Friday, January 9, 2009

Cool Hand Luke

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. :)


  1. Boy...wish we had 70's in WI!! it was 6 below this morning.

    Take care!

  2. What a story! I'm glad you gave Luke away before you got hurt more seriously. When you loose your confidence on a difficult horse it is hard to get back. My horse is up in the back paddock until I decide what I am going to do with him but I think my riding days are over mainly because I don't have as much time to persist with him unfortunately.

  3. That's quite a story! 3 broken ribs ...that could have been serious. I've taken enough spills off horses to agree it's not fun. I can sure see why you got rid of Luke. Glad he worked out for the next owners!

  4. I felt bad that I wasn't more "there" for you when this accident happened and now reading it I realize I was busy trying to get someone (the hospital and doctors) to pay attention to the fact that I needed to have my leg saved. I think this happened right at the time I went into the hospital for two months. Still I wish I could have been there for you. xo, nj

  5. What a scary incident. I really think that people who abuse animals should be locked up. I was bucked off of my moms horse in the rocks when I was around 9 and from then on became almost terrified of horses. That is until I trained my own from the time he was born. That cured me....I could not have had a better horse than Tandy. He was a doll. You have to feel bad for Luke and what he must have gone through. Glad you are ok now and I agree...those donkeys could be the way to go.

  6. I've come back three times now to reread your story about Luke. You have such a wealth of experience in so many areas, Cee Cee - I had no idea you had been through this. I'm glad things worked out as well as they did, so much could have been worse. It's sad that you had to go through such pain (physical and emotional), but, as usual, it sounds to me like you made the soundest and most reasonable decision possible. And you took care of Luke appropriately...and disclosed all information about him to new owners.
    And then there's the whole donkey thing. You probably know how I feel about that. :-)
    I don't for a moment believe you would ever regret having a couple donks of your own. They are so wonderful, so loving. You would, quite simply, smile every single day. :-)

  7. Oh boy!!! glad you recovered from that wreck.

    You asked how I hurt my hand. Back in 1991..I fell at work, shattered my right hand. This was my 7th surgery.

    Hopefully this is the last surgery!

  8. CeeCee,

    I'm deeply touched at you dedicating this post to me and your own experience with horses.
    I appreciated what you said about me and my horse, too. It really was a freaky thing. I wasn't balanced, I was wearing rubbed soled boots on my endurace stirrups, and my mare caught me off guard. It shouldn't have happened.
    But it was just an accident. My mare did not mean to hurt me and I don't hold her responsible (well maybe for leaving me behind. But I do no she was confused and scared to see me fall, so I forgive her for that, too).

    Baby Doll is my girl. And we both miss each other. I saw her up in the paddock today and she looked positively miserable. She was slumped and pouty, head hanging low. And when I got back home from my Dr. Follow Up appt, Baby Doll was standing in the exact same place, still moping.

    She's bee seeking attention by getting into mischief, too, sneaking into the barn, trashing it and theiving hay.

    I have to believe she is wondering why I don't come each evening to groom her and sing to her while she eats. Why I don't play hide and seek with her among the juniper trees. And why I don't sit on her bareback as she just meanders around the yard.

    I tell ya, it brings me to tears just talking about how much I miss burying my hands into her soft fur, scratching her butt as she softly sighs, and laughing as she farts after she gets so relaxed.
    I miss wrapping my arms around her neck and breathing in that earthy horse smell, too.

    I miss my horse, CeeCee. I cry about it every day. It's been 3 weeks since I've even touched her.
    My heart is breaking.

    I'm so sorry you had such bad experiences with your first horse, CeeCee. That should have never happened to you. I wish you could have found a horse as special as my Baby Doll. Or a horse that didn't have so much terrible baggage to lug around in his brain as Luke. Poor guy.

    I hope you find a couple of minis or donkeys to bring that equine joy back into your heart soon my friend.

    (And thanks for all your thoughtful, caring and supportive words you always leave for me on my blog. You're a good friend, CeeCee)

    aka Rapunzle