Army National Guard
I found an ad for a horse trainer last June in the Want Ad I stole from my dad to look at the horses. Just as my father was wrestling it way from me so he could look at trucks I ripped out the page that caught my eye. Gods honest truth I have the ad in front of me right now. It says, "Horse Trainer. Specializing in starting colts & problem horses." The lines that caught my attention were, "I won't break your horse. I'll gentle him." I thought about it for a day or so and I placed my first call to Cathie.
I told Cathie I had a horse that everyone had given up on. No one wanted to ride him because he was scary; He was dangerous and unpredictable. His biggest thing was running into fences. He would just get scared and run. You could try to turn him and even with his nose to your knee this horse would just run full speed into the fence. This horse is Taco.
Taco came to the Massachusetts Army National Guard in November 2005. He is the safest and sweetest horse on the ground. It’s when you got on his back you flipped a switch. He was a six-year-old quarter horse with a face you could read like a book and you could watch his personality fade away when someone got on his back. I couldn't figure out how a horse with such a big heart could change so much just from my feet being in stirrups instead of on the ground.
I was sure Cathie would tell me there was no hope and I would have to give in and concur with everyone else's recommendation to retire Taco from the National Guard. She told me just the opposite; for the first time there was hope again.
Cathie came out and worked with us for a few hours the first day. We did all groundwork using a rope halter and bringing him right back to basics. Cathie taught me the basic concepts and left us a lot of homework and we started studying. I had invited the Officer in Charge to come out and watch or at least hear what Cathie had to say about Taco and the initial review was promising. Unfortunately I had to go away for a few weeks due to work but we didn't loose our focus. Taco seemed to pick right back up where we left off.
It was about a month or maybe six weeks later when Cathie came back out. During the large break Taco and I became masters of the skills we needed to polish up on from our previous session and I had procured a substantial amount of financial backing to see Taco though training. The training sessions were scheduled weekly. We continued ground work and introduced Taco to the bitless bridle. After a few sessions ground driving with the bitless bridle Cathie rode Taco. For the first time since I have known him he was calm as could be. The nerves weren't there. His focus was on Cathie and not on getting rid of her. It was refreshing. I got on too and Taco did the same with me. When I untacked him he hadn't even broke a sweat like he used to just because of the nerves. We continued to build on basics until Taco was injured putting him out of the game for about a month.
I took advantage of the opportunity to have Cathie get Lacy, the Shire-Thoroughbred I ride, going in Dr. Cook's bitless bridle. She tends to get heavy on my hands but working her in the bitless bridle softens her up again and she seems less distracted by her mouth. It is easy to get her round and moving forward in the bitless bridle.
When Taco was healthy again we were nearing the end of our training but our progress was mounting. I could walk and trot Taco in a large arena without fear he would charge into a fence. Honestly I couldn't ask for more. When Cathie's time training us came to an end I was both sad and scared. We had developed a friendship over our weekly training sessions and I think she came to enjoy watching Taco's progress as much as I did. While I loved doing things hands on with Cathie there so she could tell me what to do next if I was met with an unpredictable situation. Quite frankly I was scared for when she wasn't there but her pep talk made it all OK. She just told me I could do it; and so far she has been right. She is not like so many other trainers that don't want to share their secrets or teach you anything. Cathie taught me everything she did. Since we have finished I have been able to refine the groundwork of other horses through the skills I took with me. Cathie made me a better horseman through this experience.
Today Taco is an active member of the Massachusetts National Guard's Mounted Platoon. Taco has performed Military Funeral Honors at three funerals to date. He canters, and more importantly stops, and loves to go on nice easy trail rides. Taco is still ridden exclusively in the bitless bridle. If taking the bit out of his mouth has made the difference in his mind that I am not going to hurt him I have no intention of changing. Cathie managed to give Taco a second outlook that holds a much brighter future, for that I am eternally grateful.