A while back, I talked about getting back on a horse after being away from riding for over 40 years. Needless to say, it was an eye opening experience in that what was once simple, still is. But the body protests greatly.
I also mentioned about being bucked off a horse in a cactus pile. Well, here’s the story on that one.
I was about 8 or 9 when we purchased a horse called Renee. To say she was a Rescue Animal might not have been too far from the truth. Her previous owner just hadn’t taken care of her, and when we got her, she was weak, sick, and thin. Apparently the owner’s kids used to go out and throw rocks at her on a daily basis. The pasture she was in too small to really support her, and she often times went without food and water. All of that conspires to do things to a horse’s head that it shouldn’t have to go through.
I really didn’t appreciate that at the time.
First time my dad saw her, he felt sorry for her, and made the guy an offer right there. So we purchased her, thinking if we put the work into her, we’d turn her back in a horse instead of this barely alive hunk of flesh.
We put her into the corral, and the work started. First order of business was to get her healthy again. It took a lot of visits from the vet, a lot of grain, water, and care to get her there. But within four months, she started putting some weight on, and started getting some spring back in her step.
Problem was, she hated humans, and rightfully so. She carried the psychological scars of her abuse, and like so many humans, she just couldn’t find it in herself to let yesterday go. Humans were her enemy. All the bad stuff that had ever happened to her was caused by people. And just because we treated her kindly, took good care of her, and spent time around her, that just wasn’t building a lot of trust in her corner.
It didn’t take long to realize we might have a problem or two with her. My brother and I had come home from school, and were in the corral with her. Now we had the traditional round corral you use with horses. The idea is there’s no corners to get trapped in and is traditionally used when breaking the animal.
The horse was supposed to be rideable, and I’d already put the saddle on it, walked it around, but had yet to step into the stirrup. The idea was we needed her to get used to the idea again. So far she’d been the gentle animal we hoped she’d be. But there was always something about her that made me keep an extra eye on her, to be on constant alert around her. Unfortunately, my brother didn’t share my sixth sense.
I’d fed her and groomed her when my brother got into the corral. He was filling her water trough, and as he stood there, the animal looked at him, and just went crazy. It bolted away from me, and charged at him, its ears back and lips curled into a snarl.
Fortunately my brother had the good sense to drop and roll under the corral fence to get away from her. The horse stopped right where he’d been standing, a flurry of dust as it’s hooves dug into the ground, but not soon enough. With a sickening crack of protesting lumber, the horse crashed into the fence. Had he still been standing there, the animal would have crushed my brother between the fence and itself.
I started talking soothingly to the animal, trying to calm it. It glared at my brother, but allowed me to approach slowly. I spoke to the animal, asking it what that was about. Slowly it calmed, and I was able to finish grooming it, took the saddle off, and patted her down.
There were no further incidents out of her for almost a year. She let me keep working with her and she seemed to be OK. Oddly, my brother never worked with her again.
The second incident we had was months later. I’d gotten her used to the idea of the saddle, and had taken her out for several rides. She seemed to do just fine, and I’d been riding her steadily for over a month, taking her out on longer and longer rides. I wanted to get her used to me, and me to her. I was also trying to build up her stamina because if she was going to be a working cow horse, she’d need all the strength she could get.
I’d ridden her off the ranch, down the county road, and was cutting up onto the foothill just south of the ranch. It was a good place because it provided some of the kind of territory she’d be need to be ridden in. It was also a good place to be careful of since there was some loose rock, and the ever present likelihood of rattlesnakes. I’d been up there hundreds of times, never once even saw one, but I knew they were around.
So, we’re riding along, and before I knew what had happened, she’d bucked me clean off. There was no warning, it just happened. At first I thought she’d seen a snake, but when the animal stopped, looked at me sitting in the pile of cactus, I figured pretty quickly there wasn’t a snake around. For whatever reason, Renee had just bucked me clean off.
I got out of the cactus patch (thank God I was wearing gloves), pulled the needles out, and got back on, asking the animal what that was all about. I didn’t know what to think of her actions, it was like she waited till I was relaxed, a nice cactus patch was handy, and then unloaded me.
No incidents for several months. It seemed that was just a fluke, and she was settling down nicely to be a good cow horse.
The final incident could have easily killed me or put me into the hospital for an extended stay. We were trailing the cows out of the mountains, and up to this point, she’d performed flawlessly. We were riding through a meadow after an uneventful day of pushing cattle, and were within a few miles of the corral.
One second she’s walking along normally, the next she’s rearing up, and throwing herself over backwards. If she completed the fall, she’d land right on top of me. Almost half a ton of horse wouldn’t have been good, and it’s a fair bet I could easily have been killed.
I started to throw myself out of the saddle so I wouldn’t be on her when she landed. Only my right foot got tangled up in the stirrup, so when she landed, my leg was under her. With a crack, I heard the saddle break from the force of the impact. But it was a saddle meant for bronc busting and the very design of it kept my leg from being crushed. She came up, I came up with her, and she was rearing up, pawing at the air, trying to get me like I was the devil himself and she was defending herself.
After a minute, I got her calmed down, but because the saddle had busted, I couldn’t ride her. I stripped the saddle off, got the rope, and we led her last couple of miles to the corral. By this time she had me a little spooked, but I rode her again several times without further incidents.
Ben, our vet heard the story, asked if he could work with her. We said yes in the hopes that a good cow horse could be salvaged. I was very sure both incidents had been designed to kill the rider, but the why eluded me. I’d tried very hard to get her trust and show her kindness, so her actions confounded me.
“She was abused,” Ben said, showing me a little insight into the mind of a horse. “Humans were here enemies, and sometimes they go a little insane as a result.
”With a lot of work, I might get her past that.”
He worked with her for a couple weeks, and then went out one morning and found her dead in the corral. Wanting to know what killed her, he did a bit of an autopsy on the body, and found a tumor in her brain.
I’d like to think that had a lot to do with why she acted up, and that she really didn’t have it in for me.
Either way, she ended up a horse I’ll never forget.