By Laura Crum
The last colt I ever trained is standing out in my sixty acre field right now, a retired pasture ornament. Fourteen years old this coming spring, Danny is arguably the most talented horse I ever owned, and certainly the one I got the least use out of. In some ways his story reminds me of the line from an old blues song, “If it weren’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” And yet, in a way, Danny was and is a lucky horse. Here’s his story—see what you think.
My uncle, who used to breed Quarter Horses, both bred and raised Danny, so I’ve known this horse since he was born. Like Plumber, another horse I bought from my uncle (see “The Horse With Two Left Feet”, August 08), I was taken with Danny from the time he was a small colt. Interestingly, both Plumber and Danny were their respective dams (two different mares) firstborn colt, and I have heard many old timey horsemen say that the first colt out of a mare is often the “special” one. In any case, the two horses I own that came from my uncle’s breeding program are both firstborns.
I had good reason to be interested in Danny. His dam, Sugar, was a promising barrel horse who had been seriously injured in training—my uncle had traded a gentle older kid’s horse for the well bred and talented mare with the intent of using her as a broodmare. Sugar’s full brother was an immensely talented and successful barrel horse; the owner, a huge name in that business, had turned down big bucks for him. I had watched this horse run at the Salinas Rodeo and was really impressed. Danny’s sire was my uncle’s new stud, who, though quite unproven, had bloodlines that I liked. And Danny was a solid bay without a white hair on him, which has always been one of my favorite colors. The little bay colt had a bright, curious, calm eye; I just thought he looked like a good horse. My uncle let me name him, and I chose “Dannyboy”, which seemed to fit.
Well, Danny grew up, as colts do. He was a well-made horse, with a big, plain head and an exceptionally nice, kind eye. He seemed quiet and sensible. He looked like he’d be able to move well. My uncle had him started the fall of his three year old year by a woman who worked on a large cattle ranch and started colts on the side. She put thirty days on Danny and my uncle brought him home.
I was there when the colt arrived back at my uncle’s place and was unloaded from the trailer. “How’d he do?” I asked.
“See for yourself,” my uncle said. “Go ahead and ride him.”
Now this was ten years ago, and I had not yet given up riding green horses. So I climbed on Danny and rode him around the arena for awhile. He seemed like he was started pretty well, though he wanted to crowhop when I kicked him up to a lope and didn’t seem to know how to hold the lope in a circle...at all.
I rode back over to my uncle and said, “He’s got real smooth gaits and I like the way he moves. She sure didn’t teach him how to lope a circle.”
My uncle laughed. “She only has a bull pen. No arena. Once she can get on em, she just rides em around the ranch. Mostly at the long trot. That horse has never been in an arena and I’m sure that’s the first time anybody ever loped him.”
Well, OK then. I asked my uncle what he planned to do with the horse and he said, “Sell him.” He named a resonable price, and to make a long story short, I bought Danny. For no other reason than that I liked him. I had plenty of horses to ride, but no green horses, and I thought I had time for one more project.
I rode Danny a few more times as a three year old, enough to teach him to lope a circle. Then I turned him out for six months in my sixty acre pasture. I brought him back in as a four year old and rode him for several months. I taught him to collect, to watch a cow, to have a rope thrown from his back and stop a slow steer, to pull a log…etc. The stuff I would routinely teach a young rope horse. I liked him. He was a little lazy, very athletically capable, smart, sensible, calm and overall easy-going. I never could get him over the tendency to crowhop a little, usually when I first loped him. It was unpredictable; he’d do it some rides and not others. Sometimes he’d just hump his back. He never bogged his head; he wasn’t hard to ride. If I over and undered him he scooted forward out of it. If I yelled at him he usually quit. As they say, he couldn’t “buck your grandmother off.” He certainly never even threatened me. But, he did have this quirk.
I turned him out for another six months on grass that winter, intending to start roping on him next spring, when he was five. But….I got pregnant. I was thrilled. But I also knew I would not be riding Danny.
So, I made a deal with my team roping partner, who liked the horse. I would send Danny to a trainer we both knew and liked in the spring and have this guy put thirty days on the horse and get him going good. Then my partner could start roping on him in the practice pen. My partner had ridden Danny several times in the past and was quite comfortable with him. We all thought it was a good plan.
The following summer, as planned, I took Danny to the trainer. The trainer rode him for thirty days, complimented me on what a nicely broke horse he was and said he’d had no problems. I asked if the horse still crowhopped and he said not to speak of. No problem.
I brought the horse home and my partner started riding him and getting along with him fine. That was the thing about Danny. Everybody liked him. He was an easy horse to like.
By now I had a baby. My partner was ready to start heading on Danny in the practice pen. He’d heeled on him a little, stopped cattle on him, logged him, done all the stuff to get him ready. Danny was doing great. I was up at the roping arena, holding my baby and watching, as my partner ran down the arena and headed a steer on Danny. Before my partner even went to the horn, before the horse was asked to pick up the weight of the steer, Danny started bucking. My partner kept on with the run and yelled at the horse, confident that he would stop. He always had. But Danny put his head down and bucked harder. He bucked my partner off (hard) and bucked all the way down the arena with an empty saddle.
Fast forward here. After I’d hauled my partner to the emergency room, seen him diagnosed with six broken ribs and admitted to the hospital, where he struggled for a week with pneomonia, I was ready to be done with Danny. Yeah, I liked him, but I didn’t need him. I had a baby; I already knew I wasn’t going to be riding a horse that had even a snowball’s chance in hell of bucking like that. My partner wasn’t going to ride him any more either. I had no use for him. I hauled Danny to a cowboy friend of mine and told him the horse was his. He could keep him and ride him or sell him. And I told him exactly what the horse was.
My friend could ride a horse that bucked. He took Danny to the team roping practice pen and made a run on him. Or tried to. As soon as he threw his rope the horse started to buck. And my friend sat up on him and rode him. I don’t mean tried to get his head up or discourage him from bucking by whipping him, which is what most of us, including me, would have done. I mean sat up there, gave him his head and kept spurring him, encouraging the horse to buck as hard as he could. Danny kept bucking, getting higher and higher but staying straight. My friend kept spurring. This went on for awhile. Eventually Danny gave up bucking and started rearing. As those of you who are familiar with roughstock know, this is a sign that a horse is defeated.
From then on Danny got better. No, he didn’t give up bucking altogether. But it became manageable. He could be spanked or scolded out of it when he tried it. He began to be a very effective rope horse. And everybody liked him. Despite his “quirk”, in every other way Danny was a kind, cooperative, willing horse. My cowboy friend thought his bucking was an odd form of cinchieness, something the horse couldn’t help, like being ticklish. In any case, in all other ways he was great—fast, strong, good minded…etc. My friend was offered plenty of money for him but chose to keep him and rope on him. Danny was ready to compete on…..
Part 2 of this story will follow next time. (I type with one finger, and I’m tired.)