Saturday, January 7, 2012

Beyond and back

I stayed up late last night reading the new C.J. Box book.  
Although it's not truly a horse book, there are an awful lot of horses in it and most of the action takes place on a multi-day wilderness horseback trip into Yellowstone Park.  That's a setting I can relate to, having spent my twentieth and twenty first summers working as a wrangler at two different Colorado guest ranches.  Not surprisingly, the book stirred up a lot of memories and a large part of my day has been spent looking through my old photo albums and thinking about the summer of 1990.

That's the year I worked at Lake Mancos Ranch (now named Majestic Dude Ranch).
The ranch was owned by Lloyd and his wife Kathy.  Lloyd was mostly a good boss, but he wasn't open to new ideas.  Every time someone suggested a different way of doing things, he would say, "We've been doing it this way for thirty five years, and it seems to work."
Lloyd had similarly old fashioned ideas regarding his wrangler staff.  Although two of the five wranglers were female, it was obvious that he considered us as the second string.  We were assigned the youngest riders and the quietest horses.
That didn't sit well with me at all. I knew I was a better rider than all those boys. I just needed an opportunity to prove it.

I got my chance a couple weeks into the summer. My usual Monday through Wednesday horse was unavailable, so I asked one of the boys what was left to ride. He named two horses. One was old and slow. The other was Cody. Naturally, I opted for Cody.

"Oh, I don't think you're going to like Cody!" Randy warned. Randy was nineteen years old and redneck through and through.  Like Lloyd, he didn't think girls were capable of handling anything but the easiest horses.

Randy's objections only made me more determined. I immediately caught and saddled Cody.
Cody was a tiny little thing, standing maybe fourteen hands, but there was nothing cute or cuddly about him.  He had a big white face, a hard eye, cranky ears and a reputation for biting, balking and bucking. He was also--I discovered quickly--very, very green. Despite being nine years old, he responded to only the most rudimentary cues and didn't neck rein at all. None of those ranch horses were particularly well trained, but Cody didn't seem to know anything.

I decided the best way to ride Cody was to treat him like an unbroke three year old. I was patient and gentle with him, and just like that, Cody stopped balking and bucking.  

You would think I'd get some credit for the amazing Cody transformation, but all Lloyd said was, "Cody must like women."
Well, that's not all he said. He also told me that Cody was mine for the rest of the summer.

Unfortunately for me, by that time I'd realized that Randy had been right all along. Despite my best efforts, I didn't like Cody. No matter how hard I tried to make friends with him, he remained completely disinterested in me. I rode him three days a week for the entire summer, and we never formed any sort of meaningful partnership. He was as remote and unfriendly at the end of the summer as he had been at the beginning.  
He still bit, too!


  1. He sure is pretty though!!! I always chose to ride the difficult ones too. I loved the challenge, and I had no trouble getting the horse I wanted, because everybody thought I was nuts!!! I was reading back though your blog and I am wondering, what ever became of Darcy's seizures? Is she on medication, or did they go away? I had an Akita that started doing that out of the blue, and it turnd out that she had a hepatic shunt. Her blood was full of garbage her liver wasn't cleaning. just when I thought I'd have to sell everything to take her out your way to CSU or WSU vets, she quit. I guess they think she outgrew it and the shut closed off. So i have been wondering how your gorgeous girl is doing? I am so enjoying your posts!!!
    JO K.

  2. Hi Jo--I owe you an email!

    Cody was a really pretty color, but he always had an unhappy look on his face. Kind of ruined things for me. I don't ever remember thinking he was a nice looking horse.

    I consider it a sign of maturity that I no longer want to ride the crazy horses, and I don't care whether or not other people think I can ride. It's taken me a loooong time to get to this place though!

    Darcy gets 2 ml of potassium bromide on her food every day, and she hasn't had any seizures since that one very bad day. It's tempting to think that was an anomaly, but actually she'd been having occasional focal seizures ever since I got her. I just didn't know that's what they were. As you can imagine, I've learned a lot about seizures and epilepsy in the last few months!

  3. It has always amazed me how animals can teach us so very much. I learned a great deal about liver function from the Akita before her untimely end. But that is another heart wrenching story. Yes, as I have aged and become crippled to some extent, I would be hard pressed to get on anything crazy. I have adopted and trained 2 mustangs from the BLM in the last 10 years, but they are anything but crazy. They are the most responsive, quick learning, and wonderful horses I have ever worked with. Especially the stallions, that are always just looking for love. A very different view than I originally had of them. Mares keep them on the outskirts of the herd and they are always looking to be allowed in. Its the mares that run things. Consequently, the only horse I could not succeed in "reaching" was a mustang mare. She went to a friend and he was riding her in 3 weeks. Hmph.... Oh well, as you said, I no longer need to prove I know how to ride. The "craziest" horse I ever worked with was a shetland/POA cross that was born on the range (200 acre pasture) and run through cattle chutes for his vaccines and trimmings. I bought him at 2 years old ungelded and untouched basically thinking I would turn him into a kid pony for my friends young daughter. He was nuts, and only succeeded in scaring the poor girl to death. I did get him broke to ride, and then sold him to a lady that badly abused him. I will never forgive myself for that. However, he is now, in fact, owned by a Young girl now that named him Chucky and shows him in 4-H. This is after much rehab after the lady that abused him. It is always bitter sweet to see him. I have considered trying to buy him back for my son, and myself of course!! Perhaps I will this summer. I had named him Scout. Oh, he always did have a kind face, just crazy studly pony thoughts in his mind ;)
    JO K.

    Jo K.

  4. Cody is a pretty colour :) He sounds similar, in a way, to a coupl of the horses I have had, not being able to create much (if any) of a friendship with them. All my life the horses I have had have been difficult in some way or another. I think I have only ever had 2 that have been broken in when I got them, all the rest I have had to break in and train and do everything with them myself. Not like all these kids whose parents import all pretrained 'push-button' ponies and they just hop on and go and win supreme this and supreme that. They wouldn't stand a chance riding anything like what I have had to ride, and anything you have ridden by the sounds of it...

  5. *sigh* I think we have all had those animals in our life who we really wanted to like, but just did not. I hate that. I had a guinea pig who I ran out and got the minute I arrived at college (I had been forbidden to get another at home after our first one died). That pig... man. He was a stinker. He wasn't cuddly, he wasn't cute, he bit and kicked and looked surly all the time. I must admit to not being all that distressed when he got sick and died (this was after I'd brought him home). I still feel guilty about it!

    I have a saying now, "Animals are too much work to have one you don't like." Sometimes we wind up stuck with them anyway, as you did (and I did, I certainly never considered giving away Ezra and took the best care of him I could). My friend has a dog she loathes but they got her from a rescue and her hubby won't countenance returning her. Unfortunately, Jane is the stay-at-home mom who winds up dealing with most of her difficulties. She would love give that dog back and get one she actually WANTS to be with but so far, no luck.

    Still, I'm glad you stuck up for the "fairer sex" and rode that blasted pony all summer! :-)

  6. I usually come around to animals, but Cody was just a little too determined to be unlovable. One week, he threw a shoe and was quite lame at the beginning of the all-day ride. We were literally six hours away from the ranch, and I had to get him home lame or not so I led him. It was terrible. My cowboy boots were NOT made for walking and that was one long walk down the side of the mountain with a sneaky, biting horse. Cody knew enough not to bite when I was paying attention to him, but every time I'd open a gate, help a guest or get lost in thought... that sneaky little brat would take a chunk out of me. By the end of the day my feet were covered with blisters and my arms were black and blue!

    And I really don't think I ever managed to prove anything to Lloyd, Eddie or Randy. Honestly, I don't know why I even cared. Well, I was 21. I guess that's reason enough!