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Barnyard Basics: Ahmahl the clown and endurance rides

October 5, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of three parts about a truly unique horse.

The spring of 1976, I was riding Ahmahl to move cattle and he trotted through some sharp rocks to head a wayward cow and stone bruised a front foot. He was lame for several days.

The bruise abscessed; we had to open up his sole, drain it and soak it. The infection cleared up, but he had a big hole in his sole that would take months to fill in.

Even though the abscess was healed, I couldn’t ride him. It was such a big hole that I kept his foot wrapped so he wouldn’t get dirt and gravel in it walking around in his pen. I thought about shoeing him with hoof pads, but that would not be enough protection. We decided to weld a metal plate onto a shoe, to cover that hole in his sole.

My husband Lynn created a special shoe for Ahmahl. The hole was an inch behind the toe of his foot, a little to one side, so Lynn cut a piece of flat metal the proper size and welded it to the shoe, to cover that hole. I put that shoe on, and started riding Ahmahl again.

When it came time to reset his shoes, Lynn created another “armor plated” shoe for the other front foot, to help keep it from stone bruising — since Ahmahl had such flat feet — and balance his stride, so he’d have the same weight on both feet. Lynn welded hard-surfacing material (borium, which is tungsten carbide used on drill bits) onto both shoes so they wouldn’t wear out in the rocks. This material is harder than diamonds and kept the metal shoe from wearing away. We were able to use the same shoes the rest of the summer and didn’t have to keep making new ones.

With his special shoes, Ahmahl happily trotted and galloped through rocky terrain with no fear of hurting his feet, chasing cows and competing on three more endurance rides that year, placing first on two of them and fourth on the other.

It was a cool, drizzly day when we started the ride at Kalispell, Mont., but fairly warm, so no one put on coats. We were soaking wet before noon, and the trail was getting muddy. We put on our coats for the rest of the ride but were already wet. It rained harder as the day progressed. Those of us at the front of the pack had better footing than the riders farther back because the trail was churned up by dozens of horses’ feet by then.

I was glad Ahmahl was surefooted because we were flying at an extended trot over a very muddy trail. His trot was much too fast to post; I simply stood in my stirrups. It was misery on my knees that had been rubbed raw by wet jeans on the 40-mile ride.

The last 2 miles, we were going full out. Ahmahl’s range riding conditioning paid off on that ride; he placed first in the lightweight division.

Those were good rides, good times, good memories, but that was the last year we traveled to competitions. Life was just too busy. Also, I wasn’t riding Ahmahl as regularly anymore. The summer of 1977, I was training two 4-year-old horses. Ahmahl wasn’t the kind of horse you could turn out in a pasture or pen and ride once in a while. It took steady, regular riding to keep him honest.

By that time, my sister had graduated from college and started vet school and was short of money — and she knew a fellow who was looking for a good endurance horse. I gave Ahmahl back to her, to sell to that guy. Ahmahl was perfect for him; he was looking for a big horse with a big heart and a lot of endurance. He was a big man who felt funny riding a little Arab. On his try-out ride on Ahmahl, they galloped to the top of a steep mountain. Ahmahl took a couple deep breaths and was ready to go again. In his new career as an endurance horse, the goofy gelding would be traveling enough miles to keep him happy and honest, so I trust that they got along fine.

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