Part Two – The Making of a Warrior
Chapter 8 – The Horseman – Misty 1
By Ghost Dancer
The year I turned 13, my stepdad sold our home in Ocala and we bought a small ranch in West Anthony, which is known as horse country. We had plenty of room for pastures, so all the kids could have ponies and pets. Judy and I were the oldest; Jackie, Greg and Teresa were several years younger. Greg and I helped Dad to add a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room to the house. We also remodeled the storage shed into a bunk house for Greg and me and built a large barn that would be Dad’s work garage at home.
We were far from rich compared to some of the ranchers around us who bred and raised very expensive race horses. We grew lots of vegetables, fished and hunted, so we were never hungry, and we never did without. We all loved each other and had fun all the time. Sure, there were tough times, work times, and arguments between us, but we always looked after each other. That is very rich in my eyes. There were times when we may not have liked doing all this work, heck, what kid does. We may not have liked the strict way we were disciplined, but life is not always perfect, and the work made us appreciate life so much more when everything was fun and happy.
I felt a strong responsibility to protect my younger siblings and it was my job to make sure they would be safe around the ponies and horses. I worked with them to teach them to be tough and to protect themselves. They didn’t have my size or build, so it was important that they understood the world was not all nice. Jackie was the most soft-hearted one of all. Never wanted to hurt anything.
Greg, Jackie and Teresa all had pet ducks, our two dogs were both mixed breed strays who needed a home. Then came the ponies and horses we all loved. They became part of our family.
Comanche was an Appaloosa that dad bought at a bargain because the owners were moving. He was a very smart horse and had a good time in the pasture with Star and Snowball, our two Shetland ponies, and Patches, a free spirited pinto mustang. Snowball was a former trick horse at a fair or circus. He was up in his years and had slowed down, so they wanted him gone and we took him in. He was maybe 11 years old. I made nice soft hackamores for all the ponies, so the young ones could lead them. Our pasture had shade trees in the front and lots of open space for them to play.
Then there was Misty
Misty was a beautiful free-spirited mare my dad bought and added to our family of horses. She was Welsh by breed; black in color and had tiny feet. She was fast as lightening and could turn on a dime. Her gait was so smooth I could lay down on her back as she ran and never fall off. I loved all the horses, but I quickly learned that Misty would be special.
From the very beginning, Misty never wore a halter, bridle or saddle. I would not put any of that on her. In all her training, and all the adventures we would have together, our communication was based on signals and pressure from the legs. She never wore iron shoes. I learned to trim her hooves and when her feet needed protection, or we wanted to hide our tracks, I would make leather shoes which tied up high like a boot.
When Misty first came into my life, she was maybe four years old and it was apparent she had been abused. She didn’t trust anyone and would even charge at you trying to stomp and bite. Her side kick was the worst. Having already been working with our Shetlands, I had learned my lessons in dealing with all the dirty tricks. No animal is meaner or sneakier, than an ornery Shetland pony. They may be small in size, but they make it up in heart and energy. My brother and sisters used to watch me work with Star. Half the time they cheered for the pony, laughing at me sitting on my behind. Other times they cheered for me. It was my responsibility to make sure these ponies were trained so they could be handled and ridden, and no one would get hurt.
With Misty, it was love she need the most. I saw the scars on her body. These weren’t scars made by another horse. These were scars inflicted by so-called humans. Now my first task was to get her to understand that I would never hurt her. I knew it would take time for her to even begin trusting me. I remembered seeing in one of my dreams, how an ancestor had gained the trust of a horse. I went out in her pasture, but not near her, and just laid down. I never moved; just laid there. More than two hours in the hot sun, I laid there with my brother, Greg throwing small stones at me trying to get my attention. I ignored him. Curious, Misty began slowly circling, trying to figure out what this two-legged was doing. What was wrong with this two-legged? She kept getting closer and closer. I knew that eventually her curiosity would win. And it did.
Finally, Misty came right up and sniffed me; using her nose, trying to figure out what was wrong. She did just what my dreams had shown me; she used her nose and pushed on me, blowing her breath all over me. I gently blew my breath back at her. This is typical introductions between all animals.
She began pawing the ground showing her frustration in not knowing what was going on. This is when I began sending my love outward towards her and softly spoke, telling her how pretty she was and that I would never hurt her. At first, she jumped back like a cat, but I never moved. She reared up like she was going to stomp me; still I didn’t move. She did land near me, but not too close. I just kept talking, keeping my voice nice and soft. Eventually, she came back over and nosed me again. She looked into my eyes and I kept talking softly.
Slowly I moved my hand closest to her and then reached a little towards her. I could see she was trembling and knew she was as scared as she was curious. For the longest time, I just kept talking to her and ever so slowly, moving my hand towards her. Finally, I gently petted her lower jaw and kept speaking quietly, telling her my intentions of being her best friend; that I would never hurt her, only be here for her.
With my fingers, I began scratching gently under her chin. She closed her eyes letting her head hang lower and I just continued scratching, slowly moving my hand further up her jaw until I could scratch her lower ear. Her body continued to tremble, and I kept right on talking to her. After a while, I slowly raised my other hand and began scratching the other side of her jaw. I raised up a little, letting her nose rest on my chest. I knew if I moved too soon, she might go crazy. I wouldn’t blame her from the looks of her scars. Who could do such a thing?
I spent a long time just sitting up, all the while, talking to her and petting her. When I began scratching her forehead, she loved it, so I continued scratching and talking while I slowly got to my knees. Later, after I had gotten to my feet, I began stroking her neck and back. She began to relax, and I could tell she was enjoying the attention. Barely moving her feet, she would move just enough to get me to scratch where she wanted. I stepped around to her side, slid my hand along her back, and scratched her rump; still talking to her. She tensed a little, watching me very closely, so I moved back to the front, keeping my hands on her. I blew my breath at her softly and told her I would see her later, then slowly walked away.
I wondered if the spell between us would be broken. How would she react? My heart was full of love and I knew if Misty charged at me, it would not be hate for me, but the memory of those who had hurt her. I kept walking towards the gate and could hear her moving behind me. I glanced around and sure enough, she was quietly following. When I got close to the fence, I asked Greg to get a watermelon from the garden. It was time for a treat for doing good. I busted the melon open, then walked toward her holding out a piece, speaking quietly, letting her get a good smell. Cautiously, Misty moved forward, stretched her neck, sniffed and took a bite, all the while, keeping her eyes on me. I laid the rest on the ground, gave her a pat, and then left her alone to enjoy her treat.
The next morning, I brought some carrots with me. Glancing into the pasture, I saw Misty watching me from about 200 yards away. She just stood there while I opened the gate and went into the barn for a curry brush and a salt block. She watched as I filled the water trough and placed the salt block about 30 yards away. Then I held out one of the carrots and softly called her. Her ears were alert, but still she hesitated for the longest time. Then slowly, she started moving towards me, still cautious, but willing to give me a chance. When she got within ten feet she stopped and shook her head, letting me know she was uncomfortable.
I just stood there with a carrot in one hand and brush in the other, talking softly, letting her know she was safe and I was there to give her a very much-needed treat. I let her smell the carrot first; she took it and began eating. I let her smell the brush with the familiar odor of horse. Talking softly, I moved closer to her and began petting and rubbing her. Then came the scratching I knew she enjoyed. Letting her see and smell the curry brush again, I began slowly brushing her neck, then shoulder, then her back. Oh, to say she loved it is nowhere near how well she responded. That brush did its magic wonder and soon I was working her all over; she even allowed me to get near her feet for the first time.
After she was all relaxed, I led her over to the water hose, so I could bathe her properly and shampoo her if she would let me. I was a little amazed when she stood quietly while I gathered my shampoo, conditioners, soaps, and brushes, as though we had done this a thousand times before. I even got out my tools to clean her hooves. This would be done last.
Oh, she loved the cool spring water gently flowing over her as I soaped her up and scrubbed her clean. Working on her tail was spooky at first, but she let me wash it and get the tangles out. She stood patiently while I cleaned the tangles and burrs out of her mane too. Then for a rinse and conditioner working its magic on her mane, tail and the fluffs on her feet. They had all been neglected for so long. I could tell somewhere in her past, someone had brushed her and bathed her. She was remembering and loving it so much. It was good to know these pleasant memories could overshadow her more recent memories of abuse and neglect.
Once Misty was all clean and rinsed, I got out my tools to clean and inspect her hooves. They needed some trimming and she let me do it all. When I was done and started putting everything away, she stood there looking like, is that it? Can’t I get some attention? So, I came back, gave her another carrot, then with a towel, dried and fluffed her mane and tail. Then one more all over brush while I told her how pretty she was and how proud and happy I was for her to come live with us.
After that she followed me around the pasture as I walked and inspected the fences between us and another ranch that had cows and horses. This place was huge and ran for miles down the road behind and our little spread and beyond like a huge box. This rancher really didn’t like our small ranch bordering his at all. Most of the ranches around us were very large with luxurious barns, while ours was just a small place, large enough for a few horses, the house, barn, garage, front yard, back yard and a garden.
Every day I continued to work on building the trust and love between Misty and me. I had not even tried to ride her yet. Greg and my sisters were anxious to ride her, but I knew she was not ready. She had to want to be friends and feel at home with all of them before they could ride her. With each passing day she was becoming more and more friendly and playful, like a young filly, just wanting to have fun, nipping me when I wasn’t looking or doing something just to get attention. She would pick up something I laid down, and when I turned around, she would be running away with it.
Everyone had the chance to help bathe and brush our Misty. She loved looking pretty and clean and we all treated her like a little princess. She loved carrots more than apples, or other treats. She would eat a few pecans, but only because we were. She amused herself, and us, playing with the ducks and the dog. Many a night I would lay down with my head resting on her and pull a blanket over the both of us. I fixed the barn door so she could go in or out whenever she wanted to and taught her how to open the gate to the pastures, so she could go from pasture to pasture on her own.
After months of building total trust, it was finally time to ride her. At first, I rubbed her back, then set little Teresa up on her and walked her around. Later we did the same with Jackie, and then Greg. Finally, I put Jackie and Greg both on her to see how she would handle them double as I walked her around. That went well, so I had her trot with them as I ran beside talking to her. She was a perfect lady, behaving so gracefully. Now the real test would be having me get on her. I talked to her and let her know it was still me as I grabbed a handful of mane and leaned my weight on her back, and then swung myself all the way on. She stood there a moment, getting used to my weight. Then I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Let’s go,” while touching my heels lightly to her ribs.
She began a soft lope, not fast, just a gentle half gallop. I tried signaling her with pressure from my legs to see how she would respond. At first she didn’t understand, but we continued to practice until she caught on. This pasture had trees about halfway down in it. Using just my knees, I asked her to weave in and out of the trees. I let go of her mane and just kept talking to her. She was having fun and so was I.
Finally, I told her, “Go beautiful lady, run like the wind,” and Misty took off like a rocket. I had never been on a horse that could run so fast. Her gait was smooth and in perfect rhythm; her small feet barely touched the ground and the wind in my face made my eyes water. Wow! This was magic. I leaned forward, patted her neck and told her, “Slow down girl, catch your breath.” She began pacing herself, slowing until she settled into an easy lope, and finally a walk. I let her cool down some, wiped away the sweat and then instructed Jackie to walk her around for a while, letting her cool down completely before letting her drink water.
This girl could run with any of them. I knew the best couldn’t touch her. Now my next step was to see how much she was willing to learn to condition her. I found a big conveyor thing at a junk yard. Dad and I brought it home and he helped me set up a makeshift exerciser. We also needed two good single trees, a yoke and some diesel inner tubes cut into strips. I hooked a big oxen yoke around a large oak tree, connected the single trees to the yoke and hooked the inner tube strips to the single trees. Next I got a horse collar that fit around Misty’s neck and chest.
When everything was ready, I called misty to come and look over this new contraption. I led her up on the conveyor and took her to the end. Then I eased the horse collar on her and let her get the feel of it. All the time I kept reassuring her that it was all okay. Greg and Jackie helped me stretch the inner tube strips from the singletree to the sides of her collar. She had to struggle to keep from being pulled backward.
Then while I stood at her head, Greg started the conveyor. Misty spooked a bit when the conveyor started pulling her one way while the inner tubes were pulling her the other, and I was telling her to walk towards me. She struggled at first, but soon figured it out. This would build up her strength and was great cardio exercise. I stayed in front of her for about 10 minutes, making sure she understood that she needed to keep walking. I sat down to watch her work and she kept at this the first time for 45 minutes. As she got stronger, I would increase the time and the amount of resistance by adding inner tubes and increasing the speed of the conveyor. Later I would ride her to a place to swim.
Misty’s training had begun. It is one thing to train a horse to run, or to walk a certain way, or even to step high like a walker, or to trot, but when you find an athletic horse that really wants to learn, you help it, just as you would a child or young person. Misty was one of those really rare horses that wanted to learn and I knew this. It was very important to me to keep challenging her to learn more things. I hooked up a bell for her to learn to ring when she needed something. I taught her to unlock her own gate and to close it too.
Now she had to learn to hide herself. When working with any being it is important to familiarize them to specific commands. When they hear that command, they know exactly what you want them to do. Being consistent and giving rewards when they do good, encourages them. A reward can be a head scratching, an apple, or a special treat they don’t normally get. Even something as simple as praise and a hug will make them want to do better and better. I taught her to get real low, then get down and hide.
Everything I did was meant to train Misty as a war horse in the old ways where we worked together. See, traditionally, the horses we trained were part of our force; they hunted, fought and protected us as we did them. I wanted Misty to be part of me and me to be part of her. She could signal me so no one would know and I could do the same for her. This takes time and true trust. We worked on this every day. Many a night I laid down with my head on her neck and talked to her as we looked at the stars. And if it was cold I covered us in a blanket. Misty knew all my thoughts and I believe I knew all of hers. She was a gift from Spirit to be in my life and I wanted her to have the best life possible.
I used to ride her everywhere and sometimes let her loose for her speed runs. Seems we were being watched long distances. We first ran into a problem with the rancher who owned the huge tract of land behind us. He was a cattle rancher, but had plenty of race horses too. One day while Misty and I were out for a run, this man’s son was also out exercising one of their prize race horses. When he saw us across the fence he rode over and challenged me to a race. Misty was all for it. His horse was a lot bigger in height and length, but also in weight. Misty was built for pure speed and her training was already paying off. We took off and raced all out for a mile, leaving them in our dust. After we slowed to a walk and Misty was cooling off, he came riding up cussing and claiming our win was an accident; that his horse had a stone in his hoof. I offered to help, but he just told me to get out of there and went into a rage saying horrible things I will not repeat about Misty and me.
This did not set well with me. I stood up on Misty’s back, launched myself over the fence and snatched him off his horse. Even though he was bigger and older than me, he was no match for this bundle of fury. I had punched his face so many times before he even realized he had a wild man on him. Misty is the one that brought me to my senses. She jumped the fence, pushed me off him, and stood there trembling. I checked my temper, swung back up on Misty and told him to never speak to us again and if he can’t stand to lose, don’t race. Then Misty collected herself, jumped back across the fence, and we were gone.
Two days later the father and some his people showed up and told Mom that I was running the fat off his cows; that I had been seen riding in his pastures. Mom told him no, that I don’t ride in his or anyone’s pastures. He never mentioned my beating his older son up or about the race. Mom told him to leave and they did. Dad wasn’t there so I was the man of the house and what he didn’t know was that Greg and I were both armed with our bows and arrows, ready to defend our mom if these men tried anything.
The next week I was riding Misty down a dirt road, miles away from the house, when someone in a pickup truck tried to hit us. We had gotten completely off the road, yet the truck veered off the road, still trying to hit us. Misty swayed back, and we hit the woods, veering in and out of trees. I did not recognize the truck. Most trucks around there had their ranch logos on them.
After that, nothing else happened for a month or so. Misty and I continued to train every day and just enjoying our lives together. Here was a horse that didn’t think she was a horse. She thought she was one of us. She played with us all and it always seemed as though she enjoyed making everyone laugh. It tickled her if she could pull a joke on someone and she would just dance and kick up her heels and even lay on the ground and roll over and over laughing. We never knew what she would do next, playing with the dog, playing with all the kids and even the ducks and the other horses.
To Be Continued. . . Chapter 9, The Horseman – Misty 2