Tag Archives: Shiners Fannin Peppy

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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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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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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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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Happy New Year! What Are We Going to do Next?

In preparation for Christmas and the New Year, stock tanks must be filled to the brim for horses, cattle, and deer.  Olivia Gywn Needham poses while filling the Pecan Tree Pasture water trough.  On this day in late November, she incessantly asked, “What are we going to do next, Grandpere?”  I ran out of chores before she ran out of energy.  Chores are play at this time in her life.  Being with Olivia makes chores enjoyable, festive, and less burdensome.  I have seen, as you have, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, bring the child into the tasks of the day that must be completed before the dark.  Integrating the child with what we have to do gives them a sense of belonging and purpose to the day, and, I think, it gives us a sense of renewal that the world just might continue to endure with a piece of us after we depart.

This young woman is Jennifer Connell, my daughter-in-law, and she is engaging Star, Sweet Hija, and Fanny (looking over Hija’s withers).  Jennifer is in her second year of law school at Texas Wesleyan University.  Recently married to my step-son, she also works at Wesleyan to help defray expenses.  As we were walking back to the ranch house, she said that she wants horses again in her life, as she had been around them growing up in north Texas.  The New Year for Jennifer will be difficult, attending school, settling into her marriage, and working.  But, beneath the stress and grind, she prevails into the year, performing in class and rewriting her notes for clarity.  The New Year for her and Michael, her husband, will bring accomplishment of goals that will set their path for the future.  Star, the paint, when Jennifer visits, will lower her blood pressure and give companionship that only a horse can do.  “There’s something about the outside of a horse, that is good for the inside of a woman.”  And, a man.

This is Brenda, my wife.  While in Santa Fe she noticed that several shops had closed and that inventory stock was down at several businesses.  Our stay in Santa Fe this year was a rest from teaching and tending our ranchito (anything less than 2,560 acres is not a ranch, see John Wesley Powell).  The New Year for Brenda will be, like mine, sacred and profane, toil and rest, sky-high and ocean-low.  Like Olivia and Jennifer, in the photos above, we will endure and with some deliberation, maybe we can occasionally play through our days and nights, finding a self-loss in the rhythm of nature’s beauty out here in the West.

To my friends, to my fellow bloggers, to my family, to my dogs and cats and horses, trees and grasses, and the wildlife of the American Southwest:

Happy New Year!

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