I woke up at 6am this morning and refused to leave my bed, acknowledging this it was a bitter 8 degrees outside in what should have been a mild Lexington, KY. I reached for my phone and turned on Facebook, scrolling through the updates alerting me to comments, likes, and shares.
And then I began scrolling through my Newsfeed at my friends adventures from the previous evening. And I paused when I saw that my friend Kait was still having difficulties getting one of her training horses to load onto a trailer. And while I began to peruse the comments under her post, I gave her a metaphorical head nod from a fellow warrior of the ALH (Anti Loading Horse) club.
“You should only feed him when he’s on the trailer”
“Have you tried shaking a plastic bag behind him? Works every time!”
And the kicker? “Send him to me, I ain’t never met a horse I couldn’t get to load good.”
I couldn’t take it any more. I typed out a message to her, explaining that I couldn’t get into a social media war this early in the morning before I had even drank a cup of coffee, but I just wanted to let her know that I had been there. I had also tasted humble pie.
In fact, any decent horseman who had spent enough time around these creatures would admit that they had been there. And it doesn’t taste all that great.
When I first got Nixon from his race owners, it became quite apparent that horse trailers were not his favorite thing. And this was understandable. Nixon had shipped from the track in New Mexico to his owners farm in Lexington, Kentucky in order to be retired. He had won $500,000, a G3, and was one of the upper echelon in 2012. But that didn’t matter in 2015 — at least not to his van drivers.
They claimed that they had heard some noise upon entering the highway in New Mexico, but hadn’t stopped to check. 12 hours later, when they arrived in Kentucky, they opened the ramp to find a 1250lb 17hh horse on the ground. Cast against the wall, with blood and open wounds covering the majority of his hind end.
And that was how Nixon entered his second life.
And I tried every trick I had up my sleeve. I had always considered myself quite capable at training horses to load, and had even been called upon by other horsemen to assist. My methods were quiet, simple, and involved a lot of rewards and food.
And none of them worked. At least not with Nixon.
After loading hundreds, if not thousands, of horses in my life, I ended up owning the single one that my methods didn’t work on.
And it wasn’t just loading. Nixon taught me that a lot of my preconceived notions about training, retraining, guiding, and just thoroughbreds in general were not foolproof. He taught me that not every horse can go out and hack happily right away. Not every horse can canter in company. Not every horse can be ridden bridleless. And specifically that not every horse develops into a sport horse at the rate that my previous mounts had.
In a nutshell he was, and still is, frustrating as all hell.
But 18 months later, I have come to terms with this. Nixon now loads, albeit just for me and in a specific fashion, one which now infuriates my manfriend.
But thats ok, because I don’t want to be one of “those” people. The overtly confident person who is constantly advertising and preaching that their methods are fool proof. Those people who leave comments on every one of my friends statuses saying that they are wrong, and this specific person is right. That says that they can ride any horse. Load any horse. Jump any horse. Hell, lead any horse.
We see those people in every aspect of this industry – from show barns to rodeos, and everywhere in between.
And I used to be that person. But slowly, and steadily, my ego has unravelled.
First it was in my riding. I showed up to Wyoming in 2006 and told the head wrangler that I could ride any horse he put me on. Silly little eastern girl from Pennsylvania, I knew that I could stick a buck – I had done it all of my life on my trainers show ponies. But seventeen falls later, in less than a week, and I backed down.
And I left that ranch with a bruised ass, and a bruised ego.
And then it was the thoroughbred industry. I showed up to my first September sale and told the farm owner that I could show any yearling, any time. I had no comprehension that these horses mutated seemingly overnight as they shipped from their homes to the sales ground, but I knew that I could handle each of them at the farm. A few bites, a hell of a kick, and a loose horse later, I admitted my flaws.
And I walked away from the sales with a new sense of my surroundings, and my ability.
But it wasn’t until I owned Nixon that I truly realized just how inadequate I truly was. But is it inadequate? Or it is knowledgeable? Maybe realistic? There is a happy medium between the two – between knowing what you are capable of, and what you are not, and the sensibility to ask for help in the place where those two meet.
And that place is called humility.
Nixon has humbled me in ways that no other horse has before. And this amuses me to no end, because it appears to everyone else that he is my “big” horse. The horse who has earned me any reputation that I currently possess. The one that threatens people, that gets me sent messages on social media begging me to not enter the same division as my friends.
But he’s also the horse who taught me that even with the resume that precedes my name, I am not invincible. Even with the hours logged or the skills gained, there will always be that horse that tests you. That shows your outer limits of comfort. And that proves that you are not perfect, or the best at anything.
And I think we as horsemen all need that horse. I don’t mean that I want every horseman to get hurt, but I think that we all need to eventually meet our match. We all need to realize that the gimmicks don’t always work. That speeding the process up with tricks doesn’t always end up with the horse on the bit or in the trailer. And that the one sized training box doesn’t fit all.
These horses will send you home from the barn shaking your head and shaking your fists. Most of them will lead you towards a drinking problem as well. But at the end of the day, they better you.
Nixon has already forced me to question everything I ever believed in. He has led me three steps backwards to reassess who I am as a horseman. He has forced me to admit when I am in over my head, and reach out for help. He has shown me that I am not perfect.
But hell, who is? No one.
No one is perfect. And no horse is either. Avoid the people who claim that they can do anything with any horse. Wait it out. Eventually they will meet their Nixon. They will find humility, and they will have two options when they meet that evil thing. They can either be humbled and learn from it, or power through and get hurt.
I choose to learn. I chose to eat the humble pie. And it still tasted like crap, but I’m learning to like it.
Love it. I have this horse now.
Maybe some of the comments were meant to be humorous because I don’t think anything is funny before my coffee has kicked in. Your Nixon story reminds me of something I read a few years ago: some horses are so smart that they know what you are going to do before you do. And they are already planning how not to what you want.
He is a photogenic devil isn’t he!
Excellent ! A must read for all horsemen/women
35+ years messing with these critters and I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing 🙂 The second you think you know it all, they will cheerfully show you that you don’t.
Thanks Carleigh. There may be some “perfect” people out there who will read, and heed your examples above. In New Mexico, I’ve found a heaping helping of green chiles can fix the flavor of that humble pie!
I think I have found mine. At age 68, having ridden, trained and shown for almost 60 years, I am now owned by a 3 year old Connemara pony. She has the possibility of being awesome, if I can find the keys. It took me 15 minuets to mount yesterday, and I was in tears. But, she is a love, wicked smart and worth taking all the time it takes.
Quietly chuckling as I recognize my 6 year old half Welsh pony half Thoroughbred 17 hand Chestnut Mare as my version of Nixon. She’s ridiculously athletic and smart but easily spooked and has a looooong memory for things that scared her in the past. I have to be very deliberate and quiet around her with plenty of treats to gain her trust when she’s been startled which is not an natural personality trait for me . . . But I’m quickly learning to accommodate her quirks because of the trust and positive results are more than worth it. This was a fabulous article thank you for writing it and sharing with us!
Super article. We don’t K kw whatever don’t know..I work for an 88yo couple (one runs the breeding farm, the other trains the racehorses.) Their philosophy is that you/we can learn something new about horses every DAY if you allow yourself to.
PS I got laughed at the morning of our first and only horse show (bucket list thing) when loading my never-been-to-the-track mare. They (loader of thousands od horses) didn’t believe me that she’d follow the grain bucket. And in she went once it was an option.
PPS I never load horses from the front anymore. I got shut into the back of a slant load full of three yearlings riding loose who’d never hauled. Fortunately I lived because my own colt was in the front end as I ducked under the dividers, and a good boy while I waited an eternity for that side door to open. Never again. And my boss almost puked when the hauler shut me in.
Great article (and really beautiful photos!). But… it left me wondering, how did you finally get Nixon to load?
I eventually learned-after MONTHS- that it was a combination of him feeling claustrophobic and an arrogant ass. So once I learned to stay to the side of the ramp and not walk onto the trailer with him, he began to self load. But if you pull, push, smack, or make any noise–he will still refuse. To this day he won’t get on a trailer for my very experienced boyfriend. In fact,’o one has gotten him loaded but me, but he self loads for me:)
I had a professor in college that said it all the first day of horse husbandry class. He never said horse he always said individual. That is what each one is. You can’t lump them into a group because each one is an individual and need to be treated as one. He was one of the best horseman I have ever known. William Verdugo and taught at Fresno State College in the 60’s.