Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chicken Drama and Wild Horses

by Linda Benson

I really enjoy watching animals. I love to watch horses, dogs, cats, and yes, even chickens as they go about their daily lives and relate to each other. I could probably spend all day sitting in a chair outside, just watching.

But alas, I was across the canal with my wheelbarrow, cutting blackberries, when a very big drama played out recently at our house. All I had left was the pictures to prove what happened. But as a good animal observer, it was fairly apparent to me.

"Your rooster," my husband hollered to me, "is chasing Dory all around and pecking on her."

Uh oh. This was the confrontation I had been dreading. The rooster is a new addition to our flock. For a year, we'd had only laying hens, which had all gotten along quite nicely without a male, taking dirt baths in my flower beds, following us around the yard for treats such as left-over fruit and vegetable scraps (they love watermelon) and of course laying big brown eggs.

But since a couple of my hens had become "broody" (deciding to set on a nest instead of laying eggs,) I've had to either: buy fertile eggs for them to hatch, or buy new-born baby chicks and place them carefully underneath mama (and then cross my fingers that she'd accept them - she did.)

But this process would be so much easier if the hens just had a rooster (and then the eggs would be fertile and they could hatch their own.)

So - meet Rusty. He is a Welsummer Rooster (yes, spelled with only one "L") and he was four months old when we got him, just learning how to crow. Now he is five months old, and has pretty much figured everything out.

Our hen Dory (she is an old heritage breed called a Silver Gray Dorking) has been the lead hen for the past year. Similar to a wise old mare in horse herd dynamics, she has made the decisions for the flock, kept watch for predators, made the alarm sound when a large bird flies overhead, and pretty much been ruler of the roost (in lieu of an actual rooster.) And I knew she wouldn't give up that position easily.

So when my husband called out to me, I instantly knew what had happened. And the power shift did not go easily, because both Dory and Rusty had blood on their combs, which means they got into a nasty fight. And Dory (dear thing) had lost. Not only the fight, but her position as leader of the flock.

In fact for one entire day, she was extremely scared of Rusty, and every time she saw him, she'd fly up to sit next to me, for both moral support and safety.

And I watched them both closely for a couple of days, because although the balance of power had now shifted, I didn't want the young rooster (or anyone else, for that matter) to continue to pick on Dory, who obviously got the worst of the fight.

What was interesting was watching Dory's body language that second day. Just as horses will show submissiveness to an older horse, or to the herd leader, by posturing or mouthing like a baby, every time the rooster came near her, Dory flapped her wings slowly in a submissive gesture, as if to say "all right, you're the boss now."

The drama seems to be over for now, and Dory (a very people-oriented hen) is hanging out with the rest of the flock again. They free-range all over our property during the day, so they can basically go wherever they want (but stay in a safe pen at night so predators won't get them.)

But Dory still comes and sits next to me from time to time, as if sharing girl talk. "He's a big meanie," she says.

"Yes, I know," I tell her. "It's a macho thing."

What does all of this have to do with wild horses? Well, this:

Wouldn't you like it if the BLM would release some of those thousands of mustangs they are holding in corrals across the west, and allow them to free-range on some private (or government) property with viewing stands set up so people could watch them? They have wildlife viewing places like this for elk - I have been to several of them.

Would you stop at a place like this and just sit for awhile and watch horses be horses, in natural surroundings? I would. I would! Doesn't this seem like a good solution, at least for some of those horses? Let's talk about it!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Question to Readers

                                                  by Laura Crum

            So today I want to ask for your thoughts. I have in mind two possible writing projects for blog posts. One is a series of posts on different horse training subjects, based on my years of training horses and addressing the many things I see today that I do not agree with. I am quite sure these posts will provoke a good deal of argument, as my views are not currently fashionable.
            On the other hand, I don’t train horses any more, and I don’t really have a deep need to write about the subject. What I do want to write about—for myself—is a piece about the way I developed my own little horse property. This would be a series of posts similar to the autobiographical posts I did a year or so ago about my life with horses. And also similar to the series of posts I did on building my little pond. There wouldn’t be a whole lot about horses in these posts—some horse stuff, lots about garden design and architecture…etc. I feel sure these posts wouldn’t generate much discussion.
            So here’s my question—which would you prefer to read? I would really love it if you would let me know in the comments (either here or on facebook). Thank you.
            And here, just for fun, is a photo of my most recent solo ride through the forest on my good little yellow trail horse. We had a lovely time. I hope summer has also been good to all of you and your equine friends.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What To Do?

                                                by Laura Crum

            I was recently faced with yet another horsey drama. I don’t know about you guys, but I HATE horsey dramas. This is one more reason why I am drawn to gardening and my pond…etc, these days, where the dramas tend to be a little more benign. But last week, I got a phone call from my friend/boarder/horse partner Wally, that pretty much made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
            “I got a call from T today, “ he said.
            “Uh oh,” I said.
            “Uh oh is right. The horses got out on the road last night.”
            “Oh no,” I said, and a nightmare immediately flashed through my mind.
            “The horses are OK,” Wally reassured me, “and the neighbor put them back in the field, but we’ve got a problem.”
            So now I have to backtrack and explain what horses these are. It’s kind of a long, complicated story, so you can either bear with me, or just skip the rest of this post.
            Over the last twenty years I’ve taken care of a motley collection of horses. My older retired horses, Wally’s older, retired horses, and some horses that belonged to friends and uhmm, acquaintances, that I took on because they were sweet old geldings that needed a break. Some of the time I kept these horses at a pasture that I own in the Sierra foothills (three hours from here). But that pasture is not a good place for horses in the summer and fall, when the grass dries up and the heat is severe. Horses that live there year round must be fed and fly-sprayed every day in the dry season. And I had no way to do this. My friend who caretakes the property doesn’t mind keeping any eye on the horses during grass season, but he doesn’t want the job of daily feeding and care that the dry season demands. So we brought the horses home every June and kept them in my corrals for the summer and fall, bringing them back to the pasture in December, when (usually) the green grass comes back.

            But I kept acquiring horses, and I didn’t have enough room at home for all of them. Wally had a friend named T who had been in the horse business all his life. Fifteen or so years ago, he was down to one old mare, whose companion, a pony, had just died. T approached Wally about finding a companion for the mare. And Wally and I decided this was the answer to our problem.
            Because T had twenty acres of pasture that grew good feed year round, due to a hillside that was irrigated by a spring. And T’s place was twenty minutes from us. So we put the three older retired geldings that we had no room for at home out at T’s place for the summer. And they did so well that we left them there year round.
            At first it seemed ideal. T was happy and we were happy. But, as is usual in life, there was a downside. The main downside was the fences. The fences were, in places, really crappy. Like several strands of sagging barbed wire. We picked them up and patched them up as best we could, but truly making the place a well-fenced pasture would have taken thousands of dollars. Both Wally and I preferred not to spend our money on T’s place. And T was not interested in spending money on the fences. So we limped along for many years, patching the fences as needed. Our horses did not get out. We had a couple of minor cuts, but nothing serious.
            We acquired a few more horses that needed homes. We retired a couple more horses. At one point we had seven horses at T’s place. And the field carried them pretty well. We fed them during the dry season, whenever it was needed. Overall the horses thrived and were happy. However…
            The median age of our little group of retirees got older and older. Half of them needed senior feed to thrive. T was not interested in feeding, or really, in anything but looking at the horses. Wally and I drove out there at all hours of the day and night to feed and blanket/unblanket our increasingly geriatric herd. We began to wonder if we were doing the right thing keeping this whole program going, as some of the horses were too thin, even with heaps of senior feed and free choice pasture. Three years ago we made a hard choice, and put two of the old guys down. I brought Gunner (then 31) home to give him the absolute best care I could.
            Both Wally and I were maxed out on the idea of putting our energy and resources and time into caring for horses at T’s place. T’s old mare was dead now. But three horses remained in the pasture. A bay gelding that belonged to me, a sorrel mare that belonged to Wally, and a gray gelding that belonged to neither of us, but that we were effectively responsible for. And we had no idea what to do with these horses.
            None of them were horses that either of us had spent much time riding. The bay gelding, Danny, I bought as a three year old. I rode him for six months and then I got pregnant. I gave Danny to a friend, and he did pretty well, but developed a bucking habit. Still, the friend was getting him through it, when Danny was severely injured in a freak accident (got hit by a truck). The friend would have put him down, but I took Danny back and rehabbed him. He never got completely sound, but he was sound enough to be a pasture pet. And a pasture pet is what he is today, at 18 years of age. Not sound, very sweet. Easy to handle on the ground.
            Wally’s mare is one that he raised himself, out of his old mare, Tiz, and by a good stallion that belonged to a friend of mine. Wally put the filly in training for the Snaffle Bit Futurity as a 3 year old, but she flunked out. He tried to use her as a heel horse, but she flunked out there, too. (I should add that she was willing and athletic but a little too inclined to prop when stopped hard—that was the only reason she “flunked” out.) He gave her to friends to use as a broodmare and she produced somewhere in the neighborhood of seven nice babies, all of whom sold for a good price. But then the bottom fell out of the horse biz and the friends gave her back. Wally found her a home with some other friends who wanted to raise colts, but they got a divorce and gave her back. So now the little sorrel mare is 19 and out in the pasture at T’s. Friendly, not quite sound, and a happy pasture pet.
            The gray gelding belonged to friends who didn’t want him any more. He’s in his mid-20’s, not quite sound, a very sweet horse and a happy pasture pet.
            Wally and I don’t know what in the world we could do with these three horses if we can’t keep them at T’s. Neither of us can afford to board them or “retire” them at a retirement farm. And I’m gonna be frank here. The five horses I care for at home (two of them retired, the others in their 20’s or late teens)-- all of these horses have carried me, or my son, or Wally, for hundreds of miles. All without one wreck, or even a bad moment. They have taken care of us and now it’s my turn to take care of them. They have EARNED their retirement.
            The horses at T’s place are not in this category. Perhaps through no fault of their own, but for a fact, they have not been the horses who carried us safely through so many hours in the saddle. I don’t owe them the way I owe the five horses here. And this is very clear in my mind.
            Also, I have five corrals, and there are five horses here. My small horse property is “legal” for five horses—no more. I absolutely cannot take another horse out here.
            So Wally and I both feel that keeping the horses at T’s, crappy fences and all, is the only option for Danny, Little Witch and Gray Dog. But it’s completely unacceptable to have horses out on the road. Wally went out that morning to find out what had happened.
            Well, it turned out to be the kind of stupid drama that is all too common in the horse biz. Unbeknown to us, T and the neighbor had gotten into a pissing contest. First the neighbor had felled a tree on top of the pathetic fence and flattened it. The neighbor rebuilt the fence, but put it on T’s side of the property line. T insisted the fence be moved. Surveyors and lawyers were brought in. And apparently, sometime in the last week, the pissed off neighbor just took the fence down. This little drama had been going on for awhile (no one told us). And eventually the horses walked through the now non-existent fence, across the neighbor’s property, and got out on the busy road—at night. Thank God no one was hurt.
            Wally locked the horses up in the one corral on the property, and fed them, and we pondered what to do. We really didn’t have any options for these horses, as I have explained. We were both sick of the situation, but the horses were having a good life. We didn’t want to put the horses down, and T was still happy to have them in the pasture. Wally decided that as he is the easy-going one between the two of us (and this is very true), he would try to negotiate between T and the neighbor.
            So this goes on for three days. First Wally talks to the neighbor, then he talks to T. Meanwhile the horses are living in a corral and must be fed AM and PM. We are all frustrated. Eventually (after much talking) Wally is able to meet with both the neighbor and T and get them to agree on where the fence goes. And several days after that the neighbor finally gets the fence back up. We are all heartily sick of the whole situation, but…the three horses are now turned back out in the pasture and are happy. We are hoping they can lead a pleasant life for just awhile longer.
            So yeah, I have no more patience for this sort of drama…but I AM glad that our three useless but sweet horses are still having a good life. Is there anybody else out there who is sick of all the drama that seems to go with horses? At least at my own place I can get it down to the inevitable tragedies that go with loving living creatures, but whenever other people are involved it seems to result in this kind of unnecessary grief. Any thoughts?


Friday, August 8, 2014

Vacation! (Almost There)

Hat, Loads of Lotion and a Good Book
Yes, that will be me soon. We leave for a week at Emerald Isle, NC, tomorrow. I am imagining myself relaxing at the beach even though the forecast is rain. But imagine I will (she said with determination.)

I had to go to Google images and find a photo of me at the beach since I am not there yet, and not one was of a pale, bandy-legged lady. Most were of gorgeous teens in bikinis and hunks in Speedos, and I know you would not be fooled.  One day I will have to change the photo on my website, but right now I am enjoying looking at myself ten years younger.  

As all of you know, getting ready for a vacations is stressful. Our kids are grown (but coming with us with their significant others) and it is easier this year than when they were little but leaving the garden, cat and horses gives me indigestion.   Fortunately the dogs go with us with their beds, bowls and leashes, but the poor cat has to stay home (and he does get lonely!) and of course, the horses, too, since I have not braved camping with them as Laura and others have done.

This year was harder finding someone to 'house/animal' sit, but I am feeling fine about the arrangement.  I would rather have responsible/reliable than an experienced horse person, because responsible wins out for me.  The gals coming are not horse people, but I have made the horses' care almost foolproof.  And of course, I have a horse friend and vet 'on call' in case there is an emergency.   By foolproof, I mean the sitters really don't even need to go in the pasture with the horses.  Water tub will need to be cleaned and grain buckets picked up, but they can do that once the horses have finished eating and moved off.  I always forget how uneasy non-horse people can be around horses, and I wanted this to be stress free for the humans.  My horses are hardy, plus the pasture is lush, there's a run-in shed for storms and trees for shade.

In prep, I bathed Relish and Bell, cleaned all buckets and tubs, secured all gates, put feed in the garage, not the barn, and dabbed the horses with a dose of two week  fly repellent.  The sitters know to call my horse friend if something seems odd, or a horse looks injured. Hopefully, they will recognize either.

So tomorrow my family is off for a week at our favorite beach where I will be relaxing and finally writing my
book . . . but that's another post.

Before you head off for your own vacation, what gives you indigestion? And BTW--enjoy the last weeks of summer!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Summer Vacations: Disneyland to Del Mar

by Natalie Keller Reinert

Real life? What's that? Summer vacations have me way too busy, running off my feet, to stop and think about real life. I'm just flitting between airports, train stations, hotel rooms, and my desk, catching up on all the work I've missed while on vacation. The bonus of this is that my apartment is nearly always clean, because I'm hardly ever anywhere in it but my office.

Now, most horsepeople do not get to go on vacations, so let me explain how they work. In short, a vacation is when you go somewhere without your horses and immediately seek out other people's horses to look at/pet/mentally compose careful conformation critiques of/take pictures of.

In the early part of our summer, we went to California, where we found horses in all the right places: in theme parks and at racetracks. You know, where anyone can find them. I am a working horse's biggest fan, especially when they are in places where non-horsepeople can get up close and personal and be taken with a horse's startling mixture of strength and gentleness (something that we tend to take for granted after years working alongside them).

Here are some of my summer vacation OPH (Other People's Horses) snaps:

This gorgeous roan Clydesdale at Disneyland had just finished a big slobbery drink from a bucket and was getting ready to head back to Sleeping Beauty Castle.
A lovely Belgian walking the horse-drawn trolley around the Hub and towards Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.
A close-up of the Clydesdale to prove the rumor... Disneyland horses are barefoot! How amazing is that!
Del Mar Racing on the turf. This track makes great use of its infield, allowing for some amazing views like this.

And of course for the perfect selfie. New author photo?

A schoolie in the gorgeous paddock at Del Mar.

I am obsessed with Del Mar's palm trees. What a racetrack. A palace for racehorses.


This gorgeous reproduction of a cavalry recruitment poster is hidden away on the walkway between Frontierland and Fantasyland in Disneyland.

That was Summer Vacation Part 1. Summer Vacation Part 2 starts in a little less than two weeks when Cory and I hop a train for Saratoga. We missed Saratoga last year and I can't wait to get back to the Spa!

So before I sign off and get back to the mountains of work that taking vacations saddles one with, don't forget... you have a few more days to enter to win a signed paperback of Ambition. I'm so happy that Ambition has been hanging on tight to that top three position in horse books at Amazon (right now it's number one!) and that it has been resonating with horsepeople -- because that's who I wrote it for, after all! Please go over to Goodreads and enter to win -- there are four copies up for grabs!

And now... I have to get back to writing!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ambition by Natalie Keller Reinert


by Natalie Keller Reinert

Giveaway ends August 11, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, August 3, 2014

More Adventures With Water (and Dragonflies)

                                    by Laura Crum

            So this post is (once again) not about horses (very much) or about writing or horse-themed fiction. It’s about my little project pond (again). For the back story, look here, here and here. Or click along to something else if ponds don’t interest you.
            I find my pond endlessly interesting—can you tell? When we left off it was about two months old and murky green with algae. Now it is three months old and the water is very clear—but with a green tinge. There is much filament algae growing among the water plants, but the overall clarity of the water is quite good. I actually like the green tinge—it looks mysterious.

            There are so many aspects that interest me. Raindrops hitting the water on a showery day are mesmerizing. As are reflections of clouds.

            Listening to the little fountain make a soothing water sound is very peaceful.

            Looking for new water lilies in bloom every day is exciting (to me, anyway).

            Staring at water lilies from eye level whole floating on a pool noodle is the best of all.

            But perhaps the single most fascinating thing is the dragonflies. I have learned so much about dragonflies. When we first filled the pond with water a red dragonfly showed up almost immediately. We looked him up and thought he was a “flame skimmer.” How romantic. We read that dragonflies lay their eggs on the water. The eggs hatch into underwater nymphs, which turn into dragonflies. Well, OK, then. But this did not prepare me for what really happens.

            The flame skimmer dragonfly haunted the pool. We learned that the bright red version is the male. The female (as so often in nature) was a drabber brownish orange color. We watched the female lay her eggs by dipping her abdomen in the water. We watched the male mate with the female, often while she was also laying eggs. In about three weeks we began to find the empty nymph bodies, which told my husband (who grew up on the lakes of Michigan and knew about dragonflies) that the nymphs were turning into dragonflies. The empty nymph shells had a hole in the back where the dragonfly had emerged.

            It took us awhile to realize that the little darting underwater beetles we saw were the dragonfly nymphs. And it took us even longer to be observant enough to spot a nymph who had just crawled out of the water, and watch it while a dragonfly emerged from its body. But eventually we were able to do this—quite a few times. And I have to tell you, it is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It’s not like a butterfly at all. It’s wild.
            So it goes like this. The nymph/bug, which has lived underwater for its roughly three weeks of life, crawls out of the water when it feels its time has come. It needs a vertical spot—perpendicular to the water. A cat tail, reed or vertical rock is chosen. The nymph crawls maybe six inches out of the water. It clings to the vertical spot. And then THIS happens.

            I have watched it from start to finish. Within five minutes of emerging from the water, the nymph’s back splits open and the dragonfly pushes himself out of the nymph body. The dragonfly’s head pulls out of the nymph head, leaving only an empty shell behind (this was when I realized it was not like a butterfly’s process, the nymph has to animate itself out of the water five minutes before it transforms—thus it needs a brain). The dragonfly has his brand new own legs—he leaves the nymph legs behind. Watching a dragonfly emerge from a nymph is not for the faint-hearted. It is a bit gross and messy. Not all of the dragonflies make it. If the dragonfly falls in the water he is done for.

            Eventually, if all goes well, the dragonfly is able to spread his new wings. His empty nymph body may fall back in the water or it may remain beside him. He hangs until he is able to spread his wings and his wings dry—takes about an hour from the moment he pushes out of the nymph. And then, if he is lucky, he flies away. (We have seen this, numerous times.) The dragonfly in the photo below flew away successfully two seconds after I took the photo.

            As you can see they are rather pale and golden at this point. I can only assume that their brilliant scarlet color develops as they age. And yes, this whole process fascinates me. I can’t help seeing it as a metaphor for human life.

            We are born in this human body, as the dragonfly is born as an underwater beetle—it’s all we know of life. But what if, like the dragonfly, our true calling is much different? So different that we can not even imagine it in our underwater nymph form? And when we leave the world we know and go through that messy process called death, what if that is the moment when it is possible that our true being flies free? I can’t help but think these dragonflies are here to teach me something…


            As for my horseback riding life, it’s definitely taken second place to floating in the pool. I still ride at least once a week, often at my uncle’s small ranch, where we gather the cattle for the ropers. Hmmm, no cattle in the woods…

            There they are…

            So the horses do get out some, anyway. I hope you all are having a lovely summer—whether riding, or floating, or watching dragonflies…or whatever pleases you most.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


                                                            by Laura Crum

            I rode last week with a group of ropers I’ve known most of my life. They practice together once a week these days, and my son and I like to go up and gather the cattle and help move them down the alley…etc. It gives us a chance to exercise our horses and I wanted my son to grow up understanding livestock and livestock people. But…
            There’s a reason I don’t rope any more. Roping is great fun, and it is perfectly possible to rope and compete at team roping and put the welfare of your horse above winning. Many people actually do this. And many people say that they do this, but what they really mean is that they don’t compete on their horse when he is dead lame, because, guess what, it wouldn’t work out for them. Horse couldn’t get much done anyway, might ruin his chances of being useful in the future, and other people would point fingers. That, in a nutshell, is what a lot of ropers mean by taking care of their horse.
            The truth is that most ropers that I have known treat their horse like sporting equipment. Oh, they wouldn’t say that this is how they felt, some would even say that they “love” their horses. But here’s how they behave: They take excellent care of their using horse in most ways, they may even act affectionate towards him. The only exception is when an important event is coming up and the horse is NQR. Unless they have a backup horse, they will drug their main horse in order to get through the event because “well, that’s what I have him for.” When this horse gets old and/or has a soundness problem that stops his career as a rope horse, they get rid of him. They sell him, or find him a home, or what have you, but they very rarely bother to check on him or have a buy back clause. They want to off load the problem, thank you very much, and find another horse they can rope on. Because the point is roping—the horse is incidental. He’s like a good piece of sporting equipment. You’re going to take care of it cause its valuable to you and you spent a lot of money on it and it makes sense to care for it, but hey, when it’s broken it’s broken and you just have to get rid of it and get a new one.  And yes, this is EXACTLY how most ropers that I have known deal with their horses.
            I’m not even going to talk about the smaller subset of ropers that are very hard on their horses and pretty much torture them in order to win. Those people exist, but none of my “friends” are in this category. They don’t overuse their horses, or constantly beat them up, or fail to provide adequate care. But they do, in many cases, treat them like sporting equipment. And, in fact, they would defend this approach.
            I don’t know how many times I’ve been told, “They’re not pets,” and “I own them to rope on them,” and “You shouldn’t get attached to them,” and “Yeah, he was a good old horse but he couldn’t go any more so I sold him and got one I could win on.” All said without the slightest trace of shame. And my obvious outrage was treated as completely unreasonable. I have totally had it with this shit.
            So last week at our little practice arena a father and son that I have known for virtually all my life were there. The father has been roping for well over ten years on a good roan horse that has really done right by him. The horse is in his 20s now and starting to have the sorts of arthritic problems that older horses get. He’s been lame off and on this summer and when he isn’t obviously lame he’s very stiff and rough and the guy complains that he can’t rope on him because the horse is so rough. Some of us have said that the horse has given him a good long run and deserves to be retired from roping and cared for for the rest of his life. The guy ignores us, and drugs the horse up to practice on him, but even so, the horse is rough and the guy can’t get much done.
            On top of this the guy, I’ll call him K, who is shopping for a new horse, is trying to sell/place the old rope horse as a “beginner” horse or a trail horse. Never mind the old horse is not a beginner-type horse and his arthritic issues would make it hard for him to be a trail horse in this hilly country. K doesn’t care. He just wants out of the horse, now that the gelding is no longer useful to him as a rope horse. He’s not going to check on the horse to be sure he doesn’t end up at the sale. He doesn’t feel that he owes the horse a thing. He’s happy to discard his horse in the same way you’d discard a once valued but now broken tennis racket. Perfectly standard team roper operating procedure. And it just makes my blood boil.
            I want to stop for a minute and say that I’m not picking on team ropers in particular here. I don’t suppose they’re any worse than any other horse discipline. I certainly saw very similar behavior among the cowhorse and cutting horse people that I knew. I’m betting you can see the same thing in any competitive horse discipline. And that, right there, is the problem. Competition. The need to win. Or at the very least, compete. Get to that event, be part of the scene. For most of the ropers I’ve known, it is going roping that’s important, not the horse. An individual horse is just a way to go roping…he isn’t important for himself.
            And most of these people feel perfectly justified in getting rid of a horse when he is no longer able to go roping. They may say “find him a good home,” but you know what? That phrase means nothing unless you are prepared to keep track of the horse and take him back if/when that home does not work out. Otherwise you might as well say, “Offload him onto someone else and cross your fingers he doesn’t end up at the sale.” Because that’s what it amounts to. And a great many of these offloaded horses do end up at the sale or starving and neglected in some barbed wire fenced pasture. I have seen it many times.
            The thing that really made my blood boil at the practice roping last week was when K decided he’d let his teenage son, S, have a go at roping on the poor old roan horse since he, K, wasn’t able to get much done on him. S ran that horse at several hard running steers and the horse gave all he had. He walked off noticeably lame (despite all the drugs) in the back end after every run. And those so-and-so’s just kept on using him, despite the fact that both my friend and I pointed out the horse was lame.
            I don’t blame the fourteen year old S. His father is guiding him. And everyone says what a great kid S is, and how wonderful that he’s doing junior rodeo and competing and learning about sportsmanship…etc. And I say that’s a load of crap. What S is learning is how to be heartless in the interests of winning. He’s learning that his father doesn’t care about the good roan horse and has no plans to retire him to pay the horse back for his years of service. His father just wants to squeeze the last few miles out of the poor animal. S is learning that that is the way you’re “supposed” to behave. That’s the practical, sensible thing. Treat a horse like a piece of sporting equipment. Don’t get attached to him. Don’t treat him like a pet. When he’s no longer useful you get rid of him. The point is going roping and competing and being part of the group and hopefully winning. What happens to this old roan horse who has worked hard for you all of his life is just not important.
            Mind you, these people would SAY the welfare of their horses was important to them…but I’ve already made my point about how they actually behave.
            Anyway, I got more and more angry watching this go on, and those who know me will know that I did not stand passively by and mutter to myself. When K rode up to me and complained about how he just couldn’t get anything done on the old horse because the horse was so rough, I looked him right in the eye and said, “K that horse is rough because he’s old and he hurts in a lot of places. He’s been a really good horse for you for a lot of years. The only right thing to do now is retire him from roping and let him live out his life in comfort. He’s earned that. And you can afford it. (K has far more money than I do.) Buy another horse to rope on and retire this one the way he deserves to be retired.”
            K just shrugged. And kept on running cattle on the horse.
            I overheard my friend tell K the exact same thing I had just told him. K kept on roping.
            I was having a hard time watching. I told three other friends who are decent horsemen that I thought we should confront K. One said, “It’s his horse.” Another said, “You might as well beat your head against a concrete wall.” Both things were true, but that doesn’t absolve us from trying to do the right thing, boys.
            The third one said, “You’re right in what you say, but I don’t want to make unpleasantness.”
            To that I said, “I like the horse a hell of a lot better than I like the guy. I think unpleasantness is called for.”
Nobody appeared to approve of this sentiment.
By this time I had well and thoroughly had enough. I had said what I could say, and it was certainly true that throwing a fit wasn’t going to help anything. I unsaddled my horses and left. And right now I am considering whether I ever want to go back. Just as I gave up going roping because I didn’t want to support the abuse I’d seen at ropings with my dollars or my presence, I am questioning whether I want to support the abuse I saw at that practice roping with my presence and the tacit assumption that I am “friends” with these guys. Because I 100% disagree with the way K is behaving and I don’t support or condone anyone who behaves like this. I don’t even want to be around it.
For those who will say that I do some good by being there and speaking my truth, I’m afraid I disagree. Those people don’t care what I think. To them my opinion means nothing, because I don’t go roping any more. I’m just a laid back trail rider whose thoughts on horses are sentimental and not the proper roper’s attitude. They think I don’t get the point—which is, of course, to keep on going roping, whatever it takes. In their mind I treat my horses like pets—which ain’t the way it’s supposed to be done.
So yeah, for the record, I don’t care what you say about pets or not pets or what have you. The truth is that when a horse has given his best for so many years to help you achieve your goal of going roping and being competitive, you OWE that horse. It’s your god damn obligation to retire him and pay him back for all he did for you. If you wouldn’t dump your dog, how much more should you not dump your horse, who did far more for you than your dog ever did—unless you run the Iditarod, or some such thing.
There are many, many ways to retire a horse that are ethical and appropriate. You don’t have to keep him at home eating and doing nothing if that bothers you. Many old horses love being light riding horses (our Henry does). It’s fine to give/loan the horse to someone else as long as you keep track of him and take responsibility for him. You can send him to a legitimate retirement farm. And you can euthanise him. What you can’t do is sell/give him away and “hope” it goes well for him, but make no effort to keep track of him.
And you sure as hell shouldn’t drug him to the max and keep trying to get the last bit of possible hard use out of him, knowing that you’re going to dump him on someone else as soon as you find a replacement for him. If there is any justice in eternity, the people who do this to their horses are going to be reincarnated as horses that are owned by people who will treat them in exactly this way.
If you’ve been in the horse biz for over forty years, which both K and I have been, there is something seriously wrong if you don’t have one or two retirees to care for. Oh I know there are times when your old horses may have passed on and your current horses are still using age. Or you may have had some bad luck and lost horses before they got to retirement age. But every single ethical horse person I know who has been in the business for awhile, has or had a retiree or two. Even if those retirees are babysitting a friend’s young child or some such thing. They are cared for and the owner knows where they are and how they’re doing. If you have owned horses for over twenty years and you’ve managed to get rid of all of your horses before you had to retire them, and you don’t really know what became of them or what sort of a death they had, well all I can say is God have mercy on your soul.

OK—I guess I’ve made my point. Rant over. But I meant every word of it.

PS—I do know many team ropers who love their horses and retire them when they are past going roping. This post is not about team ropers in particular. It just so happens that those are the people I’ve been riding with. I have a feeling (I don’t know this) that you will see the same percentage of people who take care of their older/non-competitive horses versus those who don’t in any competitive horse discipline. But feel free to enlighten me.