Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Training Khamette and a Close Encounter of the Porcupine Kind

The first foal Heather Smith Thomas owned and raised was born in May 1959. Khamette’s baby years were the subject of a series of blog posts Heather wrote two years ago. Here, she picks up where she left off in her adventures with Khamette, including their appearance as Farm Journal cover girls. 

After she was weaned, Khamette spent the winter with a group of heifer calves in our big corral. The creek ran through it, so Khamette and the calves had water; I didn’t have to carry water to the filly — like when she was in the round corral being weaned. When it got cold, however, the creek froze over, and we had to chop holes in the ice.

The replacement heifers were good company for Khamette and she wasn’t lonely. The other horses did fine up Cheney Creek (a 70-acre pasture in the mountains), pawing through snow to get to grass. But a weanling needs more protein than dry grass, so I kept my filly in the corral where she’d get good hay with the heifers, and I could feed her grain. It was also good experience for Khamette because she grew up being totally at ease with cattle.
Heather and Khamette in January 1960, when Khamette was a weanling
School kept me busy, but I worked with my filly whenever I could, tying her, brushing her, cleaning her feet, leading her on long walks. There are many things a person can teach a horse before riding, which makes the training much easier when the horse is old enough to ride.
Khamette in April 1960, almost a year old, with family dog Lady
This would be a busy year working with my horses, along with helping Dad with range riding, fence-fixing, haying and irrigating. I planned to use Nell (our Thoroughbred mare) again as my 4-H riding project, doing some advanced jumping and dressage. I also had a horseshoeing project. I wanted to learn more about shoeing, and corrective trimming.

Khamette’s front legs were not perfect and I needed to keep her feet trimmed properly so those legs wouldn’t grow crooked. Her cannon bones were offset to the outside rather than centered below the knees, which put her feet too far apart. Her hoofs were also a bit crooked. Instead of pointing straight forward, her toes pointed slightly inward (pigeon toed). Thus her legs didn’t move forward in a straight line when she walked; instead, they paddled outward. Since they landed crooked and were picked up to the outside of the toe instead of straight, she wore her feet unevenly. Unless they were frequently trimmed to keep them more symmetrical, they would become even more crooked as she grew.

My 4-H leader Jerry Ravndal was an excellent farrier and gave me lots of good advice, showing me how to trim Khamette’s front feet to keep them well balanced and traveling straighter. He also showed me the proper way to use shoeing tools, and loaned me books on horseshoeing. I was already shoeing our other ranch horses.
Heather shoeing Nosey
That winter I did a lot of studying. Our 4-H group was studying various aspects of horsemanship and horse training, learning more about conformation and soundness, and taking written tests. When spring came, we met at the Fairgrounds with our horses, and I rode Nell to the practice sessions as often as I could, but I was helping Dad a lot with the ranch that summer — especially the irrigating. It was a very dry year and we had to keep the hayfields green and growing with water from the creek. I usually rode one of our other horses to irrigate, and looked forward to when Khamette would be big enough to ride and use for this job.

That year, however, I was hoping to show her in the Fair in a halter class, and in our 4-H yearling class. As soon as the grass was growing enough, I put Khamette in the small pasture by the house. One morning when I went out to catch her, I discovered that she’d been too curious about a porcupine. Her muzzle was covered with quills! They were stuck deeply into her upper and lower lip and every time she tried to eat grass, she bumped the quills and poked them deeper into the flesh.

She liked to play with our cats and dog, and maybe she thought she could play with a porcupine. I put her halter on, careful to not bump any of the quills. Then I tried to pull them out — but that caused more pain. Khamette was so nervous and upset by the time I’d pulled out three quills that I realized I needed help.

There were at least thirty quills stuck into the filly’s muzzle. My brother Rocky and I tried to keep her calm while Dad pulled out the quills with pliers. She jumped around a little, so Rocky held her halter and I picked up a front foot and held it firmly — so she couldn’t move around so much. Each time Dad grasped quills with pliers (usually two or three at once because they were jammed into her nose so thickly), he pulled them out with a quick movement before she could pull away. She’d always try to pull back, but then I’d talk to her and get her calm again. Eventually she realized we were trying to help, and stood there trembling on three legs, shaking her head a little. Dad was able to get all the quills out and I checked the inside of her mouth, to make sure there were none broken off inside her lip. I comforted and petted her, then rubbed the bloody spots off her nose—which seemed to make the stinging pain go away. I fed her a little grain as a reward for being such a good girl.

I had written an article about our 4-H club (which we called the 5-H Wranglers, with the fifth H standing for horses) for Farm Journal.  That spring they sent a photographer to take pictures of our group, and Khamette and I were on the cover!

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 HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at

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