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'Working with horses, it's like, different than owning a cat'

Hobbes gets a few words of comfort mid-way on his "spin" to CSU Equine Center's parking lot, then back to Poudre River Stables, Fort Collins, Colorado. (Click photo to enlarge.)

On Easter Sunday, Gregg and I took another shot at getting Hobbes to go solo in our two-horse, straight-load, bumper-pull trailer. Hobbes is fine in our three-horse-slant gooseneck -- when he is with his friend, my Morgan gelding, Dell, but you can forget the two-horse trailer alone.

Contrary to Hobbes, I believe every horse should learn to travel solo in whatever carrier you choose. They might need to make an emergency run to the vet, go to a horse show alone, or live life without their friend.

It took hours of “friend” Dell loading by example, “friend” Dell standing nearby for moral support, the two of us reviewing Hobbes’ halter drills, backing, pivoting, giving any part of the body to pressure, and a turf-ownership review in the round pen. We punctuated the halter drills with attempted load-ups that promised grain at the end of the tunnel. Whenever Hobbes did something naughty his way, we assigned him another job our way. Hobbes reacts violently to the presence of whips, so force is not an option.

Hobbes’ real name is Sixes Daredevil, which as the story goes, he earned after jumping off a loading dock as a weanling. I wonder if this had something to do with his attitude toward the two-horse trailer, but we will never know.

As the sun began to pass overhead, Hobbes crept into the trailer. He “whoa’d” for our prescribed amounts of time, and backed out on command. Ten seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds: When Hobbes could load and whoa for at least a minute, we shut the back gate, started the truck, and took him for a spin – a nice, slow, peaceful spin.

Spanky was small, but ferociously built.

“You know, working with horses,” said Gregg as we drove home, “it’s like, different than owning a cat.”

Speaking of cats, we found our cat dead under the bed on Good Friday. No kidding. Spanky didn’t like to travel solo, either.

I cannot remember a barn cat before this little gray tabby, who wandered in to our workshop one February day more than 15 years ago. She was all ribs and had a blind, milky left eye. A client veterinarian blamed the eye on a fight. I could imagine other animals picking on this fistful of fur.


Spanky aced her barn cat job and dispatched many a mouse, but the next winter, she again pulled the pitiful card on a single-digit February day, and moved into our house. Spanky would still visit the barn as a volunteer, but preferred to spend her time as bed-lounger, confidant to my daughter, and oh yes, queen of the dogs.

As I said, Spanky didn’t like to travel either, and she outdid Hobbes in this department. Spanky would turn into a crazed maniac if you tried to put her in a carrier. Even if you wore gloves, you were in mortal danger because Spanky could wiggle out of any wrapped towel, knew exactly where to look for exposed skin, and didn’t care if it was your face or your neck. We learned to bring the vet and meds to her.

Spanky now rests under a rose bush. One little life passes, and another steps into the future.

Oh, and on working horses v. owning cats: 


  •  It’s a good thing cats don’t weigh 1,200 pounds.
  • They both like their faces scratched, just there, along the cheekbone.

Farewell, Spanky. Good job, Hobbes.

(Like this? Try 'Memo to boarders: Blood, sirens hay' -- This blog is available on the Kindle.)