By Herman Neufeld – Penticton, B.C.
Horses had been a part of my life since the day I was born. Our family always had several to work our fields and to get us from Point A to Point B.
When we brought a new young horse home, the first task was breaking it in. On our farm, the approach to breaking in a horse involved spending time with it, building its trust, eventually putting on the riding equipment, and mounting it. Then off we would trot and the horse would be ready for initiation to the working team.
One day I was visiting my older sister and her husband. He had just purchased a beautiful new stallion.
Watching him lead the horse out of the barn, I was captivated by its sinewy muscles, lean long legs and glossy brown coat. Then my brother-in-law popped a question out of the blue: Would I be interested in breaking the stallion in.
It’s interesting how the mind of a 17-year-old works. One thought that didn’t enter my mind was, “Why is his asking me? Why doesn’t he do the honours himself?”
One concept that didn’t register was that my sister was heatedly reprimanding her husband for asking me – I heard her but I didn’t comprehend her words.
I thought to myself, “I’ve ridden horses before. A stallion! Man, that horse is gorgeous! I’ve seen horses broken in before. How great would it be to be able to say that I’d broken in a stallion!” Then, in answer to my brother-in-law’s question, I uttered the single word, “Okay.”
Hung on for dear life
It was game on. We outfitted the horse with a bucking saddle and my brother-in-law held it in place while I climbed on. His single words of instruction to me were, “Don’t let him get his head down.” Then he removed his hands.
I was in a new world – a harsh place where I was knocked every which direction without mercy. Before I could say ‘boo,’ the horse’s head was down. This gave him leverage to contract his muscles and jump with all his might for the single purpose of getting me off his back!
I hung on for dear life, pulling the reins for all I was worth. At one point his head responded and lurched back so suddenly that it smashed into my mouth. I carry a scar as proof of that moment to this day.
Suddenly my foot was out of the stirrup and I found myself in yet another new world – one that was consumed by surviving beyond the present moment. After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to reconnect my foot with the stirrup. From there, it became a matter of endurance.
Have you ever wondered how long a spry young Stallion can buck at full force before exhausting itself? If this horse was an accurate representation of its population, the answer is beyond a half-hour – that is if he’s bucking in two-feet of snow. He may well last longer on summer ground.
Opportunity to ride him again
More than 30 minutes after the storm had started, the horse finally reached the point where his seemingly endless source of energy was exhausted. Both he and I were soaked in sweat – his body and mine looked like we’d just emerged from a pool of water; evidence that we’d just been through the trip of our lives.
Several months later, while moving his cattle to a grazing pasture, my brother-in-law again asked me if I’d like to ride his stallion across the river that lay before us. I was now 18 and was definitely a few months wiser.
Again, I responded with an “okay,” mostly to be polite. But I was much more thoughtful at the prospect of riding the beautiful creature than I had been the first time.
As I approached the horse, it became apparent that he remembered me, and I certainly remembered him. I rubbed the front of his nose and it seemed that in those few moments we came to an agreement that we would tackle the task at hand with mutual mindfulness and respect.
I got in the saddle. He sat perfectly still. At my command he moved forward and we crossed the river without incident. We emerged from the river with water, not sweat, dripping only from the horse’s legs.
It was a wonderful thing to work in tandem with such a magnificent animal and the short trip across the river almost – yes, almost – made the trauma of our first meeting worth it.