Sometimes, giving up only option

He was a sorrel, almost 16 hands, and quite healthy-looking. I didn’t have a round pen, so I put him in the woven-wire fenced square pen.

I did all the things I’d been taught: tied up his foot, sacked him out, saddled and unsaddled him, leaned over his bare back, picked up his feet. He didn’t object at all. He just snorted now and then. But his ears (the weather vane on a horse) stayed pinned back.

I put a hackamore on his head and taught him to back a step as I pulled on the reins and said “back.” He did lick his lips, finally, so I thought we were ready.

Wrong.

He backed up on command, but when I waited for him to step forward, he didn’t move. I figured he didn’t know about moving with weight on his back, so I mooched to him and moved my feet a bit.

He took about three steps forward, so I thought we were doing good. I asked him to stop and back again, and he did. I patted his neck and said, “Good boy.” Still, his ears stayed pinned back. I could smell trouble, so I figured that was enough for our first day, unsaddled him and turned him loose.

THEN his ears pricked and he showed some real interest in his surroundings — a hay rack and a water tank. He blew his nose and drank from the tank. I went to the house, feeling a little unsure. Those ears still bothered me.

The next day I repeated the whole routine of tying up his foot, sacking him out, everything. When I got the saddle blanket he snorted, so I again drug it across his back and let him sniff it, all the while explaining in a quiet, calm voice it was OK.

This time, after he was saddled, I left his foot tied up when I got on. He was smart. He figured that deal out in a hurry and didn’t move at all. By then my husband had come out to check on things, so I asked him to untie the horse’s foot, pick up the lead rope and lead that booger a few feet.

We got about five steps, me still watching those laid-back ears, when the horse came unglued. He jerked loose from my husband and began bucking. I stayed with him through about four jumps, but he unloaded me after that.

I hunkered on the hard ground and watched as he bucked with the saddle, all around the pen. That boy learned to buck right then.

I, like every other country kid, had been told to “get back on” when you have a wreck. My chest hurt really bad, and when I coughed blood came out of my mouth. I unsteadily walked toward that horse, waiting for me in the corner of the pen — ears forward then.

My husband said, “If you get back on that horse he’ll kill you.”

I decided that was right. We took me to the hospital, and they tended my cracked ribs and broken finger.