Getting 'broke in'
Driving past a pasture spotted with horses grazing, I couldn’t help but think back to a time in my life when I received a real education.
Many of my junior high classmates lived on farms and usually had to go straight home after school each day to help with the evening chores. These same kids would often remark about how town kids “had it made.”
Little did they realize how the town kids envied the farm kids for having a job that meant working with animals. I guess that’s one thing town kids still miss: being around animals.
I was one of the lucky few who got a taste of both worlds. We lived in town but my dad had some horses out at my sister and brother-in-law’s farm. I was able to do all sorts of interesting things with horses including scooping manure and “breaking” colts.
The colt breaking we did wasn’t nearly as exciting as bronc riding as shown in the movies. I didn’t jump up on the horse’s back and take off bucking while I rode it into submission. Dad would have nothing to do with that. His colt breaking method comprised of starting slowly and continuing that way. I guess you could say he was a horse whisperer.
First we would place a blanket on the colt’s back. We repeated that until it was so accustomed to the blanket that it wouldn’t flinch. Then we would tie the blanket on the colt’s back and let it wonder about that way for several days.
Next we would put a light-weight saddle on its back. After a few days of that, a feed bag would be tied to the saddle giving it extra weight to simulate a rider. A swivel bit was placed in its mouth so that the colt would get used to it as well.
Days later, Dad would lead the colt around the pasture with me in the saddle. I weighed around a hundred pounds so I probably felt about the same as the bag of grain. Finally, Dad would just unfasten the lead rope and I would take over the reins. The colt wouldn’t know how to buck because it never had.
One day, just after school let out for summer break, I got what seemed to be a great offer. The word had spread about my horse-breaking ability and an area farmer decided to enlist my services.
The farmer had just invested in 20 Shetland ponies and wanted them broke so any kid could ride them. Of course, he planned to then sell them for a big profit.
He said he would pay me $10 a head to break them. He stressed that it would be easy money because the ponies had hardly even seen a human so they hadn’t been spoiled.
It seemed too good to be true. Not only were they the smallest horses I’d ever seen, they were skinny and sort of shaggy looking. Nothing like the well-cared-for colts that I was used to working with.
Naturally, I talked Slick into helping me. He wasn’t too interested until I told him he would make $4 a pony for each one we broke.
On our first day we picked the smallest, meekest and scrawniest pony and strapped a halter on it. We lead him to another section of the pasture and proceeded to put a saddle on its back and a bit in its mouth.
Being used to a much larger horse, the saddling was a piece of cake. Before long I was mounting the steed. As I bent down to stick my foot in the stirrup that little horse swung around and bit me.
He then proceeded to kick me in the shin. About this time I was beginning to lose my cool. I hopped aboard and all heck broke loose. First he started bucking, then he started kicking back as if he was on fire. While I was trying to hold on, his head was switching from side to side trying to bite my legs.
He reared up and just kept coming over. He then started rolling around on the ground with me still in the saddle.
I finally got loose from the saddle. Slick had just stood there watching all the action. Without a word spoken I realized that he had turned in his resignation. He hopped on his bicycle and headed for town.
I quickly unsaddled the pony and turned him loose with the others. I was never so happy to be free of an animal in my life.
I informed the farmer that I was too busy to break the ponies. I did give him the names of a couple of possible candidates. Naturally, they weren’t exactly my friends.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.