Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Horse with Two Left Feet

By Laura Crum

Those of you who have read my mystery series featuring equine vet Gail McCarthy, will recognize Plumber, a horse that Gail acquires in the second book of the series (Hoofprints) and who features in many of the stories. Plumber, as he’s described in the books, is a well-bred Quarter Horse gelding, cocoa brown with a small white star, and an especially kind, willing, cooperative horse. The real Plumber is nineteen years old this spring, still sound and a competitive team roping horse who has won many thousands of dollars and several saddles and trophy buckles, and is sunning himself in my corrals as I write this. He very much resembles Gail’s fictional “Plumber” in all ways but one. The real Plumber is a klutz.

I acquired Plumber almost by default. My uncle raised him, and I was the one who picked out Plumber’s dam for the broodmare band. Plumber was her first colt. When I did the feeding chores on the ranch, I was immediately engaged by this baby, who would sneak out from around his mama to “play” with me. Pattering his front feet and leaping from side to side as though I were the cow to his cutting horse, he made every effort to get my attention. I was smitten. My uncle had raised Quarter Horses for many years and this was one of the most winning colts I’d seen.

Time passed. Plumber grew up, as colts do. Eventually he was three years old, still unbroken. My uncle was ready to sell him. Since I’d always liked the horse, I said I’d come by and have a look. Together my uncle and I took the colt to the round pen and turned him loose, so we could watch him move. I let him trot around me a little and then stepped in front of him, in a horseman’s time-honored technique to get a young horse to plant his hind leg and turn around. Plumber tried to stop and turn around but got his legs tangled and almost fell down.

My uncle shook his head. We got the horse moving again and this time my uncle stepped in front of him a little more forcefully, in an effort to get the colt to exert himself. Once again, Plumber seemed completely unable to execute this simple maneuver. First he tangled up and stumbled, then seemed to panic and attempted to jump the four bar fence. Unfortunately he wasn’t any better at jumping than he was at stopping and turning. He ended up on top of the fence, and more or less rolled over it, landing on his back on the ground. Eventually he managed to scramble to his feet and trot off, completely unhurt, but clearly the world’s klutziest three-year-old colt.

“I wouldn’t buy him if I were you,” my uncle said.

I had to agree. But as time went on and the price on Plumber came down further and further, I couldn’t forget his bright eyes and winning personality. Six months later, when my uncle was about to sell him to a horse trader, dirt cheap, I bought the colt.

My team roping partner protested. Why would I want that clumsy colt? “He has a good attitude,” I said. “I’m going to prove something with him. A good mind can make up for a lot of lack in athletic ability.”

For a long time things went as you might have predicted. I broke Plumber with no problems. He never once bucked or gave me any grief. Training him was a whole nother problem. He could make a couple of turns with a cow, but could never manage a third one; his legs just got tangled up. When I first started roping on him, he appeared unable to run. When asked to go faster than a lope, he disunited every time. My team roping partner laughed at my efforts. “That horse is useless,” he declared. “Sell him.”

I persevered. I liked Plumber. The colt was in some ways more like a dog than a horse. He would (and still does) nicker if he saw me, even if he was tied in a whole row of horses, including his pasture mates. Plumber was a “people horse”. He wanted to be your friend. Though clumsy for sure, he was always cooperative.

I roped on Plumber for several years, strictly in practice situations. Slowly the horse got better. Eventually he could run (yes, run, though he was never very fast) down the arena, turn with the steer and make a decent stop—well enough to be a tolerable sort of heel horse. And he was always cooperative.

During the years I spent training Plumber, my partner’s great heel horse, Pistol, developed ringbone, and was eventually retired to the pasture. My partner shopped around for a replacement but couldn’t find one he liked. I offered to let him use Plumber and though he pooh-poohed the suggestion, he eventually started using the horse, for lack of something better.

That was twelve years ago. In the ensuing time, my team roping partner has won thousands of dollars and many saddles and buckles on Plumber (they just won a breast collar last weekend). My partner now considers Plumber to be one of the best heel horses he’s ever had. Of course, I can’t resist the occasional “I told you so.”

As for me, I had a little boy, and for many, many years Plumber packed the two of us around in his rocking chair lope, much to my son’s delight. My kid has his own horse now, and rides most days of the week, and his love for this is due in large part to the many happy hours he spent with me on Plumber (and Flanigan) when he was a toddler and small child.

I still ride Plumber regularly, both in the arena and on easy trail rides in open country. I plan to keep him and retire him when his roping days are done. He’s been a real inspiration to me, my little mind over matter horse.
Happy trails,
Laura and Plumber


Leslie said...

Sometimes we sense things about a particular horse, animal, or even people, that we just can't explain. Good and bad. Always rewarding when it turns out to be right.

We recently acquired a little brown dog who had been abandoned. No one else in my family seemed to see what I saw in her. For me, it was enough to say, I'll take her. She's been a sweet girl!

The same with my younger gelding. My husband literally thought I'd lost my mind the day we went to see him. Spirit was running around in the round pen like a wild horse trying to jump over the panels. Yet, I saw something in his face, his eyes, and I knew we could work together. So far, so good.

Great how Plumber turned around to be better than everyone thought he could be. Great "underdog" horse story!

Laura Crum said...

Yes, Plumber was not, shall we say, an obvious choice. I literally set out to prove something with him (and lets face it, being a heel horse is not nearly as demanding athletically, as being, say, a cutter, or a bridle horse--pretty much any sensible horse can be trained to be a reasonable heel horse); a good mind with little athletic ability is worth more than lots of athletic ability in a dingbat. I'm still pretty proud that I persevered and proved my point--there were a lot of years where the horse just didn't look like he'd make a useful rope horse. But he's always been a sweetheart. Still is.

mugwump said...

I'm sending this story on to the owners of Daisy, the Shining Spark mare that can't carry herself through a turn. She can't rein or cow, but she can lead change like a dream. Interesting huh?
I've sent her home, but I want them to show her to a western riding trainer.
You've proven that a little patience can go a long way. Good story!

Mrs. Mom said...

Laura, I think we need a Plumer type fellow to find us here! He sounds like sucha fantastic horse.

Darn nice to read about someone giving a horse a chance, and taking the time it took to help him along.

Thanks also, very much, for stopping in and leaving thoughts on Jack. I am going to look around some, and see what comes about. While writing that was utterly miserable, it did need to be done. Maybe now, I will be able to look through clearer eyes, and a more open heart, to find The Horse for us....

Thank you, again!

Laura Crum said...

mugwump, its interesting what you say about Daisy--I had a Hobbyhorse colt years ago that wasn't very cowy and was clumsy in a lot of ways, but if you changed direction, he changed leads. Whereas my old horse, Burt, who I taught to slide, spin, and work a cow reasonably well, could not do a flying change to save his life. (Better people tried to teach this to him, and they couldn't manage it either.)Needless to say, in Burt's few reined cowhorse competions, we did a simple lead change, and though I only had to break him down for one stride, it put us out of the competition every time, no matter how well we did otherwise. Frustrating. And yet, he was one of my favorite horses. So, I guess, in the end, they all got stuff. Right? It just depends what stuff ya want to deal with.

Laura Crum said...

And Mrs Mom, I find that the right horse does come along when the time is right. I know, I know, that sounds silly when I write it down, but you'll know, especially if you keep an eye out for the one you're being pointed at, so to speak. I hope you find him/her soon--I think you're about ready, don't you?

Mrs. Mom said...

Laura- I hope you dont mind- but I sent you a private email.

Thanks for all your support recently!

Have an incredible weekend!

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

Kit Ehrman said...

Dear Laura,

What a great post. Plumber is so lucky to have found you!