By Laura Crum
As those of you who have read my posts here and/or my ten mystery novels featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy already know, I’ve spent most of my life with horses. I grew up riding horses on our family ranch, I spent my twenties cowboying on a cattle ranch and training and competing on cutting and reining horses, and my thirties competing at team roping. Along the way I’ve broken and trained many colts (for myself and others), horse packed across the Sierra Nevada Mts numerous times, and hey, even showed jumping horses as a teenager. I’ve owned and loved many good horses in my life; currently I have eleven. So I think I can say with some fairness that although I was never a world caliber rider by any means, I have as much or more experience with horses as many horsemen (or horsewomen) who bill themselves as experts.
Whether these experts are trainers or horse bloggers, clinicians or authors of some kind, they all have opinions, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. While reading a horse blog the other day, I came across the blogger’s description of how to catch a difficult horse. Now I believe this gal is reasonably knowledgeable; nonetheless my first thought was, “that’s sure not how I would do it.” I considered posting a comment to that effect, complete with a description of how I would do it, but then decided, why bother? She has her opinion; I have mine. And more and more, at fifty-one years of age, after a lifetime spent owning and training horses, I do it my own way, with no regard for what anyone else thinks. (And I try to make space for others to do the same—which means not proffering unasked for advice to the lady with the blog about horse catching.)
Yes, that’s me in the photo, which was taken just this last summer. Those of you who read my May post titled “The New Horse” will probably recognize Sunny, the little “palomino plug” I bought to ride the trails with my seven year old son. And in case anybody’s wondering, yes, I ride him in Ugg boots and cargo pants. Very comfortable—not at all PC by horseman’s rules.
I do realize that the boots have no heels and most of the horse world would say it was dangerous to ride in them. Folks, I ride in sandals, sometimes even in flip flops, in the summer. Its not that I don’t know the rules. Having trained horses and competed in contests for so many years, I can’t possibly count up the hours I’ve spent in cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, pressed long-sleeved shirt, cowboy hat…etc And you know what? I’m not planning on going there again.
Today horses are part of my life in a different way. I no longer dress up to “do” horse activities; I don’t drive to my horses in someone else’s barn. I rarely haul them anywhere in my trailer (believe me, after hauling horses around the western United States for twenty years, the trailer does not look very appealing to me)> My horses live with me: I can see their corrals from my front porch. I feed them night and morning (sometimes in a sarong and sandals); I ride them out my front gate and through the hills in whatever comfortable clothes I have on. They graze around me as I work in the garden and nicker to remind me when I’m late with breakfast or dinner.
I don’t mean to heap scorn on the idea of boots and/or hardhats or other items relating to safety. I would never ride a green horse or a rank horse in anything other than proper boots. My son wears a helmet when he rides and has tapaderos on his saddle, which I highly recommend for kids. I definitely believe that its best to err on the side of caution if you are a novice rider, and especially with children. But at this point in my career, I’m perfectly comfortable on/around my broke horses in Ugg boots, sandals… you name it. And I take deep pleasure in how comfortable I am with my horses now. They are part of the fabric of my life in a way that’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it. Those who have will understand.
At a “girl’s night out” not too long ago with two fellow horsewomen who have been at it as long as I have and have reached a similar (but not exactly the same, of course) point in our thinking, the thrust of our conversation was mostly about how enjoyable this stage of life with horses is. Yes, none of us are as good at riding as we once were, all of us have given up competing, two of us are stout, two of us have back problems…the list goes on. But we are all having so much more fun with our horses, now that we aren’t so driven to compete, to improve, to excel…etc.
In short, after a lifetime spent with horses, and a few trophies to prove I was once a decent trainer and competitor in some pretty demanding events, I can honestly say that this is the very best part. Or my favorite part, anyway. My life with horses right now, as a plump fifty-one year old mama riding a little palomino plug down the trail wearing my comfortable Ugg boots, with my son following me on his old, gentle horse, headed back to our small horse ranch where the other equines (and dog, cats, chickens, vegetable garden, not to mention husband) are waiting….this is the life with horses that I want now.