Dandy’s Run – The Story of a Well Trained Horse
Many of us have had the opportunity in our lives to ride a horse. But few of us will ever experience what it is like to ride a horse that has been well trained. The stables that rent horses for pleasure riding usually offer a breed of horse commonly referred to as a nag; really a mixture of breeds. Other than following the tail in front of them, what little training they may have had they have long forgotten.
To ride one of these steeds is far from a pleasure. By the time you have returned to the stables, your arms are numb from tugging at a head that always wants to point in the direction of the barn. The ride out is extremely slow, but the ride back makes you feel like you have been tumble-dried in an industrial dryer. The numbness of your arms is only surpassed by the pain of raw interior sides of your legs and the pain in your butt.
That’s just not the case with Dandy’s Run. He is a registered Quarter Horse whose ride you will find hard to believe. While visiting my father on his ranch in Northern California, I had the pleasure of riding this superbly trained horse. My father, a horse trainer by profession, had saddle Dandy for a workout and asked if I would like to ride him. I said, “I would, indeed.”
My father led Dandy out to the work area with just a halter on his head; no bridle. To my surprise, he removed the halter from his head and slipped a small piece of clothesline wire, with its ends bound together to form a loop, over his head and around his neck. He hooked it on the saddle horn. I listened thoroughly to the instructions from my father on what I should do once I was in the saddle on Dandy’s back. I was ready to mount.
I had ridden many horses in my life, ever since I was five years old to be exact. But I had never been without the security of a “good old” bridle with reins. With Dandy, however, he had absolutely nothing on his head, just that simple wire around his neck. I found out later that I would not even need the wire to ride this remarkable horse.
During the mount, Dandy stood perfectly still. As I brought myself to rest in the saddle, I could feel him tensing every muscle in his body in anticipation of instructions from his rider. As my father had instructed me, I touched Dandy’s flanks with a gentle squeeze of both my legs. Dandy instantly began to walk and common to a well-bred Quarter Horse, the stride was as smooth as a boat rocking gently on a calm summer sea. I squeezed again and he entered into a jog. It was not a trot because that would be too rough. The feeling was heavenly. Dandy literally carried me as though I was suspended gently in air, all most floating. I squeezed again and Dandy began a canter, a gait slower than a gallop and as smooth as a ride on Grandma’s lap in her favorite rocking chair.
I was having the time of my life. As we made the first loop around the corral and returned to the front of the barn, I said, “whoa!” Dandy came to a stop by slipping his hind legs quickly beneath him and sliding to an upright position, standing perfectly still. I hardly noticed the abrupt stop. It was so smooth and not once did I apply the slightest pressure to that useless wire around his neck. You would actually use the wire to apply a gentle pull when you wanted him to change to a slower speeded gait like shifting to a lower gear.
Turning was another source of amazement to me. I controlled Dandy’s directions simply by, either, touching his left shoulder with my left stirrup to go right; or right stirrup to right shoulder to go left. The duration of the touch determined the degree in which Dandy would turn. In any event, the slightest touch would be met with an instant change in direction. The movement I tried next made me totally appreciate the value in a well-trained horse.
Dandy can count! From the canter, my father instructed me to say ‘whoa, touch either shoulder with a stirrup, followed by one, two, or three, oral clucking sounds. The sound was actually a little between a clucking and clicking sound you made with your mouth. It is common among horse people when they do that to get a horse moving. My father emphasized that the order of these instructions were important for Dandy to respond properly. “Oh, yes,” he said. As though he had forgotten something, “Hold on tight!” Dad suggested that I try one cluck first.
I followed his advice, exactly, and I am certainly glad I did. After bringing Dandy to a canter, I went over the instructions quickly in my mind. I was ready, already rocking and ready to roll. I should have said ‘spin.’ I firmly gripped the saddle horn and took a deep breath. The deep breath wasn’t in the instructions; I added it myself because I felt like I needed it. I said, “Whoa,” gently touched Dandy’s left shoulder with my stirrup and clucked once. Dandy, with almost blinding speed, set his hind legs beneath him, and spun completely around once, and froze in a perfect standing position, looking straight ahead. The thrill of this powerful horse beneath me filled me with excitement and I could feel the tenseness in his body eagerly awaiting my next command. I then repeated the routine.
Once again, I had brought Dandy to a canter. I said, “Whoa”, touched him on his right shoulder with my stirrup. But this time, I clucked three times. “Cluck, Cluck, Cluck.” I held on for dear life. Before I knew what had happened, Dandy had stopped, spun around three times, and stood perfectly still again, waiting for further instructions from a stunned but spellbound dude who probably didn’t deserve the right to be on his back. I spoke to him as I patted his neck firmly, “Dandy, you are a fine horse.”
Needless to say, I thanked my father for the pleasure. And to this day, I have a tremendous respect for my father’s talent in training horses. My only wish is that the rest of the horse lovers in this world could have had the same experience; and those poor horses in riding stables across the country, the same training as Dandy’s Run.
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