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Lessons Learned

Riding Rainbowlessons learned

Back in the mid-eighties, I was working for a ranch that wintered their cattle on the San Rafael Desert. Sometimes to supplement my income, I would take in an outside colt to ride. I would usually take something that was already started, so I could just get on it and go. I could put a lot of miles on a horse out there.

One winter I took a colt for a rancher in Hanksville, UT named Alvin Robinson. Alvin had been a good hand in his day. He told me this was the first time he had ever had someone else ride a colt for him. He called the horse Rainbow. He was a big sorrel two yr. old. Alvin had been saddling him and had him fairly gentle.

I had put up a round pen in my backyard in town. I thought I would put a couple rides on Rainbow in the round pen, and then take him out on the desert and just use him. I had a lot of riding to do in those days, however in the winter I could take a colt on some shorter days just moving some cattle around.

Alvin brought Rainbow over to my house one Sunday afternoon. He wanted to show me what he had done with him already. He put him in my round pen, hobbled him and saddled him. Then Alvin proceeded to climb on him. The horse just stood there. Then Alvin got off the other side. The horse never moved a muscle.

Now what happened next is where I learned one of my greatest lessons. I figured if he just stood there for Alvin to get on and off both sides, he would be just fine. What I didn’t realize was that Rainbow had never been allowed to move with the saddle on. Alvin already had a bosal on him, so I just took the hobbles off and got on.

He just stood right there while I got on. Then I proceeded to try to get him to go. He didn’t want to move. It took quite a bit of encouragement from me to get him to finally move. The next question was, how am I going to get him to stop.

When I finally got him to move, he ran as hard as he could go around my little 30 ft. round pen. If I tried to bend him or pulled on his head he would just try harder. I’m just lucky he didn’t buck because he was a fairly athletic horse, with a lot of try. If he would have tried very hard he would have bucked me off.

I don’t know how long he ran around the pen. It seemed like a long time. He finally started to get winded and I could start to bend him a little. I would bend him around and then let him go again until he started to slow down. Finally he seemed like he was starting to understand.

The next few days I would spend time teaching him to give and bend. He was a real spooky horse though, when he wasn’t hobbled. He was also quite bothered about me being on his back.

A couple of days later I decided it was time to take him out. I lived right in town at the time, so I hauled him out of town a couple of miles. Just North of Hanksville there was an airport, and just across the road was a lot of miles of desert.  I unloaded him and bent him around a few times. I was on a dirt road about a half mile from the main road. I pointed him towards the desert and got on.

As soon as I asked him to move, he took off as hard as he could run right towards the main road. If I tried to bend him or even pulled on his head he just ran faster. I could bend his head but he would just keep running with his head bent. I had not got the message down to his feet.

I decided it was best to let him run without bending his head so he could see where he was going. I figured he would either hit the road and his feet would slip out from under him, or we would hit the airport fence on the other side of the road. Either way I figured I was dead. I wasn’t anticipating how deep the bar pit was along side the road. He hit the bar pit and went end over end.

He headed towards town as fast as he could run, then he turned and started coming back towards the truck. It had knocked the wind out of me, I was gasping for air, but I made it back to the truck and Rainbow was standing there waiting for me. I was hurt a little, couldn’t hardly move, let alone get back on. I just loaded him and went home.

It took me a couple of days to get feeling better as I had broke a couple of ribs, and was a little bruised up. When I got feeling up to it I worked him in the round pen a couple more times. Then when I got ready to go back to the desert I got my friend Shane Wilcox to go with me. He helped me quite  a bit when he wasn’t in school.

This time I picked a little better place to ride him just in case it didn’t go too well. We went to a place called Iron Wash. It was a big wash that drained into the San Rafael River. From where we unloaded it was 8 miles to the river. It was just a big sandy wash.

This time Shane led Rainbow around a little before I got on. When I got on it was almost a re-run of the last time. Rainbow got scared when I asked him to move and took off running down the wash. This time though, I didn’t pull on his head at all. I just sat up there and rode him, and petted him.  After a little while I felt him start to slow down. He finally started to think when he ran out of air. Then I could start to handle him a little bit. I started trying to guide him. Finally got him to walk a little. Then I started asking him to speed up and slow down. We kind of reached an understanding.

That was a big breakthrough for the horse and a huge lesson for me. However I still had my hands full with that horse for quite a while. The horse never did buck with me but I started letting Shane ride him once in a while, and one time he bucked Shane off. Bucked so hard he threw Shane’s knife out of his pocket. I starting teasing Shane about being somewhere over the rainbow.

I kept riding Rainbow all winter and most of the spring. He never did get to where he was very trustworthy. I was worried when I sent him home to Alvin.  He rode him a couple of times but never really got to where he could feel comfortable on him. He finally found a young tough cowboy with a lot of riding to do, and sold Rainbow to him, He was a good tough horse, but you had better pay attention when you ride Rainbow.