Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Story of Lyle, Part 2

Lyle did his best to snap me out of my grief – he was born with a sense of humor.

I knew I would get another horse at some point to keep him company, but that would take time, so I borrowed a pony, Jimmy, from a neighbor for the interim. Jimmy had permanently googly eyes and was just plain weird; my eagerness to get him out of the picture prompted me to start looking for another horse more quickly than I would have otherwise.

It took about two months to find “Mr. Right.” He was listed on a website; I still have the ad: “Looking for a new partner? This may be the one! Cochise is an 8 year old 15.1 hand bay Paint gelding, ridden and shown Western and English by a young girl, who has moved on to jumping. A breeze to load and clip, he's a healthy easy keeper with a sweet and calm disposition. He's great on the trails and gets along well with other horses.”
I made several trips to Santa Fe to ride him. It didn’t take long to decide he was the one, but the name Cochise had to go, so he was re-baptized Hank (as in Sr.).

Hank and Lyle buddied up instantly. I can’t say the same for Hank and me – he quickly decided I was pond scum. But over the next year, after walking home alone more times than I can count and hours and hours of groundwork, I finally earned a little of his respect. And all the lessons learned with Hank helped me put a start on Lyle’s ground training. I was way out of my league, though, having never trained a yearling, so I found a trainer along the way to train me to train Lyle (thank you, Randall Davis).

Here is Lyle at his first birthday party ... he was turning his nose up at a whiff of white wine ­– how was I to know he preferred red?

Kevin, our vet, proclaimed Lyle physically ready to get started under saddle when he was 2 and half. About that time, I learned Ray Hunt was coming to New Mexico to teach a four-day clinic – colt starting in the morning and horsemanship in the afternoon. Cool! I could take both horses and participate in both sessions. However, Hank decided to make the clinic even more challenging – he got western on me during a trail ride four days before I was supposed to leave. I stayed in the saddle but broke my hand in the process. I had surgery to screw the bones together on Tuesday and left for the clinic on Thursday. Probably not the best decision I’d ever made, but I knew Ray was getting kind of old and I couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

There were about 10 of us in the colt-starting clinic...9 of them were strapping young cowboys, wearing chaps and looking good...experienced colt starters who wanted to show off under Ray’s watchful eye. I was the one not wearing chaps - the 48-year-old woman in the purple cast and helmet. Could I have stuck out any more?? And Lyle was as out of his element as I was. When all the colts were turned out together in the arena, he would run over to me instead of running with the herd. The cowboys kept calling him “Mama’s Boy.” Well, we showed them. I got Lyle saddled, climbed on him using one hand, and was riding him on the second day. And he didn’t buck once.

Somehow I managed to live through the whole four days, riding Lyle in the morning, riding Hank in the afternoon, and being humiliated and decapitated by Ray Hunt all day long. Ray’s style is about a light year beyond “tough love” – he’s there for the horse only, and I was ok with that. But God help the human with thin skin. And geez oh man, did I learn. Did I mention there were about 100 spectators watching our every move...and it rained almost the whole time...and I was living out of my non-living-quarters horse trailer? In this instance, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was not a worn-out cliché.

You know how when you’ve anticipated something for so long and it’s over and done and you’re sitting there thinking, “did that really just happen?” Yep, that was what I was thinking the whole way home. I did it – I started my first colt. Wow. And the helmet-wearing old broad with the purple cast earned the respect of the cowboys, too. Cool.

But now what would I do? I knew my hand was more broken than when I had left and it would be awhile before I should ride again, so I found a local trainer to help me for the next few months. Lyle tested her at every opportunity – he was smart and easily bored. We made progress, but his attitude was always more noticeable than his abilities.

Ray Hunt came back to New Mexico for another clinic that summer and, glutton for punishment that I am, I took Lyle for the horsemanship sessions.  We did ok, but Lyle was far from a “finished” horse. When we got home this time, I sent Lyle to Randall Davis for 30 days of remedial lessons and to fix the bad behaviors for which I was solely responsible.

Sure enough, Lyle came home a finished horse...soft and responsive and not nearly as much of a knucklehead as when I had dropped him off. My challenge was to keep him that way. I rode him as much as I could and took advantage of every opportunity to advance my horsemanship.

In April 2005, Lyle and I participated in a 4-day clinic with Buck Brannaman. While not as harsh as Ray, they were definitely cut from the same cloth. At least when Buck chastised me, he did it with a smile on his face. And geez oh man, did I learn. In the month after the clinic, I had my best rides on Lyle ever. Everything had finally clicked for us.

To be continued...


  1. It's very interesting to get an "insider's" view of being in Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman's clinics - They both give the impression in what they've written of being so easy-going. I think it really took guts to start Lyle in that kind of atmosphere. I'm so glad you stuck with your horse. He's a fine fellow.

  2. Linda, I thought I left a comment here this morning but I've been doing this weird thing where I type in the comment and then close the box w/o submitting. Sigh.

    I'm so impressed with you hauling two horses to a 4-day clinic and riding both of them every day!

    And those top two photos of Lyle are just wonderful. What a character!

  3. Victoria, I'm pretty certain that my take on these clinics would be shared by just about everybody who has been to one. I knew going into Ray's that he would be tough, and there is nothing that he said to me that wasn't absolutely true. It was painful to hear it, but it sure made be a better horseperson.

    Billie, "character" describes Lyle perfectly. He must have gotten that from his sire, since Emmy Lou was such a refined lady. But then there's the whole nature/nurture argument. Lyle's personality and my dog's are so eerily similar that I worry I might be bringing out the knucklehead in both of them!