Peanut – not a good start
It wasn’t an auspicious start to our relationship. I had travelled down to Chippenham from London to meet Peanut and his then owner, Alex Peternell.
Alex had owned Peanut for about 10 months having acquired him as an eventing prospect. But Peanut hadn’t come up to scratch and Alex was looking to sell him. I had recently decided to continue western riding after the death of Delphicks Boy George
and perhaps to prove a long held belief that you don’t need an American Quarter Horse
to go western riding.
Unfortunately, though, Alex had been delayed in another part of the country and couldn’t be there. He had, however, arranged for a friend to show me Peanut and it all went well enough until, inevitably, I was invited to ride him myself.
It’s worth noting at this stage of the account that in my 16 years of horsemanship, I have only ever ridden “Western” and, of course, KP didn’t know a western saddle from a bar of soap. Quite how I imagined I could get on a 6 ½ year-old horse and expect him to respond to Western cues, I have no idea. And it did not go well.
Poor start gets worse
Actually, the 1st lap of the sand school was uneventful although we were wandering around a little bit as the poor boy tried to understand where I wanted him to go (“neck reining” was, of course, totally ineffective). Quite why I thought it would be a good idea to try him at a jog I am not now entirely sure but he picked up the pace happily enough and we did another lap of the sand school at a fairly brisk trot.
Unfortunately, there were a few poles here and there and Peanut wandered in the direction of one of them so the easiest thing was to let him jog over it. 3 of his feet cleared it but he clipped it with a hind foot and that was enough to set him off at a canter.
That, in itself, was not particularly a problem but he was not responding to my efforts to slow him down and the last straw came when the Velcro holding my windcheater closed gave up to wind pressure. The windcheater flapped open with a loud ”crack” and, of course, that was the last straw for Peanut. He took the bit and set off at a full gallop with me not having much of an idea how to stop him. At least he seemed happy to be confined by the sand school fencing and eventually I had the sense to get his head round to my inner knee and he came down to a full stop.
Fortunately, Peanut calmed down again as quickly as he had gone off and didn’t seem to bear me any ill will for the experience. Alex’s wife had joined us and I’m not sure who was more embarrassed. Clearly, she thought I was a complete idiot and probably somewhat under impressed with my claim that I was competent in a western way of going. She was kind and polite in response to my parting words that I would have to think it all over on my way home.
A problem familiar to us all
The problem was that I had fallen in love with Peanut as soon as I saw him standing in his stable. It may be that he was black and shiny but he seemed to be bigger than George and, dare I say it, just a little more elegant. Having been brought up to believe that converting an “English” trained horse to a “Western” way of going would be a fairly straightforward process, I was now not so sure. I was more certain that I had probably been over estimating my own riding ability.
I therefore arrived home with very mixed feelings and it was not until the next morning that I had the chance to have a long chat with my friend Vivien. Wise as ever, she suggested I go back and have a riding lesson with Alex and Peanut to see how I got on then.
Thankfully, Alex thought this was a good idea but told me I would have to wait now whilst another interested buyer came to see Peanut. It was one of the longest weeks of my life but, luckily, the other buyer didn’t turn up. By now, I was completely over my 2nd thoughts and ready to just go down and buy him. Alex, though, would have none of that and insisted he would not sell me the horse unless he was satisfied I would be able to ride him (his wife had obviously given him a colourful report of my first attempt). So I drove back down to Chippenham and, this time, with the benefit of Alex’s input, things went much better.
One problem solved
Everything moved quickly after that. Peanut passed his vet exam with flying colours and in no time at all, we were heading back up the M4 with the trailer on the back and Peanut in it. We spent the journey back pondering a stable name. With all due respect to Julie Keatinge who had bred him at the “Keatinge Stud”, and to all the other Trakehners out there having the same pre-name, I couldn’t see myself going out to the field and calling “Keatinge Paicie” every time we brought him in and it wasn’t long therefore before we settled on simple “KP”. But neither was it very long before someone asked his name and, on being told “KP”, the immediate comeback was “Peanut”.
There’s been times since when the suggestion has been that the nickname is derived more from the size of his brain than a logical progression from his registered name but that’s not only unkind but also completely wrong. Because it very quickly transpired that my new best friend, whilst not being possessed of a towering intellect is nonetheless pretty damned smart.
The immediate problem was that he wasn’t showing much interest in behaving in a civilised manner whilst being handled on the ground. He was quite happy to chew on anything that came near his mouth (me included!) and being led on a rope didn’t seem to be something with which he was particularly familiar.
We got him out into the sand school on a 22’ line and it was explosive.
We were glad of every inch of those 22 feet as Peanut did everything he could just to get off the line. I’m 6’ 5” and he had all 4 feet in the air above me! It was awe inspiring and not a little bit intimidating but after about 20 minutes of that he settled down and would at least stand quietly so we put him back in his stable and went for a cup of tea while we re-thought things.
A belated admission
It was then that I had to admit to Viv that I hadn’t actually seen him “in hand” at all. First time I saw him he was already saddled up and standing in his stable and the next time, he was cross-tied while they saddled him in the barn and ridden out of it. Add to that the fact that apart from two exercise periods of 20 minutes each day, he’d spent all his time in a stable in a barn, and you could see a picture forming in Viv’s mind. She had a few hard words to say about why I’d even considered taking him on.
But. She’d fallen under his spell, too.
We then had a few long conversations about how best to go about the job of converting my might-have-been-an-eventer into a versatile, working cow horse who would be just as happy showing his style in a Western Pleasure class as kicking up the dust round a Barrel Racing course.
Belated research on Peanut
It was while we were chewing this over that I made the enquiries I should have done before buying Peanut and, piecing together the threads on Facebook, worked it out that I was actually his 4th owner in a year. And that led us to the inevitable conclusion that what Peanut needed most was a bit of time to become a horse again, make a few mates among the other horses on the yard and just get the calm vibe at the OMEC. So we turned him out for a few months and just let him play in the field.
He loved all that and very quickly settled down.
In the meantime, I had a bit of a hill to climb of my own. Although I have been there, seen it, done it and – literally – written a book on versatile western riding, I’d done all that starting off with an almost fully trained horse, my gorgeous Delphick’s Boy George. And what he hadn’t taught me, we’d learned together. Groundwork wasn’t something we’d done much of (why walk when you can ride, right?) and I’d kind of skipped that whole scene on the Natural Horsemanship front.
I’d seen and greatly admired such “horse whisperers” as Monty Roberts and Buck Brannaman but the penny hadn’t really dropped that they all built their relationship with a horse from the ground up. You go and spend a few hours at a clinic with one of them and, in the time available, the groundwork just seems to be a shortish exercise before saddling up and getting on with the real stuff.
Pat Parelli, as I now understand, makes a much bigger thing of the importance of building from the ground up but back in George’s day, discussing such things with friends while saddled up and riding along, “Parelli” seemed to be an over marketed, almost industrialised, approach to the natural horsemanship concept. Worse, nearly all the people I knew who had “done Parelli” were poor horsemen to begin with and when Parelli hadn’t shown them a quick fix for their problems, nothing changed.
Of course, big mouth that I am, I’d already voiced these opinions to Viv when I turned up at the OMEC with George back in 2012 and she’d politely (she can be polite, sometimes) just let me be a blowhard.
Now, sitting with her with my cap in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, I started to learn that everything I’d seen and admired about Viv working with troubled horses had come originally from her being a Parelli disciple. She’s the first person I’ve ever seen actually putting Parelli techniques into practice and the evidence is there, staring me in the face. It works. And so I see no reason not to believe it will work with Peanut, too. I have to find a way of making a connection with him and introducing him to the western – ultimately, Vaquero – way of going and this must be it.
The obvious problem, of course, is that I know as much about Parelli as Peanut knows about a western saddle and unless I can get the hang of it pretty darned quickly; it’s going to be the blind leading the blind. We’ll get nowhere apart from, quite likely, me in hospital.
So, signing up for Parelli, I’ve quickly become an admiring disciple. He may be a bit keen on his metaphors and adages but, for me, I get the message and, wonderfully, I have Vivien and Webster on hand to laugh gently at my efforts.
My new friend Webster
Webster is one of Viv’s rescues. He’s got a very poor, practically blind, left eye as the result of someone else’s mishap when he was a boy and he’s barely a pony. But he’s feisty, full of mischief and doesn’t know he’s vertically challenged. He does know that if I don’t get it right he doesn’t have to do it. But when I get it right he happily trots, turns and side passes and backs up all with me standing on the other end of a 22’ line in one hand and a stick with a string on it in the other. I feel joy when it goes right and you can almost see a smile on Webster’s face.
We’ve become good friends along the way while Peanut has been chilling in the field with his new mates, Ritz and Linney.
But, and it’s a huge “but”, translating all of that into working with Peanut is a different story altogether. When I get it wrong with Webster, he just stops and peers at me through his forelock with his good eye. You can almost hear him saying: “Now then, Philip, that’s not what you meant to do, is it? Have another go”.
Start of a relationship with Peanut
Although in the meantime, Peanut has started down the road towards a relationship with me, coming to me in the field and quietly walking back to the yard at my shoulder, it’s a different story when we get into the sand school for a bit of work. He’s acquired a few tricks along the way and he’s a very clever, spirited chap.
“Clever” and “spirited” were what I saw in him and wanted him for in the first place but you quickly learn that if you don’t read him right and get there a split second before he makes his move, you’ve lost him. Confusion quickly comes for both of us and the result is a mess.
It hasn’t taken me very long to realise why some people start out in great hopes with Parelli but fall by the wayside before they can achieve their goal. You can learn all Pat’s 7 “games” and become quite adept at managing the rope and stick and he can tell you how to look for the signs. But there’s nothing in the world that can just inject his 30+ years of experience in reading a horse and knowing what it’s going to do before it does. Pat calls it “savvy” and nothing, but nothing, counts for more when you’re building a relationship with a horse.
I’m very lucky to have Vivien standing at my side and, currently, taking over for a bit. Although I have made progress and a long way from where we started, it’s that “savvy” that holds things up for me. As a result, the message hasn’t got through to Peanut. On the basis that he’ll get a better idea of what’s expected of him if Viv can show him first, she’s currently putting a bit of time in with him while I watch and learn.
TO BE CONTINUED….