Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Horse Personalities--Part 2

By Laura Crum

Jami posted about horse personalities and it got me thinking about the horses I have known and ridden and how different they are/were from one another. When a novice asks a question about what horses are “like”, I’m always stumped. Because horses are as individual as humans, and its pretty hard to generalize about their abilities and quirks. After reading Jami’s post, I was going to comment about the horses who have been my main mounts over the years and their very different personalities, and it got to be too long for a comment, so here it is as a post.

The first horse I owned who really became “my horse” was Burt, a bright bay QH gelding that I bought as a five-year-old with thirty days on him. Burt was a kind, willing animal, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but also not inclined to bucking or being spooky. Burt did, however, have the constant impulse to jig. I never cured him of it, and many rides were executed in his prancing walk. He was always completely under control—nonetheless, much as I loved Burt, this trait drove me nuts, and I vowed I would only own horses in the future who could proceed at the flat-footed walk.

My next steady mount was Gunner, a well bred cowhorse that I bought as a three-year-old with thirty days on him. Gunner had no inclination to jig. Or to buck. Gunner was a spook. He did not bolt or do more than make one jump, but the jumps were amazing—absolutely sudden, twenty foot sideways leaps with no warning at all. One either grabbed the saddle horn or was left sitting on air. I got good at grabbing the horn. I was in my twenties and early thirties when I rode Gunner, and he never dropped me. He did, however, find something worth spooking at on virtually every ride. His spooking was a pain in the butt, but it didn’t threaten me at that time. I’ll be the first to say that I couldn’t ride a horse like that today. But Gunner was in every other way a good-hearted, reliable horse that I won on at reined cowhorse, cutting, and team roping, as well as a mount that carried me on many gathers, pack trips and trail rides. I was very happy with him.

When I retired Gunner, I began riding Flanigan. Flanigan was a seven-year-old broke team roping horse when I first got on him. He was neither inclined to prance nor particularly spooky. He inclined toward being lazy. But…Flanigan was cinchy, and if a certain careful protocol was not followed in his saddling and warm-up, he would buck. I owned Flanigan in partnership with my friend and team roping partner, Wally, and Flanigan bucked Wally off numerous times. Being a cautious sort, I was always careful with Flanigan’s warm-up, and though the horse bucked with me occasionally, he never bucked me off. Flanigan was a superficially grouchy, aloof critter, prone to pinning his ears and acting hard to catch. Underneath this unpreposessing surface, however, the horse had a heart of gold. I competed on him successfully for many years at ropings, and crossed the Sierra Nevada Mts on him numerous times on pack trips. I took my baby for his first ride on Flanigan. There never was a better horse.

When Flanigan died at the age of 21 (and I still miss him), Plumber became my main mount. I had known Plumber since he was a foal; I bought him as an unbroken three year old and broke him myself. When I started using him regularly he was about eight years old. I’d trained him to be a decent team roping horse and trail horse, and I enjoyed riding him. Plumber had no huge holes, other than the fact that he wasn’t very athletic. He was also more of a puppy dog than your average horse, nickering whenever he saw me. He was willing to do anything I asked, but he was also a big baby. He didn’t spook like Gunner (he wasn’t athletic enough) or jig constantly like Burt, but he was frequently a little spooky and jiggy. He got anxious easily, and needed a lot of patience and reassurance. Nevertheless he was a reliable horse. For several years I rode everywhere with my toddler in front of me in the saddle and Plumber took very good care of us.

Plumber is now twenty years old and semi-retired. He’s still sound, if a little stiff, and I ride him lightly one or two days a week. My main mount for the last two years has been Sunny, the little palomino gelding shown in the sidebar. Sunny was a middle-aged horse when I got him and settled in his ways. Of all my horses, he most resembles Flanigan. But there are differences. Sunny is no puppy dog, but he is much more overtly interested in me and my doings than Flanigan ever was. Sunny also has not much inclination to pin his ears. He is not the least bit cinchy. But, like Flanigan, he is more inclined to lazieness than other vices. Sunny is neither jiggy or spooky. He doesn’t buck…a small crowhop is the extent of it. Sunny’s big deal is testing in small ways for dominance. He assays a gesture at a nip or a kick, or tries to crowd my space or balks as if he will refuse to go…etc. I have no trouble straightening him out, and I find this quirk more amusing than annoying, but I quite understand that I will not train it out of him. Sunny will always test me. As long as I remain dominant (and I intend to), Sunny and I will get along fine. On the trails, that is. I bought Sunny because he was a good trail horse, and he is a real delight to ride outside, steady, solid, reliable, tough. You can go anywhere in perfect confidence on this horse. The arena is a different story. You can darn sure walk, trot and lope around, and/or chase or rope a cow, but Sunny is too clunky and lazy to be much fun in the arena. I try to use Plumber on my arena days.

So, what do my five main lifetime mounts have in common? Not much. They’re all horses, but they sure are different. I enjoyed and enjoy every single one of them (and I kept or am keeping all five until the end of their days); I would have a hard time picking a favorite. I guess I just don’t run to one type, because I liked each of these horses for their own unique traits. I also rode many other horses during the last thirty-five years, and each of them was as uniquely different as the five I've written about here. I will say that I’m very happy to be on steady little Sunny these days, as my chief goal is pleasant trail rides, either by myself or with my son.
Any one else have any stories to share about the different personality-types of their favorite horses? I know I enjoyed this topic. Thanks, Jami.


Gayle Carline said...

I have 2 horses of my own, mother and son, and they are completely different personalities. My mare is spooky, given to jumping and snorting whenever anything is out of place on the ranch. We tease that "she sees dead people." But she is also cuddly, nickers to me and likes to put her nose up for me to kiss. Snoopy, her son, is not afraid of a darn thing. He's great to ride, does his job, but his ground manners are atrocious. He wants his face in mine, wants to chew on my clothes, shove into me, etc. Smacking him around makes him behave - for 30 seconds. Saddling him is like putting clothes on an octopus - there's just SO much wiggling and writhing, like a dog excited to go for a walk. I love to ride him, tho, and will again, once he rehabs from a broken sesamoid.


Laura Crum said...

Gayle--Horses are so interesting, with all their individual quirks. It helped me a great deal as a horseman to realize that I wasn't going to train certain behaviors out of my horses--not completely. Some things are just part of a horse's personality, and you either get along with that personality or you don't. I got rid of the ones I didn't get along with (some were given to good homes and I check on them) and kept the ones I did.

Funder said...

It's interesting that you've only had geldings for your lifetime horses! Any particular reason? I loved my two geldings, and my old mare, but I am really enjoying my very marish young mare. I think I'm hooked on her evil ways. :)

My old gelding was opinionated too, but in a different way. It'd take a whole post of my own to compare them.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--I have always been a "gelding person". Partly I think because I was raised (in the horse world, anyway) by my team roper uncle who preferred geldings. I have ridden good mares, though, so I'm not saying geldings are really better.

HorseOfCourse said...

You know, I have been thinking a bit about the opposite.
How come that the horses that have meant most to me have had some traits in common?
Has it been a subconscious decision that I have made when choosing the horse?
Or is it my personality and habits that also affects my horses?
And the horses have been of different breed and sex too.

Laura Crum said...

Horse Of Course--I think you and I are alike in that we think a lot about exactly why certain horses appeal to us. I think for myself, in my younger years I was more interested in a horse's ability to perform, and am now more interested in feeling safe (!)However, that said, it sure is an interesting things--why do we click with some horses more than others? Lester, a horse I passed on, is his current owner's favorite all-time mount, both on the trail and in the arena. Sunny, the horse I now ride, was sold to me by a woman who had four horses and needed to sell one. Looking at the three she kept, I was amazed she chose to sell Sunny, as the others were not nearly as reliable on the trail (and this gal mostly trail rode with friends and family). For me, Sunny is a keeper.

How are things going with Fame? Are you trail riding much? I find I can't get my computer to go to your blog these days.

HorseOfCourse said...

Oh yes, we plod along.
I have had close to three week's riding without saddle now, including moose encounters in the dark, lol!
Always nice to have some extra entertainment, don't you think?
Yesterday I had to get my reflectors out, hate it. It is so sad when the summer is over. Now we have a long dark period ahead, and the worst part is before the snow comes.