By Jeff Wilson
My bold, black Andalusian, Celesto, waited stoically beside me as Dan the farrier finished setting up his farrier tools. After a deep, cleansing breath, Celesto announced he was totally tagged, chilled, and ready to accommodate everyone’s schedule—clearing his own calendar for the day, bless ‘im, and head down, begins to lean into my hard scratching along his neck. It gets harder to believe he’s a mature, ten year old stallion when you’re around him, which is why I refer to him as Ferdinand the Bull—the bull who didn’t want to fight, he preferred to smell the flowers instead—a super, sweet gentleman.
So this is a story about understanding horse behavior. When Dan the farrier was finally set up, he stood alongside the stallion’s front leg, and bending over, asked for a hoof which Celesto contributed. Dan the farrier hiked Celesto’s foot up between his legs, grabbed his hoof knife in his finely competent hands, and began the manicure. My front row seat to this burgeoning relationship of sorts, the farrier with the horse, is a good one since I’ve received the honorable job of holding all horses for this particular day of farrowing. Can anyone say, “Yahoo!” to that job? *crickets. I recognize, mistakenly, there is no deception, no hallowed ground, to the demise, first of soul, then of man, in this job, as one slowly turns to ice cube—each click of the clock brings ice to de veins.
As I stand there doing my time, Celesto, suddenly and rudely, pulls his head completely off to the side like something is distracting him from behind; odd, because nothing’s there. “Excuse me?” I mutter close to his nose, “Can you please find auto-sleep-snoozer-mode?” I don’t want a single second of delay for Dan the farrier to have to spend one second longer than already necessary. Attention!
“My big, bad, bull neck can bend wherever it wants to then!” the stiffness and rigor of Celesto’s demeanor seemed to say. I slowly and quietly straighten his neck out though, because that’s my job, to manage the scene so the farrier doesn’t have to, right? Next, Celesto decides to rock out a bit, back and forth, you know, like the kid with the good idea with his hand in the air. But truly what happens next will forever be cherished (sarcasm) within hearts. Celesto decides to lunge forward, while, at the same time, ripping his front foot out of Dan the farrier’s hands and swinging said hoof right up into a beautiful jambette. Ballet, anyone? Not impressed. Especially not impressed in front of two professionals supposedly intent on accomplishing a simple wee little task of trimming this poor horse’s hoof.
At this point, restraining methods are applied. A fight is never going to be the answer for me, but I am thinking, “What’s happening here? My horse is not my horse!” Dan the farrier, as quiet and undisturbed his demeanor always implies, goes back intently to his mission of trimming the horse foot.
“I have half a dozen horses to stand here and handle today, Mr. Celesto, and I’m already hunching up like a rain-washed kitten. You need to catch a real tight handle on turnin’ that frownin’ upside downin’, Mister,” I whisper into his face. Dan the farrier picks up Celesto’s foot, Celesto’s head veers off to the side again, I attempt to straighten it out, and wham! there goes the rocking horse dance step, and boom! there goes the front foot salute.
A few more repeats, before I say, “Dan, ye farrier, could there be an abscess somewhere? Is this action manifesting from a pain response?”
Dan, a quiet man of few words, responds with, “Nope.” He then concludes, “I’ve traveled to different spots on this foot, with differing and inconsistent reactions, he’s just having a mood.”
Then it hit me, and I roar with laughter.
“This horse has a circus act!” I cry, “He has a trick. Someone, along the way of life’s long journey, decided the only way to have this horse possibly stand for the farrier was to keep him busy by pushing apples and carrots into his mouth. When Celesto’s foot is picked up, that’s his cue to start his act. So, like this, he rolls his head around to show you…
…his mane hanging low on his massively masculine, Tarzanian shoulder. Then, he rocks his body ‘round like a pout from Billy Idol, and finally launches his foot up! like a gloved Michael Jackson. Hollywood Heights! It’s brilliant, and guaranteed to deliver all the treats this boy has ever obviously deemed as being so overly and everly deserved. Yes, it was like dancing with the stars, this one was for me. Someone had prescribed serious brilliance in putting that act together, and Celesto delivered. (I have owned Celesto now for just over a year. Somehow I must have spoiled his act during previous farrier work throughout the year, because although he had been a bit bullish each time, this time was the masterful and brilliant performance of a professional on stage.)
I always say, “No training is training” because horse’s left up to their own agenda often make judgement calls on invisible monsters that might eat them, and tragically spend their lives up under levels of stress that humans could have helped them overcome. In this case, however, confused training was still training. The bottom line here is this: Celesto, a very good, intuitive student who certainly learned his lessons with flair, is trained completely opposite now regarding mannerly manners for the farrier.
“Oh, this is how to be bad, honey.” That’s what someone did. I’m not conscious when thinking about that, because I find it hilarious.
I love my job, especially when the horse wins the day.
I don’t want to sound harsh, but I’m sorry to say (tongue in cheek) this was Celesto’s final curtain call on that particular act. We had no further reenactments, dearies. Still laughing.
I’m over yonder at the edge of nothing, laying in the dirt with the social media stampede. Please take some time and “like” www.facebook.com/Jeff-Wilson-Cowboy-Dressage so I can stand back up, dust myself off, and smile like that goat in yer rose garden. I have been training horses for over 35 years and value the western horse lifestyle in my approach to training. Giving clinics and seminars on how to reach your full potential with your horse through the training foundation of western dressage keeps me young.