Wednesday, January 11, 2017


When I was eight I was given a real shit of a shetland pony by the name of Seabisquit. He was sold to my parents by my father's brother who told us he was a great beginner pony, well-trained and show ready. They paid $60 for him and everything we were told was a lie. Buyer beware and all that. You would think family would take care of family. He was the hardest mouthed animal I have ever sat on who knew exactly how to grab the bit in his teeth and take command. Given I was an eight year old who had only been on trail rides with my parents, he was a real education, real quick, and although I learned to stay on, learned to show him well in the arena, and learned to bail off him without being hurt too badly, he was never a comfortable ride. The first thing I did was sell him for $30 after I got Queenie.

Our second pony was a Welsh Cob and she was the sweetest thing in the world. She was in her late teens or early twenties and carrying a foal when we got her. She was so well trained that if you began to slip off her, she would slow down and rebalance herself under you. Her foal, however, was born bad.

Some horses are, you know. They come from the womb angry and pissed off at the world, with no interest in getting to know or connect with people. Cowboys used to find those horses and sell them to rodeos for huge bucks. This one was too small for that, even if selling him to the rodeo was an option. They are the kind of horses you can never trust, for they will use teeth or hooves to make their point. Sham was that way. I had more pairs of broken glasses from him throwing his head up into my face (on purpose), ten stitches in my face from him kicking me at a 4-H show (I was brushing off his hooves and he popped me in the mouth with his foot), purpled thumbs from his teeth (he would grab your hand if he could get to it and bite down), and I was kicked, tossed, dragged and pummeled by the little fuck. He is still the only horse I've ever handled that could cow kick in front of his head (where the leg comes forward and to the side, rather than back) and it was always a challenge to handle him safely since he could pop buttons off your shirt while you were standing by his head. He was pretty though. And he could jump like a deer.

Sham was a thirteen hand tall, bright chestnut (what the west calls a sorrel when it is in QH form) with a flaxen mane and tail, bold stripe down his face and four white feet. I spent a great deal of time when I was working with him thinking "four white feet and a white nose, take off his hide and throw him to the crows". He was born when we were on vacation and we came home to find this bright foal in the pasture with his momma. The first thing he did was try to savage my brother with teeth and hooves.

By the time Sham was about a year old, we couldn't keep him in the pasture any longer. He would jump the fence. Now, granted, our pasture fence was mostly kept up with spit and hope, being maybe three and a half feet tall with chicken wire and a strand of barbed wire stretched between posts, some of which were no longer in the ground. It was really just propped up into place. It proved no problem for Sham to jump. Then we would get a phone call from our neighbors about our stud colt being in with their mares four counties away, and I would have to go out and drag him back.

The horses were primarily my responsibility. Do you know how frustrating it is to have a horse you can't keep in without the resources to fix the issue? After talking with my father, I tried hobbles made of soft rope with about twelve inches between his front feet. That really didn't even slow him down. So then I hobbled his hind feet and his front feet. It took him five seconds to figure out how to move with both feet tied together and off he went. Finally, I tried tying a ten inch piece of rope to the middle of the two sets of hobbles to see if that would stop him. He struggled with that for all of ten minutes before he figured out how to bunny hop with all four feet, hopped himself over to the fence, fell into it with his chest, taking down twenty feet of fence in the process, rolled to his feet on the far side and hopped away.

The other option I had was the stock corral. It had six foot tall fences, slat sided (not poles) with a ditch and narrow bridge on the far side. It was probably thirty by thirty and was used by the farmer to wrangle his cattle in the spring and fall. Sham was put in their twice. Both times he jumped himself out. He would go to the fence facing the direction of the far distant mares, rear on his hind legs and touch his nose to the top of the fence. Then he turned and picked up a canter, headed straight for the fence. He cleared it and the ditch on the far side with room to spare. The second time, I hobbled his front feet. He reared up, touched the top of the fence, sank back on his haunches and cleared it from a stand still.

He was impossible.

I found an old running hobble from one of the sheds on the property. It had a leather anklet with buckles attached to eight foot of chain with a huge iron ring on the far end. I put it on his front leg, then tied the ring to a rope and the rope to a tree in our pasture. It limited his range, but kept him from going through the fence.

That was the only time I ever jumped a horse. We had a set of 55 gallon drums and I turned them on their ends, crossing the top with a pole. We would ride and jump over it in a circle, bareback. I had no idea what I was doing and relied heavily on Sham making the decisions necessary to carry us safely over the pole. We didn't do it often, mostly because he had a decent wither bone and I was bareback. And not a jumper.

One fall we decided to take out our big red toboggans attached to a very long rope and pull our sibs and neighbors through the cut wheat field. The snub ends of the cut wheat made for a very slick surface and the intermittent irrigation ditches created the opportunity for catching air in the toboggan. I was on Queenie and my brother was riding Sham. They were doing okay until the kids in the toboggan bailed because of a big bump and suddenly Sham was being chased by a flying toboggan kite. He bolted for the nearby pasture, with my brother holding on for dear life. They came to a ditch that was a good ten feet across. Sham balked hard, then leaped with perfect form over the ditch. My brother and the toboggan parted ways with him at that point. 

I think that if I had him now, with what I know, he would be a great jumping horse. He had great form, great scope with natural bascule and both depth and height in his ability. It's really too bad he was such a shit.

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