by Laura Crum
Hi, all. I’m back from my road trip, and my month long break from the internet. I have to say, as much as I enjoy this blog, and the email I get, it was very freeing to spend a whole month without once looking at a computer screen (or a screen of any sort). I think we sometimes forget just how much time we give to this activity. That said, I very much enjoyed reading the posts that were put up here while I was gone, though I was saddened to hear that Jami got some bad news about Gailey. But I loved Francesca’s story about showing Kwintus, and had fun reading all the other entries.
As for me, I tried to take the good advice you all gave me, and not worry too much about my horses while I was gone. (Thank you to all who wrote to me—I truly appreciated and paid attention to your input.) And yes, I came back to find that everything was just fine. My friend and boarder, Wally, lived here while I was gone and took great care of all critters and the garden. I am happy to be with my horses again, but, as with the internet, I also have to say that once I got into the rhythm of the trip, I found it very freeing to let go of my routines and my familiar chores and cares and just enjoy seeing new places and having new experiences.
For those who said they wanted to hear about my adventures, I had a great trip. My husband, my son, myself, and our dog, traveled from our home on the California coast to my inlaw’s home in southeastern Michigan in our camper. This is the seventh time we have made this trip in the camper and we have many favorite spots to visit and we always explore a few new places. Some highlights from this trip—visiting thousand year old Indian petrogylphs at sunrise on an isolated ranch in Utah, whitewater rafting on a spectacularly beautiful river in Colorado, camping in a remote alpine meadow at ten thousand feet in the Rockies (again in Colorado), swimming at sunset in Lake Michigan, and returning to the old pack station in the Sierra Nevada Mts of California that was part of the inspiration for my book, Slickrock. We had good luck with our traveling and no setbacks—our most nervewracking experience being camping on the Nevada desert in a big thunderstorm—lightning crashing on the buttes all around us. This was a little scary, but also spectacular. Nothing bad came of it, though the dog was a wreck—she hates thunder.
I thought of many of you as we drove across the country, having corresponded with you on the blog and knowing where you live. And Shanster, I tried to call you from Poudre Canyon, but guess what? Cell phones don’t work there.
Anyway, it was a fun time and I’m also glad to be home. All my horses look good and nickered when they saw me, and I got their feet trimmed and have started riding again, so things are back to normal here.
I have one sad, and at the same time ironic, story to share with you. It certainly made me think.
One of my favorite activities when I’m in Michigan is visiting with my sister-in-law and her husband, who train TB racehorses. By the time I get to their place, I’ve been away from my own horses for a couple of weeks and I find it very comforting to stroll around their farm, being introduced to the new babies, and then sit on the back lawn, drinking ice tea and watching the yearlings graze in their paddocks, while talking “horse” with two very experienced horsemen. This year, however, as we were pursuing this enjoyable activity, my brother-in-law, Larry, announced that they were very shook up. They had been to the track that morning to work their horses and discovered that a fellow trainer, someone they interacted with every day, had been killed the previous evening.
Apparently the man had been turning a horse out in a paddock. No one really knew what had happened, since no one was there at the time, but the man had been found with the leadrope in his hand, having been killed by a blow to the head; it appeared that he’d been kicked. The horse he was turning loose was one he’d owned for several years and my sister and brother in law said that they had never heard of the horse being difficult or dangerous.
We all shook our heads. And I bet you are doing the same as you read this. Because how many times have we all turned a horse loose without pulling the horse’s head around until he faces us and the gate? I do it all the time with my gentle horses. I step through the gate, slip the halter off, and let the horse walk past me into the corral. But any horse, even a gentle horse, is capable of kicking up his heels and running off. I’ve seen it many times. I’m sure you have, too. And it just takes being in the wrong place that one time.
In all probability, the horse that killed the trainer meant no harm. I pictured him being released from a day’s confinement in a stall, perhaps, as most of these racehorse folks keep their horses in boxstalls a lot. Full of pent up energy, he jumped forward and kicked out, striking the trainer purely by accident. I have seen horses make this gesture in a defiant kind of way, as if they were saying “I’m free now, you bossy thing,” but I have never seen one do it out of a calculated desire to do damage. That sort of purposeful kicking I most often see when a horse is tied or when someone appoaches to catch a horse. But that kicking when released, which I have seen a fair amount of, I have never thought was ill intentioned.
In a way, this makes it all the more dangerous. We know the horse isn’t malicious and so we don’t take that extra step of turning him around before we release him. My sister-in-law and I both agreed that we try to remember to do this, but we often let it slide with gentle horses.
At this very moment we looked up from our ice tea to see that the two yearlings, one still a stallion, had managed to untie the gate to the paddock and were loose. My sister-in-law trotted briskly off to shut the front gate so the horses couldn’t get out on the road, and my brother-inlaw and I went to herd them back in the paddock. They went in easily, no problem, and my brother-in-law stepped up directly behind the second colt and slapped him hard on the butt as he went through the gate. “Get in there,” he said cheerfully.
I stared at Larry as he tied the gate shut.
“You know,” I said, and our eyes met.
“I was thinking the same thing,” he said ruefully. And then he grinned. “But that horse wouldn’t hurt me. I know him. I raised him from a baby.” And we both shook our heads.
Because that’s how it happens. The horse you trust, the horse you think won’t hurt you…. And so you do dumb things, because you aren’t thinking of the downside.
The ironic part of the whole deal, for me, was that I had been thinking and writing about this subject quite a bit in the months before my vacation. Some of you may remember some of the posts I did—one called “Reality Check”, describing a similar unexpected wreck that severely hurt a good horseman, and one called “Beware”, on more or less the same subject. Here on the blog we all pondered the good and bad sides of “what if”, that insidious little voice that can either paralyze you with unnecessary fear, or help you to stay alive and intact while dealing with thousand pound animals that can easily hurt and/or kill you by accident. So the whole thing had been much on my mind. But at that moment in Michigan I had forgotten all about it. I wasn’t thinking about how dangerous horses can be, or fear issues, or blog posts or any such thing. When I did think of my horses, many miles away in California, it was in a nostalgic, aren’t-they-sweet sort of way. Thus this story hit me like a bucket of cold water.
The result, for me, is that I am making an effort to remember to turn every horse around so that he faces me and the gate before I turn him loose. Such a little thing to do, just a few extra steps, probably unnecessary, but still…
And I remain a fan of keeping “what if” in mind. I do try to walk the middle road and not give up things I love because they can be dangerous. Horses are dangerous. Though probably no more dangerous than road trips down Interstate 80 (!) I don’t plan to give up my horses or the trail riding that I love. At the same time, I am willing to make an effort to be vigilant and to learn from my mistakes and the stories of others. I am willing to keep “what if” in mind and let that little voice help me.
I feel sad for the man who died, though I never knew him, and if by sharing this story I might help prevent even one such accident in the future, it’s a worthwhile thing to do.
So, how about you guys? What’s your take on it? Do you turn your horses to face you before you turn them loose? Any insights or stories to share?