Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

Columnist Tik Maynard

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Continued from Part 1: Asa Bird—A Lesson In Responsibility

I walked into the kitchen that evening prepared to apologize, but I never got the chance. It wasn’t until a few days later that Asa and I got a chance to talk. It was not a good feeling that I was carrying in my stomach.

Almost every barn I've visited claims they don't have a hierarchy amongst the workers. “We all do stalls together in the morning,” so many managers have told me, magnanimously.

That manager, I’ve found, is always wrong.

There are days when, like a butler, I just follow Anne around.

I fade into the background. I am quiet, but ready to leap forward and hold a horse or raise a jump in a second. I learn to know how Anne wants her saddle set, how tight the noseband should be, how she expects to be given a leg up. (Not on 1, 2, 3, but now!)

The man was still as he sat in his golf cart. His body looked sinewy, but also old, like an elastic band that is drying up. His voice however, as it came over the loudspeakers, was strong. “Where did they go?” he asked.

The crowd looked around. The kids the man was enquiring about had been absorbed into the grandstands, but now they were being summoned back. They were teenagers acting as jump crew, and they had obviously, mistakenly, believed the session over.

“Where are they?” His voice was louder now, not angry, but accusatory and demanding. “I told them not to leave.”

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There is an old saying: “There are two secrets to be successful in this business. The first: Don't give away all your secrets.”

Some Masters guard their methods like a bag of cash, arm slung obstinately behind their back.

There is a camaraderie amongst travellers. They share stories, meals, secrets, sometimes beds. People met are nostalgically remembered months, years, decades later. On the road conversations are more interesting; silences are understood and appreciated.

From the window of a train countries seem more scenic; events are remembered more clearly. The senses, when so sharpened, fill us with wonder of the world we travel. The traveller absorbs, unwittingly, the best and the worst of all he experiences.

Mouse darts through the middle, throwing his head, the wind grabbing his mane. Chrome, all knees and hocks, bucks once, twice, and follows.

The two chestnut foals gallop toward Doc, a tall bay gelding, who flattens his ears and lets fly with his hooves. Then his head goes down, back to the tough winter grass—long stalks that wilt at the top and turn brittle near the roots, the season’s last available forage.

The calves trot into the arena. A mosaic of shape, size and color—brown, dun, chestnut, rust, white and black—slowly fills out the back wall. Bruce's stallion, Joker, flings his head as the two of them stand by the gate; he is getting the worst of the dust.

From where I sit—the passenger seat of the Ram 3500—the horse is black, possibly dark bay, about 16 hands, and seems curious enough. He trots to the center of the corral, which is about 15 x 30 meters, pushing his nose up, sniffing the air and looking out at us.

On the drive here Bruce explained that he was to take this horse on for 90 days and start him. The owner, a cattleman, apparently by inclination more than need, wants a new ranch horse. “He's 4,” Bruce told me, "and he's lived out most of his life. This will be all new to him.”

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