Trudy Andrew | Canadian Author

Horse Tails

To catch or not to catch
Not long after future hubby came into my life, I learned of a fledging club whose focus was competitive trail and endurance riding. This was a type of competition and riding that intrigued me, and I wanted to give it a try. Future hubby was willing to go along with whatever I wanted. I made some inquiries, and we joined the club.
Never ones to do anything any way but all in, I threw myself into conditioning the horses. As future hubby often had to work evenings, on the big trucks after the long, days of hauling gravel, I was often on my own.
I would take out two horses at a time, riding one and pony in one. First round, I would ride Thow-ra and pony one of the other horses. The next round, I would ride Higgins and pony another. Some people aren’t fond of riding by themselves, yet I always loved it. After all, I wasn’t really alone. I was astride powerful, willing animals that sensed and responded to my every mood and emotion, and had by my side, another. When with an amazing horse, I was never alone. On top of that, my sidekick, a German Shepherd I’d owned since a tiny pup, was along as well. Not only was I never alone, I had loads of great company.
In the beginning, I started with going around the four mile, grid blocks the roads were laid out in. After a warmup walk of about a half mile or so, I would ask for an easy jog for the rest of the mile, then ask for a canter. We’d canter along for another mile before dropping down to a brisk trot then slower jog, and finally a walk. No matter what we did, we always walked the last stretch. My thinking was that, not only would walking the last mile keep the horses from running home, it also served to allow for recovery time. Heart rates would slow and return to normal, and the horses had the opportunity to cool down. When competing in a sport that is so physically demanding, it’s incredibly important to know your horse extremely well, and to take care of it accordingly.
As the days went by, the horses became familiar with the routine. It became far easier for them to pick up a gait, and stay in it. The mile of cantering easily stretched into two, and easily could have gone on much longer. The horses being ponied understood what they were expected to do. The horses I ponied off of, had little patience for naughty behaviour. It amused me when a ponied horse would misbehave, even a little, only to receive an immediate warning from Thow-ra or Higgins. Continue messing around, and a simple shake of the head and pinned ear warning, could easily turn into a little nip of punishment. At those times, it was as if, Thow-ra or Higgins were saying, ‘smarten up, or else!’
The only part of my evening rides I wasn’t all that crazy about was how hard it was, to catch the horses. It wasn’t a daily problem, but it was far too often. Thankfully, it wasn’t a Higgins issue. Quite simply put, he loved people and attendees far too much to avoid them. Thow-ra and her cohorts though, were as tricky and evasive as could be. If one was able to coerce them into the pen at the front of the pasture, there was at least a chance of capture. It wasn’t a whole lot easier, but the chance of success greatly increased. Out on the ten acres, the odds dropped considerably.
There is one day that stands out in my mind as the absolute worst. I had been conditioning the horses, for about two weeks or so by that time, and they were incredibly fit. This was clearly evident as they galloped by each time, manes and tails flowing, noses in the air from the sheer joy and exhilaration they achieved within, by taking me on a merry chase. All the while, poor Higgins would be waiting in the round pen, watching and most assuredly calling for them to give up, and join him. Thow-ra however, was the worst of the crew. I don’t know what had happened, or repeatedly happened in her life that had taught her to avoid capture, but she’d learned the lesson well, far too well. Smokey also had her reasons, yet wasn’t nearly as bad as Thow-ra. Velvet was hit and miss. If you could catch her before the racing about began, that was best. Star, the bay barrel racing mare, was neither here nor there, as far as being easy to catch went. She simply went with the popular vote.
I had realized from the moment, I first walked up to the fence, that this was going to be an extra special day. The second they spied me, Thow-ra and Smokey had headed for the furthest reaches of the pasture, taking all but Higgins with them. A good hour later, I was beyond frustrated, tired, completely annoyed, exasperated, and did I mention, frustrated? The younger horses had long since quit the game, had gone to stand as close to Higgins as was possible, and were now members of the audience, instead of active players. The last four holdouts though, were every bit as enthusiastic in their evasive moves, as they’d been at the beginning. Velvet’s Arabian ancestry showed itself in her ability to tirelessly run … and run … and run, most of it in merry circles around me. Thow-ra harkened back to her race days, an could simply go and go, Smokey glued by her side. As for Star, I had no idea what her deal was. A grade quarter horse, a breed known for short bursts of speed, she was simply speed bursting over and over again. There were no signs whatsoever, that she was tiring out, or intending to give up.
I, on the other hand, was very tired after a fourteen hour work. Not only was I tired, but now I was hot, thirsty and beyond exasperated. It was only sheer determination and a more than healthy dose of stubbornness that kept me out there and trying. Herding them towards the gate that opened into the smaller pen yet again, I really thought that I had them, this time. It appeared that they were going in, and my hopes soared in leaps and bounds. Surely, I thought, they’ll quit running in there. They’ll quit, because they’ll know that they’re caught.
It wasn’t to be. I could almost read Thow-ra’s mind as I recognized the change of expression in her whole body and demeanour. It was as if, at the very last minute, she went ‘whoa! What am I doing? If we go in there, she’ll catch us!’
In the blink of an eye, my chances of catching them went from ever so hopeful, to not a chance. They turned from the gate only to gallop by me in a rush of thundering hooves, glistening coats, wild manes and tails lifted with the sheer joy of the fun they were having, and I gave up.
Dropping to the ground in a heap of misery and self-pity, I buried my head in my arms, and bawled my eyes out.
“I hate all of you,” I wept out the lie born from utter exasperation, while crocodile tears fell, “stupid horses. No good for nothing, stupid, rotten horses. I give you everything, and this is what you give me back. Who needs you anyway, rotten animals.”
Then the most unexpected, most amazing thing happened, as I sat there feeling sorry for myself. There was a soft snuffle, a breath of warm air on the back of my neck, on my arm, my shoulder, then a gentle nudge to my knee. Opening my eyes and lifting my head from my arms, I looked up to find I was surrounded. The rotten, little beggers had come over to check on me. Their very expressions and body language said they were sorry.
‘We were just having a bit of fun,’ Thow-ra seemed to say, while nudging my knee.
‘You’re not crying, are you?’ Velvet was looking at me, like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing and seeing.
Smokey was playing with my ponytail. Star was standing there, her head lowered even with mine while she studied my face.
Struggling to my feet, gathering the halters and leads as I did so, I was amazed that they stayed. Each one shoved their head into a halter without trying to avoid it, when they easily could have run off again. Leading them in, I was still somewhat upset, and told them so, in no uncertain terms. By the time future hubby arrived, I had the four brushed, two saddled, and was ready to go.
“Were you crying?” he asked as he walked up to join me.
“No,” I immediately denied, then had to stick with it, “What would make you think that?”
“You look like it,” still studying me, he didn’t seem to believe, “You should see your face,” he added in typical man-style, “you’re a mess.”
Well, if you can’t dazzle with brilliance, there was little choice but to continue to baffle with a bit more bull, so I persisted, “It’s crazy hot out. I threw water on my face from the water trough.”
Thankfully, he let the subject drop. When I looked in the mirror a few hours later, I had to laugh. I was indeed, a mess. Streaks ran down my cheeks where the tears had mixed with field dust. I looked hilarious. Never mind saying that I had thrown water on my face. I actually should’ve done so.

  1. So precious. Yes, horses do play games.

  2. Yes, they certainly do!

  3. This story reminds me of a catch-a-horse story of my own … (I wonder if ALL horse-people go through similar trials and tribulations? Anyway, as a teenager, with my own horse and a couple of friends who also had a horse, we had one friend, younger, who couldn’t really afford the price of a horse, although her folks said they’d help her keep one if she bought one herself. (Think they figured she wouldn’t be able to find a cheap enough horse?) But I heard about a woman who was angry with her daughter (also a teen) and had therefore decided to punish the girl by selling her horse…why I didn’t know, nor like the idea. But the deal was, this lovely palomino gelding named Ranger could be anybody’s new horse for $50 if they only caught him. The pasture he was in, with lots of other horses, was about 130 acres, so no-one had been able to catch Ranger when we decided to try. So the three of us girls decided we’d “walk Ranger down” as we’d heard some Indian tribes did to wild horses. We started around daylight and took turns, just quietly walking behind Ranger as he snorted and galloped gaily off. Finally he didn’t run so fast, nor so far, and by the time the long summer day turned to dusk, in the Florida heat, I finally managed to be the one who walked up to him and slipped a halter quietly on – and this beautiful horse became one of my best friend’s horse, for a very unreal price of $50.00! Just to explain why he was so hard to catch, when I opened his mouth to check his teeth and age, the poor thing had been ridden (I found out later) with barbed wire wrapped around his bit by some horrible teenagers and his tongue was almost severed. Although healed, she never used a bit on him and I was so glad we had persevered and caught that horse, to rescue him!

    • People can be so horribly cruel. I bet that horse turned into a great one. The abused ones often do.

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About Trudy Andrew

Trudy Andrew lives on a small farm just east of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she enjoys her Morgan horses. A dreamer since she was a child, its no surprise to those who know her well that her imagination would find an outlet in writing, as it has in the past through artwork.
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 Oakbank, MB