Just a note dear readers: this was first written for the "Slice of Life Tall Tales Club" started by Earl "EZ" Greiner on Facebook.
I'll have to back up just a bit for this little SOLTT...I'm sure most of you know Ricky and if you haven't yet met him, you sure might like to. I met Ricky a few years ago now. Time does fly and I'm just not going to use dates. Suffice it to say it has been a bit.
I came to know about Ricky through Cathi Bauer. I had just had my first back surgery and had a colt to start. I didn't want to go about things the way I had always learned them. I knew there just had to be something better that was more intuitive to the needs of the horse. Jet was the first colt out of my mare. A very special cross between her and a lovely 17-2 hh hunter "Skys Blue Boy". This was going to be my next competition horse and something I was not going to sell. I was excited, quite literally busting at the seems over this horse. I wanted to do everything with this colt just right and after spending years actively competing in AQHA events, I didn't like what I was seeing. I didn't like how the horses were treated as a matter of course. I wanted something more, something better.
I had heard about this cowboy, Buck Brannaman. People said that he had a very special way with horses and as a researcher, I started to dig. I liked everything about him, he sounded just right to me. Buck was going to be in Washington, so I picked up the phone and called his sponsor, Cathi Bauer. I liked her immediately. I let her know that I had a colt to start and launched into a detailed diatribe on all of the things I had seen and unfortunately done to and with horses and never wanted to do again. She listened with calm patience to my rant that must have lasted for quite some time. I told her I wanted to hire Buck to start my colt and asked for more details on where, how much, when etc... Cathi laughed. I could tell she wanted to full out belly laugh at me but was far to polite. She chuckled a bit and said "Well Buck doesn't do that." I didn't get it. He was a horse trainer, right? "Nope", she said. I was used to the Quarter Horse way of doing things. You cracked open your check book, wrote out a check and had your horse "trained". Not so with Buck. This was going to be very different and I could tell.
Cathi, bless her, explained a few more things to me and also let me know that Buck was not doing a colt starting at the clinic in Washington. I was crestfallen. I really wanted this and the timing and location would have been perfect. Sensing that I was not going to let her off the phone without some sort of answer, Cathi said " I know someone that may be willing to help you. His name is Ricky Quinn and he is one of Buck's students " Great! That sounded good to me. There was just one caveat however, "Cathi, no hard feelings, but if I don't like what I'm seeing, I'm just going to kick him out of my barn." Fair enough was Cathi's more than confident reply.
Ricky had been coming out and trying his best to help me for a couple of years. I still could not understand why we didn't have droves of people packing the barn watching and learning. It was everything I had been searching for and struggling to find. Still for the most part it was just a handful of friends that saw value and quality in what Ricky was doing that ended up in my barn. It was making me crazy. I was sure, absolutely convinced that the reason there were not people packed to the rafters every year was nothing more than a marketing problem. People just didn't know he was here and we, I had to do something. Posters, post cards, and even an ad in the local paper was just not enough. Even with a non-existent budget, there were still things we could be doing to get the word out.
Brainstorm, FREE DEMOS! Excellent, I was patting myself on the back. I would set up free demonstrations for Ricky. I would pick a group or club and have them bring a colt to start or a troubled horse to be restarted. That would give folks the ability to see and experience this style of horsemanship and they would be instantly hooked, ready to shake off their old ways and embrace what they were actually seeing. It was so hard to translate what Ricky was doing in a poster or even with words. People had to see it! This was a GREAT idea! I was pretty darn pleased with myself.
I'm not sure how to describe Ricky's response to the whole idea. I remember the look on his face and it still makes me chuckle today. It was sort of like asking him to go sky diving and letting me pack his chute. Some things you just have to take on faith or just love an adventure. I don't know why he agreed, but he did.
M***s P***s was the president of the Southern Oregon chapter of Oregon Equestrian Trails. I called her. I let her know that Ricky Quinn was going to be doing a Colt Starting and Horsemanship clinic in our area and that he was just starting his career. Part of his introduction to the area was to hold a free colt starting demonstration for certain groups and would she be interested? She jumped immediately. M***s would have her whole group attend we would just have to do the demo in Oakridge about an hour and a half south of my place. No problem. Date and time set, posters, post cards, sign up sheets, Ricky's new P.A. system at the ready, we hit the road. This was going to be great!
We were at M***s' place a little early. We could see the round pen set up, tables and chairs, lots of chairs all ready. We also saw someone in the pen. It was an older lady with a spindly, narrow little chestnut. She had the horse haltered and was doing something with a long stick that had a squeaky toy attached to one end. Ricky sat quietly watching as the lady set about saddling her horse. The molded saddle pad was sitting on the horse backward as she threw the saddle up. The horse was squirming as she was lunging for cinches and latigos. It was getting ugly. Not bad ugly. Not bronc-y ugly just uncoordinated, like putting your pants on in an earthquake type of thing. It was not pretty to watch and you just knew trouble was not far off. Then it happened. Nylon latigos not so snugly in place the horse took a big step and the saddle slipped under his belly. That happened smooth. It was the only smooth thing we had seen. "Holy Shit" was the only thing I could think to say. "Ricky, should we go down and help her?" I was feeling a little frantic. The lady was older and she was now on the verge of a pretty good wreck, or so I thought. We watched as the little horse stepped both front feet through the stirrups. "Holy shit" again, it was the only thing I could think to say.
Bless that little horse, he was the only calm thing in the pen. The horse was standing quietly with the saddle under his belly, legs through the stirrups, while the lady did her best impression of a whirling dervish in a mad attempt to un-truss her horse. I turned to Ricky expecting that maybe now we would offer some sort of rescue. Ricky's response was clear, concise and simple, "I gotta pee!" He slapped his hands on the steering wheel and hopped out of the truck.
I sat mesmerized, alone in the cab of the truck watching the drama unfold in front of me. Horses are just amazing. It seems the little chestnut knew he was in a bind. I think he knew he had to take care of himself. He wasn't touchy. Just dull and simple, he waited as the lady scratched at the nylon and finally pulled the saddle free. The little gelding stepped out of the stirrups as if to say "I've done THAT before."
Ricky had saddled Loopty and I gathered up pens, clip boards, posters and the like and headed for the table next to the round pen to set up. "Hi, I'm M***s" the lady blurted out. She was kind of twitchy and nervous. I was thinking that maybe she was on edge because she knew we had been watching her. "I was just getting him ready for you!" M***s reported to Ricky. About this time she squeaked the toy that was on top of the stick, thrust her hand into a bucket of oats and fed the gelding, oats flying everywhere. "He's 'clicker' trained" was the announcement. I swallowed hard, maybe this wasn't going to be so great.
Ricky was going to be starting M***s' clicker trained chestnut. The crowd had started to assemble and I was making the rounds greeting the members of the club. Everyone SO excited that **vas was finally going to get some much needed help. Stories of the misadventures of the pair circulated the group with lots of nervous laughter. I was really beginning to wonder if I had indeed done the right thing.
The connection between horse and human can be magical. The formation of a real partnership when it is balanced, serene and honest is beautiful. This can only happen when the relationship is truly understood, when the horse is a willing partner not a slave and not a substitute human but a horse in every sense of the word. The chestnut was **vas' substitute baby. Her spoiled, dull, braced, just trying his best to survive in his very unbalanced world, child. I swallowed, hard. This was not going to be pretty. Approaching a horse like a horse after they had lived for so many years in such an unnatural environment is just not a pretty transition. Un-doing the damage and getting back to a solid foundation, building trust and respect was something that this group would not understand. It is hard for the human to make the adjustment if they had not experienced Ray, Buck or Ricky or this style of horsemanship. It would not be easily understood, especially in the beginning. My stomach was in knots.
Ricky started in. Just normal colt starting stuff. The audience sat in rapt attention, some taking notes. Everyone had their eyes glued on what they were seeing, everyone but **vas. She had started to pace. Her husband had already told her twice to sit down as had several of her friends. Ricky roped the gelding and the chestnut anchored up. Ricky waited.
"There's about a hundred pounds of pressure on my rope right now" Ricky continued his dialogue of quietly talking and explaining what was happening and why it was necessary. **vas never heard a word. If there was a hundred pounds of pressure on the rope that was nothing compared to the pressure building up in **vas. She blew! She had been machine gun firing questions and comments for the last 20 minutes with Ricky answering and working the very braced little gelding. She wasn't seeing the trouble she had created in the horse, she didn't see the changes that were taking place. She was looking for something that was easy and comfortable for her. Something she recognized. I saw something very familiar in what she was experiencing. Here was that moment. She could turn loose and find the value in something new, different and life changing or continue with what for so long was comfortable even if it was not working and dangerous. Humans are tough. **vas chose comfortable.
"Listen here YOUNG man" **vas was clawing at the round pen, her face a deep purple red. I didn't hear the rest of the rant. I was too busy gathering up supplies and looking for my nearest emergency exit! I looked at Ricky. His shoulders had slumped, his head dropped, chin almost on his chest. He sat quiet, thinking. The seconds drug on forever. I wasn't quite sure what was coming next and those of you that know Ricky, know what I mean. Then decision was made. Ricky looked up, popped his dallies "**vas, come get your horse" were Ricky's only words, his rope was off the gelding and neatly coiled back on his saddle. Ricky was quietly sitting on Loopty as **vas continued to rage.
"Does anyone else have a horse they want me to help with" Ricky announced. To that point not a soul had moved. Some were trying to get **vas to calm down, her husband even went so far as to tell her to shut up, and several others were asking Ricky to please continue, right up until he asked for another horse.
Now I don't mean this wrong and to be honest, I am NOT in peak physical form myself, far from it as a matter of fact, just like the majority of folks watching Ricky that day, but when Ricky asked for another horse, chairs, coats, cups and a couple of small children went flying! There was a mad dash for the barn and a fair amount of pushing and shoving as half the audience bolted off to grab their horses in a first to the round pen dash! **vas and her chestnut were nearly trampled! She was still ranting and no one was taking the time to notice. Even as she loaded her horse, clicking her clicker, squeaking the toy in a hail of oats, the rant continued. **vas' husband stayed. There was a little fist waving as her truck and trailer lurched down the road and a few parting shots hollered from the truck window. Ricky didn't notice. His focus was now on the leggy gelding that had just been thrust into the round pen his owner slamming the gate behind him. It was her turn now and she was taking full advantage.
The demo continued this time with folks crowding close to the pen. The questions were honest with real purpose. I was quietly banging my head on the table. Ricky continued without so much as a blink. I was dreading the ride home. I wasn't sure what the fallout was going to be, from Ricky or from M***s. Good news moves like molasses, but anything bad is like wildfire. I felt like I had just taken a bullet, luckily, as it turned out, it was just a flesh wound.
The human is the hard sell. All you have to do is offer the horse a good deal, be fair and understand the horse as a horse and they will do their best for you. The human has an agenda, an ego. A horse will try and continue to try against all odds but the human will quit you. I remember Ray telling me that I wasn't going to get it all today, but someday I would understand. It is a personal journey. Some of us will be quicker about it. Some will have more talent and ability but the most critical element, the most life changing, really the most horse-like is the willingness to try.
We all tried something new that day. Some tried and quit, some tried and failed and some tried and found success. There was no negative fallout, no bad press. There were also no new converts from that day. Change is difficult for the human. There has to be a real drive, a quest, a desire to find something new and then make it part of who you are. Ray said it is not like flipping on a switch, but a small click on a dial, so true.
PS: I have had several queries about the title of this piece and folks wondering, "what about the bear"? I'm sure you all have heard the old saying about poking a bear in a cage...? Well, M***S was the one with the stick and Ricky was the bear. As I was watching M***S fire off nasty comments, and inane questions AT Ricky, without ever waiting for an answer or attempted answer, I couldn't help but have that little image pop into my head. ~D