by Laura Crum
I guess life is all about change. Certainly my life with horses has been about change. About the only constant is that I was always horse crazy. Here’s the first photo I have of myself on a horse. I am two years old. The horse is a pony named “Tarbaby” that belonged to my horse trading uncle. The photo, which sits by my desk, says nothing about my small self. Rather the notation on the back reads, “Pony for Sale.” Apparently the picture was taken to prove the pony was gentle rather than to capture my happiness aboard a horse. But you can see that I’m happy.
Throughout my childhood my parents steadfastly refused my pleas for my own horse. Eventually, at fifteen, I was allowed to buy one with my own money. This horse did not really work out, but I wasn’t discouraged. I kept trying. And when I was twenty-two I bought the first horse I would keep until he died (in his late 30’s). This is Burt, a horse I rode for many years on commercial cattle ranches and showed at a very beginning level in cowhorse and cutting.
Burt was a kind, willing horse. I bought him as a five year old with thirty days on him, and trained him myself. He was the first horse I ever “made.” You could work a cow, gather all day in rough country, corral rope on him…etc. He was a great ranch horse. But in my late twenties I became obsessed with competing in cowhorse events.
Burt was a nice horse, but not the sort of horse I could be truly competitive on. And I had the competition bug. So I bought Gunner, a fancy three year old QH with ninety days on him. I did all the rest of Gunner’s training myself and competed on him pretty successfully in cowhorse, cutting, and, eventually, team roping. Here’s Gunner and me winning the cutting class at our local county fair.
I still own Gunner, he’s thirty-one and happily turned out to pasture. Here we are when he was eighteen, a couple of years after I retired him.
By the time Gunner was retired, I was obsessed with team roping. I bought a half interest in Flanigan, who was a solid seven year old team roping horse, and competed on him for almost ten years. I also rode him on numerous pack trips through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Flanigan was truly a magical horse for me, enabling me to do many things I’d only dreamed of doing. Here I am roping on Flanigan with my friend Sue Crocker heeling on Pistol.
And here we are riding through Kerrick Meadow in the Sierra Nevada.
At this point in my life (my thirties), I really liked training horses. I bought several colts to train and rode some for others. Of these, the one I kept and rode myself for many years was Plumber, a horse I’d known since he was born. I bought him as an unbroken three year old, trained him myself to be a competitive team roping horse, and rode him until he was nineteen. Plumber is twenty-two today and retired. Still sound and happy and living with me. Here’s Plumber a few years ago. Always a very sweet horse, which I think you can tell from his expression.
When Plumber made it clear he really did not want to be ridden any more, I bought Sunny, a steady little trail horse. At the same time I bought Henry, an equally steady horse, for my then seven year old son. The two horses have taken us on hundreds and hundreds of happy rides over the four years I’ve owned them, and have been total rockstars when it comes to reliable. Here we are on a recent autumn day at the Lookout, Monterey Bay in the background.
I know I look mean in the photo, but we weren’t really upset with each other--we had a very happy ride. I am asking my kid why he can’t just smile at the camera, and he is insisting he doesn’t like having his picture taken. My husband, who hiked with us, was trying to get a nice photo in front of our favorite spot. The horses look cute, anyway, and obligingly pricked their ears.
This string of photos does not reflect all the horses I’ve owned, let alone all the horses I’ve ridden. But it does show the five horses who have been my main mounts throughout my lifetime. Burt, Gunner, Flanigan, Plumber, and Sunny. As well as Henry, my son’s horse, who has given us so much. Gunner, Plumber, Sunny, and Henry are still with us. Burt and Flanigan I owned until they died. These photos also demonstrate the big changes I’ve gone through in my “horse life”. From a toddler sitting on a pony, to an active trainer/competitor, back to a sedate middle aged woman sitting on a slightly larger pony. Its been quite the path. Forty years of non-stop horse ownership.
On a recent post of mine about my trail riding (Trail Ride Drama), Fantastyk Voyager commented that I should enjoy my current contented life with horses because it probably wouldn’t last. This comment made me think. Change is inevitable, I know. If nothing else, my son will grow older and I will no longer be riding with my “little boy”. And/or I may tire of trail riding. But more than that, I will some day either be old enough that I can’t ride any more or I’ll be gone. We don’t last forever. This change, too, will come.
At first, this is a sad thought. But the more I considered it, the more I realized that it depends on how you look at it. Looking at these old photos of myself, I knew that in the thick of my roping days, if you had told me that ten years later I wouldn’t be roping any more, I would have been very sad. I would have told you that I wanted to keep roping until I was eighty (at least). But when the change actually happened, it was gentle and pleasant. I lost interest in roping and competing. I was very happy to enjoy relaxing trail rides with my son instead. Might it not be true that when I am old enough that I can only toddle down to the barnyard and feed, this change will feel appropriate also? Perhaps I will be at peace with it, as I have been with the changes that have happened so far.
The truth is I don’t miss the many things I’ve done with horses. Ranching, horse packing, cutting, cowhorse, team roping, horse training…etc. I’m glad I did those things. They were all very happy parts of my life. But I’m fine with where I’m at now. And I’m hoping I’ll be fine with where I go next.
So how about you guys? Any insights on change or growing older with horses? Its sort of the bottom line.