“Where’s the camera?” Karen asked excitedly. She hurried toward the house, anxious to record what was happening. “No one is going to believe this if we don’t get a picture!”
Bob and Karen had been sitting in the shade of their gooseneck trailer with Beauty’s owner. When Karen saw me take my saddle off the fence, she came over to the round pen for a closer look. When Bob saw the saddle slide onto Beauty’s back, and Beauty just stood there, he joined Karen. There was one minor glitch when I clumsily dropped the rear cinch. The buckle hit Beauty in the flank and she squirted forward, dropping my saddle on the ground. I calmed Beauty and set my saddle on her back again. This time I managed to cinch it up without startling her. That’s when Karen went for her camera.
With Karen shooting pictures, I moved Beauty around on the end of the lead rope. Soon I was climbing the fence to give Beauty the experience of seeing someone above her. It didn’t take long at all for Beauty to find a place to stand next to me. She really seemed to take comfort in being near me. I rubbed her, patted the saddle, leaned over so she could see me on both sides of her at the same time, and moved the off-side stirrup around. That’s when Michael, Beauty’s owner, left the shade and came down to the pen.
Putting my leg over Beauty’s back several times, and rubbing my foot across her rump just behind the saddle, I satisfied myself that those things didn’t trouble her. Staying committed to the fence, I briefly eased into the saddle. Having repeated that several times, to make sure it was not a fluke that Beauty stayed calm, I let go of the fence with one hand and petted Beauty’s neck as I sat there on her back. It seemed like a good spot to stop for the day.
“I thought Beauty was supposed to be a dangerous horse,” I heard Karen say as I was taking the saddle off and brushing Beauty’s back.
“She is a dangerous horse,” I joked. “Someone’s going to get around her and start liking Arabs.”
The first time I worked with Beauty, I had expected to spend the entire session in the pasture following her around, looking for an opportunity to back off and draw her to me. She had the reputation of being impossible to catch. As I approached, there were several other horses around her. I took my time, petting each one as I worked my way toward Beauty. By the time I got to her, Beauty was interested in getting some of that attention, too. I rubbed her a little, rubbed another horse that was within reach, rubbed Beauty again, and simply put a halter on her.
I led Beauty to the round pen, turned her loose, and began grooming her. If she stood still, I curried and brushed her. If she walked off, I drove her away—just a little faster than she left on her own. I would keep a little pressure on Beauty by walking toward her until she looked my way. By backing off, I encouraged her to stop with her attention on me. Then I would approach her and continue grooming. Soon Beauty was staying with me and was even following me around the pen. I had to drive her off so that I could work on catching her.
Alternating between working at liberty and doing ground work in the halter, I “caught” Beauty at least half a dozen times. I would walk right up to her, put my arm over her neck, and hold the nose band of the halter open. Beauty would look for the halter, put her nose in the opening, and slide it up her face. So much for being impossible to catch.
The next week, when I went back to work with Beauty, her owner asked if I could get her into a trailer. I only had an hour, and I needed to spend some time developing my ability to place her feet. I spent the first half-hour in the round pen getting Beauty’s attention and moving her feet with the feel I had through the lead rope. When I could lead her past me, step her hip over, back her up, and step her shoulder over, I went to the trailer. With only half an hour left to work on trailer loading, I could not promise that Beauty would get in the trailer that day, but it would be a good start.
Beauty was apprehensive about the trailer. She stopped just before stepping on the ramp and was looking for a way to leave. I petted her and stepped her feet back and forth, just like I had done in the round pen. Soon Beauty’s front foot stepped on the ramp. I praised her and petted her, then took her away from the trailer. I wanted to create a spot a little ways away from the trailer where Beauty could relax and be with me. I alternated between moving Beauty up to the trailer and taking her back to our nice place. When I sent Beauty away from our spot, I did as little directing as possible—just enough to keep her headed toward the trailer. When she stopped in front of the trailer, I directed her forward and encouraged her to take another step by tapping her with the end of the lead rope. Rewarding each try, and praising her a lot, developed Beauty’s confidence. Before my time was up, Beauty was walking in and backing out of the trailer calmly.
I had no intention of saddling Beauty that third session, let alone sitting on her back. I had never gotten so far with a horse in such a short time. However, she was doing extremely well, and the saddle was there on the fence—it just seemed like the thing to do. I made sure Beauty was okay with each step before proceeding, and she accepted whatever I did with her. I was astonished when Michael, thanking me for the work I had done, said, “We thought for a long time that Beauty was an untrainable little mare.”