It has been 10 months since I started working with Chief and I am only just realizing I have never danced with him very well.
Our relationship went from what I originally saw as great to bad. Even in the times I thought we were doing OK together, I now truly believe he was just tolerating me.
I inherited Chief from a man who boarded horses at the farm I was living on. He wanted to give him to me as a thank you gift for all of the help I gave him with his horses. At first I declined, not only because of the financial responsibility, but also because he told me Chief had bucked him off 3 times and he was now scared to ride him.
So I felt comfortable with my decision until it started eating me away inside. I kept thinking about the first time I saw this man ride Chief , who was named Sport then, a name this man gave him. His eyes were as big as saucers and he looked terrified, but he was doing what he was told. I could not imagine there was any love forming between this man and Chief, although he was nice enough, he did not seem like someone who respected his animals or cared for what they had to give to you.
So I went to visit this horse in his field (he was turned out all alone for 6 months) and realized quickly how gentle he was. And thinking back, I also realize how much of a sucker I am for sad eyes.
I picked all of the boughs out of his tail and mane, which took me three days, and groomed him repeatedly. And I reconsidered my previous decision.
I thought to myself, I bet that man made him buck because of how he was riding him with no respect.
Well my instructor likes to say horses will humble you every time.
This is my personal blog about my journey with Chief. I was keeping a handwritten journal, but typing is easier for me. And somehow more convenient.
So, just to dedicate a small moment to what I previously considered the, “better but not so great times,” I had Chief at a farm I lived on for 3 months. I fed him every meal, saw that he stayed warm through the harshest winter I can remember, and I was his only companion during this time aside from the horses in the pasture over. They were race horses who were a little high strung, and although I turned Chief out with them occasionally, they herded him and made it difficult for me to get to him.
So I moved Chief to a small farm, rode him for the first time since the weather got cold, and had no issues with him. I could ride him bareback with a rope halter, or saddled and bridled and he was extremely quiet. My goal was to take him on the beautiful trails close to that barn, but I didn’t have the chance. I did groundwork with him, but I was very new at the practice.
I moved him to a new barn, of which my friend and instructor is the caretaker. He wasn’t getting fed correctly at the old barn, the other horse he resided with was eating all of his grain, and there was really no other option but to move him.
Within the first day or two of Chief being at his new barn I decided to ride him.
I screwed up.
- I felt his nerves from the moment I began to groom him, but I blew it off.
- He spooked in the wash stall, but I blew it off.
- He spooked at the flag when I held it in my hand to lead him out to the arena, but I blew it off.
- He stood tight like a statue when I tacked him up, but I blew it off.
- He bucked at a trot, tossed me off… Chocked it up to him being in a new arena, and I blew it off.
- After making a rookie mistake and not checking his girth before I got back on him (I was embarrassed and just wanted to cover up the whole debacle) I got back on him and spooked him when the saddle slid to the side. He bucked me off again.
I lunged him, annoyed that he was “acting like this” when he was always “so good” under saddle, my “perfect free horse” and when he was tired, I rode him. He was tolerant of me.
Well for the next 3 weeks I had OK days and bad days with him, but 80% of the times I rode him I dealt with him bucking.
Not being very experienced in sitting through a buck, I barely stayed seated through any of them. Luckily they were small bucks and I landed on my butt.
After one short night of riding on my part (after some groundwork, of what I considered “good” at the time) he bucked me at the trot and I stayed seated. We had a good night after that, and I decided to canter him.
Well after a buck and me concentrating only on staying seated we were running toward the fence. As I spun Chief away from the fence I flew into the metal fence and broke my arm. Bruised my arms, and my back.
I got back up, shaking, retrieved Chief who actually seemed OK, and lounged him. I got back on him determined not to let the night end on that note, trotted the small arena and put Chief away. I felt so defeated.
Hindsight is 20/20
It was only during my recovery and over the next few days that I looked back and realized how lucky I was that I did not hurt myself worse, but also how little knowledge I had to deal with this. I have always ridden really easy horses. Horses that do exactly what you say when you ask. Horses that dealt with my sometimes sloppy riding, in an arena, where they knew exactly what to do.
This was all new for me. And I was terrified. Not scared of riding again, I never felt that. But scared that I would not be enough for Chief when he needed me to be stronger, better, and more educated.
After watching all my Buck Brannaman DVDs again, and researching Chief’s (Aka “Ten “O” SEA” the barrel racing horse with a history of bucking) history I began to develop some perspective.
Since I got my cast off, we have been doing ground work. For me, very difficult ground work. I was actually trying to learn something, and trying to make a connection with my horse. Something I was always lacking when I was doing ground work with him previously. Chief would do the steps, but it was auto pilot. We were missing a HUGE piece of the puzzle. This new go around is like learning a new language. And I am concentrating on being really great at this before I attempt to ride him again. Buck says that education and learning is key. I am really blessed to have a great instructor who is an excellent natural horseman.
I am working on getting to know Chief. Which I know I didn’t do before. I always felt like we didn’t have a connection. I am finally starting to feel one. This is making me choke up as I write this so I think I am finally doing something right.
- To know that Chief trusts me.
- To get really good at understanding horse language.
- To get really good at groundwork, and to become a good hand.
- To become a better, a much better rider.
- Be able to safely ride Chief.
Here is our journey so far.