Friday, August 7, 2009

Animal Farm

Fall 1979, Nevada, Iowa

We waited too long to break Missy to lead. She was ¼ Arabian from her mother Dolly, and a mix of Appaloosa and Pinto to go along with it, with long legs to let us know she would be a real runner.
You may not know that horses are wild by nature, their spirit must be broken at an early age or it requires at least a couple of rodeo cowboys to ride that bucking horse into submission. After six months, a couple months too long according to shared wisdom, my Dad thought it would be a good chore for me to break Missy’s spirit and learn a little more about life on the farm.
Missy didn’t want anything to do with humans, and she was unapproachable in the pasture, keeping her distance or hiding behind Dolly at all times. My only chance was to separate them in the pens and lock Missy into her own pen and lock Dolly out. I lured Dolly into the barn with a can of seven grain oats, and Missy came trotting in unaware. She saw me and gave a start, hiding behind Dolly and peeking out at me from behind her mother’s tail, Dolly snuffling away into the can as the grain dust floated up in little puffs into the dank air.
I put some grain in my hand and beckoned to Missy, all the time using the curry brush on Dolly’s favorite spot just above her front leg, where you comb the hair up into a little tuft. Missy absentmindedly approached my hand and I leapt out to grab her around the neck, dropping the oats can and leaving Dolly snuffling into space, her eyes darting over to me as she saw the clever move I had made.
Missy stood about shoulder high to my waist, so it was not a problem to wrestle her into her own pen and lock the door. With a couple menacing waves of my arms, Dolly fled the barn and I slid the aluminum door shut behind her. For a second it was almost completely dark. I looked over at the holding pen and caught Missy’s opaque brown eyes as a shaft of light from a hole in the barn darted across her face.
What they told me to do, and what I had seen with my own eyes, was to try being nice at first, but if that doesn’t work, there are other more extreme methods which can be used to break a horse. It all depends on the situation how far you need to go.
Missy stood with her face in the far corner of the pen, about ten feet across, ignoring me as I entered with nylon lasso in hand. I was saying there there now Missy, don’t worry sweety, be a good girl Missy that’s a good girl...

I threw the lasso into the air over her neck but she suddenly jumped backward with some horse karate move and kicked me squarely in the right knee. I slumped onto a straw bale in screaming pain. After a bit of rubbing, I got up and grabbed the blue rope, getting ready for the slow approach, each hand forward like another notch up the mountain. To keep her from kicking I had to stay calm and not make any sudden moves. They told me most of it was in how you talked, you could see it in their eyes if they were calm and if they trusted you. So I kept talking, calmly and evenly through my teeth.

The idea was to get up to her head without getting kicked too much, slip the halter over her and then and only then could you try to break them to lead with a rope. This was the first step, later you broke them to ride. I finally made it up to her head and slipped the halter on, but she still wouldn’t budge and I was getting more and more impatient as the pain wore off on my knee. I picked her up and carried her into the pasture outside, Dolly looking on but doing nothing.

I pulled and pulled at the rope but she just dug her hooves farther into the dry earth. She went bucking off with me on the end of fifteen feet of rope and I literally skied behind her, skidding across the ground on the heels of my boots. I decided my only chance was to wear her out, and as a last resort, I used a method I had seen someone use at Chamberlain South Dakota Exotic Animal Auction and Sale. Cut off their air supply.

The halter had little rings holding the nylon straps together. I took the long rope and draped it over her shoulders, the two ends going down and through the front legs, up and through the halter. The more she resisted, the more her air would be cut off from the rope and any horse was said to yield under such pressure, gladly being domesticated just for a little gulp of air.

Not so with Missy. She fought and fought against me, wheezing and puffing, her eyes bulging out at me. She collapsed on the ground with white foam in the corner of her lips, chest heaving up and down in the dust.
A couple years later I saw her again. We had sold her to some friends who had more experience and they said she in fact was one of the fastest horses they had ever had. I saddled her up and took her for a ride and she tried to throw me in the ditch.

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