"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
William Shakespeare, Richard III
William Shakespeare, Richard III
I asked for and received riding lessons for Christmas 1997 from the long-suffering Mr. Fry prior to even shopping for our current property. I don't remember the name of the stable in Allen, Texas, or the name of the instructor who ended up skipping town about 10 months later with $75 I had prepaid for a couple lessons. The barn owners assumed no liability for the flakiness of their instructors, whom they claimed were independent contractors.
What I do remember and will never forget is Comanche, the 35-year old sorrel Quarter Horse gelding who was my primary teacher. Don't let his age give you the wrong impression; although bombproof, this boy was still pretty darn spry. I told my instructor I wanted them to teach me how to saddle my own horse, care for the tack and care for the horse as well. I wanted the whole experience as much as I could, given the circumstances. So my lessons ended up being hours and hours long, because I'd just hang out at the barn, taking care of business, picking the brains of anyone who'd talk to me. As I got more confidence, I rode a huge Palomino gelding named Buddy, who was a big scaredy cat (and who LOVED me, for some reason), and the instructor's dark bay TB mare, Havana. I loved the opportunity to ride Havana, who was a lot of well-trained horse. Occasionally we'd venture out on little mini trail rides (not far because of encroaching suburbia), the instructor on Havana and I on Comanche, but mostly, I became very comfortable in a round pen or an arena.
It didn't take very long after I got Poco for almost every conversation about him to start with, "If I had a round pen..." The repetition is itself very comforting to me, and if anything is going to go wrong, it's in a contained area. With Poco, that means when he starts throwing his head, looking for something to run me into, there's no place for him to go! Because it's small, with no obstacles to negotiate, I can concentrate on technique, whether it's becoming accustomed to a faster gait, or just concentrating on my seat. I don't have to worry so much about steering, avoiding trees, traffic, etc. A round pen would also solve the problem of the idle horse being a disruptive PITA when the other is being ridden.
Aside from riding in a round pen, I've also seen how effective properly executed ground work can be. The first two times Heather tried to work Pokey in the round pen, he immediately started running and didn't stop until he was lathered and heaving. Doesn't take Clinton Anderson to figure out how previous owners dealt with Poco's, er, spirited attitude prior to riding him. I was impressed at how quickly she was able to take him from that to responding off-lead to verbal commands only in her 110 ft. round pen.
For my birthday this year, Mr. Fry hired a guy with a backhoe to do some dirt work in the back, including level and till me an area for a 60 ft. round pen. This is a story in itself! I got home from work one day to find this ole boy (Dave) standing on the newly reset culvert pipe spanning the gap across the mostly dry creek bed that divides the property in half. I introduced myself and asked him if the horses had been any problem. His helper had left the gate open and The Boyz decided to get some religion (OK, maybe it was the Elysian fields) at the church across the road. I was wondering how they caught the ever-suspicious Poco, but didn't ask. I was just grateful we live in the country, where loose livestock is almost an everyday occurrence, and drivers tend to be slightly more wary of such things. Then he asked if the horses were mine. With a huge smile and that oh-so-proud mom tone, I said they were and that although they weren't anything really special to anyone else, I love them to pieces, "especially THAT one," pointing to Pokey. To which this guy says, "I wuz gonna ask yew if ya rode THAT one at night!" Then he said Arabians were about the ugliest, most worthless breed there is. I said, "Mister, you can insult my husband; he can defend himself. But if you're going to insult a lady's horse, the NEXT time I see you, it better be with your hat in one hand and a lead rope attached to a mighty nice pony that you intend on handing over to me in the other!" I was only half kidding. Found out a bit later in the conversation he raises paints and QHs. Still doesn't give him the right to speak disparagingly about my horses.
My original choice for the round pen was level, but completely in the sun, and the ground is very hard and rocky. I figured I'd have to bring in some sand. Dave made a case for putting it in a near-level location that is partially shaded, and where the ground has already been eroded, therefore soft and fine. Mike worked on the land some more, fine-tuning the grade. Since that whole area is slightly sloped, he shored up the low end with railroad ties. And then, as only Texans can truly appreciate, we picked up rocks. And more rocks. And graded again and picked up still more rocks.
Finally, finally, finally about 6 weeks ago, I had enough money saved for the round pen itself! We used our truck and flatbed trailer, but Jason drove and supervised the loading and securing of the panels. Of course, while at Paul Taylor's, Heather and I had to window-shop. Got home and the three of us had that thing up in less than 30 minutes! BTW, the big orange bucket in the middle is full of -- you guessed it -- ROCKS.
I just went outside to call the always hard-working Mr. Fry in for some chow and he was tilling the round pen for me again. What a nice man. Guess what I'll be doing this afternoon? Rockin' on!