Roman was a tall red horse, 16 hands if he was an inch, not a discernable ounce of draft in him, with a big Roman nose, hence the name. I had the chance to work with Roman for two seasons running, though at two different liveries. The first season Roman was around, I had my own wrangler horse, Meeker, that I was leading rides from, so one of the other wranglers snagged Roman as his lead horse.
Now this kid was a ranch kid, but not much of a horseman, though he liked to tout himself as such. He and Roman had some amazing go-rounds, which Roman most always won. The poor kid spent a lot of time sailing through the air and landing hard on the ground. Guess it’s a good thing that he was only in his early twenties. On occasion, a different wrangler would take Roman out without any problems. He’d be a perfect gentleman. Twice that season, I lead out on Roman for one reason or another and didn’t have any problems with him. He was sweet and even-tempered, though you’d never know it from the stories.
My problem with Roman wasn’t so much a problem as a preference. I loved, loved, riding tall horses. Must be because I’m so short, so I always chose the tallest horse in the herd to lead from. I loved them. Until I met Miss Estes and realized that, really, a lot comes in a small package. Miss Meeker, Estes’ daughter, wasn’t so tall either, but they were both agile. They could spin on a dime and leave you floating in the air like the coyote in the cartoons. They were quick. If you weren’t with them when they took off, you’d again be floating in the air like the coyote. After a couple of seasons of riding small horses, I’d kind of forgotten what lugs big horses could be. Roman reminded me of that rather quickly. He really was a big lug.
The last time I rode Roman that first season, he colicked on me when we got back from the ride. Lord knows he must have been in pain during the ride, but never showed any indication. It wasn’t until we got back into the yard and I went to dismount that he indicated something was wrong. He and I spent a lot of time walking around that day, waiting for the vet to arrive, and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, the reality is that when livery horses colic, they usually don’t make it. Liveries lose a fair amount of horses to colic and I was afraid for Roman. The vet came, did his thing, and Roman pulled through, for which I was very thankful. He was a good horse with a big heart.
The next season, at a different livery, I again got to work with Roman, as his wrangler had requested him when he switched liveries. Roman threw his notorious fits with his wrangler and the kid again spent a lot of time sailing through the air and landing hard on the ground. By the end of the first month, no one else would go near Roman and shortly thereafter the wrangler was dismissed. Now, the livery had a problem. We had a horse with a monumental temper, who we couldn’t put dudes on, and who the other wranglers were afraid to ride. In a livery string, every horse has to earn his/her way. Since I’d ridden Roman successfully – twice – the year before, the Barn Boss must have figured that qualified me for riding him again.
It took me all of about thirty seconds to realize what Roman’s problem was. Being an auction horse, we didn’t know too much about him, so we didn’t know about his training at all. The buyers just assumed that because he was sold as a western horse that he knew all about neck reining. The buyers were wrong. So was the kid. It was painfully obvious to me, once I mounted up, that poor Roman had no idea whatsoever what was being asked of him with the reins. I switched to direct reining and got an immediate response. I hadn’t noticed it the season before because it was late in the season when I rode him and by then he’d learned the trails the hard way, with the kid on his back and spurs in his sides. Well, hell, no wonder he’d developed such a temper. His wrangler was speaking to him in a foreign language and then punishing him with the sharp, jabby things in his sides when he didn’t understand.
The problem showed itself at a new livery, with new trails, that Roman didn’t know. The trails at the second livery weren’t the nice one-way-out-one-way-back trails that the first livery had. These trails were tough, there were always choices to be made, and rarely was a trail ever ridden the same way twice. Poor Roman was lost, didn’t understand the language, and was damn sick of being stuck in the ribs with the spurs.
As soon as I realized what his issue was, I adjusted my riding. I turned back his training and took him back to where he should have been taught neck reining. In addition to giving him a direct rein signal, I laid the opposite rein across his neck. In the span of one one-hour ride, he’d gotten it – without a single temper tantrum. I think he was just so grateful that someone finally figured out that he didn’t speak the language that he tried extra hard that day. I took him out a few more times and found him to be absolutely unflappable. Nothing bothered that horse, and I mean nothing. Hikers, plastic bags, traffic. He turned out to be the most bomb-proof horse I’ve ever ridden. Within just a couple of weeks, I pronounced him dude-worthy, and my Barn Boss took my word for it. I secretly think that the Barn Boss was afraid to get up on him, having witnessed some of Roman’s more colossal blow ups.
Roman turned into the best, hardest working, biggest hearted horse in the string. He was strong, even tempered and sweet. We could put small children or oversized adults on him and he never blinked. We never saw another temper tantrum out of him. He quickly became the livery’s biggest asset; he gave and gave and gave.
Toward the end of the season, though, tragedy struck. Roman got kicked one night while out in the pen with the other horses and developed a bone abscess. We doctored and doctored him, but couldn’t get him well. We finally had to make the decision to put him down. It was absolutely heart-wrenching, as he’d become one of my favorites. I am thankful, that they took him down to the farm first, I don’t think I could have handled him being put down at the livery.