No Horse Prejudice
- September 20, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
Fall was in full swing on the ranch. I was riding every day, checking through the big calves to make sure nothing was showing a droopy ear or a cough. They were all on pasture with their mothers yet, and it took a lot of miles to get a look at everything. It wasn’t a great time to be short of horses.
But, due to a couple of injuries to my string, and me selling a gelding earlier, I suddenly was very short of horses. Lots of folks had colts they wanted me to ride, but I was putting on too many miles for them, so needed older horses that could take it.
After thinking on it for a bit, I remembered an old rancher who always had pastures full of horses, most of them needing miles and wet saddle blankets. So I gave him a call. He said he had five head of five year old geldings, all with about 30 days riding on them, that sure needed some more riding. He could have them in the corral and I could come and pick what I wanted to ride. We set a day for me to go look them over and I had hopes that my tired saddle string could finally get a break.
I pulled into the ranch yard and saw the five geldings standing in the round pen. They were all gray, as his stud was gray, had good feet and legs, big withers, nice necks and deep hearts.Other than size, they were really very much alike. As we stood in the corral, he moved them around and one gelding really grabbed my eye for the silky way he moved. He barely left tracks and was nicely set up. He turned back against the fence when asked and really put his feet under him and turned easy. I told the rancher that I’d take that gelding.
He had to grab the fence because he started laughing so hard. I waited for him to pull himself together then asked what was so funny. He said “There are three Arab/Thoroughbred crosses and two straight Arabs, and you picked one of the Arabs.” He had figured that I’d be put off by the Arab status, but I wasn’t. I was looking at the horse and how he moved, not his papers.
True, I liked my Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds a lot, and had never sought out an Arab, but unlike many who have an inborn prejudice, whether they’ve ridden one or not, I’m more about what a horse can do, not what his breed is. So, in spite of his giggling, we got the horse caught and I loaded him up and headed home.
I’d been told the horse had had about 30 rides as a three year old. I approached him like a green colt, which he kind of was, and handled him accordingly. He never humped up when I saddled him and wasn’t too goosey or snorty acting. After some ground work, there was nothing left to do but get on.
I stepped on him in the corral, and he rode right off. He didn’t have much handle, but I could turn him, stop him and he moved out freely, so I unlatched the gate and headed for the pasture. The cows I needed to ride through were several pastures and hayfields away from the corrals, so I figured we’d be warmed up nicely by the time we actually got to the cows.
Across the hayfield we went, him with his ears up, looking at the horizon and really stepping out at a fast walk. After a bit I eased him into a trot and, man, it was so smooth. As he warmed up and loosened up, I asked for a lope. I remember how there was just no jarring transition or anything. He was like he was on a rail he was so smooth. His stride was long and he seemed to really like getting out and going. He wandered a little, as any green horse will do, but he was easy to correct and I was enjoying him.
The only little problem we had on the way to the cows was when we left the hayfield. It had been mowed short and the grass stubble didn’t hide a thing on the ground. When we went into the uncut grass, he acted uneasy, then absolutely set the parking break when we got to a patch of sand grass that was tall and thick. He snorted and studied that deep grass like he’d never seen such a thing. As I let him look, I realized he probably hadn’t seen big, rank grass where he grew up. With too many horses, cattle and a band of sheep, the grass never got taller than the horse apples in the pastures he was used to at home.
After some study and a little encouragement, he stepped warily into the sand grass and found out there was indeed ground underneath, and soon was moving right along again. It kind of made me chuckle, but then I felt a little sorry for him too. Being a five year old and never seeing big grass seemed kind of sad.
After I’d ridden this nice gelding for a couple of weeks I really liked him. He was absolutely honest and would do anything I asked him to, even if it was something new. He figured out that a rope wouldn’t hurt him and tracked cattle nicely. He had a running walk that covered the country at a good clip, so with that and his easy lope, he was a pleasure to make a big circle on.
I was riding him the day that I gathered the steer calf pairs to move them to a pasture closer to the shipping pens. The stock dams were down a bit and the shorelines were exposed with their rocks and old cow tracks making them rough. Some calves were down along the water below a bank that was maybe four feet high. I’d ridden down along the shoreline to get the calves moving below the bank. Once I got them going, I decided I’d turn back and ride back to where the trail went up on top of the bank so I could keep the others moving. I asked him to set his foot and turn back against the bank, but he misread the memo and suddenly we were up on top of the bank, walking toward the cattle. He had simply lit up on top with no apparent effort, and he’d done it so smoothly that it hadn’t even been an effort to make the leap with him. I was surprised but quite impressed!
He was an absolute cat on his feet and a true pleasure to ride. His demeanor was eagerness without nervousness, lots of hustle and heart, and he could go day after day without showing the miles. I got awfully attached to him, and if I hadn’t been leaving that outfit and not needing any extra horses, I’d have bought him that fall, Arab or not.
The old rancher I borrowed him from got a broke gelding back when my riding was about over and, clear until the last time I saw him before he passed away he had a chuckle over me picking the Arab out of his geldings. If they were all like that, I’d sure enough pick another one too.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....