Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stacking the Odds

Laura’s post on the dangers of riding had me thinking about the dressage schooling show I went to a few weeks ago.

An acquaintance of mine was trying to sell a mare she bought about a year. Knowing I rode dressage, she emailed me to ask if I’d be willing to ride her mare in the show. She’d already paid for two tests (Walk-Trot A&B) but had injured herself on this very same horse and couldn’t ride. Her injuries were the result of her sitting too far forward in the galloping position and the horse rooting downward with its head and not really the horse’s fault. She volunteered to haul the horse and have it ready for me.

It took me one second to say “thanks, but no thanks.” I don’t ride other people’s horses that I know nothing about. In this case, I was pretty sure she didn’t know much about this Thoroughbred mare either. Nor was she ridden with any consistency. Add to that an unfamiliar situation for the mare.

All in all, a recipe for disaster. Not a smart move for a courage-challenged rider anyway. Not that I’m a coward, but I choose to be brave on horses I know inside and out.

I tried to explain to her that I didn’t ride other people’s horses and finally recommended a friend who’s younger and braver. As it was, the mare did fine at the show, but that’s all beside the point. She did fine without me on her back getting nervous and tight and falling into all my old bad habits.

I know some people thought it was odd that I wasn’t willing to ride this green horse when I’ve ridden dressage for close to three decades and especially when I ride a huge drama queen mare on a daily basis. But I know my drama queen. I know what she’s capable of. I know shying is her worst vice. I know she shies in a certain corner of the arena. I know she likes to fall on her forehand and speed up like a runaway car going downhill on a winding mountain road. I know she’s hotter and more prone to shy when the weather is cool and stormy and dull and dependable when it’s hot. I know she’s afraid of small spaces to the point of it being a phobia. I know not to jerk on the lead rope when taking her out of her stall, but to wait for her to come out on her own after she determines the danger of hitting her head is minimal. I know she doesn’t fit in the barn wash rack designed for Arabians. I know she has to back into a trailer. Yes, I know all these things about her. I know how to deal with them.

I know how to stack the deck to have as safe an experience as possible with her every day. I don’t know how to stack the deck with strange horses, even worse, a green horse. So I don’t ride them. Call me a coward, I don’t care. I call me cautious and smart.

I’ve been hurt before riding horses. My most recent experience happened last fall when I came off the drama queen for the first time ever. I wrote about it here so I won’t bore you with the details. Luckily, I didn’t break bones, just sprained a wrist and received some arena burns because the sand was as hard as a rock where I hit the ground. Without warning, Gailey had shied in her usual corner at the canter, even though she’d gone by that corner for at least 20 minutes without batting an eye. That’s how I came off. I knew better. I knew she did shied without giving notice. Now I make sure I over bend her every time we come to the scary corner because I never know when she’ll execute another leap sideways across the arena.
I’m not getting any younger. I’m leaving the green and unruly horses to riders much younger than me. I don’t bounce anymore when I hit the ground. My body isn’t as supple as it used to be. Give me an old, dead broke horse any day of the week.

Horses are dangerous, even the old, dead broke ones, even when a person takes all the precautions necessary. Stack the deck in your favor. Stay as safe as you can for the type of rider you are or wish to be. Obviously, if you’re an aspiring trainer, you have to ride some pretty green horses and horses with vices. That’s how you build a name. I’m not a trainer, and I’m not great at sitting a buck. I know my limitations, my strengths, my weaknesses. Even more so, I know my horse. I wear a helmet. I wear full-seat breaches, in which the material on the seat is sticky, rather than slippery. I ride when other people are riding. If I go out on trails alone, I tell someone. When I ride in my arena at home, I call someone to say I’m getting on and should call them back in an hour and a half after I’m done.

Maybe you think I’m over the top. I think I’m just stacking the deck.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reality Check

by Laura Crum

I’ve written before about fear issues, but today I want to write about something different. Today I want to write about how genuinely dangerous horses are, and how most of the time we ignore or forget about this.

Yesterday a good friend of mine called me and told me that a mutual friend, a very experienced horseman, had come off a horse and broken eight ribs, his shoulder, and a leg. This man had just recovered from a horse wreck several years ago that had broken his leg in three places. He is in his sixties. Its easy to say that he shouldn’t be riding horses that might dump him, but, in fact, the horse that off-loaded him was a gentle horse that just hadn’t been ridden much lately due to the lousy weather. It spooked at a cow—and he came off hard and landed badly.

Boy oh boy did this hit home with me. My gentle horse has sometimes been livelier than usual when we ride—because he hasn’t been ridden more than one or two days a week on average all winter and spring—it just keeps on raining. Still, I make the basic assumption that all our broke horses will behave reasonably well—they always have. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But they’re just horses, after all, and any horse that is feeling good is capable of dumping the rider. The trouble is that being dumped can be so serious.

Jami posted awhile ago about Courtney King-Dye, the Olympic caliber dressage rider who came off the young horse she was schooling, hit her head, and was in a coma for many weeks. I’ve been checking Courtney’s website for the updates her husband reports. Last I read, Courtney could speak, but had great difficulty walking and using her right hand. No one knows how long it will take or how much she can come back from this. As much as I admire this woman’s determination and positive spirit, I can’t help feeling the extent of the tragedy.

Easy to say, again, that she should have worn a helmet. But a helmet wouldn’t have helped my old friend, whose injuries were not about his head. And we all wonder how much this older man will be able to come back and lead a normal life. The friend who told me the story, another man in his sixties who has ridden all his life and is currently having his knee operated on due to being bucked off six months ago, said, only half jokingly, that he might never get on a horse again.

Helmets are certainly a good idea (says me who doesn’t wear one), but the only child I knew who was killed by a horse was killed in an English riding lesson, in an arena, wearing a helmet. A ridden horse kicked at the horse she was on and broke her neck. Christopher Reeve broke his neck while wearing a helmet. Helmets will not protect us against all horse related injuries.

Every single time I contemplate how many people get seriously hurt and/or killed on horses, I wonder why in the world I continue legging my little boy up on his horse. Maybe we should just take up soccer, like the rest of America.

And yet, I have ridden my whole life and never so much as broken a bone, let alone anything worse (knocking on wood). I’ve come off maybe a dozen times in my life (mostly back when I was training colts). Nothing more dire happened than I had the wind knocked out of me. I was out cold once when my first horse kicked me in the head. That about covers it.

Now days I stick to riding gentle, reliable horses, and, of course, this greatly reduces the odds of getting hurt. But as yesterday’s phone call illustrates, even a gentle horse can spook. And if you happen to come off wrong, the consequences can be dire.

My little boy has come off once in his life. He has been riding non-stop since he was two—first in front of me in the saddle, then on his leadline pony, then riding alone on first the pony and now his horse. I spent a lot of money on the older gelding that he rides, who is the single most reliable horse that I personally know of. My son has covered lots of rough country, loped many circles, gathered cattle, had his horse be a touch fresh. He came off when Henry spooked slightly one day. Ironically, it was when we were rehabbing the horse from colic surgery and I was hand walking him. My son was riding bareback and lost his balance. My little boy had the wind knocked out of him—nothing worse. Knocking on wood. Cause it could be much worse.

I truly believe that owning and riding horses has been a great blessing for my child. He’s learned coordination, determination and compassion, let alone enjoyed the delight and thrill of being carried along by a horse that riding gives us all. I’ve been told that horseback riding is the number one therapy for kids with developemental issues. I believe it. And if so, think how theraputic it must be for all of us (and I have certainly experienced this). But the downside haunts me.

Just yesterday we had another little boy over to play. I asked the mom if she would like me to give her son a ride on Henry. She hesitated. Then she said, “We have a thing about horses in our family. My older sister was killed when she fell off a horse. She was twenty-two.”

Well, OK, then. I immediately said that there was absolutely no reason for her to put her child on a horse and that I wouldn’t mention it to the kids. But she decided that she did want her son to ride Henry. Her boy wore a helmet, as does my kid, and both had a wonderful time. I’ve never seen such lit up eyes. Henry behaved perfectly for both boys, walking and trotting quietly for my little boy, and also for our visitor (this time on the lead rope—I am truly very cautious with beginner kids), who had never ridden before. My son demonstrated a half dozen circles at the lope, which Henry did beautifully. I was tickled. But still…the dire consequences of the downside of horses were driven home to me once again.

There is no particular answer to this conundrum. I love horses; I love to ride. I’m not ready to quit. My son and I had a couple of great rides this last weekend. It was sunny for once (though its raining again now), and both horses were perfectly behaved. Nothing could be farther from tragedy than our smiling faces, loping along in the spring sunshine, with all the roses in bloom and the air full of that sweet scent. It seemed idyllic. But it is a truly dangerous sport. No more dangerous than driving down the highway, my horse loving friend tells me. Well, maybe that’s true. I don’t know the statistics. So, I’m here to ask you. Does anyone else struggle with this? Or am I the only one who is sometimes “boggled” by the downside of horses? Especially when it seems that so many around me, some much more accomplished horsemen than I am, have been so badly hurt. And especially when I think of my son. Any thoughts?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Unlucky Horses--Francesca Prescott

It's with great pleasure that we add Francesca to our list of regular contributors. Francesca will be posting on this blog once a month. Welcome, Francesca.

The Unlucky Horses
There’s a little black stallion at my stables. His name is McKenzie, he’s a Shetland pony, and he needs a friend. Not a girlfriend, mind you; we don’t want any hanky-panky going on up there, at least, not for the moment. We don’t want any fighting, either, so another stallion is out of the question. What McKenzie needs is a nice little, even tempered, sexually-snipped companion to help him keep the daisies and dandelions under control. He needs someone other than Chelsea, the fluffy white Swiss sheepdog, to play with him and race him up and down one of the vast, lush, impeccably fenced paddocks. Yes, McKenzie needs a friend, and yesterday, when my friend Steph (who owns the stables) and I hopped into the lorry and set off for a small village in Burgundy, about two hours from home, we thought we’d found him one.

It was while browsing a local equestrian website about a week that I came across a cute little blond guy named Rusty. A six-year-old Shetland pony gelding, Rusty was - according to the blurb - friendly, schooled in the basics, and easy to handle. Pretty photographs portrayed a happy, cheeky little fellow who looked like he’d be perfect company for McKenzie. What could go wrong? How could we be disappointed? It wasn’t as though we were expecting to be presented with an exceptional, elegant, riding pony. We were expecting…well, a Shetland. They’re small and stocky and rugged.

There was a funny moment as we neared our destination. Stephanie frowned, drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, then turned to me wondering whether there was something specific we should request when they showed us the pony. Should we ask to see it trotted up? Giggling, I suggested flexion tests (tests performed on horses by vets to evaluate soundness), and for a couple of kilometers we laughingly extrapolated on ways of ensuring Rusty came with a relatively clean bill of health. But it wasn’t an issue we were particularly worried about; what could go wrong with a Shetland pony?

Oh dear.

Our jaws dropped and our stomachs lurched when we arrived at the so-called “centre” and discovered a spectacle of equine desolation. Trotting anything up was out of the question; apart from one healthy looking little mare being saddled up for a prospective client (this horse clearly didn’t “live” there), the forty horses and ponies on that godforsaken property looked as though they could barely muster enough energy to plod across the field to their water trough. Toast rack ribs poked through pock marked, scabby coats. Long, cracked feet stumbled through thick, oozy mud. Heads drooped, flies swarmed, and desperate noses nuzzled the earth in the hope of finding a clump of decent grass.

We were introduced to Rusty. Maybe he wasn’t toast-rack thin, but he was heartbreakingly apathetic, and the state of his coat made us cringe. He was clearly suffering from some sort of skin disease as vast areas of his body were balding and rubbed raw. When we asked what was wrong with him, we were told the pony had recently been examined by a vet who had been unable to figure out what the problem was, and that therefore it wasn’t anything serious. But wasn’t it contagious? we wondered. Oh, no! Look at all the others; they’re perfectly fine!

Perfectly fine. Yeah, right.

Admittedly, at Steph’s stables, the horses lead extremely pampered lives. Their stables are impeccable, they receive top quality food, are groomed daily from head to toe, their bodies regularly scrutinized for the slightest booboo, their demeanor constantly observed for any sign of distress. They spend a couple of hours every day grazing in individual, regularly rotated, juicy green pastures. They’re shod every five weeks, and wear leg protections when out in the field or being exercised. They’re spritzed with fly-spray, with mane and tail detangling spray, or with whatever kind of spray their wellbeing requires at any given moment. Yes, they’re extremely lucky horses. They’re also happy horses; those expressive eyes and shiny coats don’t lie. Nor do those welcoming whinnies!

Of course, horses and ponies can do perfectly well without all the trimmings ours are fortunate enough to enjoy. The crazy thing is that the young lady who greeted us at the “centre” yesterday is probably a horse lover brimming with good intentions; she was clearly devastated when we regretfully informed her that we wouldn’t be buying Rusty because we couldn’t risk infecting our own horses with some obscure skin disease. I felt terrible, because chances are she was counting on that money to buy a few bales of hay, or a couple of bags of food for her skinny animals. But even if we’d bought that poor pony, the money we’d have paid her would have been spread far too thinly on the remaining forty horses. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and a part of me feels sorry for that misguided young lady, but, seriously, what is she thinking? As we stood there, stroking sad faces, she solemnly told us she’d recently bought nine young horses from Romania.

Does she honestly think she’s doing those Romanian horses a favour? Are they really better off semi-starved and practically crippled in a muddy field hidden away down a dirt track somewhere in the hills of Burgundy? It's not like she’s running a horse rescue centre; she's running a business, buying young horses, breaking them in, and selling them on. But what kind of future will these malnourished, physiologically doomed young horses have? Who will buy them? How long will they suffer?

We drove away thoroughly depressed. I couldn’t help thinking of those sordid stories you read in the newspapers once in a while about animal protection services discovering cat-crazed individuals sharing tiny living conditions with hundreds of felines. Is Rusty’s “home” in Burgandy a case for the animal protection services? Probably. But there’s only so much the animal protection services can do, and most horse rescues are already overcrowded.

Should we have bought Rusty? Should we have taken on this sad, mangy looking Shetland pony, diving head first into mountains of vet bills in an attempt to nurse him back to health? Should we have risked infecting our healthy horses with some obscure skin disease? The passionate, idealistic, thoroughly incensed horse lover in me is jumping up and down screaming “yes”. But common sense and years of experience as a horse owner insist we were right to walk away from what was bound to become an emotionally draining, financially taxing, long term problem.

Lovely little McKenzie still needs a friend to help him keep the daisies and the dandelions under control. And one of these days we’ll find him one, through word of mouth, or via a reputable breeder.

xx Francesca

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Too Many Horses

by Laura Crum

I’ve written a few posts with this title, I think, but it just keeps coming back up. I’ve got too many horses. I care for ten horses—I just don’t need that many. Even though I have them arranged such that it works, I sometimes wonder what the heck I was thinking to end up in this position. And then, when I add it up another way, it makes perfect sense.

I’ve been owning horses non-stop since I was sixteen—and I’m about to turn fifty-three. Naturally I have a few old horses (since I didn’t dump them when their working life was done), and a few that got hurt and aren’t ridable. Should I abandon them? Then there are two horses I took on because no one wanted them—one very old, one crippled. Should I jettison them? Then there is my son’s horse and my trail horse—both very much loved, valued and enjoyed—don’t want to get rid of them. And then there are my boarder’s two horses—both very sweet horses that I love to ride myself—and my boarder pays for the feed that makes my horse program possible. Uhmmm, don’t want to get rid of his horses, now, do I? So, I’m back to square one.

Realistically, the only horse I could sell is Sunny, my palomino trail horse, who is sound, useful, not too old (ironically, I just got an offer for Sunny—almost twice what I paid for him). I could ride my boarder’s young horse, Smoky, who I already do ride a lot—simply because Smoky needs riding—he’s six years old and currently lives in my one smaller pen (a fifty foot round pen with a fifteen by fifteen run-in stall). This pen isn’t meant for a permanent resident, its meant for temporary use—a sick or injured horse. When Henry was recovering from colic surgery, I used pipe panels to enclose the stall, and then later, when he could have more space, Henry was kept in the small pen. As soon as he was well, he went back out in a big corral where he could run around. But my place is set up for four saddle horses. When my friend Wally insisted on buying Smoky (over my protests, I assure you) there was no place to put the horse here but in the small pen. So Smoky must be exercised at least three days a week—it isn’t fair to him otherwise. Thus I am riding Smoky rather than Sunny a lot of the time. So, I could, theoretically, sell Sunny.

But I love Sunny. I love riding him. I love looking at him. I get a kick out of interacting with him. Sunny lives in the biggest pen I have and runs around a lot. He is frequently turned loose to graze when I don’t have time to ride him. He seems happy. Should I sell him? Even though I don’t want to? Seems silly. Completely reliable bombproof trail horses are hard to find.

But there are times, like yesterday, when I shake my head at myself. I wanted to ride. But household chores are always there and must be done if life is to be pleasant. And then I had to go out and have a look at my retired, pastured horses. This took another hour or so. I rubbed on thirty year old Gunner, who is fat—I have my fingers crossed he doesn’t founder (he never has—knock on wood), and had a close look at thirty year old ET, who has rebounded once again and is healthy and shiny and a decent weight. I’m pretty sure ET is almost completely blind, but he is once again content seeming, so I’m leaving well enough alone for the moment.

When I came home it was in the low 50’s—chilly, gray and drizzling. I did not want to ride all that much in the drizzle. So I started turning my saddle horses loose to graze (my son was also a wimp and did not want to ride in the drizzle). My boarder had hauled his two horses off to a team roping. I turned my son’ horse (Henry), my old horse (Plumber), and Sunny loose to graze one at a time. This took a few hours. I groomed Henry, who is prone to dandruff in the spring when he sheds out. Then I saddled Sunny. The sun never did come out. It was chilly and gray with a brisk wind that made me shiver, even in a jacket. In the end I had a twenty minute ride, and Sunny was, for him, a butt head. I didn’t really blame him, since he’s had two weeks off, due to lousy weather and me riding Smoky. And Sunny’s version of being a butt head is pretty mild, just some uncooperative balking and a few jiggy moments. Still, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had on a horse. I got off feeling put upon. Even keeping horses in the low maintainance way that I do (see my previous post “Horsekeeping Simplified”), the whole day got eaten up with horse chores. I am just not riding nearly as much as I used to. I have too many horses, I told myself. I don’t need all these horses.

And then I stopped and asked myself, “What part of this day did you not enjoy? What part would you change?”

Well, that was easy. I wanted it to have been sunny and 70 and I went for a two hour ride on the ridge and Sunny was mellow and cooperative. OK. But given it was what it was, what part would I change? And at that I remembered my happy horses grazing on green grass, and the fact that every horse got rubbed on and every saddle horse was out of his pen and given attention, and that I had, in fact, enjoyed most of it. And despite being somewhat annoyed at my less than ideal ride, I understood perfectly why it was what it was, and that it was not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Sunny days will come again. Sunny the horse is a steady trooper—his version of “feeling good” is just not that hard to cope with. I can be grateful that he’s not prone to violent misbehaving. We’ll get back out on those trails together and be back in sync soon enough.
I thought about other horse blogs I’ve read. We all cope with some adversity. Weather, horse keeping conditions, bad backs and other health issues, lameness and health issues in our horses, lack of time and/or enough money, fear issues….the list goes on. Do I expect my life to be the only one that is all sunshine and perfectly behaved horses? When I thought about it that way, the answer seemed obvious. I suddenly felt lucky and blessed.

So, once again, I’m back to working on my mindset. Because maybe I don’t have too many horses. Maybe my life is just fine exactly how it is. I simply have to learn to see it that way. Even on the gray days.

How about you guys? Do any of you struggle with the too many horses dilemma? And do you have any tips to offer on how to keep your perspective when your horse program seems more like work than fun? I could use a pep talk right about now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Horses in the Garden

by Laura Crum

How many of you fellow horse bloggers are as into your garden as your horses? I think it must be more than a few, judging by the comments on my post titled "Horse Hermit", back in April. Once again, I thought I was odd, the only horse person who also obsessed on plants. But the more I talk to others, the more I realize that these two passions are often intertwined.

Those of you who have read my mystery series will know that midway through the series, Gail McCarthy, my protagonist, also becomes fairly obsessed with her garden. You can guess why. I wanted to write about my own garden. I tried writing a garden book, and my agent came close to selling it several times and finally gave up. So I started cannibalizing that book, working many passages into my mystery series. And thus, Gail’s passion for gardening was born. In Breakaway, Hayburner, and Forged, particularly, Gail developes a love for old garden roses, creates beautiful draught tolerant plantings that mix with the wild plants, digs an ornamental pond…etc. (My book, Slickrock, set on a horse packing trip in the Sierra Nevada Mts of California was also the result of cannibalizing the many journals I kept while on horse packing trips and living alone in a tent in those mountains. I once meant to make a proper book out of this material, but it ended up being the background for Slickrock—which has remained most readers favorite of my novels.)

I have a new theory that horse people are often gardeners, just as they often have dogs, cats or other critters (chickens and cows in my case, I know Shanster has goats). Most of them will touch a drink. I know I will.

So today I want to write about how my horses intersect with my garden and the pleasure I get out of this. First off, my garden is pretty wild. Both by my choice and by circumstance. I have always admired the concept of a wild garden, where native plants and wildflowers intermingled seamlessly with roses gone rambling through the shrubs. And since I live on a small property bounded on three sides with wild ridges of the California scrub, a tidy, manicured looking place was pretty much not an option.

Then there are the wild animals. An integral part of the concept of a wild garden is that it provides “habitat” for native animals. This sounds great in theory, but they don’t often mention in those lofty toned garden books what living alongside the wild critters really amounts to. As in, deer eat huge amounts of my roses, gophers devour half of what I plant, kingfishers and herons scoop goldfish out of my pond, bobcats and coyotes and hawks and owls and racoons take my chickens, skunks scent my dogs, rats and mice get in my haybarn, and ground squirrels dig holes in my corrals. The list goes on and on. Fortunately, I love seeing the wild animals, and my daily interaction with them is as important a part of my gardening life as my enjoyment of the plants. Which is a good thing. Because a gardener who does not take joy in seeing deer but merely bemoans what they eat is a pretty frustrated gardener in this part of the world.

Now most gardeners don’t think of horses as a part of the garden, but, from the beginning, when I designed this place, I tried to integrate the horse set-up into the overall garden plan. The corrals are bounded by a “green border” of grass and shrubs—my drive runs through this border and up to the house. Thus one is not greeted by the blank dirt of a well used “dry lot” alongside the driveway—as I have seen at so many other horse places.

This green border serves another purpose—since this part of my property is fenced and I have a gate at the bottom of my drive, I can turn the horses out here to graze. Saves mowing, the horses love it, and I am always tickled by the sight of my gentle horses grazing in the green grass and wildflowers. For me it is like the “park” of an old English manor house garden, where the tame elk grazed. There is nothing like the sight of these big livesock animals moving gracefully through the landscape to add drama and interest to a garden scene. Or so I think, anyway.

Those of you you have read my mystery series will know that old garden roses are one of my delights and right now the huge ramblers that cover the arbor that shades my porch are in full cry, a mass of creamy blooms and sweet scent. With my son’s horse in the foreground, munching on the wild oats, the whole scene reminds me of something out of the magical novels I loved as a child.

OK—as I was typing this four young deer walked up the driveway and crossed in front of the window—the little buck with his antlers covered in velvet. I can’t decide which is more lovely—the deer or the roses they stopped to munch on. Good thing the roses are well up on the arbor—the deer can only reach so far. Plenty of roses for us all.

So how about you? Any fellow gardeners out there? How do you integrate your horses into the garden? Or do you keep them quite separate? Cheers--Laura

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fly Control

Since fly season is just beginning here in the Pacific Northwest, I thought we might all share our ideas on what works to keep these nasty little critters off our horses. We are lucky in this neck of the woods because we have a relatively short fly season. Our nightly temperatures often dip below freezing right through Mother's Day, so that even though we've had highs in the 65-75 degree range (perfect horse weather) the nights have been cool enough to kill off what flies have hatched.

But that is changing now, as the days and nights become consistently warmer. Our fly season basically lasts from about May through late September to mid October, or until we get our first hard freeze in the fall. Some of you probably have longer fly seasons, and some may have constant battles with flies. I'm sure we all have solutions, or are looking for solutions, so feel free to comment on your success stories so we all may share the information.

Here's what I use:

I love the ecologically sound use of fly raptors (or fly predators - depending on which company you use.) These tiny insects are ordered and shipped inside fly pupae. You get a shipment every 3 weeks or so, and you order the amount you need depending on how many animals you have. As they begin to hatch you sprinkle them around your property near manure sources. The tiny little insects (smaller than gnats) don't bother anyone - except the flies. They burrow into fly pupae and lay their eggs, and the newly hatched insects destroy the flies before they hatch.

These work great as long as you are careful with pesticide use, and don't have close neighbors with an out-of-control fly problem.

Here are a couple of sources I have used for these fly-killing insects:

The Source Ecological Fly Control:

Sometimes in late summer, I need a bit of additional fly control on my animals. I know a lot of people use fly masks. But for me, it seems like a lot of effort to put them on in the morning and take them off each night. (Plus for some reason, I just don't think I'd like to look through mesh all day long.)

What has worked for me is a product called Swat, a paste you apply around the horse's eyes and on the tender spots under their bellies. (And plain vaseline sometimes works just as well, also, but makes a bit of a mess.) And right before I ride, I might wipe the horses down with flyspray sprayed on a mitt, so that it doesn't drift off and kill the beneficial insects working to kill your flies.

These are the products that work for me. Are flies a huge problem where you live? What do you use to keep your horses comfortable? Please comment and let us know.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Schooling Show--Back to Basics and Other Random Thoughts

Yesterday was one of those beautiful spring days in the northwest that we all live for. Picture this: 72 degrees, blue skies, green grass, and flowers everywhere.

I belong to a small equestrian club comprised of women of varying ages who get together and go trail riding and just plain have fun on their horses. I'd volunteered to meet some fellow club members at a small schooling show about 40 minutes from my home.

So my consummate horse show husband and I headed off for the show mid-morning. With Mount Rainier in the background, I read the introductory dressage test for two of the ladies. They did a great job. Their horses were well-behaved, and we all had a great time. In the picture below,  I'm walking out to the arena (in the red sweatshirt).

I hadn't been to a schooliong show in YEARS. I'd forgotten how much fun and how laid back they can be (though I'm not sure the riders would agree with me). I had the time of my life, but then I wasn't the one showing my horse.
I'd also forgotten how important accuracy and figures are in a test, especially at the lower levels. While I tried to explain how to ride a perfect 20-meter circle to my friends, I had to laugh. Who was I kidding? After 30 years of dressage, I still can't ride a perfect 20-meter circle, especially one in the middle of the arena. If you've ever ridden dressage, you know we're forever searching for that elusive perfectly round circle. Dessage riders are a stange lot. To think we can ride endlessly for days, weeks, months, years, and get such a kick out of a perfect circle.

Then there are straight lines. It's amazingly hard to ride a straight line down the middle of the arena or down a diagonal. I swear I was riding every step of the way with all of them.

When it was all said and done, I  had the bug again. I wanted to show, even if it was just a schooling show. So the next one is scheduled for July 3, and I'm planning on riding my mare at Third Level. I want to see how she does with Big Leg and whether or not she holds up for two classes or melts like an ice cream cone in the heat (if it is hot, this is western Washington, after all).

My last rides and lessons on her have been the best ever. Like my trainer says, who would've figured this mare would be going better than ever with that leg. Yeah, who would have figured? In fact, we conquered the three-loop serpentine without a change of lead. That darn thing has been my nemesis for years. In fact, I confess to being somewhat lazy about practicing counter-canter. If Gailey wanted to swap leads (which she always did) instead of counter-cantering, who was I to tell her no? The last couple days, I've ridden some incredibly easy and balanced counter-canters in the surpentine.

My other chore this weekend involved cleaning up the trailer. It's been parked all winter back in the woods. When I pulled it out, it was covered with more fir needles than the trees around it, not to mention moss and grime. Armed with a hose, a ladder, a bucket, several kinds of scrub brushes and mits, I tackled the inside and outside of the trailer. I'm proud to say it now looks as good as the day I bought it. The trailer is now parked alongside the barn. I'm never parking it under those trees again.

So I've babbled on enough about my weekend. I hope you had a wonderful weekend, too.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: Francesca Prescott--When I Grow Up...

I went to a dressage show today to watch and totally forgot to post Francesca's second contribution to our blog. So please welcome back my very good friend, Francesca Prescott.

“When I grow up, I’m going to have a horse stabled there.”

When I was a horse-obsessed teenager, this is what I’d say to myself every time we drove past a beautiful old farmhouse set high up on a gently sloping hillside close to our sleepy French village. Behind the farmhouse, dozens of aristocratic looking horses grazed in a series of rectangular paddocks stretching all the way up to the forest and the Jura mountain range beyond. I’d crane my neck as we zipped by in the car, wishing my eyes could zoom in and get a better look. I was twelve or thirteen years old, and as far as I was concerned, that place was paradise.

Unfortunately, paradise was private property and young trespassers would most certainly be, if not prosecuted, at least seriously told off. Although my friend Denise and I often borrowed a couple of ponies from a kind-hearted farmer and sometimes go exercise them in the small indoor arena within the property, we never were quite brave enough to sneak further down the track to get a better visual of the house itself. Looking back, I still don’t know whether we were officially allowed to go and ride in that indoor arena, but Denise seemed to think we were, and since she was slightly older than me I believed her. I suppose she was right because nobody ever came to kick us out!

Years passed. I outgrew ponies, graduated from school, left home, went to university, got a job, fell in love and got married. My incredibly generous father-in-law made my biggest childhood dream come true when he bought me a horse as a wedding present. I’ve since been lucky enough to own a couple of horses, all of them having been stabled in a succession of very nice places. Yet whenever I drove over to visit my parents I’d continue to glance up at the beautiful old farmhouse on the hillside and think how wonderful it would be to have a horse there. I’d recall all the fun I had riding around the countryside during my childhood, rolling my eyes at those crazy gallops through open fields with Denise. I’d get a little nostalgic, musing over how idyllic this part of the world is for horse-lovers of any age.

And then one day, a year and a half ago, I received an email from an old school friend, Caroline, who now lives in Belgium. It was one of those jokey emails that zoom across the internet, the kind people forward to dozens of friends. I chuckled, and was about to forward it to my own set of friends when I noticed Caroline had also sent it to someone I’d lost track of close to fifteen years ago: Stephanie. Back then, Caroline, Stephanie and I all had horses, which we kept at one of the local riding schools. But whereas Stephanie and Caroline were both really keen on jumping, I was far more interested in dressage, so when the dressage trainer I worked with at the time bought her own riding centre, my horse and I followed her there. Soon afterwards, Caroline met a nice man and left Switzerland for Belgium, and seeing as we no longer rode at the same stables, Stephanie and I gradually lost touch. I knew she’d moved, but didn’t know how to contact her, so I was thrilled when I stumbled across her address and immediately fired off an email.

Stephanie soon wrote back. She’d moved on from show-jumping, was now professionally involved in the adrenaline-drenched world of eventing, and had recently bought a large equestrian property close to the French village where I lived as a teenager. The photos she attached left no doubt in my mind: she’d bought the beautiful old farmhouse of my dreams!

She and I emailed each other a couple of times, but life and busy schedules intervened and we lost touch again until early this year when, eager for a change in riding scenery, I phoned her one morning, wondering whether there might be room at her equestrian inn for my dressage horse, Kwintus.

“To be perfectly honest, I had no intention of taking in other people’s horses,” she replied, with a smile in her voice. I could hear her puffing on a cigarette at the other end of the line. “But you’re an old friend, and I do have an extra stable, so I’d be happy to have your horse here. Why don’t you come and take a look around? Not that there’s much to see at the moment because of all the damn snow… But I’d love to see you and tell you all about my big plans. ”

I was there like a shot. Sure enough, as far as the riding facilities were concerned, there wasn’t much to see – the outdoor arena was knee-deep in snow. The sky was a low, murky grey, the paddocks (all impeccably re-fenced) inaccessible, her three horses and tiny Shetland pony snug and snoozing in their stables. But there was a special feel to the place, a soft, relaxing atmosphere that told me my horse and I would be happy here.

Stephanie and I had a cup of tea, some chocolate biscuits and a nice long natter during which she told me about her hugely ambitious project: the construction of a state-of-the-art wellness centre for horses. The old, now tumbledown, small indoor arena where Denise and I used to ride the farmer’s ponies would be torn down sometime in April and replaced with one three times the size. There would be a new, modern stable-block for six to eight horses, complete with horse-sauna and solarium, an aqua-pacer (an aquatic treadmill for horses), an automatic walker, a lunging arena, a race-track…and goodness knows what else! She’d already built a massive outdoor school with a computer controlled floor, ensuring perfect footing in all weather…except snow. This arena was surrounded by a huge field upon which she planned to build a cross-country course. Oh, and she’d also recently had the walk-through, ice-cold splash pool below the courtyard completely refurbished with a slip-proof lining. The cold water did wonders for the horses’ legs!

Frankly, as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t much to think about. My only worry at that time was the absence of an indoor school, the snow-logged outdoor arena, and our endless, abysmal winter. So I decided to be patient, leave Kwintus where he was for a couple of months, and move him in to Stephanie’s in early spring.

Just over a week ago, Kwintus moved into his stable in the beautiful old farmhouse high on the hillside. He’s settled in wonderfully; so wonderfully in fact that he seems to have dropped ten years in seven days; he’s prancing and dancing and snorting and basically being a complete show-off. Kwint is a friendly, people-loving horse, and definitely appreciates his view onto the courtyard because he can keep an eye on everything that’s going on. We’ve already been for long, slow rides up the mountain, strolled over to the nearby village, and worked in Stephanie’s gigantic outdoor arena. Wearing thigh-high fisherman boots, I’ve coaxed him into the walk-through, ice-cold splash pool and, in a couple of months, might even consider going in bare-legged myself!

Basically, I’m having loads of fun! It’s so nice to be riding in such a peaceful atmosphere and such stunning surroundings; great to be hanging out with Stephanie again, lovely to be getting to know her fabulous English groom, Leanne. My dogs are having a great time too, racing around with their new buddies Fonzo and Chelsea. As for Kwintus, he’s super-bright-eyed and almost alarmingly bushy-tailed! But what amazes me most is the fact that, so many years later, my childhood dream of having a horse in that big, beautiful old farmhouse on the hillside has come true.

Keep on dreaming!

Lots of love,


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Horsekeeping Simplified

by Laura Crum

Kate’s comment on my last post got me thinking about how I keep horses and why I do it the way I do. She referenced the way that all one’s time can be taken up with chores, and I have so been there and am not wanting to go there again. Thus, when I planned my horse set up, I purposely planned it so that I would have the minimum amount of necessary daily chores. My routines with my horses are also based on this premise. At this point some of you may be wondering just how I manage this, and I’m perfectly willing to explain. I did it by parting company with some of the most revered and time honored thinking about horse care that exists.

I’m probably going to step on a few toes with this post, so I’m going to say first off that the things I’m about to tell you are just the things that have worked for me. I’m not saying they’ll work for everyone, or that those who do differently or think differently are wrong. And I welcome hearing what you think, especially if you disagree.

What I want to do today is talk about various “myths”—things that most everyone in the horse world seems to think are truths, which I have not found to be true at all. Some of you are going to think I am a lousy horseman after reading this post, so I want to point out that despite my practices, which you may not agree with, I have an excellent track record when it comes to having sound, healthy horses. Several of my horses have been sound in their thirties. All of the saddle horses in my barn right now are sound and healthy—two in their twenties, two in their teens, one six years old. So what I’m doing isn’t working that badly.

OK, here we go. Myth number one: a clean, freshly bedded stall is a good place for a horse to live. Uhmmm, I so disagree with this. I never, ever keep my horses in stalls unless they need the confinement and shelter due to injury or illness. All my horses live 24/7 in large turned out spaces where they can run, buck and play at their own choice. The older horses who are not ridden live in big pastures where they can graze. I do realize that my climate is condusive to this and some horses (like lopinon4’s horse) actually prefer stalls. But overall, horses are much healthier, sounder and better behaved living turned out in areas where they can exercise themselves. This is also much easier for the horseman, who does not have the daily stall cleaning chore. Its win/win.

Myth number two: horses need their feet picked out regularly. Yes, I used to believe this. Like everybody else, I picked those feet every time I rode. Then I noticed that my friend and boarder never picked feet. I mean never..unless his horse had a problem. His horses thrived. They did not develop thrush or other problems any more often than my horses. They were all sound all the time. Being a lazy person, I gave this system a try. Guess what? Fifteen years later, and I have had almost no problems related to the feet. I check in with my farrier every time he comes and ask how each horse’s feet look. Perfectly healthy. No thrush, all sound. I have very light sandy ground and few rocks, and, again, I’m not saying this would work for everyone. I think the fact that my horses move around a lot helps my system work. It might not work on a stalled horse. But it works for me. If I am riding in heavy ground and I notice a ball of clay-y muck forming under the hoof, I pick those feet. If a horse limps at all, no matter how slightly, the first thing I do is pick the feet. On the rare cases where I have a horse who is developing a touch of thrush or is sorefooted for any reasons, I pick those feet several times a day; I apply appropriate product. I monitor closely. When the horse’s foot is healthy and he is not the least bit sorefooted, I go back to benign non-picking. I have had only two horses on my place develope a mild bout of thrush in fifteen years of steady horsekeeping here. Both cases cleared up easily and did not recur. I know a lot of people will not agree with this, but in my experience, no, horses do not need their feet picked out regularly, contrary to what we’ve all been told.

Myth number three: horses need to be groomed every day. No, they don’t. Horses need to be looked at every day by a competent horseman who can tell if a horse is off in any way. If a horse does not look just right, said horseman needs (among other things) to run his hand all over that horse, including down the legs and under the belly and places where an injury can hide. But, unless the horse is having skin problems of some kind or is being saddled (in which case one must at least groom the saddle and cinch area), grooming is not a necessity.

Myth number four: Horse poop needs to be picked up every day. Bologne. If you keep a horse in a stall or a small pen, you need to clean it up regularly or it will be a smelly muckhole, yes. But I don’t believe in keeping horses in such a confined situation, anyway. If you keep a horse in a big turnout (mine average 100 by 100) you can clean it with a tractor once or twice a year, as I do, and no problems are likely to result. I can attest to this. It is a huge time saver. We pile the poop by tractor,compost it,and haul it up to fetilize our vegetable garden. The horses all have plenty of clean poop free ground to stand on and/or lie down on all year round. We’re all happy. Win/win. (And when I did have to keep Henry in a stall for three months post colic surgery, I cleaned that stall three times a day—I am not a slouch about cleaning up when it counts—I just know when it counts and when it doesn’t.)

Myth number five: Horses need grain. Some horses doing some jobs may need grain. Your average riding horse does not. Every single horse I have except the very old ones who need equine senior, do fine on a well chosen hay ration. Team roping horses, young horses in training, trail horses used for two to three hour rides included. No horse I have had in the last twenty years has needed grain on a regular basis. All my horses are slick and healthy with plenty of energy. They are all QH types, and I realize that other breeds may be different, but it is totally a myth that all horses need grain. Not feeding grain rations saves time and money. My feeding routine is really simple—a flake of hay to each horse. The fatter horses get a light flake, thinner horses get a heavy flake. One thing I am fanatic about is monitoring weight. I run my hands over every horse at least a couple of times a week and feel for slight changes in either direction (which are much easier to feel than see). The easiest rule of thumb is that one should be able to feel but not see ribs. If I can see even the faintest shadow of a rib, feed is increased. If I can’t easily feel those ribs, feed is decreased. I think that keeping a horse at the proper weight is vital to health and soundness. Regular worming is essential.

Myth number six—Horses need shoes. We could argue this one all day—and some folks do. But my experience has been that most horses can go barefoot and stay sound for medium riding on good ground. I have shod plenty of horses in my life, and there are situations when I would shoe certain types of horses again. However, I am far more likely to give a horse a chance at being barefoot now (thanks Mrs Mom) and all of the horses in my barn, including my boarders, including the competitive team roping horses, are barefoot, sound riding horses today. This saves a little time and a lot of money.

There you go—six things that many horseman think are true that I have found to be myths. Debunking these myths has saved me much time and money and I don’t believe my horses are any the worse for my practices. As I said, you may now think me a lousy horseman, and I will admit straight up that a lot of my choices are made because I simply do not have time to do all these things for all the horses I own. But my horses are healthy, sound and happy—they are all quite well behaved riding horses. So I must be doing something right, no?

Now, here’s my list of horse care stuff that I do prioritize. This is the stuff I think is truly important. All my horses get looked at carefully every day by someone knowledgable. Problems of any kind are addressed instantly. Thus the minor eye injury is healed, the slight lameness does not progress, the little colic (usually) does not turn into a big colic, the little swelling is diagnosed and treated before it turns into a big problem. My horses eat clean fresh hay (I’m fanatic about good quality hay), usually a grass hay blend, and if they do not have pasture, they are fed twice a day at minimum—mostly its three times a day. They are wormed and trimmed regularly. When possible, they go barefoot (they are all barefoot now). They have constant access to fresh water. If they are riding horses—they are not used day after day with no rest—they get plenty of days off. If they are kept in corrals, I try to turn them out to graze several days a week. They all live in corrals that are big enough for them to run and buck and play, and they can socialize over the fences. The fences are pipe corral panels, sturdy and safe, and worth every penny. The five saddle horses all look pretty darn happy and are always glad to see me and easy to catch. They are well behaved riding horses, even after plenty of time off. I think they like their lives. I enjoy caring for them, and even though I have five here at home and five retirees in the nearby pasture, the time burden is not too great, even with a life that is filled with other activities. Win/win.

OK, those are my horse keeping tips. Anybody have any other insights to share?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Decisions, vets and leg injuries

By Terri Rocovich

OK so I know that is quite a disjointed title (not unlike my life at the moment) but I could not come up with anything more eloquent. The purpose of today’s blog is to complain a little, ask for advice – a lot-, and declare the advanced state of vet medicine both a blessing and a curse.

Led injuries in performance horses are not just common; they are inevitable most of the time. Even with diligent, careful care, conditioning and training; jumpers and dressage horses often endure periods in their careers when they are rehabilitating from one sort of a leg injury or the other. The good news in all of this is that veterinary medicine in the past 10 years has taken great strides in diagnostic and treatment modalities. The bad news is that they come with a significant price tag and often vets can’t always agree as to what treatment to choose.

I, at the moment, am caught up in such a conundrum. My beloved little rescue horse Hank (who I was hoping would make it to the upper levels of Eventing) has apparently strained a suspensory ligament. As I have been told by many vets over the years, the suspensory ligament is the nemesis of the performance horse. It is one of the most common, one of the hardest to heal and the hardest to protect against a reoccurrence. So now to my dilemma; although the ultrasound clearly shows a strain and disruption of fibers in the ligament (but no core legion), after consulting 4 vets as to the best treatments options, I have received essentially 4 different opinions.

The first vet and the one who did the ultrasound; she recommended that we do the veterinary equivalent of throwing the kitchen sink at the injury. The kitchen sink entails harvested Stem cells, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), and grown stem cells injected at a later time. All of these wonderful veterinary advances come at the price of about $3 – 4,000. The second vet feels that since there is no core legion (actual tear or hole in the ligament) that stem cell injections are not indicated and she recommends shock wave treatments – a less expensive alternative at about $1,500. Vet #3 voted for harvested and grown stem cells but no PRP and vet #4 almost agreed with vet #2 but recommended that we do a contrast MRI to confirm the diagnosis since Hank did not go completely sound with blocking.

Confused? Yea, me too! So I am throwing it out to the universe. What experiences have you all had; good and bad. I want to do right my this horse; not only because I still think he has a promising career but also because I love him and want to give him every opportunity for life to get back to normal. Hank really likes his job and it breaks my heart every morning when I go to the barn and he looks at me as if to say “why aren’t you riding me any more??” He stands in his stall and watches me get the other horses out with the most perplexed sad look on his face. I am still giving him as much attention as I can, but he is still depressed and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss riding him.

I know that in time (probably a year) we will be back in the saddle; but I am scared of making the wrong decision as to the best course of treatment now. So I would appreciate any input and advice you all may have and any alternative or additional treatments that I have not thought of. Thanks to all!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Guest Blogger: Francesca Prescott--PULLING POWER: Look who’s Taking out the Rubbish!

I'd like to welcome back my dear cyber friend, Francesca Prescott. Francesca and I met on a fanfic site many years ago. Over the years, we've critiqued each other's work, met in San Francisco, and corresponded on all sorts of things, especially horses. Francesca lives in Europe, rides dressage, and writes  wonderful, entertaining stories. Be sure to check out her website and her book.
The new rubbish collectors just clip-clopped past my house. Yes, clip-clopped! Our village has recently set-up an eco-friendly rubbish collection system using good-old horse power. Every Wednesday morning, MaƩe and Quito, two sturdy Comptois horses, are harnessed to a specifically-made carriage to spend a couple of hours combing the country roads surrounding my village, collecting things people no longer want.

I think it’s a wonderful idea, not just because I’m a hard-core horse fanatic, thrilled to have horses grazing in the fields across from my house, nor because it revalorizes various breeds of heavier working horses long-appreciated for their pulling-power, nor simply because recent comparative studies in France and Germany (where horses have also been reinstated in certain cities on a much larger scale) have proved that horse-power beats motorized power hands down when it comes to carbon emission (who’d have thunk it?!).

The way I see it, having a horse-drawn carriage clip-clopping down country roads is also beneficial on a social level. It’s a charming event that draws people out of their houses, incites interaction between total strangers, makes people smile. It also slows down traffic, forcing all the speedy Gonzalezes to ease their feet from their accelerators far more efficiently than the hundreds of sleeping policemen and mini-roundabouts installed at great expense in this area over the past few years.

On another level, this initiative is also yielding great results among young people having experienced social difficulties, and who in working with these horses have found equilibrium, self-respect, a place in their community, and developed new marketable skills.

The person behind this great idea is Marco Mora, a gentle-natured social worker with a longstanding passion for horses. One of his horses, a formidable bay Percheron called Popeye (check out the size of his feet!), has been involved in cleaning up after Nyon’s Paleo Music Festival for a number of years, and has become quite a local celebrity! Marco hopes that the urban use of horse-power will catch on, leading to other villages jumping on the heavy-horse bandwagon.

Considering the wonderful impression it’s making around here, how could it not?

Lots of love,

Francesca Prescott

May 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010


by Laura Crum

Recently I read a horse blog that made me smile. One sentence in particular really hit home. I’m probably misquoting this slightly, but the writer, a quite accomplished horsewoman, said that she was learning to enjoy short, quiet rides on her broke horse and just letting her horse graze. Sometimes she even skipped the ride and read a book and had a drink. This made me grin.

This is the lesson I’ve been learning for the past few years. I’m still trying to absorb it. I think I’ve got it, and then I find myself back in the same old guilt-driven mode again. I keep having to re-learn it.

I happen to know that the writer of the above mentioned blog is my age; like me, she has a long history of training and competing. Also, like me, her life is busier now with non-horsey stuff. The horses have to be fit into the little free time that is left over. I think there are a few of us out there, right?

It is suprisingly hard to let go of the intense “have to” mentality that characterized most of my life with horses. I had to train, had to progress, had to get to this or that show or roping, had to ride today (every day). I didn’t question it. This mindset governed my life for many, many years. I didn’t stop to ask if I was enjoying my horses. Sometimes I was, sometimes it was torture. I just did what I “had” to do. Until one day I realized I didn’t like living like this.

I wanted to feel free to stay home and dink around the garden, I wanted to relax. I still wanted to ride and have horses, but I didn’t want to feel that I ‘had’ to do anything with them. This sounds easy, but it hasn’t been easy for me.

I quit competing, yes. But then I took up trail riding with my little boy. And before you know it, I was obsessing about trail riding. I “had” to get out on those trails at least four days a week or I didn’t feel good. I was right back in the same space. I just had a new event.

It has taken the better part of two years, and life throwing me a few curves, for me to realize that what I want is to be is free of guilt when it comes to my horses. I love taking care of my horses—I still love riding. I don’t want to feel that my horses are a burden, something I have to do. It has really been quite a process to wade through all the baggage attached to learning this little lesson. I can enjoy short quiet rides and just letting my horses graze. I can skip the ride and watch my happy horses in the green grass. I don’t have to obsess and worry and be driven by guilt. I can be free of this stuff.

My horses are thriving. They have room to run and play. They are broke—if I ride them once a week, they are well behaved. If I want to wander around the garden, a glass of wine in hand, admiring the roses newly burst into bloom while the horses graze in the spring sunshine, its fine. It’s a lovely thing to do. I need not feel that I am somehow failing at being a good horseman because I’m not in the mood for a long trail ride.

So, yep, I am learning this lesson. I can’t say that I have learned it, even though I understand it intellectually, because I have to keep relearning it, emotionally, anyway. Maybe the day will come when I can say that I am free of that guilt driven mentality. But for now, I’m just grateful that I’m on the path.

How about you? Any insights to share?

And for those who live in central California, I’m doing a booktalk/signing tonight with my friend, author Laurie R King, at Capitola Bookcafe in Capitola, at 7:30. The bookstore has a website or email me for directions I’d love to meet you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Riding Young Horses

by Laura Crum

The comments on Linda’s blog post gave me the inspiration for this post. As you all know, I enjoy riding my sedate middle-aged trail horse very much. But yesterday, despite my resolve that I’m done with young horses, I was riding my boarder’s six-year-old gelding, Smoky. Smoky is a very gentle, well broke six-year-old—as nice as they come (or I wouldn’t be on him). My little boy and I were gathering the cattle, pushing them through the chutes, and hazing for two of our team roping friends. Smoky did great. And then…

And then what? Well, in the unpredictable way of the world at large, something happened that was quite outside the understanding of all horses present. The people on the neighboring property—visible across a several acre field beside the arena, were having a gathering. Maybe twenty people in all were involved in some kind of shamanistic ceremony (this is Santa Cruz County, California, after all). And at a certain point they all began beating on drums and dancing in a circle, singing and howling very loudly. Every horse in the place stared across the field, head up, eyes wide. My son’s twenty-two year old gelding, Henry, and the two rope horses (in their teens), looked startled but stayed calm. Smoky, on the other hand, became pretty agitated.

Because he’s a well broke horse with a gentle nature, Smoky did not run off or buck or do anything too stupid. Because I’ve been around a few years in the horse biz, I did not pull on his face or panic. I just sat there, gently correcting him every time he tried to move off. We walked a few circles (well, we pranced, actually), we stood next to the calmer horses, we dealt. Smoky stayed under control. But I could feel his agitation growing. He really didn’t like the loud drumming.

I walked him around a few more times, halted him, and made sure I had his attention, despite his worry. Then I got off and patted his neck and told him what a good horse he was. We tied him up and by the end of our little practice roping session, he had relaxed. No big problem.

But, let’s say my son had been on Smoky, who is gentle enough that many people would call him kid safe. And lets say when Smoky got agitated my kid had gotten scared and started to pull on Smoky’s face. At this point Smoky would certainly have started dancing and skittering around, and where it would have gone from there I can’t say. Its not somewhere I want to go.

Less than two years ago a child I knew of had her horse spook and then bolt, and the child was dumped, got her foot hung up in the stirrup, and was dragged to her death. Yes, it happens.

But my son was on twenty-two year old Henry, whose eyes got big but whose feet stayed on track. Thank goodness.

People, I don’t care what your breed of choice is. Chincoteague ponies may be as gentle as dogs for all I know. Plenty of kids have been bit by dogs. There are going to be a range of individual personality types within any breed. Ponies are, in general, more phlegmatic and less flighty than horses—they are also more inclined to test for dominance and “bully” those who aren’t up to dominating them. Any breed of horse or pony—it is usually better to put a little kid or any inexperienced rider on a well broke older animal. Period. Horses and ponies are prey animals by nature. The impulse to flee danger is always there. Horses and ponies are also herd animals and the impulse to sort out just who is the alpha is also sometimes there. You absolutely cannot expect a younger, less experienced animal to be as reliable at staying broke under pressure as an older, experienced, reliable, gentle mount. And its your kid’s life that is at stake. This is important stuff.

Yes, some young horses/ponies can be/are good kid’s horses. And some older horses are not good mounts for young children. But of all the good, reliable kid’s horses I’ve known, the vast majority were in their teens or twenties by the time they achieved this “bombproof” status. And when something unpredictable happens—like the wild shaman party next door—you want your little kid sitting on the most reliable critter you can provide him with. That’s my take on it, anyway. I’m happy to hear your opinion.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Feather Fund

Many of us are acquainted with the wonderful Marguerite Henry books, including Misty of Chincoteague, about the yearly round up of ponies from Assateague Island. And I imagine many of you dreamed of owning a pony like Misty at one point in your lives.


I'd like to introduce you to The Feather Fund, an organization that makes such dreams possible for deserving young girls and boys that might not otherwise be able to afford one.

Pony-penning still takes place each year, with the herds being rounded up and swam across the channel by a group of volunteer firemen/cowboys. The resulting auction of the foals serves two purposes, to keep the herds at a reasonable number and to finance the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The Chincoteague ponies are now so popular, and the auction has become so famous that prices often rise into the thousands of dollars for each foal, more than even a hardworking youngster could save on her own.

Enter The Feather Fund - a charitable organization whose fundraising activities help a child or youngster with the cost of acquiring a pony. Formed to carry on the work of Carollynn Suplee, whose original good deed started the whole process in 1995, each year a committee helps several children bid on, and obtain a colt or filly of their dreams.

Carrie Olson and Chincoteague Sweetie

What a wonderful idea! Because the responsibility of owning and caring for a horse or pony is good for the soul and character of any young human, agreed? To learn more about The Feather Fund or the round-up of Chincoteague Ponies, here are some sites to visit:

The Feather Fund

Official Pony Penning page and Auction info

History of the Chincoteague Pony Swim
How many of you grew up with Marguerite Henry's books, or dreamed of owning a Chincoteague pony of your own?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Options for Publishing Equestrian Fiction

One housekeeping note: I added a search option to this blog. You can now search for your favorite posts. It's at the top of the right column.

I know a lot of people who read this blog are aspiring authors in equestrian fiction. I thought I'd blog today about publishing alternatives for equestrian fiction.

Equestrian fiction is a hard-sell to a large publisher. The books just don't sell well enough. Of course, there are always exceptions, such as The Horse Whisperer, but those exceptions are few and far between. Authors today have some exciting options in publishing which weren't available in the past. I thought I'd cover those options for our aspiring authors out there.

Small presses are becoming a home to niche markets. Fiction which only serves a specialized group of readers isn't a good risk for large publishers. The writers might be as good or better than writers for big publishers, but they've chosen to write in an area which is not popular with the masses.

There are three basic kinds of publishers, you can consider:

New York Publisher (large press): These publishers typically have offices in New York City. They do large print runs for their author's books, which are distributed to book stores. They pay royalties (a percentage of the book's cover price, usually about 6-8 percent). The author gets paid an advance before the book hits the shelf.

Vanity Publisher (Self-Published): These presses typically publish anyone if you have the money to pay them. You will be expected to pay for things such as cover design, editing (if there is any), may have limited distribution, if any. They are good choices if you're publishing something for a targeted group of people, such as a family history.

Small Press (includes epub or Epublisher): These presses operate like NY presses. They do not charge any fees to the author. They provide editing, cover art, and distribution. The distribution varies between publishers. They pay a small advance nor none at all.

I find that there are two primary types of small presses:

Electronic or ePubs: Their books are primarily available electronically. They usually do not pay an advance unless it’s quite small. The author earns royalties (usually about 30-40 percent) from the cover price of the book sold in the small press’s bookstore and royalties from the distributor (usually a percentage of what the publisher receives). Many of these presses also offer their books in print via print on demand (see definition below) and through distributors such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Traditional Small Presses: These presses do small print runs. Their books may or may not be available via other distributors. They may pay a small advance. I'll admit that I don't know much about this type of press. So if someone can fill us in, that'd be great. I think Laura is with a press like this.

Here's some other terminology you might have heard batted around:
Print Run: NY pubs do a print run of each book published. The books are then distributed to bookstores. Unsold books can be returned to the publisher for a refund. Returns of fifty percent or more are not uncommon.

Print on Demand (POD): This is a green alternative to print books. Over half of the books printed by NY pubs are not sold and are destroyed. Print-on-Demand books are printed when the buyer places an order. They are usually more expensive to buy as the process is more expensive than a print run. POD books are rarely available in bookstores because they are not returnable. POD is often confused with self-publishing. While it's a method self-publishers use, it's also used by small presses to get their books in print.

I'm finding more and more equestrian fiction available through small publishers. They're willing to take the risk and fill a niche with readers hungry for such books. As I do searches on Amazon for horse-related fiction, I find more and more popping up every month, compared to years ago when there were few choices.

If you're interested in knowing more, let me know.

On a personal note, Gailey is doing very well. We're back in full work, and she's moving well and seems to be pain-free. The leg is still big, and I'm considering some alternate therapies.