Ranae has had a love affair with horses all her life. As a youngster she and her sister would ride their bikes to a local barn in Pennsylvania where she would exchange stall cleaning chores for riding time. Later she would own Banjo, a good ‘ol horse who loved to run. Ranae just enjoyed being around horses and tolerated Banjo’s single-mindedness. She sold Banjo while she was in college and it wasn’t until 1980 that she found another horse.
A friend of hers had a mother who was raising racing Quarter Horses and Ranae purchased Vandy’s Big Skoal, a Quarter Horse Thoroughbred cross while the dam was still pregnant. This allowed her to make payments and by the time the foal was born and weaned, Ranae owned her own horse.
It was around this time that we got married and my job was to get our half acre property “horse ready”. I had no idea what we needed and just gathered some pipe and started welding it together. Meanwhile we had Vandy tied to a stake in the ground with a 30′ rope and he would graze while I welded. The pipe I used was a soft-steel oilfield pipe I had gotten on the cheap and, once in the pen, Vandy, a young stout horse, found he could just push on the 1″ pipe rails and pop my welds. Mine was not a love affair with horses at this point in time.
Ranae just wanted a trail horse. Vandy was a good-minded horse, but had little training. Ranae and I knew next to nothing and there were few resources for the novice horse owner. I did not ride Vandy. (I did not ride at all. I did the husband thing – get hay and dispose of manure.) Ranae could control Vandy…most of the time. He threw her on numerous occasions which usually prompted a trip to the trainer for a month or two. He would come back, good for awhile, and then back to his rambunctious ways. I discovered I got along better with dogs and worked with a couple of Australian Shepards in Canine Obedience and Frisbee exhibitions. I knew Ranae was not exactly safe on Vandy, but there seemed little I could do to dissuade her of this passion.
In December of 2001, at the age of 20, we came home to find Vandy with a severe neurological condition. To this day we do not have a definite diagnosis or the cause. He could barely stand up; his hind end was very unsteady. The doctors tried treating him with a number of different medications and we even had a few chiropractors and holistic practitioners out to see what they could do. After 2 years we gave up hope, but could not put Vandy down. He had improved to the point of being comfortable, but not ride-able. Three years later he passed away from liver failure.
Ranae had been saving her money and went on a search for a “good” horse. She was in her fifties now and had no desire to go through the stuff she went through with Vandy. Her search led her to Dusty, a grade Quarter Horse, estimated to be about 12 years old. Dusty looked like a working horse and the seller said he had spent some time in a feedlot. Ranae could see he was well trained, responsive, and calm. She rode him a couple of times, bought him, and brought him home. The first week she had him she was out riding alone, (remember Ranae and I didn’t share this whole horse thing back then), when a kid playing with some metal sheets of fencing spooked Dusty, who did his best spin, and Ranae came off and hit her head. So much for buying a well-trained horse, I thought.
Ranae had a concussion and a sore back. It would be about three weeks, we thought, before she could ride again. Her main concern: Her horse wasn’t going to get any work in. I made a deal with her that if she would take it easy for three weeks, I would ride and exercise her horse for her. She looked stunned, but agreed.
Dusty was a good horse. I wasn’t such a good rider. We got along okay together. I knew I was going to have to learn more about horsemanship to help keep my wife safer. I rode a couple times a week and did some groundwork. Our satellite service started picking up RFD-TV and there were a couple of “natural horsemanship” clinicians with shows on the station. I began devouring them and one in particular, Clinton Anderson. He spoke to me in a way I could understand and demonstrated the difference between training dogs and horses. It in few short sessions, while not proficient by any means, I could see it was a more effective way of communicating.
The three weeks went by quickly and Ranae got back to riding. I kept watching the shows and learning and experimenting with Dusty. A few weeks later a friend, who keeps her horse next to our property, stumbled mounting her horse and cracked her knee cap. She would be laid up eight weeks and, seeing my new found interest in horses, suggested I use her horse while she was on the disabled list.
Her horse Charlie and I spent a lot of time together. I ordered the first DVD series from Clinton Anderson, a lead rope and Downunder Horsemanship halter and went to work. (A fairly big investment for a frugal guy like me who didn’t even own a horse!) Up at 5:30 in the morning Charlie and I could get an hour’s worth of training in before I had to be at work. Charlie taught me a lot. When our friend was healed and ready to get her horse back I knew there was only one thing to do – get my own horse.
Again, Ranae was stunned. Part of my interest was due to the way I was now able to communicate with horses. For the first time I felt we understood each other. They were more fun to be around. The other part had to do with not being able to stay home while Ranae was off riding. I constantly worried for her safety. She had come off again and I felt I need to be out there with her. So, off I went on a search for a good horse of my own.
I found Tex. Tex was an easy going Quarter Horse gelding. We had his papers and did the vet check, but no x-rays. By this time my training was much improved and Tex and I worked through the exercises at a much faster clip. Tex was a good horse, didn’t know buck, and would stay calm in a pinch. After about six months I noticed that his feet seemed sore particularly after long rides. I couldn’t really tell if it was his left or right, they were just sore. I gave him a month off and when we returned it was the same thing. I took him to the vet and was told he had severe navicular disease. The navicular bone supports the main ligament that hinges the front hooves and allows them to move. Tex’s navicular had disintegrated to almost nothing. Tex was not ride-able anymore. The vet even suggested this had been a long-term condition and may have been medicated shortly before I bought him. Tex was not a good patient either. The vet said he was hard to treat and the chances for success were slim and none. I made the tough decision to put him out of his misery.
I spent the next couple of months looking for a good replacement candidate. I ran across Jessie, a 2000 model Foundation/Quarter Horse (noticing a Quarter Horse theme here?). She was seven at the time, had only had 60 days put on her, and had had two foals. I liked the Foundation background; I was looking for a horse that could take a lot of riding and Foundation horses have a reputation for being dependable. I liked the fact that she had had a couple of foals. To me that meant she had not spent a lot of time working. The 60 days training? Well, that would not be a problem if the my training worked.
Her owner let me come over and work her in the round pen a couple of time. She remarked that she’s been selling horses a long time and had never seen anyone do that. Most of the work I had done was in an open field with a lounge line. The round pen was a new experience for me. Jessie handled it very well. We got along “okay”. I rode her a couple of times and, while her gaits were a bit choppy, but too late, I had fallen in love.
Jessie had many friends on the ranch I bought her from and had had a life of ease. We began work in earnest and she was not very pleased with her new job requirements. We worked every day for the first month and she progressed through the method smoothly. The more time we spent together the stronger our bond became. She has become a very safe, reliable horse.