This is the face of a horse our fans have never met.
The face of a horse that since the day we got him a year ago this week, we were never sure he'd pull through and make it and we didn't want our fans to go through the pain of losing him like we quite often felt we might.
A horse that came to us with casts on all four hooves, ankles the size of softballs and was hurting.
A horse that even without his physical issues wasn't exactly a "looker"--shorter, a bit long in the back and a rather oddly put together overall, he was never going to be the horse anyone picked out of the crowd at a racetrack backside and took home.
But lucky for this horse, he came with a recommendation from a horseman we knew we could trust--our good friend Dan Hays.
Dan told Dale "He looks rough, I know, but don't worry about it. Get his feet right and the rest will follow. I promise you he'll be worth it."
His name is Over The Hump but we call him Cactus.
Over the years, Dan has sent us some truly great ones like Swingn Slew, Quinton's Flash and Tally Up. When Dan called and told Dale "I've got a nice one for you.", we learned to listen up. Dan said that Cactus was one of the good ones if we would just give him the time.
Time is a scarce commodity for most people and especially for people in the horse business. In order to make money, most trainers need horses to get in, get done and get out as quickly as possible. Space is at a premium in most barns and most people can't afford to just let a horse sit for 3, 6, 12 months. But that is one advantage we have--time and space.
And so for the last year, Cactus just sat in the pasture. Dale went to work getting his feet back in shape--they had pretty much fallen apart and needed to regrow from the top down. Abcesses came and went; his front fetlocks would blow up and go back down; he gained, lost and gained weight again. Several times we asked ourselves if Cactus would ever get better. At one point, we even took him for a full set of x-rays to make sure his ankles were just blowing from the foot pain. But Dan was right--it was the pain in his feet and if we could get that right, he'd be just fine.
Finally, this summer, Cactus was right. He entire hoof on all four feet had regrown. His eye was bright and his coat shone. But Dale thought he deserved at least a few more months of rest while actually feeling good, so he let him sit some more. After all, it doesn't really count as a vacation if you're in the "hospital"
This week we had some out of town friends at the ranch and Dale decided to do a bit of a "mini clinic" for them with a totally unstarted horse and the horse he chose was Cactus. Cactus last raced on August 31, 2014 and hadn't seen a saddle since then. He had every reason to be rusty, green or just plain uninterested in working. But he was none of those things. He was, in a word, perfect.
Dale saddled him up in a western saddle with a back cinch for the first time in his life--something that understandably bugs a lot of horses. No sweat for Cactus.
He took him to the arena and had him trot circles, move off his leg, canter figure eights. Cactus was perfect...perfect to the point that he had his flying lead changes the first time through and never missed them once.
So Dale, trying to show our guests how to "work through an issue", decided he might as well get the rope out and see what happened (something we normally don't do until the 3rd or 4th ride). He swung it, let it slide all over Cactus, then even roped a leg and held it--Cactus stood like a champion.
The only thing left to do was let Joe the Jersey into the arena and see what Cactus thought of the big steer. After perhaps 10 seconds of nerves (only seen by his chewing the bit), he marched right up to Joe and pushed him down the fence. It took maybe a minute more to realize how much fun cow chasing was and then he really dug down and made poor Joe run and turn, tracking him like a Border Collie. Dale couldn't help himself and took the rope out and roped Joe...not once, but 5 times!
Finally, Dale decided he couldn't ask much more and took Cactus out of the arena. What more he could ask on the first ride? He was foot-perfect in his reining work, worked a cow down the fence like a pro and was willing to rope everything in sight. On the way back from the arena, Dale had Cactus cross a new culvert ditch he is digging and he jumped that like a fancy show hunter.
Dale got back to the barn in awe of his new horse, a feeling shared by everyone there. In fact, Dale decided to make Cactus a last minute addition to his ranch rodeo team for TODAY...a day which will mark only the third day in training for this special horse.
Cactus was the last horse Dan Hays ever sent us, he passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. We can't help but think that Dan was smiling down at us when Dale rode Cactus, just saying "See, I told you so, he just needed some time."
Thanks for sending us another great one Dan.
We answer your questions about retraining Thoroughbreds for off-track careers and share the stories of the horses on the ranch.
Gate to Great Geldings
A Division of Horse Creek Thoroughbreds
Newell, SD 57760