Monday, October 20, 2014

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: First Rides on Khamette

Hard work early on pays off for a young horse and her rider.

Khamette as a three-year-old
By late summer of 1961, two-year-old Khamette was doing so well with her training I realized there wasn’t much more I could teach her from the ground. It was time to start riding her. I kept the halter on under the bridle, and tied the halter rope to the saddle horn, giving Khamette enough slack to move her head and neck normally but not enough that she could get her head low enough to buck.

I led her to our old round corral to ride her for the first time. There, she wouldn’t be able to get up much speed if she became frightened. I put weight in the stirrup a few times, which didn’t bother her, so I got on, being careful not to startle her by bumping her. She stood quietly, and it didn’t bother her at all when I shifted my weight in the saddle. I got off and on a few times.

The next day I got on her again, and asked her to move out by squeezing with my legs, but she wasn’t sure what to do and stayed rooted to the ground. I tried kicking a little; she just put her ears back, telling me she didn’t like it. I had to pull her head around to one side and get her off balance a little so she would take a step. Then she realized she could walk around with me on her back. All the groundwork paid off because she already knew how to turn and stop. A few rides around the corral and we were ready to go out into the big wide world. That fall, I rode her on short rides around the pasture and up the driveway, before turning her out with the other horses to winter pasture.
Riding Khamette around the pasture when she was a two-year-old
I started riding her again the spring of 1962, when she was a three-year-old and I was graduating from high school. She did everything nicely, picking up where we’d left off. She was always eager to go, especially on the way home, so I attached side reins to the halter and rode with four reins (snaffle reins and halter reins) so that I could hold her back with the halter as well as the bit and not be so hard on her mouth.

Khamette had very tough feet, and I rode her for two months before she needed shoes. Jerry Ravndal helped me put the first shoes on her, and she was very well mannered. I reset those shoes myself, 7 weeks later, when her feet needed trimming, and shod her myself the rest of her life.
Heather shoeing Khamette
By mid-summer I was riding range on her and she was learning about herding cows and starting to neck rein. It was time to transition from the snaffle to a curb bit.  Velma Ravndal helped me select a Hartwell Pelham from a mail order catalog, and it turned out to be an excellent bit for gradually changing Khamette from snaffle to curb. I rode her a few times with just snaffle reins to get her used to the new bit, then used four reigns (using the curb reins more and the snaffle reins less), and within a month we were completely transitioned to just the curb. I used that bit the rest of her life.

In all her early training she never tried to buck, except once, and I don’t think she meant to lose me. I’d already ridden her a lot that summer, and she was doing so well that perhaps I was overconfident, riding her like she was a well-trained reliable horse and forgetting she was still a green filly. That day, when I went to the pasture to catch Khamette for our daily ride, she had been frolicking with Nell and baby Nikki. They’d been running and bucking and having great fun.

I called Khamette and she stopped running with the mare and foal and came trotting to meet me. I saddled her and rode up through our ranch to check some gates. We were coming home down along the creek, and as we rounded the bend in the “narrows” and started down the trail toward the lower pasture, Khamette suddenly bucked. I wasn’t expecting it and sailed over her head. I yelled her name as she galloped down the trail toward the creek crossing. She stopped abruptly and turned around with a confused look, as if to say, “Why are you sitting there on the ground?” She came trotting to me, and I got on again and we continued home. I think she simply forgot I was riding her, and bucked in high spirits as we came around the corner toward home, suddenly remembering the interrupted games she and the mare and foal had been playing just before our ride. She never again tried to buck with a rider.

We did a lot of range riding that summer and Khamette learned how to cross streams, jump over logs and gullies, and handle herself with good balance on steep hillsides. I helped Dad bring home one of our bulls to doctor for pinkeye, and that was a challenge because the bull didn’t want to come home. Dad had to pop him on the nose a few times with his bullwhip to change his mind about trying to run back. When we got him over the hill and closer to the gate, I galloped ahead to open the gate. Khamette was becoming a useful ranch horse. She and I helped round up cattle in the fall just before I went to college. She was an eager traveler and fun to ride.

After I went to college, she encountered a rattlesnake in her pasture and was bitten on the front leg. Dad noticed she was lame. Her leg was hot and swollen, with two fang marks. He cleaned it up and gave her antibiotics. She was never ill, and the swelling went down in a few days. But from then on she was afraid of rattlesnakes. Our other horses never worried about them, but whenever Khamette heard one rattling she’d jump away from the sound.

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. She blogs at Look for Heather’s newest book, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, forthcoming from The Frontier Project Inc.

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