A few weeks ago, my friend posted a meme on Facebook that said, “Courage is knowing it might hurt, and doing it anyway. Stupidity is the same, and that’s why life is hard.” With anything involving livestock there is a fine line between courage and stupidity. I usually walk that line like a drunk monkey. More than a few times, I’ve thought, “This is a bad idea.” right before swinging my leg over a new horse. Sometimes it turned out to be a VERY bad idea involving X-rays and cat scans. I have several nice scars to remind me of less than stellar choices. Sometimes the risk pays off, and saves me valuable time. I’ve blindly proceeded with the overconfidence of a naked toddler dancing with a diaper on their head and learned too many lessons the hard way to count. No lesson sticks with you like a near death experience accompanied by painful bruising and minor injuries or a residual medical bill.
Since October, I’ve done my best to play it smart and make good decisions where the training of my wild caught Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mustang is concerned. Fools rush in, and I did that a few times, but I’ve so far managed to stop short of any heroic acts of stupidity. My mustang, Johnny Cash, taught me a few early lessons by striking and kicking leaving visual evidence that stuck around a few weeks, but the mental impression is probably eternal. I learned the hard way, that wild is much different from a domestic untrained animal. Anyone telling you they behave exactly the same is a liar, and any responsible mustang trainer will agree with me.
Mustangs are not like domestics. Yes, they are capable of anything and more than a domestic horse. Once you have gained their trust the sky is the limit. Many will surprise you how easily/quickly they can be trained. Others will take twice as long to give up that wild side and settle into domesticated life. Johnny Cash has taken longer than anticipated to tame, but six months in, I felt he was finally ready to start riding. Almost six months to the day from the date I picked him up from the BLM, I mounted him bareback, and rode him at a walk 3 times around our round pen. I had planned on starting and finishing this horse entirely on my own. A month ago, I would have told you it was a certainty. I planned on putting all of the first rides on Johnny Cash, and making this horse my ultimate (and, hopefully last) horse breaking experience. I’m not counting ponies, as I need to train at least five more to get my team of six, but domestic and smaller is generally less dangerous to handle.
I’ve focused on getting Johnny Cash used to tack. Desensitizing him to all of the noises saddles and slapping leather make. Johnny Cash has spent quality time with my stunt rider, Mad Max the stuffed monkey to visually prepare for something on his back that sits above his head. I’ve climbed all over him bareback, mounted, and dismounted from both sides. I’ve stepped into the stirrups on both sides and stood over him, but I’ve stopped just short of swinging my leg over while Johnny Cash is saddled. The way I see it, if he explodes while I’m on him bareback, sliding off the side safely to the ground is simple. Once I swing the leg over in a saddle, I’m committed to that ride, and anything he throws at me.
Until two weeks ago, I felt fully confident in my abilities. Then, a girl who picked her mustang up on the same day I picked up Johnny Cash posted a video of her mustang’s second time cantering under saddle. The resulting wreck was visually horrific. She literally did a flip in mid-air and came crashing down on her back. Thankfully she walked away with no permanent damage. That weekend we visited friends who are professional mustang trainers and Extreme Mustang Makeover champions. The videos and tales they told of their most recent mustangs started to plant seeds of doubt whether I really wanted to put in those first rides and/or hit the dirt.
As another friend put it…In your teens and 20’s you’ll swing a leg over anything. In your 30’s you’ll skip meals to pay for horse training because you realize $900 (or more) is money well spent. I’m in that situation where I know I could finish this horse out. I know I have the riding skills. I’ve helped break/finish domestics and put on first rides, but that was all before Offspring. Death never even crossed my mind when I hopped up on the back of an off-track thoroughbred (OTTB) with an unknown level of training that the seller was too afraid to ride. I cantered the OTTB around an open pasture in my blissful ignorance or failure to appreciate the consequences during a pre-purchase exam when I was in my twenties. Fast forward to my thirties, I’ve seriously thought about my life insurance policy before climbing up on some of the rescue horses we’ve brought home over the past four years.
I’m not worried so much for myself, but I worry about being seriously injured and unable to take care of Offspring. There are never any guarantees when working with livestock. Anytime you are handling a living being that out weighs you by eight hundred pounds or more with a mind of it’s own, you are taking a risk. You can minimize the risk, but plenty of people doing everything “right” have still suffered fatal injuries. Horses have been my passion since before I could walk. I’ve had to take breaks from them in order to own them on my terms and live out my own personal dreams, but I’m never going to let fear keep me from pursuing that passion. I hope that Offspring will see his mother pursuing her passion and live his life to the fullest making his own dreams a reality whatever they may be. With that said, I don’t feel the need to tempt fate overly much either.
So when I encountered a few sticky areas in Johnny Cash’s training, that I just wasn’t making progress on, I figured it was time to push my ego to the side. It was time to admit that if I wanted to reach my October goals for my horse, I would need help. Sure I could keep doing what I’m doing, but time is money. There are trainers with more mustang experience that could give my horse more consistent training than I can with my propensity to ADD. This week Johnny Cash is my focus. Next week all I’ll want to do is drive ponies. The following week Comanche and I are sailing over fences, or Offspring will take my attention away from all things equine. The point is Johnny Cash needs someone’s undivided attention for several weeks in order to be ready in time for the Mustangs and Veteran’s ride and I might not be capable of that.
Both of Darling Husband’s mustangs are slotted for training with two trainers that I greatly admire, but squeezing Johnny Cash into their already packed calendar was going to be difficult. DH’s mustangs are priority, since I already have two ride-able full size horses and three fully trained cart ponies. DH isn’t that thrilled with the one horse of mine that he can ride. So I did not want to take any focus away from either of his horses. This gives me the opportunity to meet and work with someone whose horses I’m slightly obsessed with.
Johnny Cash will be headed to Weatherford, TX in July. The 2019 Fort Worth EMM Champion and 2020 Fort Worth EMM Top Ten finalist has agreed to work with my horse. Nacho the 2020 4th place mustang was hands down one of the most beautiful/awesome horses I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I don’t typically like bay horses that much. The fact that I rank the horse so highly when I always prefer color, not to mention taller horses, speaks volumes about this trainer’s success. I also like the fact that Johnny Cash will be going to a trainer with young children because that multiplies the de-sensitizing opportunities.
I feel like I may have this adulting thing down when I’m able to put aside my ego to decrease the likelihood of a catastrophic mishap in mustang training. It’s a win win really that I’m reducing risk, while simultaneously increasing the quality of Johnny Cash’s education, and it leaves more time for Offspring and I to enjoy some pony fun when the pressure to spend valuable hours on a mustang no longer exists. We’re looking forward to exciting things at the GHLHF. With any luck next year our three mustangs will be exemplary mascots for mustang adoption and mustang/veteran causes. It would be really cool to use them in parades to promote the cause!