If you mess with horses long enough, your Essential Horse Skills list will include some version of the following. The very sad part about being so immensely talented is that you probably shouldn’t list these hard-won skills on a resume. Might look funny to someone who really does not know anything about horses!
1. Wheelbarrow Wrangling
Needed attributes: Physical strength, balance, and a poor sense of smell
We take pride in packing the wheelbarrow as full as it can possibly get and not spill off the sides when you strain to push it down the aisle. I have, in my day, been able to put three stalls on a normal wheelbarrow and still move it. If you don’t know how much manure that really is, you’re not there yet. Keep mucking.
Maneuvering the wheelbarrow up a narrow plank to be tipped into a manure spreader, pushing a heavy wheelbarrow through six inches of spring mud, or discovering a flattened wheelbarrow tire on a full wheelbarrow and being able to fix it without tipping it over, or getting it to the dump pile even while flat — all extreme skills only heavily experienced WW’ers could manage. Anyone can tip over a full wheelbarrow in the aisle. (Ask my 20-lb. Jack Russell Terrorist.)
It takes true skill to pick it all back up and get it ALL back in the same wheelbarrow it fell out of. If you have never mucked a stall, this entire paragraph is probably way over your head. Moving on…
2. Speed Tacking
Needed attributes: Lightening-quick reflexes, ability to not feel cold in your extremities, intimate knowledge of your tack
Being late is a way of life. One can get up 15 minutes earlier every day and cure this problem, but for some of us, it’s a lifelong
addiction annoyance. In any case, knowing your tack intimately is essential to be a good speed tacker. You need to know where each horse wears every single hole for each buckle. Heck, save time and don’t even unbuckle the caveson if you really want to set records.
Mastering the “pad-saddle-girth-martingale loop slide – buckle girth-snap breastplate snaps” in less than 2.16 nano-minutes is not for the faint of heart. Of course, training your horse to open his mouth when he sees you swinging that bridle up his neck is another good tip. I can go from blanket on in trailer to seated in the saddle and catching up to second field in less than 8 minutes under normal circumstances. I consider this a really impressive stable skill and it has saved my butt numerous hunting days. I don’t THINK the master has noticed yet. Make certain your fingers are warm and nimble before you exit the heated truck and dive into your cold horse trailer.
3. Pony Catching
Needed attributes: Intellect of a Rhodes Scholar; reflexes of a panther; patience of a hungry cat watching a mouse hole
Catching loose ponies is directly dependent upon your courage, strength, agility and balance, in addition to the very essential attributes of cunning and stealth. I think a good horsewoman could give Navy Seals a schooling in this regard.
I have long been practiced at pony catching and have a number of long-time secrets earned through hard experience. I am revealing three of these secrets today to you, loyal HJU readers.
Pony Catching Secret #1. Study your loose pony carefully. Watch their body language with the observation skill of a TSA agent gunning for promotion. Are they wandering from grass tuft to grass tuft with the ears forward, or flipping back and forth? Is the top of the tail twitching? these are both signs of a Runner, so be aware. If they are panting and sweaty don’t let that fool you. A panting and sweaty pony still has about three days of run left in them.
#2. Choose your weapon, that is, lead rope and halter, carefully. They must be sturdy to hold the pony, be able to be quickly buckled, not be too large so that the pony can slip it should you get it only partly on his head, yet not so small that it takes too long to pull over the nose and over the poll. The leadrope needs to be long enough to
whack him on the butt as he runs past you lead him through deep mud or down hill through trees once caught.
#3. Do arm yourself with grain bucket, cookies, and Valium. Just kidding about that last. But you will need patience, as well as be fit enough to run about 20 miles give or take. It helps if you have a fenced in area that the pony can be trapped in, but if the pony is really out and loose (as in wandering in the median of a four-lane highway) you do have permission to entreat passersby for assistance. Be persistent with rattling the grain can. Eventually the pony’s overwhelming desire to eat will win out. When it does, you need to be lightening fast with your lead rope or halter. Make sure you are down low enough in the pony catching crouch; knees flexed, waist supple, with your core engaged, and your arms free to swing with the least little movement of the pony’s head. (Hah – sitting trot – be damned!) Be patient. Let them snatch a bite, then do nothing. Don’t even look at them. They will quickly succumb to the deliciousness of grain and dip the head well down in the bucket, and VOILA, you’ve got the little bugger! Now HANG ON. Everyone does a little grass skiing now and again but the truly skilled Pony Catchers can do it artistically.
It is my hope you will think about other neat little tricks you too can add to your Pony Catching trick arsenal, and become truly professional. Remember, the smaller the pony, the harder to catch!