Nov 172012

TENDERFOOT TALES by John Roy – the fourth in a twelve part series first published in the WES magazine.


(and the divorce)

It’s not long before Western riders get roped into shows and Tenderfoot was no exception.  His first attempt was Showmanship with his tutor’s horse Boots.  In order to do this our hero had to learn the art of grooming.

Up to this point his involvement with Boots had been no more than rolling up on time for the riding lesson, so now an entirely new facet of the riding game opened up before him.  All these lotions and potions he had noticed months back on the shelves of the Saddlers started to have reasons for their existence, even if some appeared to fly in the face of common sense.  In addition to a wide variety of products for the maintenance of your average equine, there is also the fact that every horse person appears to have their own variation on grooming. Some of these variations are definitely horse driven.  If you have one of those stoical equine buddies, you are “quids in”.  If you do not, then some grooming techniques produce footwork falling somewhere between the waltz and the flamenco with a few athletic leaps added for good measure (if not personal safety).   As he got into the swing of brushing off mud, loose hair, scurf and other items of flora and fauna (which treat your horse as home or the local parking lot), Tenderfoot noted the manner in which owners/handlers addressed their horses.

A very few said nothing at all; a large number used a tone normally reserved for small children and a small residue just seemed to growl most of the time. Tenderfoot noted that voice patterns had a habit of switching dramatically whenever the equine partner decided to stand on the foot of the groom in question.  Being stood on, like unscheduled dismounts (aka “falling off”), appears to be part of the rich tapestry of learning to ride.  Tenderfoot learned the hard way that, whilst you can have several close encounters of the hoof kind, it is only when your best equine buddy transfers his/her full weight onto your toe that steel tipped footwear becomes something you should have bought yesterday.  “Speechless” kinda covers the feeling.  Having had one such initiation, Tenderfoot understood where the “Tom and Jerry” cartoonists obtained the image of the cat’s wrinkled lips when encountering pain.  It also galvanises the handler into working on his equine buddy’s groundwork to avoid future encounters.  {From “coochie-coo diddums” to “GETAFFAMAFOOT!” in less than a heartbeat.}

Having got the coat all slicked up, the application of show sheen worked out and not where the saddle goes, you get to work on mane and tail.  Ah!  Now we get to the sexist bit.  Tenderfoot never passed through the “Hippie” scene, nor does he possess the hairstyle of celebrity interior decorators, thus long hair became yet another hurdle for him.  His attempts usually brought forth instant help from the ladies of the stables who had had the advantage of developing long-hair handling skills from very shortly after being able to walk. Such help usually left Tenderfoot with a certain feeling of inadequacy similar to that when being soundly defeated in a computer game by a five to six year old.  Still, it stopped the horse looking at him with those pitying eyes and that “WHAT are you doing?” expression.  Having got the mane and tail detangled, shampooed and conditioned, there is always some helpful wee soul around who suggests that plaiting or braiding might help.  These particular skills Tenderfoot avoided like the plague, working on the Clint Eastwood line “a man should know his limitations”.

And so it was that Tenderfoot and Boots stepped out into the mid-morning sun early one summer aiming to take on all comers in a WES Showmanship class. The duo had the advantage that the show was in their own back yard so to speak, viz. Trisha Wren’s place at Haddington.  As they were about the first ready, Tenderfoot led Boots to a spot where the horse could graze but not get his feet dirty.  (Tenderfoot had also just acquired the art painting horse feet whilst not painting his show clothing.) It was about then that he was to make his first encounter with a WES Judge.

“Are you showing like that?”  The enquiry came from Roger Wells. Tenderfoot was puzzled but noted the hint of a smile in the tone of the enquiry and also on the Judge’s face.  “Like what?” came back the nervous reply.  “Like with a tail bandage” grinned Roger.  A hurried glance revealed all.  As part of the preparation of “Boots” his tail had been wrapped in a bright red tail bandage but in all the excitement this had never been removed.  Now, removing the bandage was not a problem but Tenderfoot did succeed in a pretty good demonstration of lunging in a four-foot circle whilst recovering the situation.

The class commenced and, as guided by his tutor, Tenderfoot placed himself and his horse in the middle of the group.  This gives one the chance of observing one’s fellow competitors and noting how things should be.  (This always assumes that they know what it’s all about and can remember the pattern.)  Things went ok for our tyros but, when you and your horse exit the arena, isn’t that feeling of relaxation something else?

For those of you who have been reading along these tales in previous issues you will recall that Tenderfoot acquired his own horse “Princess”.  It is with this mare that our hero “boldly goes”.  The show was at Perth some 40 odd miles away requiring the hiring of a trailer, tow vehicle and some driving tuition.  Just another facet of this horse riding life!

For those of you who remember, Princess is a fast lady and Tenderfoot’s speed control is, shall we say, in its early stages of development.  Critics might even be justified in saying it was still on the drawing board but – hell – we have all got to start somewhere.  And so it came to pass that man and mare were entered for the Novice Rider Western Pleasure class.  Showmanship had been fine, so here goes Pleasure.  Relax, show the Judge that your horse is a pleasure to ride, smile. Oh Yeah!

“Competitors, lope your horses.”  (Ever watch “Star Trek”?  One second the Enterprise is there then it’s a streak of light.)  Kinda like Princess.  Princess had done WES competitions many times before but with an experienced rider.  It was a nice lope.  It was perhaps a tad quick and, really, we did not need to pass everyone in the class, did we?  As the minutes passed, Tenderfoot got the feeling that, with an ounce or two more effort, the duo could have moved up onto the kick boards of the arena and circled like a “wall of death” motorcyclist.  We survived.

Time went on and Princess could always be counted on to raise the adrenaline level of her old rider.  There was Tenderfoot’s attempt at Western Riding.  It is better to retire from a class as soon as you know you have blown it.  You’ve usually blown it when the Judge moves out of the path of horse and rider.  For an old printer, Roger Wells can still move damn fast if he has to!

The photograph in a previous article with the caption “Tense moments at Little Rahane Show” was taken only seconds before one of Princess’s golden moments.  In the Trail class, we had arrived at the bridge.  Crossing bridges at home was a piece of cake but here in competition she had just locked up.  Front legs braced and an “ain’t  goin’ nowhere buddy” attitude materialised.  Then a member of the audience decided to take a picture.  All it took was the click of a camera shutter.  Princess spun 180° and shot off into a lope.  As a  roll back”, it would have been prize winning.  If she had kept spinning, it was a Reiner’s dream.  Tenderfoot swears that she was so fast that his hat was still pointing south whilst he and Princess were heading north.  After one Western Pleasure class the Judge, Richard Allan, commented that he always knew where Tenderfoot was by the darkly muttered “whoa, whoa” as horse and rider passed him.

Another rider was about to come into or, more correctly, return to Princess’s life.  About a year after Tenderfoot’s acquisition of her, he received a phone call from a WES member.  “Mags” had ridden Princess many years ago, had now returned to the UK and was trying to locate her horse.  Was I happy with her?  Would I like to sell Princess?  Perhaps Tenderfoot is not your average male but, even if things are a little less than brilliant, he is not going to admit it.  Unlikely ever to a female friend  and sure as hell not to an unknown lady.  And so, over the following months/years a regular series of conversation took place between Tenderfoot and Mags.  You had to give it to Mags.  She had perseverance.  She wanted Princess.  Tenderfoot was attached to Princess.  She was his first horse and he had learned much from her but things were not working out as he had hoped.  Nobody’s fault.  Rider and horse were speaking the same language but never seemed to be on the same page.  The decision came after a Centaur Horsemanship Clinic with Mark Rashid.  Princess had shot of into one of her unstoppable canters resulting in Tenderfoot “bailing out”.  Mark’s comment was “If you had spent the same time sorting out the problem as you had looking for a soft spot to land in, you would have been ok.”  He went on to point out that Princess was standing quietly “having got rid of her problem”.  So she was.  The problem for her was Tenderfoot.  Some very serious thinking started being done by the rider/owner.  And so it came to pass that Mags got a phone call and, within days, lady and horse were back together.

Selling a horse that has become a major part of your life cannot ever be easy.  For Tenderfoot it was lump in the throat time.  The task was made much easier since Mags considered Princess as a soul mate and, tucked away in his file on Princess, is a letter from a lady promising to love and cherish a certain horse for ever and a day.  Dolly Parton’s song “I will always love you” has the line “We both know that I’m not what you need” and it expresses the position that Tenderfoot and Princess found themselves to be in much better than he could himself.

Without a horse, what is a WES member to do?  You help out at the Shows, that’s what.  If you have never done it just wait for the next instalment!


Speak to you next time.

John Roy