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Irons in the fire: Colts, conversation and compassion

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 13 July 2022

I have a little yearling filly out behind the house. I named her Independence, in obvious reference to her Fourth of July birthday and because I thought the nickname “Penny” seemed to fit her, in part because her mama’s name is Copper. She’s kind of a little miracle – and not just because she has a cool birthday.

Her mama is a stout little brick house of a mare. Her daddy is a son of the famed cutting horse Dual Rey. I arrogantly supposed my mare was pretty enough to make up for the empty pants and jug head of Dual Rey, while the smarts of the sire side could even out some of the cerebral deficiencies of the mare.

Part of the miracle is: I was able to book a breeding of a 20-year-old mare with a stallion of such renown. The more impressive part of the miracle has to do with the circumstances of Penny’s birth. She was the product of a twin birth. I counted myself lucky to have a live mare and one living baby. With the prevailing Marchant luck, I’d normally end up with a dead mare and two lifeless babies.

I’m not too proud of the fact that I’ve seemed to grow a little lazier as I’ve grown older. I’m not as eager to start young horses as I once was. Consequently, the job turns out to be much less pleasant than it might otherwise be. By the time summer rolled around this year, the little filly had hardly been touched. Nevertheless, I did have her mostly halter broke when I turned her out in the little horse pasture behind the house. I paired her up with Pepper, the old babysitter gelding and cleaned up all the wire, trash and potential horse-maiming booby traps. I figured I could rest easy. I figured wrong.

Around the perimeter of the little acre-and-a-half pasture, I had a single strand of that handy poly hotwire that I used in the fall when we’d dump a few calves in the little pasture overnight. I didn’t have any juice in the wire when I turned the two horses in because I saw no need. As I was finishing up chores one night, a couple days after their arrival, however, I became a little aggravated when I noticed the hotwire was strung clear across the pasture. My aggravation turned to dismay and my heart dropped into my gut when I discovered the source of the wandering wire. My little filly was hobbling around, packing a hind leg as she followed the old gelding to the water trough in the corner.

Somehow the little pill had stepped over that innocent-looking plastic wire with one hind leg and, in her ensuing panic, had raced across the pasture with the wire zipping under the inside of her hock like a wire cheese slicer. The cut was clean, but it sliced her leg clean to the bone – tendon and all.

The next several days carried with them a good dose of misery and regret. Since I’d hardly touched the filly, simply loading her in the trailer to haul her to the vet was fraught with challenges. And, once there, she of course had to be knocked out so he could stitch her up. Then, upon her return home, she was a little less than cooperative when it came time to change the bandages on her sore leg.

But a funny thing happened on the road to recovery. Before long, the little girl calmed right down. As a matter of fact, it almost seemed as if she enjoyed my company each day as I got her in to change her wrap and dress her wound. I’d give her a little grain and I’d talk to her as I worked on her. She stopped dancing and fidgeting, and she seemed to mostly agree with me on whatever the topic of conversation happened to be that day – politics, religion, my futile rants at the government and the price of diesel – she didn’t argue, so long as I kept talking and scratching her tail while I nursed her as best I could.

I don’t know how the leg will ultimately heal. But I got a pretty good education during the daily 10-minute doctoring sessions. For one thing, I relearned that time spent with a good horse is always time well spent. I was also epiphanized with another helpful vision. I realized that I could have and should have been spending those few minutes with that horse every day well before she suffered the injury. Better yet – if I’d been doing that, there most likely would have been no need for any doctoring or vet bills because she would have had the foundational training to avoid the panic when she encountered a minor challenge.

But wait, it gets better. I also realized this little lesson can go a lot further than just the colt starting world. What if I put in a comparable minimal effort in cultivating relationships with humans? Do you suppose something like this would work on – oh I don’t know – my own wife and kids or family or neighbors or friends?

A few minutes of patience and compassion every day. I just may give it a try.  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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