In late March Johnny Cash reminded Darling Husband that he lives the domesticated life under protest, and refused to be caught. This is actually unusual for him. I pride myself on having horses that are easy to catch, and until that moment, Johnny Cash was no exception. All horseman have that one trait, they won’t tolerate, and a hard to catch horse is the hill I’ll die on. In my hubris I scoff when I read posts by people stating their horses are difficult to catch, and I actively train all my horses to be easily caught and haltered. I know all the mistakes rookies make when attempting to catch and also when turning their horses out. I’m careful to not to make them. In fact I don’t want people that are not intimately familiar with my horses in my pastures without me, because you will be immediately surrounded on all sides by every single equine. If you are not familiar with their herd dynamics, being surrounded by my horses can be dangerous. They won’t intentionally hurt people, but you need to be aware of those minute facial expressions and ear twitches that one horse is going to remind another horse of their rank in the herd.
In Johnny Cash’s defense, my husband rarely attempts to catch him. We had friends visiting with their horses, and that had thrown the entire farm off its vibe. Once I learned of Darling Husband’s difficulty with my mustang mistake, I made it a point to reinforce catching protocols with Johnny Cash the following week. I’m 35 weeks pregnant, I haven’t been focused on working him, and he isn’t being retrieved from the field as much. All was well, and I chalked Darling Husband’s issues up to him being significantly taller than me and Johnny Cash just not as comfortable with him. Johnny Cash allowed me to entertain this delusion until the following Saturday.
On Saturday, I approached Johnny Cash with a halter just as I had all week. My plan was to halter him, feed him a handful of treats, remove the halter and walk away reinforcing that halters are not scary and do not always mean work. Johnny Cash wouldn’t let me within 20 ft of him. While all the other horses surrounded me for scratches and treats, Johnny Cash ran circles around them snorting. When I approached he snorted, then galloped away. I chilled in the pasture. I played with everyone else. I attempted to approached him to be rebuffed again and again. After 45 minutes, Johnny Cash found the limit of my patience. I called in reinforcements.
Two friends that are horse trainers with lots of difficult mustang experience and are intimately familiar with Johnny Cash’s particular brand of nonsense, are staying with us for the next few weeks. I asked them to help me herd the yahoo into the round pen. True to form, Johnny Cash had no plans to make his capture easy and ran around the pasture like a complete idiot at a full gallop. He had officially Yee’d his last Haw and we switched to Clinton Anderson tactics. When all else fails keep them moving and take their air away. Finally Johnny Cash realized he only had two options, keep running and there would always be a predator ready to drive him harder until he died of exhaustion or stop. Drenched in sweat and sucking air, he stopped and dropped his head in defeat. I walked right up, rubbed his withers a few times, slid the halter on, and led him to the round pen.
Johnny Cash was about to learn that there are far more terrifying beings on this planet than people and he was going to get religion fast. I removed his halter, and exited into the pony girl pasture to retrieve Denali. Denali tried Johnny Cash’s evasion techniques about 6 months ago. Denali had been serving hard time for evading people and being a jerk to his pasture mates. He discovered life in the yard is tough. Thanks to Johnny Cash, Denali was paroled back to the Bigs pasture for good behavior and to make room for the new inmate.
Five little pony girls were already circling the round pen. They were striking the panels like inmates rattling tin cups against the bars. The pony girls saw fresh meat, and like sharks, they smelled blood in the water. I easily re-haltered Johnny Cash, and released him to the general pony population. All five girls flattened their ears and bared teeth. There was squealing and rear ends turned cocked and loaded to double barrel. I removed the halter and walked away wishing Johnny Cash the best of luck. Like the reformed sinner he was, he immediately followed me begging to reconsider the sentence, but I had no mercy. In less than twelve hours, not only could anyone on the farm walk right up and halter Johnny Cash, he was usually waiting by the gate.
The plan was to leave Johnny Cash with the pony girls until he went to a trainer for a few weeks of refresher riding until I had the baby and was feeling froggy enough to throw a leg over my problem horse. That time line changed a bit due to trainer feedback. Now 4 weeks postpartum, not only have I been riding my other horses for the previous two weeks and doing some easy jump courses and gallops, I think I’m ready to give JC a go again once the weather decides to cooperate. Hopefully this weekend, I’ll have a better idea what Johnny Cash’s future will hold…