A Horseman's Solace Amid the Rush

This blog serves as a forum to examine the spiritual lessons gleaned from a life lived with horses.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fox Hunt Fever

2 Samuel 22:30
For by thee I have run through by a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall.

Beau stood his ground despite Shay's challenge.  Both hounds growled at each other, hackles raised, while gobbling down their pre-dawn ration at the kennel.  Nobody was bitten, but their blood-lust was in the air.  It was the usual cacophony of snarls and barks during feeding time.

With the faintest hint of sunrise, we saddled up.  Working as a whipper-in, years ago, with a hunt in CT, it was my job to assist the master (Master of Foxhounds or "MFH") with the horses and hounds.  I was as keen to be off in the fields as the hounds that begged and whined at the kennel fence.

Most of the summer was spent in kennel and stable maintenance, exercising the hounds in the fields, and working with the young pups.  In August the cubbing season started with riders leaving the barn early in the morning to beat the heat and humidity.  In October the formal season started with the splendor of autumn drawing the eager field of riders to the hunt.

The protocol and tradition of the formal hunt was engaging, but the real joy was witnessing the hounds in full cry in pursuit of Monsieur Reynard (the fox).  Having owned hunting hounds and familiar with their behavior, I could recognize, simply by their voices, when they had located the fox.  To a trained person, the hounds' voices "spoke" - at times questioning, " Where is he?".  At times joyful - "I found him!"

Some of the members of the hunt club were not committed riders but simply showed up for the hunt to partake of the formal comeraderie.  As a whip, I had to multi-task and mind the hounds, observe the master's cues, and guard the safety of the field of riders.  It was a loaded agenda, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

When everything came together to commence the formal hunt season, I felt that the hours spent during the summer had paid off.  Our tack was bright, the horses fit, and the hounds ready.  To hear the master's horn call and the hounds bayed voices was like music.  To feel the thunder of a heavy gallop while in full chase, arching cleanly over walls and fences, was heaven.  The hounds knew their job and did not disappoint us.

As sometimes happened, near the end of the hunt, the scent of the fox was lost or the master gave the holed fox reprieve.  The tired hounds returned to the kennel and were rewarded for their bold effort in the field.  Being good sportsmen, we yielded up the hunt, and claimed Reynard the victor for the day. 

Thought for the day:  Have you been willing to turn the other cheek and walk away?  Have you been merciful today?

Chased by Buffalo

Psalm 20:7
Some trust in chariots, and some trust in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.

Saratoga, Wyoming - 1977. Roundup time: Ten cowboys and a couple of good heeler dogs.
Philip, and Marty, and I were elected to be outriders to bring in the cows and calves for branding, dehorning, shots, and castration of the bull calves.  Some of the cowboys stayed behind in the coral to start the branding fire, set up gates, and get the vaccinations ready.  With the herd of Angus, Hereford, and shorthorn cattle were a few buffalo, just to add some spice to the mix. We had instructions, from on high, to bring the buffalo in with the rest of the herd for processing as well.  

Marty was an expert rider - when he was sober.  Thankfully he was sober this day.  Philip, a city-kid visiting the ranch for the summer, was a novice rider with a good show of determination to learn.  I could hold my own on a horse.

Putting boot to stirrup, we swung up and headed out to the section of pasture where the cows and calves were to be found.  Executing a neat side-pass and pivot through the gate while mounted on his lithe gray gelding named "Bud", Marty headed  out along the left of the field.  Philip joined him riding a paint horse called "Patch".  I separated from them and cut through the middle of the field where the herd was
loosely grazing.

I rode a reliable cutting mare called "Kegger".  She was the of the old "bulldog" style of Quarter Horse with thick neck, ample ballast, and a genetically built-in cow radar.  Kegger was steady and unemotional.  She had a quick, ground-covering walk and was eager to get cow.     

Our plan was to gather the cattle and drive them along the right side of the field through a draw that siphoned into the corrals and chute.  We wanted to move slowly and keep the herd quiet.  No sense in upsetting the mother cows and calves prematurely.   

Off in the distance I saw the Marty and Philip moving the herd toward me.  I was still heading to the far end of the field where some of the buffalo grazed.  I was nervous, as I knew that some of the buffalo mother cows could get protective.  I saw the dust in the air over by Marty and Philip, so I knew that they were getting closer.  Coming over a short rise, I saw a mammoth mother buffalo and her impressive bull calf.  Kegger was all business and easily walked past the wary buffalo cow.  

The herd advanced toward me while I waited at the far fence line.  We then worked as a team and began pushing the herd toward the draw that led to the corrals.  The three of us rode in silence with the cattle moving ahead - the low backs of the Angus, Herefords, and shorthorns punctuated by the soaring backs of the occasional buffalo cow.  

Things did not go as planned.  A buffalo cow refused to be herded and tried to break loose.  This unsettled the rest of the herd, and things got very "western" in a hurry.  Since I was the closest to the renegade buffalo, I went after her on Kegger.  The mare was up for the challenge and picked up speed on a mere thought.  I had to hold her back, as we still wanted to try to keep things as calm as possible.  

I aimed Kegger at the buffalo's rear to try to push her back to the herd.  The buffalo would not budge but rather came at me on Kegger.  Instead of me herding the buffalo, the buffalo was chasing me.  It felt like a train was bearing down on me.  I prayed a silent prayer that I would survive this ride.  It would take more than mere riding to get out of this mess.

Kegger could not outrun the buffalo.  The buffalo's bulk and lack of maneuverability, however, gave me the advantage.  Kegger did what was natural for her, as a cutting horse, and hunkered down in position, executing low sweeps of her body to dodge the buffalo.   It was case of feign and parry on horseback with the buffalo charging toward us at full speed and then going wide each time.  For my part, I grabbed leather and held on.

Marty and Philip saw my predicament and continued to move the herd toward the draw.  Eventually the 
buffalo tired of the game and ran off to join the now-distant herd.  With the herd safely entering the corrals, I got some good-natured ribbing about my wild ride.  I was grateful that my prayer had been answered, and I was safe.

Thought for the day: God watches over us each day and protects us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Exodus 15:9
The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.

MacArthur Park was an equine character in a plain brown wrapper. Although he had distinguished himself at the track with a respectable record, and was certainly popular, judging by the number of brood mares that came to see him each spring on the farm, "Mac" was foremost a gentleman. For a Thoroughbred stallion, they don't come any calmer. Even the grooms seemed to enjoy working with him and would laugh when he made funny faces while getting a bath. Mac preferred to spend his days relaxing in his paddock with a good view of the surrounding paddocks and barn. He did not even mind the bossy geese that came to visit the paddock and took dust baths near his hooves.

General Beauregard AKA "The General" was the complete opposite. "Temperamental", "hot", "dangerous", and "unpredictable" were all used to describe this equine sociopath. The grooms feared The General and would defer to the lead trainer whenever possible. This fear was not without justification, as one groom who did not follow the lead trainer's strict rules about using certain halters and brushes on The General ended up in the hospital after being savagely attacked and injured. After this tragedy, a padlock was placed on The General's paddock.

While Mac courted the mares, The General raped them. He nearly killed one mare after breeding her when he grabbed her throat. With the mare screaming, eyes rolled back, and weak-kneed, it took three men to pull the stallion away and rescue the mare. He killed the only goose that ventured into his paddock.

For years, Mac had been the only stallion on the farm. He could afford to have a lackadaisical attitude; he was the king. Everything changed when The General blasted onto the scene. Although their paddocks were at opposite ends of the farm, they were aware of each others presence. Mac paced his paddock, wearing a dusty trail along the fence line, and losing 100 lbs. in one month. His expression changed, with a crease forming at the corners of his eyes from squinting toward his rival.

The General likewise paced and struck out at the fence as though he were striking his enemy. Screaming salvos, The General challenged his enemy. He required two handlers and would rear immediately when leaving his paddock. To see him reared high to the full extent of his 16.2 hand high form was a fearsome sight.

Although his progeny were desired, the farm eventually dismissed The General. His unpredictable behavior was not worth the risk to the farm staff or visiting mares. Mac won the war.

Thought for the day: Have your forgiven your enemy?

Nothing but Love

Jeremiah 31:3
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.

Normally obvious ribs are not acceptable. That smacks of neglect, advanced age, or a dying animal. On Rocket it was understood, as too much weight would have caused the horse undue pain and made him immobile. Most people would have given the "lead cure" for his lameness, but instead this ex-racehorse was permitted to live out his years with pampered love, doted on by a horsey mom and her equally rabid daughter.

Illuminated at night by a fly-speckled overhead stall light, Rocket stood by the door nickering for a treat. It was more like a chuckle. When the door slid open, I saw a kind eye partly covered by a thick forelock. The mane was neatly combed, and the horse smelled of hair conditioner.

With the door fully open, I saw the condition of his left front leg. It had sustained a fracture years ago due to the rigors of training a two year old colt before his bones were ready. One can imagine the history: a hard-on-his-luck trainer taking a young colt to a claiming race... the starting gate... the back stretch bump... the front stretch lag, and a hobble across the finish line followed by inadequate medical care. His career was over before it started.

The left leg was twisted and lumpy, but still serviceable. The right leg had some fluid filling the lower leg. The horse could not be ridden, but with good management, daily turnout, and a helping of TLC, the horse would live out his years in comfort.

When the two women entered the stall, a familiar fuzzy nose searched for pocket treats. Moving slowly, the horse sucked the carrots from their hands.
"You bad thing", one cooed while scratching the horse's muzzle.
The two women began the task of brushing our friend, while Rocket shut his eyes and contentedly ground up the carrots.

In the moment, three friends stood, sharing the unbroken largess of the heart.

Thought for the day: Have you thanked God today for his unsparing love? Do you show love to your family and friends?