By Laura Crum
Today I thought I’d write about a horse in my barn who is a shining success, against all the odds, a horse I helped train, and am very fond of. This would be Mr Twister, my one boarder, who belongs to my friend, Wally.
Wally bought Twister six years ago when the horse was a very green seven year old rope horse. By green I mean that this grey QH gelding had been broke at five, ridden very sketchily since then, and had been roped on for all of ninety days when Wally bought him. What Wally needed was another horse to compete on. What he bought was a project. Why?
There’s no easy answer. Wally and I have been partners on many horses, and I’ve trained quite a few young horses for him. He has always respected my advice when it comes to picking horses out. We both knew what he needed. But the two of us saw Twister at a practice roping, for sale cheap, and we both fell in love with him.
“I really like that grey horse,” I said.
We agreed he was too green.
Wally called me that night. “What do you think if I buy that grey horse?”
“Well,” I said, “he’s too green. But I like him.”
We tried him.
He was really green. And ill-broke. He had no idea how to give his head. He had no rein. He carried his head way up in the air. He had no idea how to stay in the lope for a full circle. You could rope and turn a steer on him, but it was very crude. He wasn’t a particularly well made horse, and looked too light to be an ideal candidate for a rope horse. Both Wally and I rode him.
We decided to buy him.
Why, you might ask. A lot of people asked us that. Several people said we were nuts. Nobody thought it was a good choice. Plenty of people told Wally he shouldn’t listen to me. So, I am happy to report that, six years later, Wally is “delighted” with Twister and having a blast with him.
Back to why. What did we see in this horse? Well, to begin with, when I first saw him, it was the look in his eye. Twister was green and ignorant, he was being ridden by a horse trader who had never ridden him before, and yet this young horse was trying really hard to do right. You could see it all over him. Despite his many flaws when it came to performance, he was trying. I saw other things. He was fast enough. He stuck a leg in the ground well. But it was the look in his eyes that told me that this, despite the odds, was a good-minded horse.
Then I rode him. Again, he was ignorant. He wasn’t just not very well broke, he was ill-broke. He didn’t have the smoothest gaits. But when I attempted to collect him at the lope, despite the fact that I think it was the first time that any one had ever tried it, he gave me his head for a few strides and loped in a gathered frame. That was big. And…here I am going to have a hard time putting something in words…I felt secure on him. Twister was and is a flighty, ampy, prancy horse, with a tendency to spooking and pulling back, and to look at him, you wouldn’t suppose that you’d feel particularly secure on his back. But you do. Everyone who has ever ridden him has noticed. No one has ever fallen off of him. He’s just that kind of horse. For all his faults, he gives you a good feel.
I told Wally to buy him.
Wally liked the same things about him that I did. He bought him. And proceeded to have instant buyer’s remorse.
Because Twister needed a lot of work. He was not a horse that Wally could just take to the next roping. There was a lot to be done first.
Wally taught Twister to lope a circle. I helped as much as I could, but my training was mostly limited to giving advice. I had a lively two-year-old boy to look after, and I wasn’t in the horse training biz any more. This was the first horse that Wally had really trained without any active help from me (other than advice) and to begin with he missed the old system—the one where I did all the work. But he persevered. And Twister learned to stay in the lope, and collect, and lope a circle.
We worked on his rope horse skills. To begin with Wally wanted to give up. This horse isn’t going to make it, he kept telling me. He’s too hot, he’ll never score well, and he can’t run. He carries his head too high. Everything was wrong.
I kept telling him the horse would make it. Yes, he was high headed and chargy, but he could run enough. And he had a good mind. I devised ways of getting the horse quiet in the box. Unlike many horses, Twister really responded to being petted. When he became over-excited in the box, I had Wally get off of him and stand beside him and pet him. (Oh and by the way, this is something that most ropers would never do—we got a lot of funny looks.) As time went on, Wally could stay on Twister and pet him and get the same result. Pretty soon, he could just reach down and touch his neck and the horse would calm.
I watched Wally rope on Twister and helped him figure out what the horse needed. When Twister got too high, I would have Wally run out, stop the horse gently, back him up a few steps (gently) and then just sit there until Twister relaxed. People continued to tell us we were nuts and Twister wasn’t the right type of horse. I told them all they were wrong. Wally, a bit dubiously, persisted.
Twister got better. Slowly. I watched him and I had confidence in him. And Twister grew in confidence, too. He was a sensitive horse. Wally and I learned early on that you could not—ever--hit this horse. You couldn’t even yell at him. He would be upset and afraid of you for days if you did. He was light sided and needed no spur. You needed to stay light on his face or he got upset. He remained high headed and a bit chargy. But he learned to be good in the box and to work well in the arena as a head horse. Wally started to compete and win on him. People stopped telling us how wrong we were. Twister even filled out a bit and became a decent looking horse. All seemed well.
And then Wally fell off a colt and hurt his shoulder. The shoulder mended, but in such a way that Wally could no longer throw a strong head loop. He could throw a heel loop. But Twister had been trained to be a head horse. A chargy high-headed horse is not an unreasonable choice for a head horse, if he has certain attributes. But a chargy, high-headed horse (who doesn’t cow much) is nobody’s choice for a heel horse. Still, Wally was really fond of Twister at this point and didn’t want to sell him. I assured him that we could turn the horse into a decent heel horse.
Everybody said we were wrong. Everybody said we were stupid to try. Certain roper friends told Wally he shouldn’t listen to me (the same ones as before.) But Wally persisted.
And for a while it looked stupid. Twister was really not a good choice for a heel horse. He was too chargy. He wasn’t very cowy. He was high headed. About all he had going for him was that he would stop hard. And he wanted to do what was asked of him.
I’m sure you all can guess the rest. Twister tried. He did his best to understand this new event. He trusted Wally. He tried to learn. I watched and helped as much as I could. We used many of the same tricks I’d worked out to teach Twister to be a head horse. And Twister learned. Wally took his time. He heeled on Twister only as much as the horse could handle it. It took awhile. But this year, now that my good horse Plumber is too old to be very competitive any more (Wally had been using him as his heel horse for the past ten years), Twister is finally really competitive as a heel horse. Wally is winning on him. And all those same people who said we were nuts are once again having to eat their words. It makes me really happy.
Twister has just recovered from a mystery illness that gave him a slight fever and some pussy discharge from his nose, and both Wally and I are hoping that he has a long life ahead of him as a rope horse. He is one horse who succeeded against the odds—and the naysayers—and I’m proud of him. He’s proven for me, yet again, that a horse’s most important attribute is his mind. And that a good-minded horse comes in many forms. This hot, flighty horse who had such a rough start, wouldn’t strike many people as good-minded….but he is. Wally and I have agreed that Twister has earned his home. He will live with me until he dies, and I’m glad to have him. Here’s to Twister—the gallant horse.