A wish is what brought him to me. He was a three-year-old Appaloosa cross of some sort. Small. Colorful. About 14 hands tall but built like a quarter horse—my first love. All I knew was he’d been herded in off some proverbial range, sold at a sale and ended up in the Texas panhandle at a ranch owned by a friend of a friend named Arthur. Or so they said. I don’t know what made Art’s boys madder: that this pony was only 14 hands tall and bucked off every man who tried to ride him or that he was 14 hands tall and bucked off every man who tried to ride him like they were rag dolls.
In their last act of rage, the boys roped and tied him, threw him down and trimmed his hooves so short he was four-legged lame. Then they brought him to me. And I gave him the name of my predecessor: Arthur.
In my first summer off from junior college, I’d broke three horses, each in two weeks. My approach was simple: 1) keep climbing aboard until they couldn’t put me on the ground and 2) once I was on, put a lot of time in the saddle. It was a mile-a-minute joy ride every moment I was aboard and the only thing I could attribute to my insanity was my void of capacity for consequences, so much so, it’s amazing I didn’t tend toward the criminal. But I’d only broke three. I couldn’t justify calling myself a “trainer” when only a trio of backyard horses got their start because of me.
What I’m saying is, I asked for Arthur.
I don’t know if my experience that short summer did anything more than develop a little instinct and lend itself to strategy. Even in infancy, however, the two are crucial. Instinct is something that’s hit or miss in a moment, while my approach has always remained simple: try not get thrown.
As cruel as it seemed, I knew I had to get on Arthur’s back before soreness wore off and his courage returned. So I bit the bullet, tied him to a post and pulled my saddle from the fence. Before groundwork or voice commands or anything to foster finesse, I vowed to climb on his back every single day, hoping the habit to have me aboard would trump his desire to treat me like a rag doll. And maybe, by the time his faculties returned, his instinct would be to accept me as a rider and not as an enemy.
In the back of my mind, I was actually thinking that if I could paint a prettier picture of this worst case scenario, I might actually be justified in calling myself a “trainer.”
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