Beware of Gentle Horses, by Richard Winters
Tom Dorrance used to say, “Take the time it takes and it will take less time.” I’ve also heard, “The longest distance between two points is a short- cut.” I can think of times when I got in a hurry with horses, yes even gentle horses, and it cost me time, money, or physical pain and injury to both me and the horse.
Generally the only thing salvageable from those misadventures was valuable lessons learned. Let me share a couple of those lessons with you…
A couple of years ago I stepped into the stall of a gentle horse who was facing away from me. Yes, I was in a hurry for no good reason. I stepped directly up to his hind legs, to undo the blanket straps, which I had done a thousand times before. However, this time my gentle horse was sleeping! No doubt he was dreaming about lush pasture where he was grazing on knee-high grass. Until, A mountain lion lunged at his flank and attempted to take him down. The problem was, of course, I was the mountain lion. That gentle horse kicked out with one hind leg, fortunately, I was very close to his rump or he might have killed me. He slammed me ten feet backwards against the stall wall where I lay in a daze asking, “What happened?” The lesson learned is: Slow down, pay attention and make sure that the horse knows you’re there. In all reality, I didn’t learn anything new. The fact is, I knew better. It was a careless mistake that could have cost more than my few bruises and crumpled straw hat.
My second example happened just a few weeks ago. And yes, with a gentle horse…
I was scheduled to give a horsemanship demonstration to some children at their school in a residential neighborhood. I parked my rig on a side street and decided to leave my horse in the slant load trailer until it was time for the demo. With nothing else to do I decided to step into the trailer and saddle my horse so that I would be ready to go. Remember, my horse is gentle, great to saddle, and has never been “cinchy”. (Famous last words!)
About twenty minutes later I thought it was time to head over to the school yard. I stepped into the trailer, untied my horse, and started to back him out. One step, two steps, and when his left hind foot stepped off the back edge of the trailer, BOOM! It was like someone had shot my horse in the head with a gun. He fell out of the trailer, landing on his side, on the ground, with his front feet still inside the trailer. His head and neck were bent around like a pretzel. It was not a pretty sight. I wondered if he would get back up without leaving half of his hide on the gravel covered pavement.
I knew immediately what had happened. My horse had become cinch bound. This phenomenon generally happens when a horse is cinched too tight, too soon, without having the opportunity to untrack his feet. Although I had not cinched my horse very tight, the unfamiliar scenario of being saddled in the trailer and then being backed out, was just enough to trouble my horse and thus compromise his safety.
I immediately uncinched my saddle and let it fall to the side. I then did my best to help my horse get up without hurting himself. Fortunately he got up without an incident. It sure could have been a lot worse! What was I trying to do? Save time? Take a shortcut? If so, I had accomplished neither. Needless to say, I’ll give more consideration to what kind of situations I put my “gentle” horse in next time.
These are two of my stories. Unfortunately I could share more. And no doubt, I have triggered your memory of a time when you tried to cut corners only to have ended up in big trouble with your horse. Let’s all be encouraged to not assume too much, or get careless, in everyday chores and procedures with our horse. Remember, consistant and proactive leadership is what all of our horses deserve.
[Written by Richard Winters & published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 5, Issue 12.]
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