Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — My First Foal, Part Two

During the 3 weeks Khamette and her mother lived up Cheney Creek with the other horses, I helped my father on weekends. We built a new section of fence so that when school was out I would have a small pasture next to the orchard and barnyard, for Scrappy and her foal. Then I wouldn’t have to hike clear up Cheney Creek every day to find them. We also created a large “stall” between two sod-roofed sheds. This would be a place to work with the mare and foal in the early mornings or evenings when I wasn’t riding range, irrigating hayfields, or riding Nell to town for our 4-H meetings.

On June 8, 1959, after school was out for the summer, I brought the horses down from the hills, into the main corral. Khamette was shy because she hadn’t seen people for 3 weeks, and Scrappy was skittish, not wanting anyone close to her baby. My dad helped me corner them at one end of the corral so I could quietly put a halter on Scrappy. Then I led her, with baby following, to the new little pasture.

Khamette hadn’t been handled since that first week of her life when we gave her all those penicillin shots. She was sassy and elusive, not wanting to be caught. I worked with her several times each day, putting her and Scrappy in the little “stall” between the sheds, where it was easier to patiently corner and catch the foal.

I caught Scrappy with a little grain and led her to the new pen between the sheds, with Khamette trotting along behind. Then I could tie Scrappy to the pole fence and shut the gate behind them. That was the beginning of many sessions of patient work to gentle the filly.

When Khamette was accustomed to my handling
and leading her in the small stall area, I started
leading her out into the larger barnyard area.

At first she hid behind Scrappy or ducked under her neck to get away from me. I took my time and didn’t try to catch her. I just sat on the pole fence talking to her and Scrappy, getting the filly used to the sound of my voice.

After Khamette began to accept my presence and relax, not trying to dash away from me, I began tying Scrappy during these sessions (because she always tried to stay between me and her baby). I spent a lot of time brushing Scrappy, combing her mane and tail, picking up her feet and cleaning them, letting Khamette realize that having a human around was normal, and showing her that Scrappy trusted me. Before long Khamette’s sassy curiosity overcame her fears, and she’d come up to sniff me. I might be bent over, cleaning one of Scrappy’s feet, and feel the filly’s moist breath or a nibble at the back of my shirt.

Eventually, she grew bolder, and I could reach out my hand and touch her. After that I could quietly corner her between the tied mare and the fence. Khamette no longer tried to duck under Scrappy’s neck to get away.

At first I didn’t try to put a halter on the baby. I just held her with one arm around her front (chest) and one around her hindquarters, letting her realize she couldn’t get away and that she wasn’t being hurt. After being gently restrained by my arms, Khamette quit trying to struggle, and she’d stand there as I petted her. I started touching her all over, so she’d get used to the feel of my hands and not be startled. Soon she enjoyed this attention and didn’t fidget or try to get away.

As she got used to me, and bolder, she became sassier — and sometimes tried to nip or kick. I had to prevent these naughty actions and teach her to behave nicely. She had to learn not only to trust me (and not be afraid) but also to respect me. After several days’ working on her manners, she no longer tried to kick when I ran my hands down her legs and under her belly.

She soon came up to me to be caught, rather than trying to run away. My dad had Clyde Stone (at the saddle shop) make a tiny foal halter, since the ready-made halters were too large for a small foal.

I could quietly corner Khamette, hold her with one arm, and gently slip the halter on her. The first time I tried to lead her, however, she stubbornly pulled backward. I had to use another rope to loop around the filly’s rump. Then when she pulled back, I could give a little pull on the rump rope to encourage her to move forward again.

Soon I was able to lead her all around the small pen, circling both ways. It was harder, however, when I led her out of the little pen and away from her mother. She was frightened and skittish, but I managed to keep her under control. The hardest part was coming back to Mama; she wanted to run, and it was a challenge to hold her back to a prancing trot.

Sometimes Khamette was impatient to get back to her mama
when I led her around in our orchard, and she could be a handful.

I was able to lead her in small circles in the barnyard, and I gradually took Khamette farther away from Mama in subsequent lessons. Coming back to Scrappy, however, she always tried to run. She was 2 months old by then, and a lot bigger and stronger than when she was a baby.

One time I couldn’t hold her. A covey of quail flew up from the edge of the lane and startled the filly. She whirled around and took off, running back to Mama. She got up so much speed so quickly that I couldn’t stop her, or keep up with her, and lost my footing. As I tripped and fell, it spooked the filly even more, and she put on a fresh burst of speed.

I fell to my knees and couldn’t continue hanging onto the rope without being dragged along the ground on my stomach. I had to let go, hoping and praying that the scared foal wouldn’t run into a fence. But she ran straight back to the barnyard and into the pen where Scrappy was tied — and I came running and puffing after her.

I picked up the dragging lead rope and talked to Khamette and petted her, next to her mama, until she calmed down. Then I led her back out again, into the barnyard. I didn’t want to end the lesson on that bad note; I didn’t want her to pull away from me again, thinking she could run back to Mama whenever she wanted. We had a few minor tussles, but she didn’t get away again. I led her around until she quit prancing and was calm and relaxed, walking nicely beside me. She was always good about walking beside me — after the first few sessions with the rump rope.

My First Foal, Part One

[to be continued]

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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