All For the Right to Pray (10)

Part Two – The Making of a Warrior

Chapter 10 – The Horseman – Sachem and Me

By Ghost Dancer

After Misty was killed, I went to stay with my dad in Alabama for a while to get a grip on my emotions, then returned to my family in Florida. One day, a man came to my stepdad and wanted to make a deal with him for my services.  This man was a horse breeder and owned huge tracts of land in the area.  The man claimed that some of his land was still so wild that no one had been in there for centuries. He said there were wild horses on his property and the lead stallion was giving him fits by busting out some of his pure-bred mares and taking them off into the wild.

The deal he proposed was that he wanted me to capture two young studs, maybe 2-year-olds, and train them for him. If I could also capture the lead stallion that was causing the problems, I could have him as payment. The trick was I had to train the two colts to be trotters and to pull a cart behind. Now it isn’t that easy teaching a horse not to run or gallop which is natural, or to pull a cart, but I agreed. My dad made the deal and I fully expected the man to honor it.

So, I went to work on capturing these horses. Now in Florida there are thickets that are just as deep as any jungle in Central or South America, and these horses knew their territory.  My first task was to learn their habits, where they went regularly, where they had their drinking holes or pools. Every being has habits and once you know them, then you can make a plan or trap. I spotted the two colts the rancher wanted me to train. They were easily picked out and the lead stallion, well, he was awesome. His character was a lot like mine: fiercely independent, wild, and he held no fear.

Photo by Milena de Narvaez Ayllon on

Separating the two young studs from the herd wouldn’t be a problem. They stayed together mostly and because of that, I knew I could get them from above. Not once did they look up. I noticed the stallion and lead mare both kept their eyes on the trees. This showed me they had experienced danger from above before, but these two youngsters had not. I got my brother, Greg and my dad to help because it would be a handful to get both of them by myself.

So, we climbed up in a tree in a spot we had identified as a favorite hang-out. Once I had the ropes secured and tied off, all Greg and I had to do was wait until they came close enough to drop the loops over their heads and pull. This is where patience comes in. Greg was young, but he was tough and could get the job done. As any older brother would, I had toughened him up over the years.

When the horses moved beneath us, we were ready. Greg watched for my signal, and when I nodded, we both looped the nooses over the horses’ heads before they even knew it. Now these two youngsters sure threw a fit. The ropes were tied off to oak trees, so we just waited and let them wear themselves out. The herd had taken off, but I saw the stallion still taking this all in and he was not happy. He would never have made the mistake of walking under the trees without looking up from a safe distance. When the colts finally wore down, I took my time walking the rope down to each one, one at a time, and slipped horsehair hackamores on their heads. Then I put hobbles on their legs and we led them away.

Catching the stallion would be a challenge. He would definitely be playing hard-to-get, so I figured on using what is sure to catch every man – a female. I asked the rancher if he had a mare in season and he did. While he went to get the mare, Greg, Dad and I went about forming a natural corral out of brush and rotten trees with a single opening. We fixed a gate which could be closed when the time was right. The rancher brought the female in season; she would be bait for the stallion. I asked everyone to leave except Greg.

First, I showed Greg how to rub pine needles all over his body to cover his scent, then gave him instructions to hide himself and be ready to shut the gate when I signaled him. I tied the mare securely to a large oak tree inside the corral. I gave her a pat to let her know I appreciated her help. Then I gathered my equipment: strong rope, good gloves, and a couple of bolas I had made. Bolas are long strips of connected rope or leather with balls on the end used to entangle the legs of running animals. Then I scrambled up the tree. I took bark from the tree to rub all over myself, covering my scent. I stuck small branches in my hair as camouflage.

Then we settled down to wait for the stallion to pick up the mare’s scent on the wind. We waited and waited. It must have been close to dusk when he finally approached very cautiously. He had the herd with him about 75 yards behind. The lead female clearly didn’t like the looks of this place. She kept stomping her feet and stopping to size up the situation. Greg was watching and knew that when I signaled, he would shake the rattle, like a rattlesnake, to frighten off the lead mare, at the same time he closed the gate.

Our bait female did her part by calling out to the stallion and I could see him becoming more and more fidgety. This response showed she was attracted to this tall beautiful stranger who radiated pure wild power and she was letting him know it. He was letting his guard down, but patience would still be needed. Timing would be important and I had to make sure the mare would not be hurt. She was a very expensive animal and the rancher would have my head if anything happened to her.

Once the stallion came inside the corral and had been smelling the mare up close, he became totally distracted in his excitement. This is when I struck; my noose dropped over his head before he even knew what had happened. Immediately, I jumped out of the tree and rolled. This was the signal for Greg to start rattling the rattle and close the gate at the same time. The lead female spooked, as we knew she would, and led the herd away. 

Meanwhile, I had a cyclone on my rope and I knew I had to get control of him quickly. He charged at me; he could easily stomp me to death. I grabbed a bola and threw it at his front legs. The weighted leather strips wrapped up his front legs, adding to his confused anger. I reached for the other bola and kept moving around him as he tried to figure out what I was doing. He couldn’t use his front legs the way he wanted, so he turned his back to kick me. After he kicked, I threw the bola; it missed, catching only one leg. This made him even more infuriated. I didn’t have another bola, so holding the rope, I began running around him; tightening my circle. Then I jerked the rope and it tightened up around the horse’s back legs.

I kept running and winding the rope around his legs; trapping his front legs and back legs. Tension on the rope caused his head to be continuously pulled down. He had put up a fight, but finally, he just stood there trembling. I walked toward him slowly, speaking softly, letting him know I was not trying to hurt him. I signaled Greg to toss me the hobbles and put them on his front and back legs. Then I slipped a halter on his head and ran a rope from the halter to his back-leg hobbles. If he fought, the motion of his own legs would pull his head down.

After the stallion was restrained securely, I signaled for the rancher to come for the mare. He loaded her, then went ahead and left. Greg went to tell Dad to bring the horse trailer. This would be the hard part, getting the horse safely in the trailer. I kept talking softly to him the whole time, letting him get used to the sound of my voice.

It took the rest of the evening to get him in the trailer. He didn’t like my covering his eyes, but he was stressed enough, and the sight of the truck and trailer would be too much for now. He didn’t have much fight left in him when we finally got him loaded, and hopefully the familiar horse smells in the trailer would be enough to keep him calm during the ride home. Getting him off the trailer was not as bad. He didn’t know where he was, and he trembled the whole time, but he backed right out. Slowly I took the hobbles off, leaving just the halter and the blindfold that covered his eyes. When I took the blindfold off, the only thing holding him was the halter and a long rope connected to a 6-feet-long metal stake driven into the ground. I kept talking to him, letting him know that I was there while I made sure his trough had plenty of fresh water and some feed was within his reach. The other two horses had been brought earlier in the same way and were safe in another pasture. Greg and I had a bunk house that allowed us to be near all the animals and to hear them if there were problems. Tonight, I would sleep outside on the roof, so I could watch them all. The stallion would not like being captured and I didn’t want him to hurt himself. I would free him before I let that happen.

Watching the stallion now in the moonlight, I thought about how much we were the same. Two beings out of time, with no place in this modern world. He loved his freedom, being wild, and living by his wits and strength. I saw in him the same way I felt. I was trapped in a world that would never allow me to be who I truly was. My people were no longer allowed to follow the old ways, to believe as our ancestors believed, or to practice those beliefs. They survived in a world that had used diseases as biological weapons, lies and deceit to steal away our lives, lands, culture, language, history and religion. Through mass murder, rapes, and war, my people were driven out.

Only those who had escaped, hid, and ran away during the trail of tears still remained in these areas, and for generations, they had to live in fear least they be found out and hunted until they lost everything. This wild stallion was just the same. He was hunted because he was living free. He was just being what he was born to be. No, I would never hurt him, never break him. I would call him Sachem; he was my brother and I would protect him with my life. He just didn’t know it yet, but he would – one day he would, and we would have good times then. As though he sensed my thoughts, Sachem looked up at me on the roof. Yes, he was watching me too. We were two of a kind, that is what we were. Soon as I got done with the two youngsters, we would begin our journey.

As was agreed, I began working in earnest to train the two young horses. I started with the routine to help them get used to me and my family, and to following directions. Each day after our lessons, I also spent time with Sachem, bringing him carrots, cantaloupes, watermelons, and apples, letting him adjust to this place and to know I was not going to hurt him. I noticed him watching as I worked with the other horses.

Greg and Jackie always worked with the two in training, brushing and handling them. Greg named one of the colts, Rusty. He looked like he was rusting all over when he first came to us. He had cakes of clotted mud and matted hair in his mane and tail. After lots of baths, brushing and grooming, his coat shone liked burnt copper against a jet-black mane and tail. Jackie named the other horse. She noticed when he first came, that he watched everyone like a hawk and his color was red like a dark sun, so he became Sun Hawk. 

Rusty and Sun Hawk adapted easily and soon we had them relaxed enough to ride. It took about 4 months to get to two youngsters ready to hook up to the two-wheeled cart, called a sulky, used in harness racing. I worked with them on a long rein to make sure they learned how to move faster and faster at a trot without breaking into a gallop. I didn’t use a whip, but rather a light willow stick to tap them gently, letting them know what I wanted them to do. After every successful workout, I gave them treats and lots of praise.

The rancher would come over frequently to see how they were doing. When they began trotting better and better, and I had gotten them used to pulling a travois, he had the cart brought over. I had never seen one hooked up to harness, so his hired hand explained it to me. He wanted to do it himself, but I told him no, because they were not used to him. Just hooking up the cart would make them nervous enough and they would trust me. So, I asked him to step out and let me work.

I called the one named Rusty to come. I scratched his head, petted him and gave him an apple for a treat. Then I introduced him to this new thing. When he relaxed, I got him to back up and began the process of hooking him up.  This went okay and after everything was secure, I kept talking while I led him around to get used to the feel of the two-wheel cart behind him. I led him with a lead rope and then backed off and began giving him verbal commands. He picked up his pace and began his trot faster and faster around the pasture. When I told him to slow down and then stop, he did just as he was supposed to do.  The rancher nodded. I let Rusty know how proud I was and gave him another treat to enjoy while I unhitched the cart. Yeah, he loved his apples.

Next, I called Sun Hawk and he came trotting over looking for his treat. His personality was a little different than Rusty and he was more reluctant to adapt to new things. I explained to the rancher that Sun Hawk didn’t like to be pushed, but he would work fine once he felt comfortable.  It would just take a little more time to build trust with his handlers. I asked the helper to introduce himself to the horse, and could tell he was not used to taking the time to know each horse and respect their ways. I explained the horse was strong willed and temperamental and this is to be respected or our next step would not be easy. I got the man to keep talking to the horse while I introduced him to the cart. I knew he had been watching his buddy, so he already knew he wasn’t going to be hurt.  Now I had the helper hook him up slowly and work with him. Some people don’t like to be told what to do. The handler was like that and I could feel his dislike for me. I said, “Listen, these animals can feel what you are thinking, even your inside feelings. So be careful how you think. Your feelings will affect him.” I noticed Sun hawk’s tension as he wildly eye-balled the handler. I stepped up and hugged the man in front of Sun Hawk, catching the handler off guard. I told him that he may not like me, but if the horse feels that he is liable to attack.

Sun Hawk performed his tasks beautifully, but I could tell he did not like the handler. He was still tense, and his eyes never left the handler. When he was finished he came to me for his treat. I gave it to him; scratched his head and told him I was so proud of him. He perked up and put his head on my shoulder. I patted and hugged him. He loved my hugs and he could feel my heart. The helper said, “Well, we won’t be doing all that.” I responded, “Listen, don’t you like to be appreciated for doing a good job? He said, “Right,” and eyeballed his employer. I told him maybe he was working for the wrong person.

The rancher said he wanted the horses loaded now. I told him I needed another week of getting them used to other people. He said, no, that these were his horses and he was taking them now. “Load them up!” They were his horses. There was nothing I could do, so I loaded them myself and gave each another apple and hugged them. I knew this wasn’t going to work, but it was what the rancher wanted. After I said my good byes to the horses, I went to speak with the rancher. I reminded him that our agreement had been completed, and he said, “Yes.”  I pointed at Sachem and said, “He is now mine.” The rancher said “Yes.” I expected we might conclude our bargain like honorable men, but he would not shake my hand. I guessed he thought I was beneath him. So, they left, and I turned my thoughts to more important things. I walked over to the other pasture, looked at Sachem and I said, “Now big boy, our time begins. Soon you will know that I am your brother and best friend.”

Sachem as he still lives in my long ago memory

Next in Part Two, Chapter 11 The Making of a Warrior – The story of Sachem & Me 2

Published by Sings Many Songs

I'm an 80-something child of the great depression and WWII. Throughout my life I have been a seeker, an outsider, never quite belonging anywhere, still always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A lifelong student with many interests and a love of writing and editing, my elder's path led to encouraging and assisting some remarkable people to write out their amazing stories. This calling became the magic elixir that keeps me growing, keeps me alive.

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