Ralph Nester: Breaking in the Yearlings

I had started to break and leg up horses on the farm and was really into that aspect of the business.   I was tired of getting the babies ready for the track and lots of them returning for various reasons; I thought there were too many quick returns.

 One I would have given away (lol) , his name was Chesapeake.  He was last to be broken, a smallish black colt with a white star on his forehead and a beautiful coat.  My good buddy Ralph Yellowdy also helped me break the babies.  We did it in small sand paddock about 35 feet across and then when they advanced we moved them to a 100 foot sand paddock with solid board fencing, about 8 foot walls, so we could get the horses’ attention at all times. 

Well, it came Chesapeake’s turn, so we flipped a coin as to who was gonna hold him and who was gonna get on him.  I lost the toss, to my dismay…   Ralph Y was laughing at me, he was not very sympathetic.   He was leading Chesapeake around the sand paddock with a saddle on.   We had tried in his stall, he was going to have no part of it.   So, to the sand paddock we went and after not being able to convince Ralph Y it was really his turn , I said,  “Ok, we got this.”  

I had Ralph Y give me a leg up.  I would grab the pommel of the skirt on the opposite side of the saddle and ease up on the horse with him giving me a leg up and holding the horse at same time while circling him in small circles.  I’d belly the saddle (which means lay on my belly with assistant holding onto one ankle).   Well, Chesapeake was ready.  I eased up on the saddle and gently lied across him on my belly. The first step he took, he exploded.   He threw me, it seemed about 10 feet in the air.  I was still in lying on my belly stance, and as I was coming down and Chesapeake was coming up full force, he bucked me very hard , and my belly took the impact.  An  800 lb yearling can move very fast and buck like a bronco if they want and he did.  The next thing I knew Ralph Yellowdy, my buddy, was lying against the paddock wall laughing like he  was watching the Three Stooges with his hand over his mouth!  

I was lying against the paddock fence gasping for anything that resembled air, and when I could get up without Ralph Y’s help,  he said,  “You have to get up yourself. I’m holding this stick of dynamite called Chesapeake.”  He actually was petting him.  I got my wind after about 15 minutes, and told Ralph Y to take him to stall,  that I was too busy to try him again and had important stuff to do.   He laughed more, my buddy.  I was the farm manager then, no respect!   We tried two more days with the horse, with Ralph Y laughing and in tears and me getting pretty sore.  He had made me mad, now I had to win the battle. So, at 4 a.m.  the next morning, I went to the barn by myself.  I  went to Chesapeake’s stall in the yearling barn which was about 400 yards from the training barn and office and kitchen where we had coffee each morning.

 Well, I had this idea – if he couldn’t see me get on his back he might just cooperate.  So,  I saddled him he just stood there…good!  Then, I put full cup blinkers on him and walked him around stall for a half hour.  It was dark outside so I said,  “Here goes.”   I just hopped up on him, belly first, and then eased a leg on each side.  I was aboard Chesapeake, that lightening in a fur coat.  I was amazed,  he didn’t move. 

 I thought I’d just ride him in stall till it gets daylight, when Ralph Y would come to work.  So I did and he never bucked.  Then, I decided to go for it.  I rode him from the yearling  barn to the training barn and as Ralph  Y came in to get coffee,  I rode around the corner and never looked at Ralph Y.  He didn’t say a word and went and got his coffee.  Later,  he did fix me a coffee.

Chesapeake’s instincts had told him to flee or fight when he saw something getting on his back,  like a mountain lion or bear, so when he didn’t see me get on, he saw no threat. 

Years later in Atlantic City, a friend was trying to saddle a filly.  He was a doctor who was taking up training, we were in the same barn, and he couldn’t get on her either.  His name was Dr. Zappasodi.  I did same trick and it worked.  He thought I was a miracle worker.


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