The Natural Horseman – Carolyn

By Steve Stevens 

I entered the round pen with ease and care. Amanda was sitting outside watching, supporting as she has done so many times before, my rock.

Our clients and friends surrounded the back side of the round pen, maybe a little too close.

It was another hot one or should I say, humid one. My pressed Wrangler snap button shirt was already sweating through.

“Relax,” I said to myself.

“Just breathe.” Something I preach to our clients constantly.

I kept all of my attention on the little paint, who was trying to figure out this intruder’s intentions. I heard flashes of noises from the other five round pens in the arena: clanging panels, horses running fast, people’s whispers. That was all I would comprehend outside of the circle I found myself in with this new equine counterpart.

“Focus Steve, stay focused.”

I have found myself in another colt starting competition.

This one was a little more stressful than usual. A lot of our clients and friends came to watch, along with one of my mentors.

I kept reminding myself this is only about you helping this mare.

“Carolyn” was her name.

All right, establish direction. She was dealing with me fine. She was moving ok, but was a little tight.

She was trotting well but didn’t break into the canter.

I tossed my lariat at her butt and pushed her into a canter. She moved fast, but was not relaxed. Step out in front; try to get her to face me. Good girl.

This was the first time she really looked to me. I turned away to take the pressure off, just like I had done to my first crush as a kid. Everything was looking good.

I walked up to her, but not too direct. She was looking for a way out. Take the pressure off. There we go. That’s a girl. I rubbed her. I slipped my rope halter around her muzzle and poll.

Ok, let’s get her used to some stuff. So I started tossing the lead rope over her back with rhythm. She jumped at first. She was definitely nervous. Keep working. She was starting to get used to it.

Moving on—rubbed her all over. Felt her skin; it was tight. Rubbed her with the groove of her hair. Rubbed with intention, fast but kind. There she goes, skin was releasing.

Have to teach her to move on the end of the lead line. She was not sure what I wanted. Point and drive the shoulder. There was tension on line. Hang in there. Keep applying the pressure by spinning the lead. The sweat from my brow was burning my eyes.

She just moved out. Good job. Now I pulled her towards me and taught her to face. We worked on this for a while. I need to have some handle, before I can move on.

I saw Amanda out of the corner of my eyes. She looked nervous, not something I see out of her at home.

“Keep going, Steve.”  The horse was already breathing heavy.

Don’t push her too hard, I don’t want to burn her out.

I don’t know when Gainesville became the bayou. It was so humid I was waiting for alligators to walk through the arena.

Let’s get some softness. I want to get a little flexion from side to side. She was really bracy. This will come back to haunt me If I don’t get this better. She gave a little. Good enough for now.

I like to lay over the top of them before I saddle them, a technique made famous by a man named Kel Jeffrey. However, I learned to do this from my dear friend Sonny Jim who was Modoc Indian. The technique was passed down to him through generations.

I jumped up and down next to her to prepare her for me lay on top of her. As I jumped up and down, she moved around nervously, unsure of what I was doing.

She finally settled and let me lay across her back. It was good timing, cause I was winded. I swung my legs to her rump and laid vertically rubbing her sides. She stood there relaxed for the first time since I entered the round pen.

Steve and Carolyn. (Photos by Amanda Stevens)

I was comfortable and wondered about taking a nap.

Everybody thought I was training, but I was actually getting my air back. By now I looked like I had taken a shower in my clothes.

The lady on the speaker said twenty minutes left in this round. Wow, how time flies.

All right, Steve. Moving on. We need to get her saddled. I let her get used to a cotton rope around her girth, belly and flank. Pulling and releasing. She didn’t seem too bothered. She seemed to be going along with the program now. I introduced the saddle pad, no problem. Then the saddle. Taking it on and off a few times before I cinched it up.

All right, Steve, “nice and easy.” Get it snug enough to stay on. Not too tight though. I don’t need her blowing up on top of me.

“You’re doing great, Carolyn. Ok, let’s just walk off a few steps.”

I led her forward on the 25 foot lead line. Good job! A little more and a little more. She couldn’t be doing any better. She was nice and relaxed.

Let’s ask her into a trot now.

With a snort and a suck back the little paint jumped straight in the air. She punched holes in the ground jumping and kicking across the round pen. I turned her with the long line right before she crashed into the grey Priefert panels. She only hit the off side stirrup. It clanged loudly.

“Help her through it, Steve”. It’s her nature to move when she is scared. I tried to keep a feel on the line bumping her nose to me as to distract her from bucking.

Finally she started running, than trotting, than walking. Then she finally stopped, out of air. Covered in sweat, her black colors were gleaming.

I am sure she looked right at me and said “All right Cowboy, you ready?

Steve riding Carolyn. (Photo by Amanda Stevens)

*We ended up winning Third Place on this mare. She was pretty broncy through the whole competition, but showed well in the finals. We are so proud of how hard little Carolyn tried this weekend.*

Steve pictured with Larry Mahan. The trainer said, “I was fortunate enough to have the great Larry Mahan give me some pointers. What an honor.