How Do You, You Know, Know?

Anyone who has ever worked with me, knows I really dislike being wrong. I could list pages of reasons, and experiences that have shaped this aspect of my personality, but really, none of them matter. The end result, who I am, is all that matters.

It’s not that I don’t think I can be wrong. It’s actually quite the opposite. I tend to over analyze any and every decision and move I make or could make, or should make. So, if that move ends up being the “wrong one” I have to know where I went wrong, what I did wrong, and how I could have made a better choice. It’s not so much mental self flagellation as it is an obsession with making sure I don’t make the same mistake twice. Once I have that information stored away in my memory banks, I can move on with my life.

Needless to say, I’m ten fold obsessed with making sure I get it right with my horsemanship. The trick is finding a way to test the work I’ve put in without ruining it. Having the right situation present itself or even setting up the situation artificially can take some doing. And, there are some situations I prepare for that are unlikely to happen, but still I do the work…just in case. So, if those unlikely situations never happen, how do I know I really did the work correctly? Because you know, I’ve never tested my work, and education is all about tests isn’t it?!

Take catching for instance. Hard to catch horses drive me absolutely bezako. Because I feel like, if a horse is handled right when it is young, there is little to no reason for it to be hard to catch. If the work is done early on, then you don’t have to waste quality time on chasing a horse down later in life instead of working on other important skills….like riding for instance. Still, following my husband around on his shoeing adventures has exposed me to all sorts of hard to catch horses. Not just colts, who are just learning about the human world, but horses of the age that coaxing, cajoling, or bait shouldn’t be necessary. Horses that people have supposedly been catching for years, and yet, when they see someone coming with a halter they leave the country. There’s a sigh of frustration combined with admiration for the grace with which the horse floats away. Curse words, combined with a cry of, “It doesn’t have to be this way!” follow.

The first thing I want to know when we get a new horse is can I catch him? Most of our horses end up being very easy to catch, as in, they see you coming, they meet you half way, head down, waiting for a halter. Of course, they don’t always start there.

When we first got my current horse, he would not be caught. Not even in a twelve by sixteen foot stall. And he had no qualms about taking someone out if they tried. So I did what I’d been taught. I did the work. And he got better. Soon he would meet me at the gate of his stall. Then he progressed to being able to be turned loose in the round pen and understanding to draw to me when asked. Finally, I could turn him out in a corral and be confident that I could catch him at feeding time (note at feeding time as in, when there was something in it for him). Little by little we built on it and I really thought I was getting somewhere with this catching thing. I certainly wasn’t going to have a hard to catch horse. To be perfectly honest, I had mouthed off about it too much, to have one. I know how karma works after all!

So, as the months went by I was pretty happy, and thought I had the catching thing licked. One night around midnight I pulled into our barn after work. Louie was in Colorado shoeing horses, and I had been holding down the fort while putting in full time at the hotel. Oh, did I mention it was flu season? And a nice warm lobby full of high school teams is the perfect Petrie dish. When my lights flashed on a dark streak in the night I really hoped it was a hallucination from the cold medicine. The accompanying hoof beats jerked me out of my stupor, and my next thought was, “Well, at least all seven are easy to catch.” I pulled my truck to where I would get the best coverage from my headlights and checked my herd. Of course, it was Limbo running loose and quite wild. The others whinnied and watched in amazement as he did laps. I grabbed a halter and for the next half hour tried to get near him. Every time I got within a few feet of him, he would flick his head saucily at me, and whirl away. That draw I really thought I had put in, was no where to be found.

So, I did the only thing I could think of in my exhausted condition. I stood there with my headlights shining on my back, halter in hand, and bawled, and sneezed and coughed.

At that point, my horse sensed that I was upset, and needed his support, so in a beautiful, collected trot, he came directly up to me, and lowered his head and did everything short of tying the halter on. Heck, he even offered to make me a cup of tea to soothe my cough!

Yeah, right.

Actually, he continued to do laps around me with tail flicked over his back. Finally, he got tired of such an easy target and decided to head over to poke at the other horses. That was his fatal mistake. In all of his excitement he had forgotten that I recently put up a small division fence….which he ran right smack into. He got his front feet caught in the wire and froze. This all happened outside the realm of my light so all I heard was the sudden silence. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and headed in the direction of ominous nothingness to see what wreck I was to now face.

He was standing perfectly still.  At least the work I did roping his feet stuck.  I walked up to him and he put his head down. Apparently fun time was over. Sure, now that he needed me he had sprouted a halo. I untangled the wire (AFTER I had gotten his halter on him) and led him back to a stall, and that was that.

For over a year since that night I have been mentally gnawing on all of the work I had done up to that point, and tried to fix whatever it was that I had missed.

I’ve put countless more hours into catching. And, again, I felt like I had it pretty solid. But how could I test it? I’ve caught him in larger and larger enclosures, and pastures, and it’s always been positive. But the question in the back of my mind has always remained. What happens when I am not the best answer? I suppose I could have turned him out loose on the property and then tried to catch him, but again, I know how karma works, and people around here think I’m goofy enough. So, I just kept doing the work, and waiting for the next test to present itself, all while secretly hoping it never would.

Well, the other day, I was feeding and up popped not just a quiz, but a final exam. Again, tired from work, and with Louie gone, I wasn’t at my full mental capacity. I opened his gate and got distracted, turned my back, and began talking with a friend. That’s when I heard the gate creak and felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise. I turned around and there he was. He’s gotten quite beautiful. He’s filled out, muscular, and the glossy black we dream of. He was standing a way off, nose buried in green, fresh grass that was way tastier than the bermuda hay I had to offer.  He really made quite a stunning picture.

“Okay, Chris, play it cool….first, get rid of your audience.” I told myself.

I smiled, at my friend, shrugged, and told her he’d be no problem and I’d talk to her later. Thankfully she took the hint and drove off….or at least she had the courtesy to hide where I couldn’t see her while she watched what was about to take place.

I stood, watching the black horse, and waited until I thought I had got my breathing under control. This was as good of a test as I was going to get. We are on a place that is hundreds of acres. There’s almost a hundred other horses. Most of them are on lush green pasture, in fact, there is green grass everywhere….except in the pen where my horse is kept. So, Limbo’s choices seemed pretty black and white. Horses, grass, and freedom, or me, bermuda, and his dirt lot. Dang it.

I set those thoughts aside, and walked as close as I thought I could get to him and placed my self in the draw position. And would you believe he raised his head and drew right to me? I petted him, scratched him and told him he was absolutely, the most brilliant horse I had ever known. And then I remembered I didn’t have a halter…He might be brilliant, but I can be kind of a dumb ass. At this point, feeling confident that if I did lose him again I could at least go get a halter and possibly draw him back, I gave him a cue I had been using in our round pen work to get him to lead by me. And he did it! We did this all the way back to his pen, where he trotted in, turned, puffed up, looked at me and said, “Good job human, you get an ‘A’!”.

I slipped him some alfalfa with his bermuda. He had earned it.

If someone had seen that (and I secretly hope she did) they would have seen the culmination of two years of work. They would have seen the ten minutes a day, every day I spend working on draw and foot work while his water trough fills. They would have seen the time I spent getting him to lead by and come pick me up from the fence, both on line and at liberty. They would have seen the mutual understanding and the language we are just beginning to converse in. It wasn’t magic, and it wasn’t treats. It was work. A lot of it. And I am so glad I did it.


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4 Responses to How Do You, You Know, Know?

  1. Carol says:



  2. I’m so glad you’re writing again, Chris. This one is good. There’s just no substitute for doing the work, whether it’s with horses or words, and this one shows the benefits of both. Thank you for sharing these with me.


  3. Holly says:

    Great article; I want to follow you and your blog.


  4. chrisdocter says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback guys!!!! I’m glad to be writing again KB. We’ve been so busy that if I did have five minutes to sit, I didn’t have the brain power to form a sentence, let alone write it down. I think things are lining out again though so, I’ll start in again pretty regular. Holly, this is my first blog site, and just this morning did I figure out how to check if I have any followers. ( I do, Yeah!). I’m going to have to investigate but hopefully there’s a link to click on? Thanks for reading! I really enjoy yours as well.


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