Last summer, I bought an unbroken 2-year-old gelding from a local horseman. The youngster was an attractive mover and a good jumper when free-schooled in the arena and was a pretty steel gray to boot. When I brought him home, the girls at the barn soon dubbed him "Scrapper" because of his ungainly appearance and poor condition.
Scrapper seemed to be a quiet, laid-back kind of guy, with a sweet temperament.
And then we tried to break him.
Certain things were easy to teach the youngster, and putting a saddle on his back created a few bucks but nothing out of the ordinary. When it was time to put a rider up on the horse, we decided to keep him in a stall to help limit his movement.
On occasion, when we would be lying over or sitting on Scrapper's back, his ears would go back and twitch in a funny way, his back would come up, and he would buck around the stall. This usually resulted in a quick dismount.
Unfortunately, this little problem turned into a bigger one once we got out into the open. Some days Scrapper was fine, and we could ride him around like an old hack. On other days, someone would get a leg-up, put their feet in the stirrups and off he would go, bucking like a bronco, with a guaranteed hard landing for the rider.
As the months went by, Scrapper's attitude improved, but we never felt at ease when mounting him. We could ride him alone across the country, jump some little fences and have pleasant rides -- but sometimes when we got on, he would still get nervous and dump us off. Winter was coming, and it was time for the horses to be on vacation, so Scrapper got the winter off.
I had hoped that with time off, he would miraculously mature and be easy to ride this spring. Of course that didn't happen, and I didn't want anyone to get hurt while trying to ride him. I decided that I needed a real cowboy to break Scrapper of his bucking problem.
Middleburg horseman Snowden Clarke recently had taken up western riding and brought Russell Schnitz from Texas to teach him how to rope calves at Clarke's Rock Ridge Stables. I mentioned Scrapper to Clarke, and he assured me that Schnitz was a real rodeo-riding cowboy and could ride anything. I dropped Scrapper off with very little instruction and kept my fingers crossed.
When I talked to Schnitz over the phone, he informed me Scrapper was doing well after the first few days of rampant bucking in the round pen. He was able to mount the horse from the ground and invited me to come watch him work. I will admit I was expecting to see my horse hogtied with a lariat and Russell threatening to drag him behind the chuck wagon if he didn't behave. I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.
Scrapper was a new horse. He quietly trotted and cantered around the pen for Schnitz and performed some bending exercises in side reins. Before I knew it, Schnitz was mounting Scrapper from the ground, something I always had been terrified to try. I discovered the trick was to keep the horse's head bent significantly toward the rider when mounting, so if he decided to pitch and buck, he couldn't go anywhere but around in a tight circle.
It was time for me to try riding Scrapper. With a new confidence, I pulled his head around, put my foot in a stirrup and swung my leg over. Nothing happened! I asked him to walk forward, then trot and canter -- he was perfect.
I have since brought Scrapper back to my farm, and he has been nothing but a gentleman. If I feel he may buck, I just put his head into position, and the fireworks cease. I now have an enjoyable young horse to ride that doesn't make me break into a cold sweat every time I try to get on. Thanks to Schnitz, Scrapper has a new lease on life, and his future as a sport horse is wide open.