flex medicine this morning.  Correlate man and horse in article.)

Worked with Shiney on ground manners: grooming, full-body touching with hands, approaches on flanks, lead rope, halter.  Has habit of wanting lead rope or halter in his mouth when I first approach.  Nervous habit deflects tension?

Unloaded hay and feed.  Barn cats, Bubbles and Paint, not amused that I took away their scanning area on the hay in the pickup.


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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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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Duncan Steele-Park, Horses, Recollections 1942-1966, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny)