Tuesday, May 22, 2012

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

Summer passed quickly, and soon it was time for the fair and our 4-H classes. Since Scrappy and Khamette were my mare-and-foal project, I’d kept detailed records on everything I did with them. I would take them to the fair and show them in the mare-and-foal class. I wanted Khamette to be very well trained and well mannered, rather than flighty or hard to control.

I had a wonderful summer working with Khamette, teaching her
many things. Here, my brother Rocky holds Scrappy while I take
a photo of the foal, but I wasn't a very good photographer,
and this old photo is blurry!

The fairgrounds had several rows of box stalls and tie stalls, and I wanted to take my mare and foal a day before the horse classes started, to be sure of having a box stall, since I would have to leave Scrappy and Khamette there for a couple of days. My dad brought a bale of hay in our jeep and a small sack of grain and my feed tub and water bucket. I would carry water for the horses from the hydrant at the end of the barn row. We didn’t have a horse trailer, so rather than borrow one I decided to ride Scrappy and lead Khamette the 14 miles to town. I wanted to lead the filly rather than let her follow behind her mama because I didn’t want a passing vehicle to frighten her out into the highway.

Khamette had outgrown her baby halter by then, so I bought her a fancy foal halter, with a nice long lead rope. I also had a leather lead shank that I planned to use when showing the filly at the fair. I practiced riding Scrappy around the barnyard and leading Khamette, and she led very nicely alongside her mama.

We started our trip to town early in the morning, before it got hot. I rode Scrappy and led four-month-old Khamette alongside. She trotted now and then to keep up with Scrappy’s swift singlefoot gait as we headed down the dirt road. By the time we reached the highway, we’d already met one car, and Khamette was frightened, but she stayed close to Scrappy as the car went by, reassured by Scrappy’s calm attitude.

The filly kept up with Scrappy and didn’t seem to get tired. We made the trip in 3 hours and headed into the fairgrounds. There were already a few horses there, and Scrappy whinnied nervously. Khamette was wide-eyed with curiosity and mild alarm, looking at all the strange sights and strange horses. I found the stall where my father had left my buckets, hay, and so on and got the two horses settled in. Scrappy nibbled a little hay but spent most of her time looking out the open top door, watching all the activity around us. Khamette was almost too short to look out over the bottom door, but by stretching her neck she was able to watch, too.

My dad drove me back home to the ranch so my brother Rocky and I could ride Ginger and Nell to town that afternoon. We wanted to have them there overnight as well, to be ready for the 4-H classes and horse classes the next morning. This was the first time we had ever stayed overnight at the fairgrounds, and we thought it would be fun, sleeping in sleeping bags next to our horses’ stalls.

Rocky holds the foal while I take a photo of her for my 4-H record book.
I was nervous and excited the next morning. In the previous years’ horse shows, I always had jitters when riding Ginger or Nell in the open competition or 4-H judging, hoping I wouldn’t make mistakes. And this time I had three horses to show. I was glad the riding classes came first because these were something I’d done before. My brother and I both placed in the top third of our class and happily rode back to the barn to put our horses away and get Khamette and Scrappy ready for the mare-and-foal class.

I’d hung Khamette’s new halter and fancy leather lead strap (for the 4-H judging) on a nail, high on the stall wall, out of the foal’s reach — or so I thought. Somehow, Khamette grabbed it, pulled it down, and chewed the leather strap, making it all wrinkled and tattered. I straightened and smoothed it as best I could, but it still looked crumpled.

Rocky helped me lead them out of the stall and down to the arena, where the mare-and-foal class was about to begin. Scrappy was nervous and snorting, and Rocky had his hands full keeping her down to a prancing walk, while I led the skittish foal alongside.

In spite of being nervous and excited with all the other horses nearby, they behaved reasonably well, and I was able to show what Khamette and I had accomplished in our summer of lessons. When it was our turn to perform in front of the judge, Rocky held Scrappy, and I led Khamette away from her, leading her up and down the arena at a walk, then a trot and brought her to a stop — to let her stand for a moment before backing up, then picking up her feet. Then I led her in a big circle in both directions. As I led her back, her very impatient mother was whinnying and pawing the ground.

I was delighted to receive a blue ribbon for my mare-and-foal project when the class was over but totally surprised to also receive the 4-H trophy for best project. This award was based on my detailed record books, scrapbook, and performance in the horse classes. The trophy was a beautiful bronze mare and foal, standing on a wooden plaque. This was very special. I gave the trophy to my parents for safekeeping while Rocky and I led Scrappy and Khamette back to their stall — where I gave the filly a huge hug.

After the fair was over, we took the horses home. I rode Scrappy and led Khamette, and Rocky rode Ginger and led Nell. It had been a very exciting 3 days!

This photo was taken after we brought
Scrappy and Khamette home from the fair.
School started the next week, and I didn’t have much time to work with the horses. I turned Scrappy and Khamette out into the Cheney Creek pasture until it was time to wean the filly. In November I brought them down again, put Khamette in the big round corral, and left Scrappy in the main corral. They whinnied at each other and paced the fence for a few days until they got used to the separation. After Scrappy’s udder was no longer full (her milk was drying up) and Khamette realized she could get along without Mama, I let Scrappy go back up Cheney Creek with the other horses. The filly didn’t whinny for her anymore. Instead, she looked forward to my coming to feed and brush her every day after school. She remembered all her lessons and good manners, and I was looking forward to when she’d be old enough to ride. It had been fun and a great learning experience for me, raising her from a baby and doing all her training myself.

My First Foal, Part One
My First Foal, Part Two
My First Foal, Part Three

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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