My friend, Lisa, over at Laughing Orca Ranch has me thinking about my first and last horse, Luke. Lisa was in what horse people call, a wreck, with her first horse, Baby Doll. Her wreck was an accident. It wasn't her fault, or her horse's fault. Her horse zigged, and she zagged. Unfortunately, her foot got stuck in the stirrup and she's just endured major knee surgery.
Anyway, she has me thinking about my history with Luke.
One of the primary reasons we moved to a place with land, is so I could finally have my own horse. We moved in the summer of 2000. By, November of 2001, I had purchased Luke for $800. I'd only seen him once and then ridden him once. I had looked at dozens of horses before him and was anxious to make my pick. Luke was 10 at the time. Plenty of miles under saddle. What could go wrong? Famous last words.
I brought him to a boarding facility nearby, as we didn't have a barn/fences yet. The owner of the place had certain old fashioned ways of training that I considered.....well, old fashioned. To his way of thinking, you overpowered your horse both physically and mentally. I began to push Lee hard for getting our own place ready, but something better popped up. A new neighbor, with a plush barn and pasture set up, offered that I board at her place. Problem solved.
Before I start saying bad things about Luke, I will say that he had amazing ground manners. He'd jump through fire before he'd step on you. He stood still as a stone when getting groomed and when the farrier came. He was never pushy and always followed where he was lead. He never nipped or kicked. He was even more careful around my kids.
I began trail riding with the neighbors on the 366 acres of open land behind our properties. He always had a fellow barn mate on our rides. On a ride in August of 2002, I went with two neighbors, but neither was on a horse from our barn. Luke did very well for the better part of our ride. When we reached a place where he knew we would turn for a "short ride", he began pulling. I had him under control, turning him in circles and not letting him have his head. My fellow riders were urging me to stay on and work it out. I was a green rider and I wanted off. I began to panic, and Luke's tension and urging to go home, escalated. I made the mistake of letting him have his head and we were off for home at an amazing speed.
I'm sure my screaming at that point didn't help things, but I hung on. We came to a creek and Luke stretched out to jump it. I stayed on, but when he stretched out, his girth loosened and the saddle slipped to the side. At that point, I lost hope that I'd ride it out. Up ahead loomed a large grove of trees. I had enough wits about me to realize that if I didn't bail, he'd wrap me around a tree. I jumped.
The husband of one of my fellow riders was sitting on his front porch drinking coffee, when he saw Luke race by with is saddle under his belly. Thank God for that. My friends couldn't find me, but he came out in his pickup and did. I don't remember anything after that until it was decided to call an ambulance to come to the house. I couldn't stand up. I was sure my hip was broken, among other things.
My helmet saved my life and my 'saddle bags' saved my hip and back. Never have I been so grateful for an extra 15 lbs. I was told nothing was broken, but it was discovered a few years later during an CT scan that I had indeed broken my tailbone and 3 ribs. I guess healed bone looks different than a bone that was never broken. I was bruised beyond belief. I could barely walk. I wondered if Lee had killed Luke yet. Lee's a practical man. He knew that it wasn't the horse's fault. It was mine for not knowing how to ride when the horse wasn't behaving properly. He suggested maybe I get some lessons from someone other than the 'cowboy' who owned the first boarding facility.
I sent Luke to a trainer. Jennifer was an amazing trainer. She has a gift with horses and people. At the end of three months, Luke came home. Jen began coming to my place for lessons. We did lots of work in an arena, but no work on the trails. I wasn't willing to go out without her. One thing she was trying to teach me, was that I needed to have confidence that I was the boss, or he'd walk all over me. "He has your number."
Something else she let me know, was that he had years and years of baggage. He was covered in scars and had a huge (the size of a cantaloupe) brand on his hip. It was clear that he'd had issues with a halter rubbing his face in the past. His chest had been ripped open and healed badly, by the looks of the scars, and he'd been under an ill-fitting saddle for a long time before I had him (scars on his withers). He also had wounded one of his fetlocks, but remained sound. Lastly, she suggested he could have come from Mexico because he was terrified of the garden hose (not the water coming out of it). She worked for a couple years in Mexico, and witnessed trainers using hoses as whips. In other words, Luke had reasons for not wanting to do what humans wanted him to do.
We worked all of the 2002 and most of 2003. Luke remained the boss, despite my best efforts. By the end of 2003, I had ended my lessons, but still hadn't ridden him alone on the trails. I had really given up at that point. I had begun riding with a friend, DD, on her Tennessee Walkers. Luke had become a yard ornament.
DD suggested she could bring her Walkers over and I could ride Luke, while she and her mom rode her horses. I felt confident. I shouldn't have. I managed to get Luke past the first turn home, but near the very last turn he became unruly again. A mile from home, I got off my horse. I didn't want him to freak out and run off with me again. I risked then having DD's horses follow him. DD and her mother, neither one, needed to have an accident like I'd the previous year. They rode and I walked (was pulled really) the rest of the way home. As we neared sight of the barn, Luke had had enough. He cow kicked me just as we passed a large outcropping of cactus. I'm proud to say, that with a backside full of cactus spines, I didn't let go of the lead. We got home and I put him in the round pen. He was not going to be rewarded for his bad behavior by just getting to go back out to pasture. I made sure DD got loaded in her trailer, picked the spines out of my backside, and headed out to the roundpen. I worked Luke for 45 minutes before he got to go home to the barn.
I put his name up at the feed store the very same day. By late winter of 2003 he was gone. A family that wanted him for 4-H playdays bought him. I gave him his full history. I begged them not to buy him. The father seemed confident and it turned out he was right. He loved barrels and poles and little girls. He just didn't like the open trail.
I don't think I'll ever have another horse. Luke pretty much cured me of ever needing a riding horse again. DD now has miniature horses which I love. Donkeys are now on my radar as well. Lee, if you're reading this, we need to get a fence up. :)