By Laura Crum
Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was very young and new to breaking and training horses, I bought a three-year-old unbroken colt. I had known this horse since he was born, and always admired him. My uncle, who raised Quarter Horses, had bred his mare to a fairly well known stud and Ready was the result. A big, good looking colt with a pretty head, at three years old Ready was a handsome guy, and I flat fell in love with his looks. I’d broken and trained a handful of other horses at that point (I was twenty-three), and I felt perfectly capable of doing the same with Ready. I bought him and embarked on the project.
Right off the bat, things did not go the way I was expecting. Ready wasn’t the easiest horse to handle. Though easy going on the surface, he was somewhat numb and insensitive, with a tendency to bull right through me. It was hard to get his attention. Unlike the other colts I had trained, he seemed clumsy, as if he had a hard time figuring out where his feet were. Somehow it had never occurred to me that this thick-bodied sixteen hand horse might not be the cattiest thing in the world.
I persisted. I did the groundwork. Ready could be saddled and would trot and lope around me in a round pen. I felt he was ready to ride. To my surprise, this easy going colt bucked like a recalcitrant mule the first time I climbed on him. Not hard, like a bronco, but he bogged his head and tried. He just wasn’t athletic enough to buck me off.
I got him through it. I got him broke. He was never a very cooperative horse. Sluggish, lazy, numb and clunky, he would offer to buck from time to time. And rear. And bolt. In a word, Ready was resistant.
Still, I persisted. With time, and a lot of wet saddle blankets, I made a decent horse out of him. By the time he was five, the big, very good looking Ready would lope circles, change leads, stop, back, turn around, look at a cow, let you throw a rope off of him…etc. He knew how to go outside. You could part cattle on him…if the cattle weren’t too quick. And I was heartily sick of him.
I could see that I’d made a mistake. The horse was too big, a clumsy mover, and naturally resistant. He was still superficially easy going; he was certainly lazy. If nothing too strenuous was asked of him, Ready appeared gentle enough for a beginner. But if any pressure was put on him to actually get something done, he was stiill capable of unpredictable bucking or rearing. He frustrated me. I had Burt, my good ranch horse, and I had just bought Gunner, a horse I planned to show as a cowhorse. I determined to sell Ready.
It wasn’t hard. In no time at all a team roper I knew offered me a good price for my handsome, pretty-well-broke gelding. And I sold him.
Here’s where it gets tricky. I knew the roper wanted Ready for a head horse. On paper, the horse had the right credentials. But I had done all the training on Ready, and I doubted he was athletic enough to do the job. The roper who bought him tried for awhile to rope on him, didn’t get much done, and finally sent him to a well known rope horse trainer, a guy I knew. I waited to see what would happen.
Three months later I got the call. The rope horse trainer had seen my name on the papers. “Did you train this horse?” he asked me.
“Yeah,” I admitted.
“He’s a pretty well broke horse,” the guy said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“No way in hell is he gonna make a rope horse.”
“I’m not surprised,”I said.
“I told the guy he should sell him.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’ve got a lady who wants a husband horse. This guy can’t ride at all. What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t put my husband on him,” I said (though in fact I had).
We talked some more and in the end the trainer decided he could sell Ready as a “husband horse”. I told him he could give the people my phone number. They called me to ask the occasional question; they seemed happy with the horse. They used him for trail riding. A happy ending, right?
Well, almost. Years passed. Twelve years. I learned some interesting things. Ready’s dam produced several more big, good looking colts. Others besides me liked the look of these horses. Two people, one of them my uncle, chose colts out of this mare to use as stallions. And eventually, colts by these stallions were being started and trained.
Guess what? They were big, pretty, easy going horses. But every single one of them that I was around was a failure. Under saddle they were one and all resistant and not very athletic. They would resort to bucking, rearing and bolting to get out of work. Some of them were much more violent than Ready. Turns out he was one of the better ones.
Better people than me tried to train these colts and couldn’t get much done. I was around at least thirty of them, and I can’t think of one that made a good horse. I failed myself on a couple more of them (at that point I hadn’t figured out it was a genetic issue and that all the colts that traced back to that one mare had this attitude). To this very day a friend of mine is riding a grandson of this mare and struggling with this big good looking horse’s rotten attitude. Ikey will (wait for it) buck, rear,…etc when he doesn’t feel like working. The horse is superficially gentle and lazy, just like Ready, so much so that his owner (very unwisely in my opinion) puts his young son on him. But Ikey has dumped this kid more than once when something pushes his buttons and he decides to buck or bolt. When tied, he is capable of suddenly pulling back and flipping over backwards. Even after years of very competent training this gelding is so resistant and unpredictable he’s virtually useless as a rope horse. Another failure.
End of the story? The guy that owned Ready phoned me when the horse was seventeen. He was divorced, he didn’t ride, the horse had been turned out on a friend’s ranch for years. He wanted out of him. Would I buy him (for the same price the guy paid for him, of course)?
I thought about it. Ready wasn’t worth the asking price…or even half of it. But the truth was, even if the man gave him to me, did I want him? I can only afford to retire so many. This was not a horse that I felt very inclined to retire. But still, I remembered the handsome colt I fell in love with; I was, after all, the one who trained him….. In short, I agonized over it.
In the end I said no. I was getting a divorce myself. I wasn’t sure I could keep the horses I had, horses I really loved. I truly couldn’t afford to take another horse on just then. I don’t know what happened to Ready. It still makes me sad to think he may have gone to slaughter.
So, here’s the question. How did I fail? Ready was what he was…it wasn’t his fault. Time has shown he was genetically programmed to be an unwilling riding horse, but I couldn’t have known that when I chose him. I did a pretty good job training him, for what he was. And yet, I didn’t care for him. I didn’t want to keep him and ride him. I can’t judge the man who wanted to sell him to me, but I do wonder if I should have bought the horse back. Was I obligated? I picture Ready at the slaughter plant and I just shudder. I don't sell horses any more. I can't stand it.
So, where did I fail? What should have happened differently here? Where’s the right answer? I don’t know.