Monday, June 30, 2008

"Big Al" Dante goes to summer camp

Many of you who know me remember that my big ol' horse, Dante, gave me a gruesome black eye last year, followed by a vehement bucking-off when I was dumb enough to crawl up on him bareback just before dinnertime. Being submerged, as I was, by work and chores, I kept putting off the issues of riding and training him and settled for getting him fat, shiny and spoiled. That was before my friend and horse-teacher Becky, who lives down the road, brought me into contact with Mike Thomas, a fellow who's ridden horses and ranched around the West pretty much his whole life. Mike is about the gentlest guy you can imagine actually being born in cowboy boots and a belt knife, which is how he looks, and he knows worlds about the history of natural horsemanship in the West, having been right in the middle of it.

So Mike decides that there's a lot to ol' Dante after all and dubs him "Big Al". (There's a pun about spaghetti in there somewhere.) It seems some training will brush the orneriness out of his character and reveal him as a true diamond. Mike says he knows a guy, Buddy Uldrikson, who can bring out the best in my truant. Becky is kind enough to jimmy The Big A into her trailer and haul him up to Buddy's place in Wickenburg, where we all watch Buddy put some moves on him.

In this picture, Buddy is getting Big Al Dante to trot circles around him. You can see how brace-y and stiff the horse is, "like a railroad tie on legs", I think I heard Mike say. Plus he'd rather look any place than straight at Buddy, who is clearly the Devil.

Some more work on the lead, and then Al gets a saddle. Buddy goes through all the ground work again: bringing head down and relaxing, leading, backing, circling at a walk and trot both ways, disengaging hindquarters, moving forehand away, and some other stuff I don't know how to see yet. Al is starting to see Buddy as a being possibly worth a fragment of his (Al's) conciousness.

Wow, what have we here? Lovely Big Al is actually looking lovely, less than an hour after Buddy started working with him. He's alert, focused, balanced - stunning. Now, this attitude won't necessarily last more than a few moments at a time, to start with, but he definitely has it in him.

"Maybe", Al thinks, "maybe I can walk quietly with this guy on me, and relax."

"Maybe", he thinks, "I can just stand here with Buddy on my back, and be OK."

Finally, not much more than an hour later, Al is relieved of his gear and gets to hang out, feeling soooo tired and relaxed. His first day at summer camp - SUCH a big day!

So he'll be at Buddy's for four weeks, learning his ABC's. I'll keep you posted.