For those who read about the Interloper, I mean my cousin, his person in Kentucky wrote Mother about his next adventure after he went back to his home. My apologies to Margaret, but this was shortened for brevity, and largely confined to Interloper pertinent info...
This about sums it up. Can I be your guest blogger?
Recently I had one of the most epic of all epic failures I've had with Nokotas. And I've had some doozies over the past 10 years. Yes, Nokotas are errrrr.... complicated. The vast majority are range-raised in large herd setting in North Dakota. Self preservation is highly developed. It is a challenge to bring along an adult, range-raised Nokota and turn them into productive citizens. Ask me how I know.
Case number one - Dragon. He was one tough hombre to bring around. Early on, he learned about leading, under my expert tutelage, if he planted, reared straight up and spun, he could get away from me. Fortunately, my savior Leo Kuntz came to town. Founder of the Nokota preservation effort, Leo Kuntz is THE MAN when it comes to Nokotas. He was able to work us through the issue... after a few abortive attempts - and 2 or 3 fence rails down – it was epic! - Dragon learned to lead politely. Sure I had his trust, but until the [visit] – I did not have his respect. From there Dragon progressed quickly. After a 30 day start with a trainer, I put some finishing on him and sold him to a very nice lady who lives in the area. Happy ending!
[Except] his owner was encountering some 'issues' with him. I was dismayed by his lack of manners when I would visit. He had been such a good citizen. What happened? You know. Owner decided to send him out for a 30-Day 'refresher' with a dressage trainer I recommended. Good idea! But no. He did okay, but even dressage trainer was having some issues with him. Oh boy. So owner asks if she can bring Dragon to me. Absolutely. Some quality time with his former pasturemates helped tremendously. Dragon had become quite the alpha horse at his new home. But not here. Ha. The homeboys kicked his butt into much better behavior. Welcome back to Nokota World, Dragon. Good boys! And Dragon is back to being a good citizen, on the ground and in the saddle. Yah!
Case number two - Cain. He's so tough, made Dragon look like an amateur. He was a defensive striker - the first I've ever encountered in Nokotas. Let me say - NOT fun. But with handling, he improved. He spent some time with a Nokota friend [this would be Mother!], who started groundwork. She found him.... errrr... challenging. Good progress made but eventually he came back - still not broke to ride. So off he went for a 3-month professional start with a trainer experienced with mustangs. Cain was broke to ride. Yah! Then Nokota friend took him again - and progress was made, but uneven. Eventually came back home. Hmmm... I was pretty nervous, but started riding him, and found him transformed, good Nokota! Yah!
Back to Cain, now a good citizen, who just needs more finishing under-saddle. I enlist the help of a friend - competent, brave event rider with background in OTTBs. She comes out to ride him and LOVES him. Of course she does. What’s not to love? Big, beastly blue roan, sound and powerful, loves to jump and very, very sweet. She takes him to her boarding barn to work with. She has time and energy to devote to him exclusively - which takes huge burden off my plate. Perfect!
But no. Day three at Cain's new home - friend encounters BIG problems. Despite my complete debriefing on Nokotas and Cain - she's never worked with these types of horses. She apparently was a non-believer when I said, 'respect is important, but they MUST trust you’ and the other gem - 'don't get into fight - you won't win'. Friend got into a fight. Yes she did. And guess what? She didn’t win. And she was stunned.
This, of course, is very bad news. We consulted, I gave my recommendations, she tried again, but, nope – another failed ride. This is very, very bad news. Now I know I need to get myself over there for a big-time Nokota intervention. I tell her not to ride again until I get there. We plan for Saturday. I would trailer over with Moonshine, my good Nokota. And I’d bring newly (again?) reformed Dragon and owner – who need some experience off the farm. Kill two birds, one stone. Right?
It takes 2 ½ hours to load Dragon – a new world record for me. But thankfully, at age 47, my reflexes are still good enough to dodge rearing hooves. Yah! Dragon eventually loads... Owner is beside herself. Epic fail.
Meanwhile, friend is waiting with Cain. Finally reach her cell and cancel the trip. I say, ‘turn Cain out – and will try again tomorrow (without Dragon)’. Okay, says friend. But wait, she has to get off phone because Cain is having a ‘come-undone’ in his stall, and just smashed the water bucket. Headbang. Friend still doesn’t get the trust thing. So I say, Turn him out, see you tomorrow.
Later that afternoon – still fuming about Dragon’s epic fail to load – phone rings. It’s my friend. She says the vet just left from treating Cain. What??? Yes, he hurt himself when I rode him. You rode him??? Yes well, she had a friend there to help, figured that be just as good as having me there with Moonshine. Boy oh boy, was she wrong. Cain went immediately into battle mode. Balked, started backing up, out of the ring, down the hill and pinned her into a fence. A trick he’s perfected. Her friend got behind with whip. Of course, defying normal logic, but perfectly logical in Nokota World, he did not go forward. Of course not. He pushed back more, broke fence rail and sliced his butt on hot wire. Most epic of the day’s epic failures.
Friend is sobbing as she relates the story. I do my best to console her, but inwardly seething. What part of ‘turn him out, we’ll try again’ did she NOT get? But friend is completely and utterly humbled. Should point out, in addition to being competent rider, friend is also a vet-tech and worked at one of the largest clinics in country that deals routinely in million-dollar racehorses and top-level showhorses. This is her first complete and crushing defeat managing a horse. Welcome to Nokota World!
But the funniest part – I’d say friend is now Nokota-broke, finally. When the vet came out to suture the wound, vet asked if she needed to tranquilize Cain. After all, he so quiet and sweet, just standing there. And he is. He’s a very sweet, laid-back sort of horse. Friend’s response ‘Give him enough tranquilizer to put down an elephant!!!!’ Ah yes, the learning curve was finally met. Don’t let the fight get started. First smart move of the week.
Upon reflection, this is all about the balance of trust and respect. Owner has Dragon’s trust, but not his respect. Friend did not earn Cain’s trust – so she will never get his respect. It seems circular logic – but truly, these horses are complicated. Ask me how I know.
And that is my story of Nokota Epic Fail. I share because we all allude to unique difficulties of these horses, but rarely openly discuss some of the ‘issues’. And what a cliffhanger. What will happen with Cain? I have his trust, but with his newly polished skills in removing riders, am I brave enough to earn his respect?
This was in July. The Interloper ended up going to Minnesota with a member of the Kuntz family who had brought some Nokotas out for WEG, and who is well experienced in rehabbing Nokotas that didn't fit in "out East". The daughters have ridden him through his balking, and hopefully the future will be bright for Romeo/Cain/Soldier.
Nokotas are wonderful horses... look at me, Boyfriend! But we are also different from your average domestic horse, even if they were raised in ranch conditions; we are different from BLM mustangs... and even good horseman will go through a learning curve with working with us. The bond we can form is truly stunning, but the patience and knowledge required to turn us (some, not all of us are tough) into solid citizens can be quite the challenge for humans. I don't know why you get confused... everything I do makes perfect sense to me.