Romeo paints No. 19

Original art painted by a horse.

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The Diary of DaVinci
© 2006-2008 by Cheryl Ward

Installment 11: Clyde-itis
May 12, 2008

Watch the video DaVinci and the Clyde

There are some days with DaVinci where I wonder if I'll ever have the relationship with him that I have with Romeo and Juliet. With the Pasos I have no boundaries. They are fully willing participants in any adventure with me, on or off their backs. Even after a year of working with DaVinci I realize just how far we have to go. In certain moments, I get discouraged thinking what I might be doing wrong. But then I'm reminded by how far he's come and how each day he's slowly transforming.

In my entire life, DaVinci's journey ranks as my greatest exercise in patience. I try to think of him as a flower, to wait and let him blossom on his own time, into his own beauty, not something I rush along to satisfy my ego.

As I sit and write and reflect on what I could do for DaVinci, my friend sends me an email about two Clydesdale colts for sale. "Think of all the fun you could have with one of these!" the email reads. I write back and say "Not funny." But the moment my eyes gaze at the attached photos, I get a virus. I think it's Clyde-itis. I begin researching everything Clyde. I'm clear that I don't want one, but it is a fascinating breed I really know nothing about.

About a month later, a woman moves in next door. She comments that her friend just bought a new Clyde colt and is bringing him over to her house for a socialization visit. I peek out the window to see a gangly, awkward, large-hoofed colt, grazing calmly in the midst of two, lovely mares. He's one of the Clydes in the email, the one that gave me the virus.

I wander outside and strike up a conversation. It turns out he was purchased from the ad I saw, but he may be for sale again. I pretend I don't hear that. Later in the same conversation, the Clyde's owners mention they need their trailer welded and repaired. Coincidently, Sam can weld.

Coincidently again, we get a phone call a few days later. "How would you like to exchange trailer repairs for your choice of either the Clyde colt you saw, or the five-month-old bay filly?"

My Clyde-itis starts to act up. I get all feverish. Here's my chance to own a draft, to start a youngster, to work with a fresh, untainted mind. And it's a clyde. But I don't need a fourth horse!

Plus it's really up to Sam since he'd be the one doing most of the repairs. So I defer to him, hoping he'll knock some sense into me. He says, "I really liked the colt with the big ole head."

It was then I knew I was completely taken by the virus. It was a full blown disease at this point. No verbal dose of penicillin is available to suppress my symptoms of Clyde-itis. This disease is now running it's own course.

In my final attempt to be sensible, I decide to leave the acquisition of a fourth horse up to the horse itself.

The choice is between two registered PMU Clydes. The first is a five-month-old bay filly with perfect markings. The other is the one we met, a gangly, 15-month-old, bay roan colt that looks more like an appaloosa-mule-stork-baby than the stereotypical, gleaming, prancing, beer-delivering cousins. This is going to be difficult. How do I decide which horse wants to come home with me, if any?

We arrive at the home of three young Clydes—two fillies and the colt. I walk out into their paddock. I'm greeted by two very curious fillies wondering why I'm in their paddock. The colt keeps his distance, grazing about twenty yards away.

To the filly who's one of my available choices, I say out loud, "Hi! Do you want to come home with me?" She just looks at me and nuzzles the other filly that the owners are keeping.

I feel a little pathetic. I'm looking for a sign, something outside myself to tell me what I should do. But I'm betwixt and between. I don't need another horse, but I do notice that DaVinci, even after a year of being with Romeo and Juliet, is always the third wheel, the odd-man-out. I often wonder if he'd be happier with a buddy of his own.

If Romeo and Juliet were in high school, I have a feeling they'd be in the snooty clique. I'm not completely averse to getting a fourth horse, but I don't need one and I certainly haven't made any plans to get one. But I've always loved draft horses. I just don't want to make a hasty decision that I may regret.

I ask again, this time with as much telepathy as I can muster, "Are you supposed to come home with me?"

I wait for anything—a look, a whinny, a sneeze, a thought that pops into my head.


I try to walk over to the colt, but he walks away. I start to think that maybe I don't really need a Clyde after all. Eventually all three youngsters gather together. I walk up between them and stand very still as they form a circle around me. For such young horses they're so calm, so still. I'm amazed. I stand and let them nuzzle me. Not once do I feel nervous that they might need to teethe on me.

I ask again, "Now that you're all together, is there one of you that would like to go home with me?" I expect nothing, but I take a deep breath and wait. All of a sudden the colt looks intently into my eyes and I feel him say, "Pick me! Pick me!"

On a few distinct occasions prior to this moment, I've heard horses 'speak' very clearly in my thoughts. When I hear this, it's unmistakable, coming directly from him. Once I heard his voice and what he said, there's no turning back.

About two weeks later a freshly-castrated Clydesdale gelding arrives at my house. As he calmly hoists his giant hooves out of the trailer, I'm suddenly filled with mild panic.

I think to myself, "Wow, does he have a big butt!" My comfort zone of horse heights ranges around 14-15 hands high. Anything taller makes me feel like I'll get a nose bleed. Am I experiencing a major case of buyer's remorse?

My thoughts are as follows:

"What am I doing with a giant horse?"

"I think I'm an idiot."

"What the heck was I thinking?"

"This isn't a horse, this is a wooly mammoth!"

"I now own three horses and dinosaur!"


As if this poor creature can read my thoughts, he gently stretches his giant head towards me, stopping just close enough to my face so his soft, white nostrils can inhale my breath. We stand for a moment just breathing each other. I feel a wave of calm wash over me.

"Rollie" is the name he came with. I change the spelling to "Raleigh." I also add "Sir Walter" to the front. I think it has a nice, regal ring to it, Sir Walter Raleigh. But a few days later, after I call him Wally, Raleigh and Buddy, he becomes affectionately known as "Waddie," (rhymes with "Scotty").

For an entire month he has to stay away from anything 'mare,' especially Juliet, my lovely Paso Fino, as he still may be able to act on his manliness. I don't want to envision what a Clyde/Paso cross would look like. With strategically placed hot wire, I don't have to.

During Raleigh's month of separation from the mares, he and DaVinci are turned out in the same pasture. They are instant buddies. They spend practically the entire day taking turns walking around head-to-butt, like horses that are too close to each other on a trail ride. Raleigh walks with his head pressed against DaVinci's butt, and then they switch. They seem perfectly happy so I don't ask questions.

Later I turn all of them out together. True to form, Romeo and Juliet stay in their clique. To add to the drama, Romeo, with a few martial-arts-inspired back kicks, lets Raleigh know who calls the shots. Juliet begins to assert her alpha-mare status and chases Raleigh around the pasture for a few laps.

Fortunately with his super-sized long legs, he can out run both Romeo and Juliet. After escaping, he returns to DaVinci's butt and all is well.

I begin working with Raleigh just as I did with DaVinci, starting with lessons on targeting. Raleigh catches on so fast I quickly have to adapt and make certain I have planned the next training goal in advance. I've never 'started' a young horse, or a horse that has the potential to weigh as much as three of my other horses put together. I feel pressure to get it right the first time. I know full well the repercussions of large, misguided teeth and hooves.

Most of what I read about draft horses cautions that they can be insensitive, pushy and bargy. Using the target stick, Raleigh learns to target the stick backwards using the verbal cue, "Back." As soon as he gets good at backing, I use the target and place my hand on his nose and say "Back." Soon he's backing like a champ. Instead of being bargy, I find him to be extra sensitive and willing. It could be that, unlike DaVinci and Romeo, this guy has nothing to undo.

Everything I try with him works. He's a huge boost to my confidence. One day I play ball with DaVinci. He picks it up a few times and then plays "soccer" using his hoof to push it around. I see Raleigh, ears forward, watching and emulating all of DaVinci's moves. I laugh out loud watching him lift his hoof. He's not pawing. He's lifting his hoof imitating DaVinci.

The next day I'm cleaning out the horse trailer and leave the escape door open. I look out the window, and to my horror, I see Raleigh hopping in the trailer through the two-and-a-half-foot-wide by five-foot-tall escape door. I quickly run back outside to lower the ramp so he can exit through the 'horse' door. Whew.

Given Raleigh's proclivity to climb, I figure he'll love to work on the tire pedestal. The next day I ask DaVinci up onto a tire. I then ask Raleigh up onto another tire by moving my foot in a 'hoofing' motion. With a resounding thud, he calmly places one large hoof on the tire, followed by the next hoof. Within moments he has all four fuzzy feet high atop the tire.

I'm not used to this type of willingness. I don't have to explain anything to him. I just make it very clear, or I use DaVinci as an example, or I'll cue him with something that he's familiar with, such as targeting. He happily does what I ask.

Raleigh has a special way of making me feel confident and making DaVinci feel calm. He approaches new scenarios with a 'what wonderful thing is going to happen next' attitude.

For instance, when DaVinci sees Raleigh's happy interaction with something new, such as the saddle or a surcingle, it seems to show DaVinci that the potentially scary object or event is going to be fun, something to look forward to.

Any discouragement I feel from DaVinci's lengthy timeline of recovery has vanished. It's seems like Raleigh's gentle, trusting temperament has been contagious to DaVinci. I am excited at the opportunity to train DaVinci in tandem with Raleigh, something I never anticipated.

I'm thrilled with what I'm seeing. I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that when I follow my heart, not the voice I think I should follow, the real magic occurs. I'm glad I let my Clyde-itis run its course and I think DaVinci is too.

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© 2004-2007 Cheryl Ward & Sam Sharnik
Last updated January 10, 2009