Monday, February 3, 2014

Head ‘E’m Off At the Pass

     Let’s just face the facts. Everyone who comes to a public trail ride is an experienced, expert horseman. Otherwise, why would they come there to ride, am I right?
     It was a fine hot summer day in the Ozarks Mountains. Snuggled within the mountains, down in lake country is a little town called Branson, maybe you’re heard of it? Anyway, I digress. I was guiding trail rides for the tourists there in a small nose to tail walking ride. We were lounging in the shade when a trio showed up to ride. This fella had brought his daughter and niece out to ride. The girls had to be about 10 to 12 years old, just the right age to be absolutely in love with all things horse. I greeted them and they quickly decided on the ride they wanted to go on, as we had a couple to choose from. The one they chose was for a more advanced rider; it was a free style ride with less direct control. In other words, they were free to ride out and away, and I was along for the ride to make sure they didn’t get lost. I asked the fella if the girls could ride. “Oh ya, they can ride!” he assured me. “Sir,” I said. “I’m not asking if they can sit on the horse, I’m asking if they can ride.” He looked at me, blinked a bit and again said “Sure they can ride.” I had a bad feeling about it, but the boss assured me they would be fine.
     Soon, enough we were on the road and headed down the trail. The uncle and I were soon swapping lies and having a fine time, and the girls were having a grand time. I was riding Duck, the girls were on Alpo and Kal Kan, and the uncle was on Turtle. We were mostly walking and trotting a bit through the quiet, cool woods. It wasn’t long before we hit a large field. We called it the Polo field because of its size. It was a nice level field, perfect for a nice canter. No hills, no holes, just a nice grassy field. I had only intended to jog through it, when the girls started begging.
     “Moose, can we PLEASE canter the horses? PLEASE oh PLEASE can we canter the horses?” I looked to the uncle and again asked “Are you sure these girls are experienced enough for this?” Well, after much discussion I relented and let the girls head off into the field. I was on point and watching them as they started out at a jog. It wasn’t long before they had hit a canter and started to giggle. Quickly they got noisier, shrieking as they went. The girls had been doing this off and on the whole trip so I didn’t pay that much mind at first. It wasn’t until they hit the corner and turned that I could see that the niece had thrown the reins away and had a death grip on the saddle horn. She was squalling like a banshee with her …….toe caught in a crack.
     Poor ol’ Alpo, he wasn’t sure WHAT was going on, but he was pretty sure he didn’t wanna hang around to find out. He lit out of there like his head was on fire and his tail was catching. Alpo hit the corner and gained a gear. This may seem like it took a lot of time; but in fact, it all took place in about eight to ten seconds. It took me about three to size up the situation and I yelled to the uncle “Hold this!” and tossed him my flea catcher. I didn’t have time to see if he caught the hat or not, I was off and gone. I drew a bid on Alpo’s halter and poled ol’ Duck in the ribs and said “SCOOT!” We were off like a dirty shirt. It seemed like it took forever but we soon had Alpo headed off at the pass, old west style. I caught him by the bridle and slowed him to a stop. Meanwhile, the little girl’s eyes were wide as a dinner platter and she was white as a sheet. Still blubbering a bit, she somehow managed to pry her little fingers from the saddle horn and dismount. Her uncle looked her over and pronounced her in fine shape, just a bit shook up. We got her saddled up again, and I snubbed her to my saddle horn to pony her for the rest of the trip. She learned a valuable lesson that day, one I teach all my students: Never panic. I don’t care if the whole world is falling apart around you and you have one cheek in the saddle and one in midair, panicking will only make things worse. If you can keep a clear head, you are more likely to come out with all your various and sundry parts intact.

Brooks Gaited Horse Training

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