TENDERFOOT TALES by John Roy – the third in a twelve part series first published in the WES magazine.
Part three……..A HORSE OF YOUR OWN?
Princess! Where do I start this part of the tale?
By now readers will have begun to form an idea of Tenderfoot’s limitations as a rider – Western or otherwise. Having commenced this recreation, or way of life, in his later years, the acquisition of his own horse had never been a first priority. However, the injury to Boots meant that his tutor and mentor no longer had a horse to lend him for his continued tuition and thus the seeds of owning a horse of his own were sown.
What was required was a “schoolmaster” preferably Western trained and, as Tenderfoot was a Scot by birth, an Accountant by training and a “tight wad” by nature, at a modest price. The search commenced and on a rainy day Tenderfoot and tutor arrived at a stable near Milngavie where resided a quarter horse mare who appeared to fit the bill. Test rides were conducted; horse was vetted and a deal was struck. Tenderfoot had the “little Western rider’s kit” in one deal – horse, saddle, bridles, rugs and anti wind-sucking collar all in one package. So! Princess was not perfect, but a lady in all other respects – a fast lady, but more of that later.
The purchase/delivery took place whilst Tenderfoot was off on the second of his Stateside riding holidays which was damn frustrating for him as he was in and out of all these Western tack shops but without the necessary sizing data for his newly acquired horse. That said, he and his lady friend managed to find a fair number of “essential” items to bring back – as evidenced by a three-page credit card statement and an excess baggage charge. No sooner was he unpacked than he was off to Haddington to see how his new “girl” had settled in.
Princess had settled in well and had pretty much assumed the role of the first lady of the herd and was obviously just waiting to get started on the training of her new owner. Not that he knew this at the time, him thinking that the roles were the other way around. (At this point, the “Western” TV addicts among you may recall the phrase “There is much still to learn, Grasshopper”.
Now, Princess at this time was some eleven years of age and had been imported, with some friends, from Canada into Scotland. She had been ridden Western successfully over the years. There then was a break in her career when it appears she was ridden “English” and “popped over a few poles”. Now Tenderfoot, with help and encouragement from Trisha Wren, commenced setting about getting her back into work Western style. Several weeks went by and we had a horse that went well. In truth, going was not a problem. Slowing down was an interesting proposition.
Proposition seems the best word to describe the situation. Tenderfoot would ask, Princess would give the matter her consideration and, if in an amenable frame of mind, would present a graceful halt. If the request did not fit in with her feelings of the moment then – tough ****! This situation worried Tenderfoot and also annoyed him somewhat. The annoyance came from the fact that, with a competent rider aboard, Princess was truly brilliant. With her owner sat on her, her mind seemed to go off to the planet Zog. The worry came from not having any brakes.
Not having an “off” switch in an enclosed area such as the school is one thing but, in an open space, it gets real exciting real quick. The first hack out was in company. We rode down a country road and into some fields and, after jogging for some time, Tenderfoot was asked if he felt happy to try cantering out here in the open. The field was long and uphill and it seemed a logical progression. The group was comprised of one other quarter horse mare and a large black cob gelding by the name of Crow. It was pointed out to Tenderfoot that the ground “dropped away” just over the crest of the hill so he was advised to slow or halt about 100 yards from the top.
Now, a quarter horse has been defined as “a sleepy little critter which can move like greased lightning”. Princess was to prove that she well and truly had the hang of the last part of this definition. For lope, you didn’t have to ask twice. Tenderfoot had no idea what warp factor she hit but the wind in his eyes was making them water. Nobody was passing them! In truth, nobody was near them! Discretion being the better part of valour, Tenderfoot asked for a jog to which Princess slowed gracefully. Then, behind them, could be heard Crow approaching as fast as he could. He was a big horse – with a small rider. Not only could Tenderfoot hear Crow’s hoof beats but he swears to this day that he could feel them and so could Princess. Being passed was not on her ladyship’s agenda. With a bound she was off again up the field.
The words “the ground drops away” sprang to Tenderfoot’s mind with all the clarity that personal survival can bring to a situation. A halt was achieved. It wasn’t pretty but it was a halt – of sorts.
Tenderfoot was now aboard a really awake horse just raring to do it all again. He had the feeling that there was a tightly wound up spring just beneath his backside sort of sensation. Comments like “I didn’t think you were going to stop” and “You should have seen her backside move up that hill” created conflicting sentiments in his mind as he tried to breathe deeply, relax and walk his horse in a circle. A pilot friend of Tenderfoot’s has frequently stated that any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing and this kind of thinking was to become a feature in the relationship betwixt man and mare.
Princess’s ability to take off at the slightest hint of that being what Tenderfoot wanted did have an effect on his riding “style”. Legs were not wrapped round the barrel of the horse but kept well away from her sides. This gave him the appearance of one of those old style wooden clothes pegs jammed onto a pole. Crow’ rider even suggested that Tenderfoot might have some difficulty getting through certain gates at the yard but perhaps that was her retaliation for his comments that she and Crow had, on occasions, looked like something drawn by Thelwell. We are friends here in the yard – honest.
Whilst this legs-off riding ”style” may have prevented unscheduled sprints, it was never going to look pretty or help keep Tenderfoot’s butt in the saddle. Now, staying in the saddle had always been a priority to Tenderfoot but not one he has always been successful in achieving. Two of his unscheduled dismounts are fast becoming legend in WES Area 11. One was downright funny, if painful, the other potentially disastrous. Let’s look at the safety one first.
The tale is set at a WESW training clinic. It has been raining throughout the day and, after lunch, we all mount up and head out into the arena. Now, both horse and rider are not all that keen on the rain but they start off on their turn at a horsemanship pattern. This called for a lope. Princess shot off at a gallop catching Tenderfoot off balance. His weight moved to the outside and he felt the saddle slip. A better rider/faster thinker might have recovered the situation but not our hero. Churned up wet sand would appear to be just fine for dismounted riders to do sliding stops on. Tenderfoot took on all of the appearance of a stone being skipped across water and, between ricochets, he saw in horror that the saddle was now below the belly of the horse. Princess was now in a dead run circling the arena, bucking and kicking to get rid of the offending item. During her second lap, half-way down the long side of the arena, she raced up the embankment which formed the end of the arena and disappeared from view.
By now, tenderfoot was up and running in the direction of his horse. He could see her racing across the adjoining field with the best part of his saddle beneath her and items being shed from it. “She must have cleared the fence”, thought Tenderfoot, there being a wire fence at the bottom of the far side of the embankment separating field from arena. You may imagine the cold, empty feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw the three-strand fence ripped apart. His horse has by now run through the open gate into the next field and is standing viewing the further hill field as a means of escaping the remains of the saddle still slung below her. Tenderfoot was legging it across the rain soaked grass in a pretty emotional state. Had his stupidity maimed Princess?
Princess was wide-eyed and trembling but stood quite still as Tenderfoot removed the saddle remnants from underneath her. One of her reins had gone but her mouth appeared unmarked. Tenderfoot now looked fearfully down at her legs and chest. Not a mark. Impossible. It was a three-strand wire fence she had ploughed through. We can only assume that the angels were on the side of this two that day. Within seconds other WES members arrived offering aid and comfort to the duo. Tenderfoot led Princess back to her stall as various bits of saddle were collected from the site of her run. Many minutes later when horse and rider had settled, Ian Brennan arrived with face cloth and towel, the comment being “Have you seen your face?” Tenderfoot hadn’t but knew that his vision in one eye was not all it could be. With the cleansing off of half a pound of arena sand, normal vision was restored. Turning a high-pressure hose on it was the only way to clean his oilskin riding coat. His saddle took two days to clean and re-assemble. Princess was still speaking to him. He ached for a few days but reflected on the lines that “advice you get for free, experience you have to pay for”. He had just purchased some experience but had probably used up a whole tad of luck doing so. A few months later Tenderfoot rode past George Short who was observing the Western Pleasure class Tenderfoot was taking part in and, as he passed, George grinned and said, “I’ll bet that cinch is tightened up!” Almost every time they meet this subject is raised but then, what are friends for? So now you all know to check that cinch. You might not be so lucky.
Now for the funny one. It’s a mild day; we are all on a beach ride down at John Muir Country Park. This is an area of beach and woodland set aside for recreational use on the estuary of the river Forth. All the WES members have had a good ride out and Tenderfoot is no exception. “Let’s ride through the trees”, someone said. So we did. Perhaps there is a specific way of avoiding low branches but Tenderfoot had arrived at his own system. He simply lay along Princess’s neck and allowed his hard hat to deflect any offending branch. It worked well. It had worked on holiday in the States and here in the Park on previous occasions – but not this time. Being a warm day he had partially unzipped his riding jacket. On leaning forward, this unzipped jacket now presented the open collar like a handle or loop ready to engage the first branch that felt like giving the squirrels hysteria. You, dear reader, can see what is about to happen but Tenderfoot did not. Oh, yes! As Princess walked on under some low branches, a branch of modest size slipped under Tenderfoot’s jacket collar and proceeded to lift him from the saddle. Stop and back up. It’s so obvious – but no. This is Tenderfoot on top of Princess. His little mind had but one thought “GET OFF!” and so he did. Feet out of stirrups, slide off the side. Now, if our hero was loaded up with smarts, he might have done this the way English riders do – both legs together – but no. He managed to get his left foot on the deck whilst the right was still up on Princess’s rump. Tenderfoot’s inside leg measurement is 32½ inches. Now we, as Western riders, have all seen the photographs of Rodeo riders limbering up. Tenderfoot is no athlete, no Rodeo rider (clown maybe!) and, in his early fifties, this degree of flexibility is way, way beyond tolerance levels. This dismount brought further peals of laughter from his companions on the day but damn little sympathy as he hobbled around the stables during the best part of the following week. Who said this game wasn’t fun?
There will be more on Clinics and Shows with Princess and her successor Fencepost in the next instalments of Tenderfoot Tales.
Speak to you next time.