Neu Perspectives

Just a Using Horse

Ranch horse

They may not win ribbons or big prizes, but everyday using horses earn their keep.

Ranch horse
Photo by Ross Hecox

Recently, I described one of my horses to a lady that was interested in purchasing him. Rather than specify each and every task he has performed on a daily basis, I told her that he was just a good using horse.

The response that I got back was one of raised eyebrows and caused sort of a funny look. “A good using horse? Isn’t that sort of a backhanded compliment?”

I must admit, the thought of this set me back a bit. A backhanded compliment?

In the age of political correctness and walking on eggshells as to not upset the apple cart, was I accidentally insulting my animal by using the term “using horse”?

What does a good using horse actually mean to me?

It’s true, many of them have flunked out of performance horse training. Perhaps the speed wasn’t there, or they didn’t take to the training properly. Sometimes a horse gets a late start and can’t close the age gap. His papers might be fairly unimpressive (or non-existent!), but he’s a necessity in almost every corner of the horse world. From cowboys to racetracks, from cutters to dude rides, a good using horse is anything but an oxymoron.

Horse standing at the fence
Photo by Kelli Neubert.

A using horse worth his salt is savvy to all the tasks at hand. Often it takes years for him to earn “good using horse” status. He’ll stand still while you open gates and then run a cow down the fence and turn it when asked. He waits patiently, with a leg cocked when tied, but is quick on his feet and keen to knowing precisely what you require of him in a crunch.

He needs to have a good mind, sound legs, a kind disposition and athletic ability. He should be sensitive enough that he’s light to your hands and feet, but quiet and gentle enough to pack a novice rider. He needs to stand calmly in the trailer, solo, while you tell stories into the night with your buddies, but snappy enough to turn back fresh heifers, pony unruly colts and rope and hold a steer.

He’s got to be bar broke, kid broke, cow smart and light in the bridle.

No, he’s not always the prettiest in the pasture. While his show horse counterparts are in stalls, snug with blankets and slick with show sheen, he might be sporting a thick, fuzzy coat and a roman nose. But his eye is kind and his hindquarters are strong. He has a good wither to hold a saddle all day and strong solid feet that keep him sound.

He’s the unsung hero of the show pen. While the rockstars and superpower performance horses get the glory of adding to their buckle collections and lifetime earnings, it’s the behind-the-scenes humble using horse that made a lot of it possible.

Yes, I’ll admit, perhaps in the future I should refer to my “using horse” with a little more tact. I could specify his role as a “professional equine associate” or a “paraprofessional bovine and farmstead assistant.” I’d hate for my gelding to overhear me say something about him that could be thought of as a “backhanded compliment.” I certainly don’t want to hurt his feelings.

Because when I refer to him as “just a good using horse,” it really means that I hold him in the highest regard. It’s a true compliment to one of the best ponies I’ve ever had.

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