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This is the second in a two-part series When Ladies of a Certain Age Ride Colts is the first article.


So one might ask why a woman of my age has only ridden young stock since she climbed back into the saddle again after so many years? I ask myself that question and my answer is always that it’s the joy of the change, the personal challenge, the consistent improvement with each new two-year-old prospect I take on; ultimately it’s the trust that builds between us.

There was my first colt, a weanling Appaloosa I bought at an auction; “Arbors of Ivy”, who’s now a trusted therapy horse carrying disabled children and adults that truly need him. Then there was “Remulak”, a kind gray Arab colt. These days he makes his living as a 4H club horse. But not all of my challenges have been so successful, there was sad little “Frank’s Money”, a scared, terribly mistreated young thoroughbred who I never did get started under saddle.

Then there was wonderful “Tuff Enuff” a truly fine, Colorado Ranger bred leopard appaloosa who taught me so much. He’s now a working ranch horse on one of Florida’s oldest cattle operations and gets homemade carrot cake for his birthday. All of this sounds great but riding colts comes with risk; one is always reminded to not be too prideful so here’s what happened next…

All around my small ranch here in Florida, near the self-proclaimed “Fern Capital of the World”, we have horse-flesh eating shade cloth everywhere. Shade cloth is used by fern growers here to shade their crop. There’s always a surplus of this stuff lying around. Resourceful Florida cattlemen will often use this rough synthetic fabric to bolster up their arenas and cattle holding pens.

Shade cloth, particularly when caught in a brisk wind, has been known to take the hide right off a horse, particularly fine young cutting fillies like the one I had just trailered home from Tom and Trina Curtin’s. Now that I’ve set the stage, let’s get to the story. As my heart burst with pride (yes, I acknowledge that pride is a sin, and will doubly acknowledge that I have been fully punished) I ride my fine young cutting filly just 100 days under saddle into a strange arena surrounded by other riders, loose cattle and shade cloth on a windy day. Need I say more?


Well, if I must go into the details, here goes. While I may have thought I had duly prepared my filly for this day- riding her on cattle myself for the first time, I apparently failed to take into account her thoughts on the matter. Things went really well at first and I was feeling pretty sure of myself. As we quite nicely worked the gate, walked into the arena and trotted a few small quiet circles, I decide to walk her past the horse flesh eating shade cloth. This was silly enough on my part but just over the fence (and out of sight) stood fifty nervous calves.

As I pulled her up by the fence to wait my turn for cow work, God blows a hot breath on the cloth as a baldy just behind it snorts. With that, my filly wheels and is thinking she might come undone but it’s not bad at that particular moment. Just then, God chuckles, and a nasty shred of shade cloth kicks her in the butt and now we’re in a rodeo. I don’t remember anything after that. I do remember asking the kind cowboy who helped me brush the sand off of my face if I still looked good, and he was nice enough to lie and tell me that I looked just fine.

So, I know I’m beat up a bit and there’s no more riding for me that day as I feel a familiar pain under my right shoulder blade. I know a cracked rib when I feel one. So off we trudge back to my outfit, unsaddle my filly (thank you Mr. Kind Cowboy) and make a call to get someone to drive me home. I find out later that I was almost too beat up to live.

And now the twist in the story, we switch from shade cloth and impromptu rodeo events to cosmetic surgery; specifically my breast implants. Now, that I’ve got the attention of at least half the readers of this story. Yes, my breast implants saved my life. To be exact, my right implant kept me from dying that day. As it turned out, I broke ribs 2-7 straight down the front of my right chest with one rib nicking my lung- it was the implant that kept it from going any farther. The silicon implant that protected my lung was skewered and pulverized enough to leave a seasoned surgeon speechless.

As I awaited reconstructive surgery, my health failed miserably. I fought off pneumonia but I’m a tough buckaroo. We got things all fixed up and I was back on my pretty “JR’s Blonde-D” filly 35 days after the rodeo. There’s a horsemanship lesson tucked away in this silly story. This boob- that would be me, not my implant, failed to keep in mind the echos of master horseman Tom Dorrance; The secret’s in the feet. Had I given this filly’s feet a meaningful job to do rather than allow her to lolly gag and develop the need for flight, we may have been just a little less bothered that day.

So given my recent experience, the question is raised once more; at my age, why do I ride colts? Honestly, I see more in the youngsters. I like giving a young horse a really decent opportunity to get on the right path. In a young horse there’s this easy direct eye contact. I can’t bear to ride an older horse that can’t look me in the eye; It breaks my heart.

My young horses nicker for me, listen for the lovely song of my spurs, blink and lick and chew and learn. When I walk outside and that screen door slams shut, no matter where they are in the pastures or how far away, my little herd picks up their heads and looks my way. So while I would hope that I will prepare better and remember more; The secret’s in the feet, I’ll probably have a few more occasions to ask if I still look good afterwards. In the mean time, I’ll promise myself to do my best to stay in the center and always, always ride with great joy.

Denise Shirey enjoys cutting horses, obstacle challenge competitions and heading out on long trail rides. Sheʼs always on the lookout for her next two-year-old prospect. When not horseback, she makes a living in the defense industry. Miss Denise is a regular contributor to High Minded Horseman.

Comments for When Ladies of a Certain Age Ride Colts Part 2

  1. Bill Campanelli on August 06, 2010

    Not much one could add to that. A lesson earned is a lesson learned :)
    Stay with the young ones. It’s so neat watching them learn & grow. Bill

  2. Lyn Berry Jalving on August 06, 2010

    Denise, I really enjoyed your article. Keep writing and before you know it it will be a book!

  3. Dawne on August 06, 2010

    Miss D, anyone else (including myself) would of taken months to heal (that is, if I survived in the first place). You’re a trouper! dr

  4. Tim Westfall on August 06, 2010

    Very good article Denise. I really liked how you tied in Tom’s lesson, but what I liked even more is that you recalled it.

  5. Billy Burress Jr. on August 06, 2010

    Denise as you know I broke and trained or rode racehorses all my life and I can assure you nothing is as gratifying as starting a young horse with talent and you almost always know right off that have it, and when that happens it’s easy to let your guard down so next time remember to put the sign on top of the bridle reminding you to stay alert. BBB

  6. TJ Clibborn on August 07, 2010

    A great story mate i can remember your call when it happened and knowing you as i do i admire you for getting back on the young one’s it is just such a joy to have them come around and become a great horse.

  7. Brandy Soltesz on August 07, 2010

    I loved your story that you shared with us here Denise :> Sounds to me like it is your calling, to be with and teach the young horse’s * And that is " Awesome" * God Bless You Denise :>

  8. Sal Landa on August 07, 2010

    Experience is expensive.
    I like young horses for the same reasons. They keep me on my toes too. There’s nothing better than knowing a colt or filly got a good start.

  9. Betty Gray on August 07, 2010

    Denise, loved your story, but remember, as we get older our bodies don’t heal as fast as they used to so be careful with your young ones. I remember when you got them, looks like they are turning out quite nice.

  10. Lex Kromhout on August 07, 2010

    Glad to hear you have managed to turn a unfortunate venture into a positive one, and that you have fully recovered… Great Story! I hope you are still riding with the friendly reminder of my finger sticking you in your back? After this little venture, you should be more proud of them than ever. Hope to ride with you again soon. As for now, it is to hot to do any riding at all in my book.

  11. Dave Hockenbrocht on August 08, 2010

    Spoken like a true horse artist.

  12. Emily on August 08, 2010

    I really enjoyed your article. I loved the horse-flesh eating shade cloth bit, how funny, and Mr. Kind Cowboy. You are as good a writer as you are a rider.

  13. Bill on August 09, 2010

    I enjoyed both articles, keep up the good work with the young ones. Good to see that you got back on the horse.

  14. Pat on August 12, 2010

    Love your articles. The humor is there, but most of all the lesson to be learned. That horse eating shade cloth will get them every time.