Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



     At 60 years of age and a lifetime of experience with horses, I cannot help but sometimes think I’m quite the horseman.  Yet, not a week goes by that I find that feeling of expertise to be far from the truth.  When it comes to horses, I can still do the stupidest things.  In an old movie, Bing Crosby sings a haunting little ballad called, “You haven’t learned a thing.”  I know what he means.  It really embarrasses me to admit what I’m about to, but perhaps after reading this, some reader won’t make the same mistakes I did.  Consider the case with my best partner, the Blue Man…
     What a good horse he has been.  Raised him from a pup.  In the year 2000, when his momma laid him on the ground that night, that scamp got his feet up under himself, then after wobbling around a bit, looked at me and said, “I’m ready, Pop!”  At age three when tracking his first steer, the Blue Man ran right to him and chomped him on the butt.  At that moment, I knew all I had to do was get out of this little fellow’s way…and I was right.  Never did much training on Blue.  His intense desire to rope came with him from heaven just dripping off his DNA.  Imagine my surprise when it all went away.
     I started Blue when he was three years old and we took it easy for over a year.  Since age five, we have roped countless steers and Blue tried his heart out on each and every one.  It’s hard for me to imagine a horse with a better attitude alive today.  Because Sherry and I had moved and were required to build fences and barns for a year, Blue was allowed a long and well-deserved rest.  His only duty for months was to stand in the pasture with the other horses (probably bragging to them about his rodeo adventures) and just eat grass.  Once done with our building projects - including the arena - we were ready to begin again.  I just knew Blue would be excited and ready to go.  I had no idea how right I was!
     Fresh and full of himself after the long lay-off, Blue pranced and snorted like some Spanish trick-horse in a big city parade.  This over-the-top behavior was cute for a few days, but then really began to wear on my nerves.  This was not my Blue.  I became concerned.  Then things not only went downhill – they fell off the mountainside.
     Riding Blue in the arena, he seemed fine.  Then suddenly without warning, the horse would run backwards for fifty yards.  He seemed to be terrified of the heel box, and would lock up in a rigid steel-hard pose.  Reminded me of some child’s toy with exhausted batteries.  And when he did finally move, that forward lunge would be a wild rear, and Blue would walk on his back feet for several yards.  Very scary and very dangerous.  I was lost and stunned that my most willing partner with all our years behind us would do this.
     So like all “expert, old-time, real cowboys” do, I hammered on him.  Oh, I didn’t hit him, but I did give him an unpleasant alternative.  “If you don’t want to stand still,” I told him, “you don’t have to.  But you do have to lope.”  And ’round and ’round we would go.  Fifty laps, one hundred laps, one hundred and fifty laps…and with each successive trial, Blue became worse.  Finally, I realized something was wrong.  (Brilliant me.)  His behavior deteriorated to the point that riding him became extremely dangerous.  Imagine how I felt later when I learned Blue wasn’t misbehaving.  Blue was suffering from the human equivalent of a kidney stone!  All this time, he had been in intense pain.  And I learned something else…the symptoms of pain in a horse often manifest themselves in precisely the same manner as misbehavior!
     Once the problem was extracted, Blue returned to his normal self.  Later, a friend advised that I should not be too hard on myself as in…“We all make mistakes.”  (I noticed that didn’t make me feel a bit better.)  But there are some lessons here.  One being in dealing with horses, we must do everything we can to insure pain is not causing any part of a problem, and secondly, if a horse experiences a long lay-off, don’t assume he will be the same when you return – no matter how close you once were.
     If you will do those things, then you might be able to avoid spending several days doing what I had to do…asking Jesus to forgive me for what I had done to one of my oldest and dearest friends.

n  Michael Johnson



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