Sean might be one of the hairiest horses in the Ozarks. That's part of his winter coat on the ground below him, which he shed (with a little help) a couple of weeks ago.

For the better part of the past year, I was feeling like I was in need of a new horse.

Things had not been working out the way I thought they should with the one I had been riding most, our 20-plus-year-old Arabian gelding, Big Sur. The problem had nothing to do with ol’ Sur’s age; he has more gas left in the tank than a lot of far younger horses.

No, I think it was more because of a simple mismatch. You see, Sur was taught just about everything a horse can learn during his many years in Colorado, including western, English, and even dressage. He’s been a show horse, a teaching horse, and a trail horse, and even spent some time as a short-order cook at a coffee shop in Steamboat Springs (not really, of course, but he probably would have if he had thumbs).

On the other hand, there’s a large gap between my horsemanship ability and that of an expert. Not that that’s necessarily the crux of the problem; during his lengthy career, Sur has had many riders of all levels of experience climb onto his back, so I’m not sure he has any unfulfilled expectations of me. And for that matter, there were times when we really clicked and it seemed as if we’d been together since way back in his early days in Colorado.

For the most part, though, we just hadn’t been meshing well on all occasions. I guess the fact is, Sur’s a bit “spirited” (as “horse people” like to say about an animal with some attitude), and maybe in his advanced age he does have some expectations and wishes to only cater to riders who won’t inadvertently give mixed signals or commands.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Whatever the case, I had come to a point where I felt a change was in order.

But before I started any sort of focused search for a fresh mount, I got the notion to throw a saddle on the other Arabian gelding that eats grass in our pasture: a 15-year-old model named Sean.

That turned out to be a very interesting decision.

Now, while there is still that gap between expert horsemanship and where I’m at, it’s worth pointing out that during approximately the same period of time I had been pondering a quest for a new horse, I had also been making some progress as a horseman. I’ve been gleaning information from a variety of sources, including my friend Mike Daniels (one of Texas County’s resident horsemanship trainers, who has a lot of “horse sense”), and instruction videos done by trainers with varying styles.

My wife and I also watched the movie “Buck,” an incredibly well done documentary about Buck Brannaman, an extraordinary trainer who lives in Wyoming and is by my estimation one of the horse world’s most insightful, colorful, and gifted individuals. I’d go so far as to say that he’s so gifted, his gift oozes from the screen and anyone watching can’t help but learn at least something simply by osmosis. But really, to anybody with even a drop of appreciation for horses, this biographical flick is an absolute must-see.

Anyway, it’s possible that my progress had something to do with what happened when I climbed aboard Sean. It’s possible that Daniels’ constant reminders of “good seat,” “good hands,” “timing,” and “consistency” made a positive difference in my technique, and it’s possible that Brannaman’s straight forward, no nonsense, “I train people, not horses” approach somehow registered in my brain in a meaningful way.

I had ridden Sean several times before, but always found him to kind of antsy and nervous, and a little too quick. But perhaps this time I was indeed better equipped, because the experience was entirely different.

Of course, before I hopped on, I did some purposeful groundwork with him. As Daniels and Brannaman teach, a horse must show willingness and respect prior to being mounted, and a rider must know that the 850-pound animal whose back they’re about to sit on is ready. That’s best done with both the horse’s and rider’s feet still touching Terra firma.

But when I did get on him, it seemed like Sean was controlled and under control from the get-go. He moved willingly, and did what I asked. More importantly, he didn’t do a bunch of stuff I didn’t ask, and seemed tuned into what his master of the moment wished.

Since that occasion about a month or so ago, I’ve worked with Sean several more times and there’s been nothing but a good connection between us. It’s quite amazing to me, really. My wife and I love this handsome animal, but I never really expected him to be a favorite ride, because ever since we acquired him several years ago, we’ve both had our difficulties getting him to cooperate.

There’s always been hope, particularly because we had actually witnessed him looking darn good with other people riding him. But despite our best intentions and efforts, we never got the same kind of results.

Until now.

So I apparently have my new horse. And he’s been right there all this time.

I guess I just needed more training.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.  Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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