Verne Upmier looks back over his lifetime as a horse trader with a sense of satisfaction, and is sure that he wouldn’t have exchanged his career for any other. “The horse business treated me pretty good,” he says, “and it sure gave me some interesting experiences.”
Years ago, Verne and his friends enjoyed roping. The roping part went okay, but the horses that worked well at home often forgot their job at rodeos,while taking an inordinate interest in all of the surrounding festivities. One day, Verne was at a rodeo and noticed a roping horse that worked to perfection. It never wavered as it faced the calf and kept the rope taut.
Verne approached the owner. “How do you do it?” He asked. “My horse just wants to stare at all the people in the grandstand.”
The man’s answer was memorable. “Well, I get on a horse and rope a good-sized bull. Then I get off the horse and go to town and play cards.”
“What?” Vern asked in surprise.
“Well, if I stayed home, I’d be watching and worrying, and I’d want to go out to rescue the horse. So I leave. By the time I get home, that horse will have figured out that the only way to stay safe is to keep that rope tight, and stay as far from the bull as possible. If he’s got any sense, he’ll have turned into a darn good rope horse. And you can bet he’ll never take his eyes off of anything at the end of a rope!”
It goes without saying that Vern never tried this system for tuning up of roping horse, and that this method will never make the pages of a book on training. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, to me too!
Verne may have owned a few horses that didn’t show much interest in a useful career, but he remembers others with an amazing amount of heart. “I had one little gelding that was the handiest, toughest horse you can imagine,” he recalls. “He’d been injured in a trailer and one of his back legs had permanent damage. The weak leg barely supported any weight at a walk or jog, but on three legs he could still run and buck all over the pasture, and he never seemed to be in any pain. He worked better than most any horse that had all four wheels.”
The disability wasn’t apparent at a lope, so that’s how Vern would enter an arena for reining classes. The gelding could do flying lead changes, slide, and spin with the best of the competition, and did very well at shows. “It must have been disconcerting to judges, though,” Verne adds with a smile, “To see their first-place horse gimp into the ring on three legs to pick up the trophy and blue ribbon!”