As I told you before, I remember the first time I saw Tuff coming in to eat with the rest of the gang. He is the kind of horse you definitely notice. Although Tuff never gets ridden, you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at him. He's a real pretty Dunn, and his mane is the most beautiful shade of red. I know women that would kill for hair that color. He's a pretty tall boy and tends to have an easy-going manner. Or so I thought. From the beginning of my employment, I was curious as to why the bosses were buying new horses when we had this beautiful Gelding just sitting around eating up the hay. I asked around a little, and from what I gathered, Tuff had been here 7 years. He came as a yearling. Unfortunately, in our line of work, we ride as soon as the ground allows until it's muddy again and unsafe.
This doesn't leave alot of time for training new stock, especially when you can't really put a horse in the line the first year. We definitely wouldn't stick a customer on a green horse. The reason Tuff has stuck around (I guess) is that folks thought someday we'll have time. And, he's so awesome. This year, however, the powers that be, have decided he'll be getting sold, along with a few others that don't fit in.
I brought Tuff to my neck of the woods to work with him, mostly because I couldn't wait to ride the big brute, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure I thought that maybe if he was broke, we would keep him. This time I may have bit off more than I could chew. This post will be my hardest to write, as this incident is still greatly stinging my pride. I'm sure everybody (or most everybody) has a moment in their life when they've face their own mortality. Tuff was that moment for me. Tuff was really easy to handle on the ground.
He had a very calm attitude and seemed to know his space from mine. It took me a few moments to load Tuff up to come home with me, but for a horse that hadn't loaded since he was a yearling, it wasn't too bad. When I unloaded Tuff, he was pretty excited as he had never been away from the herd. I had no problem putting a bit in him, but he did do a little bucking with the saddle.
I had only worked in the round pen 2 or 3 days, and I needed to move Tuff to a pasture down the road. I needed the exercise, so I seized the chance to walk him up the road rather than trailer him. I hadn't been on him yet and didn't think I wanted to rush him. I did saddle and bridle him just to get him used to it. It was quite a bit farther than I thought, but so far so good. He was doing a little gawking around, kind of nervous, but nothing I wouldn't expect from a horse in new surroundings for the first time. Just about the time we turned onto the main paved road, Tuff froze in his tracks. Up ahead, on the other side of the road was a fairly big, shaggy, almost white cow.
Now remember, Tuff had never seen a cow. I have introduced alot of horses to their first cow, and they don't all react the same, but none of them reacted as badly as Tuff. Everything happened so fast. Tuff was snorting and dancing, but not uncontrollable until the darn cow saw us. He must have been lonely, because as soon as he spotted us, he started trotting toward the fence. Tuff evidently took this as a sign of aggression, and tried to bolt. As he reached the end of the lead rope and realized I wasn't letting go, he spun around and came right over the top of me.
I don't mean he ran by me, I mean he plowed me down and jumped over me. I have a picture burned in my mind of looking up at his massive chest as he went over. He managed to only step on my heel and ankle, but I caught myself on one elbow on the paved road. I looked over my shoulder in time to see Tuff bulldoze through 4 strands of barbed wire and head for the back of that pasture. He was at a dead run with about fifty feet of barbed wire dragging behind him, snagged on his lead rope. In a mixed state of pain and shock, I scraped myself up and headed across the field in pursuit of Tuff. He was pretty cut up but only had surface wounds, thank goodness.
The sweat mixing with blood made him look alot worse than he was. He was trembling and snorting and had his eyes fixed on that cow across the road, but he let me untangle his lead from the wire and we headed across the field to the only gate I could see. Almost to the gate, that darn cow headed our way again, and we had an almost instant replay. This time I was ready for his maneuver and was able to avoid getting plowed down. Back across the field, Tuff headed at a dead run. By now my elbow and foot were really getting my attention, and my urge to leave Tuff and never look back was pretty strong.
I was able to get my daughter's boyfriend to come to my rescue, thanks to a kind young man who let me use his phone as he watched me with wide eyes. I think my request for a gun when he first answered the door spooked him. As Harvey and I walked across the field, I briefly ran down the events from the last half hour. Tuff hadn't calmed down much, and I wasn't in any shape to be much help. As Harvey lead Tuff toward the gate, I could see a battle which I felt we might not win. I ended up pulling my saddle and bridle and turning him loose. I knew he wouldn't escape through the now broken fence, as he would have to go toward the cow, and that wasn't happening, I was sure. The next day I brought my trailer and picked him up but he was still a nervous wreck.
Something happened to me in that brief encounter that I can't seem to shake. Now, as I handle Tuff it's not with the same business as usual attitude I've always had. I feel a little spooked almost. I get that nervous, almost scared feeling. Okay, it is scared I guess. I couldn't quit thinking about this for days. It was really bugging me. I have been in some good scrapes before, and have been hurt worse for sure. Maybe it was because I was confident in my ability to see a potentially dangerous situation and handle it appropriately, but I had not seen that one coming. Maybe I'm getting too old to control a spooked horse. But I decided that I'm not giving in to the age thing yet, so what was it?
I later found out that Tuff had one little bad habit that folks in charge didn't think was important enough to mention. I should have listened to my gut when I thought it odd no one had done anything with this beautiful horse for so long.
Evidently when really scared, he will climb right over you to get you to let go of the lead. When I was young we called horses that reacted to the flight instinct without thinking, a "deer shy horse". You know, the kind that will jump off a cliff or in front of a moving car when spooked. This is what I'm thinking about Tuff. If I'm riding when he spooks, will I be able to stop him from jumping off of the cliff? Well, I'm not giving up on Tuff yet, because I guess I don't want him to win, and I have to conquer this weird apprehensive feeling I get when I'm around him. But at what point do I decide he is a danger to his rider? I don't have the kind of time I think he needs, but for now, I'll do what I can.
More to come.