Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Part Three: The Lowdown
The old horse turned out to be two. Twenty-three months to be exact. But wait. Before you get all excited, he had thirty days on him. And this was the prettiest horse I’d ever seen. I’m not kidding. This one was really pretty. I say Cherokee was pretty. But Lowdown. Let me put it this way. He was so pretty that when we pulled up somewhere and I got ready to take him off the trailer, I braced myself for the paparazzi. As soon as people saw him, they crowded around, oohing and aahing. Their mouths dropped open. They swarmed all over him trying to get his autograph. But I didn’t buy him because of that.
Kurt told me to.
Back when we first started horse hunting, I was quite shocked that I couldn’t find one for seventy-five dollars like what I paid for Cherokee who walked over rickety old bridges and jumped off cliffs if I asked him to. I was fuming when I had to go up to almost three grand to get Spirit. This was highway robbery! I felt that way even before I found out he was a bucker. But when we were horse shopping for Kurt, money was no object. This was going to be his first horse and it had to be perfect. I didn’t want him to have any bad experiences. At least before it took. The magic of horses, that is. That addiction that is sneaky and cunning and makes you buy saddles you can’t afford and whole houses, in fact, so you can keep your addiction right in your own backyard and ride him anytime the urge hits you. No, I wanted him to love it like I did. Get hooked on it so that when he did run into the buckers, it wouldn’t rattle him. Therefore I wanted him to get whatever his heart desired. Which meant black. And it had to be beginner-safe. Which meant expensive.
We found Lisa, Kurt’s dealer (his horse dealer, not his drug dealer, though horses and drugs—what’s the difference really?) who at any given time had a dozen gorgeous, top-quality horses for sale with prices to match. Lisa sold us Chance, a black Quarter Horse gelding who was gorgeous and bombproof. There was no running around sorting through broncs and agoraphobic show horses who didn’t like living alone. And it worked. Kurt was hooked. He stayed up till two in the morning bidding on studded headstalls that complimented Chance’s face. He instructed me to have Chance all saddled up and ready for him so that when he pulled into the driveway after work, he could just hop on. He even started wearing a cowboy hat.
After the Spirit fiasco, when I started horse shopping again, he said, “That’s it. We’re going back to Lisa.” I opened my mouth to protest. I couldn’t see paying that. Not for me. Him? Yeah. Me? No. He reminded me of all the money I lost trying to get a bargain. “Stop crying and just pay,” he said.
Lisa specialized in pretty. Mostly horses of color—Paints, palominos, blacks, even the occasional grulla. Lowdown was a palomino Paint, the best of both worlds. However, I never expected anything this pretty. But he was a colt. Kurt, who I hadn’t seen this excited since I gave him my number in the Halfway Bar, lost his mind. “He looks quiet,” he said.
“What are you crazy? He’s two-years old!” I cried. “We came here to get one that’s twenty!”
Even though my heart was thumping. Already I was secretly hoping he’d talk me into it.
Kurt said, “He has a kind eye.”
I said, “He’s two!”
Kurt said, “Yeah, but look at him.”
Lisa stepped in. “Let’s put him in the round pen and see how he goes.”
He went real good. He went so good, we bought a round pen to go with him. Naturally, if I was getting a colt, I needed a safe place to train him.
Now you may see trouble brewing and you may or may not be right. Young horse and novice rider, because that’s what I was, (even though I spent every waking moment on my pony when I was a kid) is never a good mix. Add fear into the equation and all the wallets in the back pockets of every horse whisperer in the state were flapping open. And I was fearful all right. Skeerd, scared, whatever you want to call it—after Spirit, I was afraid to lope. I had a loping phobia, if you will. I was a little nervous about everything, but loping was the worst.
Trying to prevent Spirit from bucking when he loped had gotten me into a bad habit. For a long time, whenever I cued a horse to lope, I automatically pulled his head up to stop him from bucking. Whether or not he was going to do it. It was like a Pavlov’s dog reaction—horse lopes, I yank his head up. If I even got the courage to lope at all—that’s how scared I was. I made excuses to avoid it. The ground is too hard. The ground is too soft. I have a headache. The horse looked crooked today… Which was frustrating since running was what I loved to do the most. It was why I’d always dreamed of being a barrel racer. I was ruined. But now I was armed with the round pen. And I became, how do you say?—round pen dependent.
Sometimes I think they ought to have a twelve-step program for people addicted to their round pens. It appears horses are the gateway drug that lead to many others. Dependency on the color coordination of polo wraps, pads and reins; overuse of Cowboy Magic; and the hoarding of bits in search of that first high when you threw out the Tom Thumb snaffle and bought a three-piece twisted wire, copper mouth, with a dog bone in the middle.
And the round pen. I don’t know how people ever trained their horses without them. In fact, I don’t know how people even ride their horses without them! Because, to this day, I will not get on my horse if he’s been twiddling his thumbs out in the field for any length of time without throwing him in the round pen first. Just to see what’s under the hood. And if there’s anything sinister going on since I mounted him last, we have a little lesson in who is the herd leader and who is second in line. Then I’ll get on.
So when I bought the palomino Paint (who I named Lowdown after the Boz Skaggs song, Lowdown, for no reason other than I thought it sounded cool and his registered name, Im Justin Image was boring), I used the round pen on a regular basis. And I guess I hit all 7’s because mellow personality and compliant nature along with the round pen training enabled me to actually ride this horse. Even though he was, don’t forget, two-years-old. We went on many trail rides with many friends and no bucking. We even rode on a trail past the lions and tigers and bears that were caged behind Great Adventure in the safari park and not a peep out of him. We rode alone. We rode down neighborhood streets and across busy highways. We went to showdeos, parades, team pennings, and clinics where horses ten times Lowdown’s age made it clear they needed to be there and I, with the colt, could come up with no answer when the clinicians asked me what I needed to work on.
I even fell off a couple of times. Which is ironic, since I’d never fallen off any of the others.
And yet… I lost my fear.
It appears, and don’t tell him I said this since his cowboy hat is tight enough, but Kurt knows how to pick a horse. Either that or the horse Gods had mercy on me. Or you get what you pay for. Or it was bound to happen sooner or later if I kept buying them. Or Lowdown and I just clicked. I don’t know.
I do know that I’m glad I never gave up.