Once Upon A Horse

By Leo Doucet

In the late sixties, neighbourhood children who members of my family were associating with had me concerned. Drugs were getting a start and several of these friends had already been in trouble with the law. I saw the writing on the wall.

From the time I can remember we always had horses at home and while I had been so fed up with working with horses at one time that I had sold everything pertaining to them that I owned, I had also retained fond memories of the good times I had with them. Thus I thought maybe I could kill two birds with one stone.

I took the younger members of the family to several horseshows and they were hooked. They were now associating with new friends and a lot of the conversation was about horses. I bought so many magazines and books devoted to the owning, training, feeding and care of the animals that in a very short while they were asking “when?” are we going to buy a horse. I was pleased with this because I knew from experience that children really interested in horses seldom have time for anything else. In all my years around riding stables I have never seen teenagers drink, take drugs or get into trouble. It is an odd but true fact that girls outnumber boys 25 to 1 in horse ownership and interest.

We began looking at the want adds and went to see dozens of horses within a 100 Km. radius but held off buying until we found the right horse.

I had set certain rules and meant to keep them, But........
Age, more than eight...
The animal should be a gelding
Be good looking, alert, gentle and tractable
No known vices
No thoroughbreds or trotters/pacers
Should weigh under 1000 Lb..
Be under 15 hands high.
Above all animal must be sound.

I wasn’t concerned about breeds and when we heard about an Appaloosa for sale, one who the owner told us on the phone met all our requirements, we went to see. The Appaloosa belonged to two young girls who told us that now that they were working they had no more time for the horse and wished to sell it. The horse looked good but had that thin look of a horse badly in need of worming. I also spotted something very unusual, the horse had no real eyelids, a birth defect.

He readily came to us in the corral as did a mare that was with him but I had forgotten that many horses will react one way in an enclosure and quite another in an open field or woods road. I decided to have the horse checked out by a Veterinarian while I took samples of manure to a lab where it was determined the worm egg count was excessively high. The Veterinarian told me he had seen several horses with the eye problem of the Appaloosa and that it was not that much of a concern. Wrong.

The horse saddled easily and as I was ready to mount to try him out my Son Danny asked if he could be “first up”. I laughingly told him “first up, first down, ” and gave him the reins. The horse started away but quickly went into a fast trot and just as quickly into a hand gallop. We were in a very large field about 1/2 km. by 1/2 km., and as Danny went over a rise I saw him try to rein back but the horse was now at a dead run with the bit in his teeth and head held high. I felt helpless and could only run to where Danny had disappeared. Two or three minutes later I spotted the horse way down in the other corner of the field galloping with the stirrups flapping wildly. I thought the worse.

On topping the knoll I saw Danny trying to get down from an apple tree, the only tree in the entire field. He was scratched and bruised a little and told me the horse had suddenly started to race and he couldn’t stop him. When they were close to the tree the horse dove into the low hanging branches sweeping him out of the saddle. We started back to the barn where we saw the girls petting the horse. He had come straight back to them.

My other Son Terry asked me if he could try him. I said yes, as long as he stayed within the fenced area around the barn. The girls had placed the mare out of the way by putting her in the hay mow. This area is generally in the centre of a barn and is accessed by opening one or both large doors. The doors once closed are locked by rotating a piece of 2 x 4 into a slot on the other door. Whoever said that an animal cannot think and operates only on instinct has never observed what happened next.

The horse now knew it was in a confined space and went around in a circle for a few times. Suddenly he bolted straight for the hay mow section of the barn about a hundred feet away. Terry had been so startled that he had almost fell backward out of the saddle. Now the horse did a sliding stop at the doors of the hay mow and Terry was on his neck struggling to stay on. In a second the horse grabbed the free end of the 2 x 4 and swinging it out of the way stuck his nose inside the door and giving it a mighty swing jumped through the opening.

On both sides of a hay mow there are long square wood rail extending the width of the barn and positioned about five feet above the floor. While still running the horse dropped to his knees and dove under this immense rail. Terry had the presence of mind to pull his feet out of the stirrups just in time as he was scraped of the horse’s back. There was no hay in the mow but there was a small pedestrian door at the far end which was open. On the gallop the horse plunged through this door, the stirrups catching on each door jamb pulled them off. The horse then gently trotted to where the girls were and just stood there. None of us had ever seen anything like it.

I had foolishly told the girls I would buy the horse and now I was stuck with him. I considered myself experienced having trained several horses, and I made up my mind then and there that I would get the best of this critter or else. I next climbed aboard so as to not let the horse think he had got the better of us. The gate to the big field was opened and I walked him through. He acted perfectly normal for a few minutes then he started to trot. I was ahead of him and leaning to one side started him into a circle. the faster he went the tighter I pushed him into the circle. Once the circle gets tight enough the horse has to stop. This went on a number of times until it was clear in his mind that he wasn’t going anywhere fast, then he settled down and behaved. After about a half hour I unsaddled him and took him home.

In the following months I would only allow Danny and Terry to ride him inside a fenced area, there he behaved normally. When I took him on trail rides he was the perfect horse on the way out, but on the way back he would start to prance and took every opportunity to run. It was maddening and I devised many ways to overcome this habit, not all of them being successful. Now, I insist that a horse must stand absolutely still while I’m getting into the saddle and only when I’m well seated will I allow the horse to move in whatever direction I choose. It took some time but I got the better of him on that one.

One day at a horse show in the Woodstock area ,David Coulter an experienced rider asked if he could ride my horse in a game called "Rescue". This is where a rider races to the other end of the field, makes a high speed pick up of another person and races back to the starting line. David well knew of my horse’s idiosyncrasies because I boarded the horse at his barn but since the field was fenced we felt it was safe. The horse was off the starting mark in record time and ran full out, belly low to the ground until he reached the end of the field where David started to lean to make the turn and pick up the other person. The horse had other ideas and when David was well leaned over to the left the horse suddenly veered right and jumped the 5 foot fence. David cleared the fence with about 2 feet to spare but was about 5 feet to the left of the horse and doing cartwheels when he did. To add insult to injury David landed head first on the barn manure pile, much to the enjoyment of the other contestants and the spectators.
Not all incidents with this horse were so amusing however. Just before dark on a cold October evening, Danny, my Daughter Jeannette and I had gone to the barn to exercise and brush the horses. There was a very large field adjacent to the barn and I decided that since it was getting dark I would ride in that area for a few minutes. Apache, for that was that horse’s name, had a fault common to many horses, in that when the cinch of the saddle was tightened he would expand his lungs making you think it was tight enough. The trick here is to go along with that but after leading the horse for a few feet stop and tighten the cinch again. This evening, being in a hurry I forgot to retighten the cinch. It was cold enough that the pasture was frozen solid when I went into it. After a few minutes doing training manoeuvres I let the horse run. There was a drainage ditch about 1 foot deep by about 2 feet wide running the length of the field over which we had gone over many times. This time however we were running in a large circle when instead of jumping over the shallow ditch Apache stepped into it. I was leaning to the left to make the turn when with most of my weight in the left stirrup, the jolt and the fact that the cinch had not been properly tightened caused the saddle to slip around the horse.
I plunged headlong into the frozen ground. I don’t know how long I laid there but when I was able to see, I decerned two horses standing a few feet away looking at me. Then the two horses merged into one, then two again. I realised I had suffered a concussion. I laid a while longer until I got my breath then got up and tried to lead the horse back to the barn. I did not know it then but my left arm was broken in two places and the ring and little fingers of both hands broken. I could barely walk. It was now dark and Jeannette and Danny were out looking for me. They helped me into the barn where I laid on some hay bales for a while. I had lost both lenses from my glasses. After about an hour I was able to go home get washed and drive myself to the hospital. My problems were not over. The report of the nurse in the emergency department said simply that I had been hurt by a horse. The Intern took that to mean that some farm hand had an injury and every time some one looked in the waiting room for a "farm type" whatever that means, they did not identify any. No one asked for me by name so I waited and waited. Finally around 1 am a Doctor came by and seeing that I was the last patient asked what my problem was. When I told him he said "you must be the farm hand we have been looking for" I had a white shirt on and wore my suit coat over my shoulders because I could not put it on. Sometime later sporting a full arm cast and splints on both hands I was able to get home.

The following summer riding in the same field I spotted something shiny on the ground, it was the two lenses from my glasses. I had bumped my head into the frozen ground hard enough to knock the lenses out of the frames.

On another occasion, in broad daylight, Apache ran into the hind quarters of another horse. I had suspected for sometime that his eyesight was abnormal and a Veterinarian confirmed this. I would not sell a horse which I knew could injure someone so I made the decision to have him put down.

The End.

This page was designed by Irene Doyle Feb. 1998