The Ring of Fire

Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring. Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire. The taste of love is sweet, when hearts like ours meet. I fell for you like a child. Oh, but the fire went wild. (abbreviated version of a song by the Man in Black).

If you just read that and didn’t hear trumpets accompanying an acoustic guitar in the background or sing as you read it, I’m not sure that we could ever be friends. Although maybe I’ll consider it my first good deed of 2020 that I exposed you to one of my favorite musical artists. Oddly enough, this song did not play on the fateful road trip of my still questionable decision to adopt two mustangs from the Paul’s Valley Oklahoma Bureau of Land Management holding facility although just about every other Johnny Cash song did.

If you are new to my blog, the first week of October 2019, Darling Husband convinced me (mainly because it was close to his birthday) to add two more wild caught Bureau of Land Management Mustangs to the Gardner Hard Luck Horse farm. Originally, the plan was to only bring one mustang home for him, but before we even pulled into the holding facility for the auction, Darling Husband was already preparing me that he may want to bring two home. As fate would have it, out of all of the animals available for auction that day, a four year old red roan gelding caught my eye. While Darling Husband was still undecided about which animal he wanted to bring home, bound by wild desire, I knew the red roan gelding had to come home with us when no one bid on him.

Johnny Cash the Mustang, the Myth, the Legend

During the four hour drive home, I was trying out different names for my new horse, and when “I’ve Been Everywhere” played, the name was decided. Four days into Johnny Cash’s adoption, I fell into a burning ring of fire, and realized how appropriate my name choice was. The original plan for our adopted mustangs was to pretend they were competitors in an Extreme Mustang Makeover event. That gave us a little over 100 days to tame and train the horses to do fairly technical movements on the ground and under saddle. The whole experiment was to be a test run before we signed up for an actual EMM event.

Johnny Cash and I got off to a rough start. For one thing it took over a week before I was able to halter and touch him. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher. He charged, struck out with his front hooves, bit, and kicked me a few times. It burned, burned, burned, the ring of fire. Once haltered, I spent a good month just getting him to relax as I rubbed all over him with first touch tools and then my actual hands. The taste of love is sweet, when hearts like ours meet. Johnny Cash still flinches when I reach out to touch him at the beginning of a training session despite the fact, he has never been struck by me. I spent weeks desensitizing him by waving flags/objects at him, moving my hands at him in a “pretend” hitting motion, but never actually touching him to teach Johnny Cash that he doesn’t have to fear being struck. At the end of the lessons, he no longer flinches, but we start off at square one the very next session.

The round pen or ring of fire depending on your perspective.

Despite his mistrust of humans (He likes Darling Husband even less than me if that is possible, and snorts at any human that approaches his corral), Johnny Cash leads well, yields the hindquarters on both sides, yields the forehand in both directions, and backs. I can pick up and clean both front feet, and he’s finally allowing me to briefly pick up the hind feet. I can jump all around him waving my arms without Johnny Cash moving away, but it’s obvious he still does not like people…at all. I can wave a full size Texas state flag over his head, around his feet, and lay it anywhere on his body. His round pen work is going well, and he’s showing signs of responding to voice commands although, I’ve yet to feel like we’ve actually “joined up” during any session.

The taste of love is sweet..

Recently we moved the mustang corrals and expanded our round pen to fifty four feet in diameter in preparation for first rides. I’ve actually led Johnny Cash out of the corrals and round pen around the pony paddock (approximately a one acre area of land) a few times without him bolting or acting crazy. We took two of these little strolls in the pony paddock at night in the pitch black, and he seemed more relaxed out of the pen than he ever is inside of it. If we were running on the EMM timeline, we would have approximately six weeks to work on riding maneuvers. As it is, Darling Husband and I will be lucky to have the first rides in by then.

Johnny Cash strolling around the pony paddock

Darling Husband has had a surcingle, saddle, and giant stuffed monkey (aka Mad Max) tied in the saddle on his mustang. I even loaned Darling Husband my hip strap sleigh bells for a training session. I’ve been reluctant to add any of that to Johnny Cash’s training. It’s not that I don’t think he would tolerate it, so much as I really want him relaxed around humans before we move onto next steps of making a riding horse out of him.

My main focus is making Johnny Cash safe for the farrier that will be here at the end of the month. Both mustangs are long overdue for a farrier appointment, but I love our farrier. I don’t want him to drop us as clients because of the mustangs. Their first few trims will far exceed my trimming knowledge and skill set. This weekend there were some triumphs as Johnny Cash allowed me to pick up both hind feet three times on each side without kicking at me for the first time ever. That triumph was short lived as Darling Husband tried the same feat, while I held Johnny Cash simulating a farrier situation. The fire went wild. Johnny Cash landed a hind hoof in the back of Darling Husband’s right knee. So it’s back to ropes, touch tools, and yielding the hindquarters for misbehavior. Johnny Cash has three weeks to figure this out before the farrier arrives. I really don’t want to result to sedation for the first trim session, but it may come to that.

Notice the Wild Horse and Burro Program hat…

I’ve been waiting on that magical mustang moment ever since I brought Johnny Cash home. Every mustang trainer/zealot I know talks about a connection/bond that is deeper than any you form with a domesticated horse. I fell for you like a child. For one moment, standing in the middle of the pony paddock under the trees, looking up at the stars while Johnny Cash dozed on the end of his lead I thought there it is, I understand. The next day he struck out when I stroked the lunge whip down his hind leg to test how well his “no kicking” lessons had sunk in. So back to yielding the hind quarters until he can’t catch his breath, and we try again.

I fell for you like a child…

This week J.C. is graduating out of the pony paddock and headed to the back pasture to do some obstacle work over bridges, cavalletties, and get used to working in a wide open space. He’s doing well at sending and circle driving. We’ll also introduce the trailer this week or next depending on what other things we have going on. The first working sessions of 2020 despite the kick Darling Husband sustained showed a lot of promise. There is hope for my wild man yet, but it is clear he wasn’t meant to run on an EMM timeline. My limited experience working with completely wild horses also hindered our progress a bit, but I feel confident this guy is going to be one good looking sensible horse once he learns people aren’t the devil…And it burns, burns, burns the ring of fire. The ring of fire, the ring of fire…

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