Satisfaction is Payment Enough

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I’d never met the lady who had called me about starting a colt for her, but I’d known her late husband and thought a great deal of him. What she had was a three year old Thoroughbred stud colt that was sort of halter broke and pretty gentle. I knew the stud he was sired by and liked him a lot, and I figured this colt might be pretty nice, so I agreed to start him for her. It was late fall and I had time before winter work began.

When he was delivered I thought there must be a mistake. This colt was yearling sized, not the strapping nearly 16 hand three year old I was expecting. He was thin and had a huge belly on him. His eye, though kind, was kind of dull and his hair was brittle. Malnutrition and internal parasites had about got him down.

I called the owner and told her about his condition. She’d actually never seen the colt and had been running him with someone else who was supposed to be taking care of him. I told her I thought he was terribly wormy, and told her also that it might just kill him to worm him, but he had to have it. She gave me the go-ahead to worm him.

Back then, in the early 80s, paste wormers were just starting to be used. There wasn’t a great variety of them like there are now, so I didn’t ease into this deworming thing gently. It was all or nothing back then. I gave him a couple of days to get settled in and to remember how to lead. I got the burrs and knots out of his mane and tail. He was really touchy about the belly and flank, and would cowkick at me when I brushed him there, but not mean at all otherwise. So, after getting acquainted, I gave him the wormer.

Since he was isolated in his own corral, I would see any results from the wormer in his piles. Oh boy! Did I! Why this colt didn’t plug up and croak on me was, and still is, a mystery. There were literally gallons of ascarids, bot larvae, and other creepies in every pile of manure. He’d lay out flat in the sun and when he got up, deposit another pile of them. I didn’t think it would ever end!

Finally, his piles became normal so I figured we could get started on his education. He started like a dream. He was so much more attentive and chipper even a week after being dewormed. His belly apparently wasn’t sore anymore either, as he didn’t kick at me when I brushed it. He learned really fast and every day was better than the one before. I was calling him Herman after the lady’s late husband. I sure liked that colt.

He was eating like the proverbial horse, apparently making up for the years of deprivation he had experienced, and his condition was changing by leaps and bounds. His eye was bright and he had energy he hadn’t had for a long time, I’m sure.

I was riding him lightly, just doing a lot of ground work, then stepping on and riding for maybe an hour at an easy pace. He moved really nice and was a fun student. Being a Thoroughbred, and a creature of habit like they are, I went through the same daily protocol of saddling up, warming up, and ground work before stepping on. Herman hadn’t made a mistake yet and I didn’t want to get him started on anything that wasn’t right.

It was amazing to see how he started growing once his system was cleared out. I had him for about two months and he changed into a different horse. A friend stopped in one day and wanted to see this good colt I’d been bragging on. I thought I’d just put a little ride on young Herman to show him how well he was doing.

I didn’t do all of the usual groundwork,warm up and suchlike, as my friend was short of time and I figured Herman was ready to start being a saddle horse, so what the heck, right? I saddled him up, turned him around a few times, backed him up a couple steps, checked my cinch again and stepped on. He was sure tight. I eased him out at a walk in the big round corral, then into a trot. Herman wasn’t his usual chipper self at all, as I’d skipped the steps he expected and his “check engine” light was on.

I turned him back a few times and was in a trot toward one side of the pen, which was actually the outside wall of the barn. Herman pulled the cork and his head vanished and he took a high, spectacular leap through the air, bawled, kicked hard, and bucked toward the barn wall. He was smooth to ride, but the altitude was respectable as I looked down on the barn roof! His timing was just right that when his head came up for his next leap, he brought it up hard against the barn. It nearly put him on the ground, between the whack to his head and the surprise, as he hadn’t kept track of where that barn was while he was bucking. He kept his feet though, and I rubbed his neck while he thought about it. He looked back at me like “I don’t know how you did that, but believe you me, I never want it to happen again.”


I rode him around some more, took him outside and showed my friend how easy he loped and moved out on the grass and he was just fine. When I was done, I brought him back and tied him up for a bit while my friend and I visited.

Herman never bucked with me again and I never had the audacity to mess with his routine again, either. He got his start and was riding nicely, and my job was done, so the lady had someone come and get him for her. I was proud of Herman and also happy with the job I’d gotten done on him. Herman was a new horse too, and that made me feel good. He was growing into the handsome horse he was meant to be and his seal brown coat just sparkled. Plus he was fit and his big belly was gone.

That “feel good” thing was all I ever got out of it too. The lady never paid me, even though I billed her repeatedly for the riding and the feed. I guess my payment was saving that nice colt’s life and the experience I got. It sure could have been worse.

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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....

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