Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just a Cowboy

Through out my life I have been blessed the opportunity to ride with some very skilled horse trainers. I am one of those lucky people who grew up in prime horse country. A recent survey put my county at the highest horse per capita rate in Canada. Within an hours drive of my house there are over 30 different stables - that I know of.

Growing up, my grandfather instilled two truths that have stood me well. The first being that a good horse is a good horse. He never did care much about color or breeding just what the horse was capable of doing. The second being 98% of horse problems are human problems. Don't blame the horse blame yourself. I lived a half mile from an elite Arabian trainer and his stable. He and his staff always welcomed me into his barn. From Mike I learned other wisdom's like letting your ropes or reins drag on the ground as you're leading the horse into the arena because you don't want the horse to spook if you ever drop a rein or something drags off the horse. My mom's greatest wisdom was the belief in riding bareback. Ironically, bareback is now considered "unsafe", but I never rode in a saddle until I was close to 4-H age. She believed that you developed a better sense of balance and seat without the saddle with the bonus of having nothing to trap you if you fell off.

As an adolescent I was coached by a few great horsemen/women teaching me skills from a variety of disciplines. But the greatest trainer I have ever rode with I didn't meet until I was well into adulthood. Grant is a cowboy. At one point he trained and showed on the reining, cutting and some of the stock breed show circuits. He is now at the age when most people are comfortably retired. Grant is still riding. The unfortunate thing about Grant is he's an alcoholic. One night when I was fretting around him, he told me "Andrea, don't worry about me. I'm just an old drunk and I'll die an old drunk." This is likely true. However sober, he's a horse wizard. Drunk, he's still a better horseman than most people I've seen.

Grant gave me the opportunity to ride a variety of horses, to sharpen my skills, to learn from a cowboy's perspective. Grant would "give" me horse to care for and ride in exchange for board. My string would rotate with what the season was. All the horses from the young to the old would eventually go out with him when he hired out to the various local ranches. All the horses were for sale. After all, this was his business.

From Grant I learned how to create a good working horse. From ranch, roping, cutting, reining, and starting a baby, to basic round pen activities. He gave me the opportunity to try, learn, succeed and sometimes fail.

When I left Grant's I was tired. Tired of the stress of being around an alcoholic. Tired of being around hard core cowboys. Tired of having to be twice as good as everyone else. But as time passes I realized I miss him. I miss sitting in the office (the only heated part of the barn) and shooting the breeze with the cowboys. I miss the high jinx the guys sometimes got up to. And I miss the feeling of belonging.

Next month, Buddy heads to Grants to get his start, and I'll belong again if only for a short time. I'll get to visit, ride and enjoy the cowboy life once again.

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