I like to hang around “old timers” (people with more years of experience with draft horses than myself) because I always seem to learn something new and helpful. Most of the old timers I have encountered are the quiet type, willing to share their knowledge if you take the time to ask their advice and to listen.
I met Chet Mann several years ago through the North Star Draft Horse Association. Chet had been around horses all his life. He was a guy you could buy a horse from with total confidence. I really enjoyed him at club field days and when we did logging demonstrations at the Forest History Center. When I was doing something, harnessing, hitching, driving and noticed Chet watching me, I’d stop and ask, “So what do you think?” Chet never made me feel stupid even if what I was doing was. He’d say “Well, if it was me, I’d do it this way,” and proceed to advise me or help me make adjustments.
Chet and I were talking about rank horses one day. A rank horse has discipline issues, is unpredictable and will test you just because he can. It is an animal that can sense fear and takes full advantage of inexperience. I think real old timers secretly like the challenge. I asked “What was your worst experience with rank horses?”
Chet told me about a team he once owned that was very spirited and was constantly testing him. “I had the team at an event where there were a lot of people around. Something spooked them, and they started gathering up.” (Gathering up is when horses tense up just before bolting. It is the split second the teamster has to get set in hopes of averting a disaster). ” Just as I grabbed the lines, the horses reared up in the air.”
Chet had my attention as I imagined the situation. Two broncos, terror in their eyes, front hoofs flailing in the air, crowd scattering in panic, a teamster’s worst nightmare.
Chet paused for what seemed like a long time. I couldn’t stand it. “So what did you do?” He looked at me and with a straight face, and in a calm voice he said, “I let them down easy.”
Then he smiled.