Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Scrappy, Part Two: 4-H Fun

I rode Scrappy to town for 4-H meetings during the summer of 1960. She was a substitute for Nell, the younger mare that I was training as my 4-H project by then.

Scrappy in 1960, the year I rode her in 4-H

Nell was lame that summer, recovering from a severely injured (wire cut) leg. I borrowed one of my 4-H leader’s horses to use for dressage lessons, since some of those movements required trotting. But for the regular 4-H work, I used Scrappy.

Our 5-H Wranglers club held a couple of fun events that summer, as a change from our regular lessons and drill practice. We put on a horse show and had costume classes (and my friend and I made our costumes to dress up as knights).

The knight costume I made
for the 4-H costume class

We also had a play day one evening with all kinds of interesting events. We all participated in several games on horseback and novelty races and had a variety of team competitions and relay races. Some of the more advanced riders competed in timed events such as barrel races and pole bending (weaving in and out through a line of upright poles), if their horses were far enough along in their training to do the fast work without becoming upset and confused. As conscientious riders our 5-H group never pushed our horses into games, contests, or races before they were physically and mentally ready for fast work.

The advanced riders trained their horses gradually, working with them through the patterns slowly until they were able to handle this type of competition with good control and excellent manners. We started out the barrel race pattern, the keyhole race (running to the other end of the arena and pivoting around, in a marked area shaped like a keyhole, then running back to the starting line again), or pole-bending patterns at the walk, then the trot, and finally a controlled canter, before trying it as a timed event.

During those practices I was wishing I could ride Nell for the actual play-day competitions, because she and I had progressed to the point where we were a very good team; she was agile and fast and knew how to respond to my cues. I didn’t even try most of those races with Scrappy because her unique singlefoot was not as fast as a gallop, and she didn’t have the agility needed for quick stops and turns.

Instead, we participated in some of the team contests that included relays — where each rider hurries around a set course, then hands his baton to the next — and the flag race, potato race, boot race, and water race. In the flag race the rider had to grab a flag (sticking out of a bucket) at the starting line, gallop to the far end of the arena, stick the flag into a second bucket, and gallop back. If the horse was skittish and didn’t want to get close to the bucket, the rider lost precious seconds.

In the potato race each team had an empty keg at the starting point and another keg filled with potatoes at the other end of the arena. The riders took turns using a long stick to spear a potato out of the keg at the far end and carry it back to knock the potato into the empty keg and hand the stick to the next team member.

For the boot race all the riders put one of their boots in a pile, then lined up at the other end of the arena while one of our leaders mixed and scrambled the boots. At the starting signal all of us galloped down to the boot pile, dismounted, and tried to find our own boot, put it on, mount up, and gallop back to the starting line. Scrappy and I actually came in fourth in the boot race.

But we did the best in the water race. Each rider had to grab a full glass of water (from a tall barrel at the starting point) and hurry to the other end of the arena to place it on top of a second barrel. The rider who got to the other end with the most water was the winner. It’s difficult to hold a glass of water perfectly level when your horse is trotting or galloping, but Scrappy’s singlefoot gait was so smooth that we didn’t spill a drop.

Our team also won the dipper race. Each team had a rider holding an empty bucket and another rider at the other end of the arena holding a full bucket of water. The teams chose their members with the calmest and steadiest horses as bucket holders. At the starting signal each team sent a rider carrying a dipper to the far end to get water out of the full bucket and bring the dipper back to be emptied into their team’s bucket. The team who had the most water in that bucket when they got finished was the winner. It was nice to be speedy, but even more important to not spill the water!

Our 4-H group met twice a week that summer, improving our horsemanship and practicing a special drill that we performed that fall at the Lemhi County Fair. For that event we all wore white shirts, white hats, and green neck scarves.

Part of our 4-H group at the Lemhi County Fair in 1960,
with one of our leaders — Jerry Ravndal (fifth from the right)

That was the only summer I rode Scrappy in 4-H, as a substitute for Nell while she was recuperating from the injured leg. But in 1959 I raised a foal from Scrappy for a mare-and-foal project. I had ridden Scrappy down to the Ravndals’ ranch near town (they were my 4-H leaders) in May of 1958 and left her there for a week to be bred to their Arabian stallion El Khamis.

El Khamis, the little bay Arabian stallion

This little bay Arabian was a very smart and versatile horse. Jerry Ravndal used El Khamis for packing deer out of the backcountry during hunting season and also helped local ranchers at branding time (roping calves to be branded and having El Khamis hold the rope tight while the calf was stretched out on the ground to be branded and vaccinated). He and Khamis also rode range with other ranchers to help them move cattle and sometimes showed the stallion at our local fair and horse show (usually winning the Arabian costume class). Jerry also let some of us advanced 4-H members ride El Khamis in our lessons. I was very eager to have a foal by this amazing stallion.

Jerry Ravndal and his stallion El Khamis,
ready for the Arabian costume class at the fair

The foal was due to be born about April 20 that next spring. I was very excited and eager for that baby to arrive, but I was also worried because we didn’t have a very good place for Scrappy to foal. Our hill pastures were steep and rocky, and the little field pasture had ditches that a baby could fall into. I decided to put Scrappy in the round corral in the barnyard when her time came to foal. I cleaned that corral completely, picking up several old poles and pieces of wire, and made sure there were no nails sticking out of the pole fence.

[to be continued . . .]

Read Scrappy, Our New Horse, Part One

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

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