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When you are most yourself
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It’s easier to say when I used to be most myself than it is to say when I am most myself now. These days, I’m not myself very often. But it used to be when riding my horse Jasper, the smoothest horse most people have ever seen, the smoothest I’ve ever ridden. That smoothness turned out to a problem in the long run, because a bone just above the hoof sloped too much as he was moving. That slope absorbed the shock that usually goes up to the rider when the hoof hits the ground. Eventually he got something painful called ring bone.

I retired him, brought him home to the Hussa Ranch, where my friend Linda Hussa (whose father had raised Jasper) could watch over him in a flat pasture with some mares. Linda sent me amusing notes about how he was herding the mares around.

For the many years I rode him, I felt like myself because his barrel was narrow, so my legs went straight from my hips to my stirrups, meaning I could easily communicate with him through my thighs and calves, “move in this direction, move in that one.”

He had a skill, cutting horse, that most horses of his breed – Arabian – didn’t. I was the lucky beneficiary of Linda’s father’s passion for breeding Arabian cutting horses. I trained Jasper, was the first to ride him, but the first time I was doing a job of separating cows from their calves, Jasper knew how to do it, it was in his blood, in his genes. He instinctively got down low on his front legs, pivoted on his hind legs, and took advantage of the space between cow and calf to separate them. All I did was sit deep in the saddle, shift my weight with his and marvel at his skill.

Once, a rancher I worked for, Roger, and I were separating mother cows from their calves. It went great, except there was one calf whose mother we could not identify. Roger was raised on that ranch; he was as mystified as I was. We had given up, were at the gate pushing the cattle back where they belonged, when I saw the mother cow’s left ear twitch in the direction of the calf. My response was pure physicality – I didn’t even think, just used my legs to move Jasper between them, cut that calf out of the herd. “Good move, Nance,” was Roger’s way of telling me he was impressed.


I have never heard of a cutting horse before. What a nice peek into this world!

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