Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Changes




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.

17 comments:

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

I like you philosophy here. I feel I might be heading into a similar direction as you, but it hasn't been a conscious choice. The last couple of years have been very relaxing due to pregnancy, a young child who loves horses, and a horse who was only sound for light riding. But now that I have a new horse, who is sound, I find myself pining for when I was training for eventing.

Laura Crum said...

Angie--Having a child was the catalyst that changed my horse life, too. I hear you. We never know what the future holds. Maybe some day we'll both move back into more active horse pursuits. Change is "the very most natural thing", to quote Jerry Jeff Walker.

Kate said...

I've made some of those transitions myself. I no longer show and really don't miss it at all, although I (mostly) enjoyed it at the time - I was into the competition.

I like variety in my riding now - and like trail and arena riding equally. I hope to be riding until I'm really elderly, but I also love a lot of other things about horses, like taking care of them and grooming, and just being around them, so if and when someday when I can no longer ride I can do that instead and I think I'll be pretty content with it.

Shanster said...

What neat pictures of you throughout your journey with horses... I love them! Thank-you for sharing....

I can see the slowing down part... I enjoyed competition much more in my teens/20's...not so into it now . Still enjoy learning dressage and moving up the levels..because of the mental/physical ways I have to use myself...

I've slowed down and I have no idea what is in store for me around the corner! Looking forward to it tho....

kel said...

I think we all do things in our own time and how it fits into our family situations. You chose to do your competitive life and horse training when you were younger. I got married young and had my family in my 20's and 30's. I spent that time of my life living through my children. Instead of working with horses, riding and competing, I was being a 4-H leader, making dance costumes and a travel agent for a gymnastic team. I loved those things when I was in the thick of it. Now if you asked me to be the president of the parents association I would think that you had bumped your head. One thing about horses is that no matter what changes you make in your life or where you are at in your horse "career" you can make new friends of all ages who understand where you have been and where you are going.

ps - I love the pictures. You have been truly blessed to have such wonderful partners.

Mary R. said...

So glad to see your son wearing a helmet. PLEASE wear one yourself. It might give you a better chance of being there for him in the future!

Laura Crum said...

Kate--When it comes to riding until you're really elderly, I have some good role models in my life. I rode yesterday with three men who are 78, 79, and 82, respectively, and these guys aren't just still riding, they're still team roping. Pretty inspiring.

Shanster--Yeah, I enjoyed finding photos of the different stages of my life with horses. And I think looking forward to what life shows us is key. The one thing we can be sure of is change.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks kel. I did do things backwards to most folks, kidwise. When all my friends were having children I was showing horses. Now my friends' kids, like yours, are grown, and I am enjoying raising a little boy.

Mary R--I've sure discussed the helmet thing and how I know I ought to wear one before--I don't know if you caught that. Brief summary--no one I know wears a helmet--their kids don't either. I bucked tradition and got funny looks by making my kid wear one. This is not an excuse for my helmetless state--its just an explanation. Talk to anyone else who grew up with ranchers, team ropers, cutters...etc, they will tell you the same. Doesn't make it smart or right. I recently decided to go get a helmet, and found that not one of the dozen models at the tack store fit my large, oddly shaped head. So now I am going to order one that supposedly "might" fit me.

So, anyway, I'm working on the helmet thing. But please be advised, a helmet will do much less to keep you safe than riding the sort of bombproof little horse that I am currently riding. I have seen a great many horsewrecks in my life and some fatalities, and I'm afraid that NONE of the injuries I saw would have been prevented by a helmet. That doesn't mean a helmet is not a good idea--it surely is and I should wear one--but riding a safe horse and making good choices is by far the best way to stay whole and healthy with horses. Just ask those three old cowboys I rode with yesterday. (And again, I am not defending not wearing a helmet--I should get one, I'm working on it.)

Dreaming said...

Your interest in having a horse, and having parents who said, "No" is my story as well. I was also 15 when I persuaded my parents to let me buy a horse with money I had saved.
The change I have noticed most recently is that working with the horses is hard work. I never felt it was difficult before. But, now, I get tired, my hands hurt, I get out of breath. That all makes it less fun and carefree than it used to be. But, the sadness of this is overcome by the many joys the horses bring into my life.

Laura Crum said...

Dreaming--I so hear you. I have a hard time getting on a horse that is more than fifteen hands any more, and my knees hurt if I ride for more than a couple of hours, particularly going up and down hills (and all our trails go up and down hills). This is the not so great part of changing, for sure.

RiderWriter said...

Just had to say something about the knee thing - MY knees hurt after 10 minutes in a Western saddle. When I get down I can hardly walk (Note: the only thing I do Western is paid trail rides). My knees do not hurt *at all* in an English saddle with Herm Sprenger "bendy" stirrups on it, even after hours aboard. Maybe it's because that's what I'm used to, but... :-) I have noticed those gadgets to which you can attach Western stirrups where the fender doesn't have to bend. Maybe you could try those?

Laura Crum said...

RiderWriter--That is really interesting. I had no idea that it could be the stirrups...or that different stirrups might cure it. I will have to look into that. Overall, I am very comfortable in my saddle, and have ridden in it for twenty years. The sore knees are a recent development, and my knees have been bothering me when I'm hiking also. So maybe its just the aches and pains of increasing age.

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

Laura - What's interesting is after my first child was around 3 I got back into show jumping at the schooling level with a nice all around horse who wasn't very flashy, but could handle 3 foot courses, trails, little kid banging on her with brushes, but when I got pregnant with my second I sold her to an 11 year old girl (she was too nice and young to semi-retire for a few years). I'd planned on repeating the same thing after my second was around the same age, but as you said times and things change. I wasn't as driven to get back into the game after my second was born.

RiderWriter said...

Laura, my knees never bothered me until I started riding an 18hh Percheron with a bouncy, massive gait (I was only in my late 30s, too). I don't know exactly what it was about her, but they would be pretty sore by the time I was done with a lesson. I noticed a bunch of my fellow adult riders were getting the Herm Sprengers so I decided to follow suit (Confession: they're actually Dover's knock-offs, the first kind they sold that looked exactly like the Sprengers for 1/8 the price. They must have gotten in trouble with Sprenger because now they're a different color.) Result: instant relief. My knees have never bothered me again on any horse. I've always felt that Western saddles "get" me so bad because I have to keep the fenders bent to keep the stirrups perpendicular to the horse. Other folks must have the same issue, because I've seen products like this for sale: http://www.parellisaddles.com/Shopping3.cfm?MP=GP&ider=4226

Wow, something Parelli makes that's actually affordable! :-)

RiderWriter said...

P.S. Now I really want THESE:
http://www.smartpakequine.com/herm-sprenger-bow-balance-stirrup-4510p.aspx?cm_sp=CS-_-Herm Sprenger Bow Balance Stirrup-_-NA&cm_vc=UpSell

I love how they will rotate the English stirrup leather for me - I still have scars from past chafing!

Once Upon an Equine said...

Very insightful post. While you have changed some of the activities you do with your horses, it is obvious your love for them as not changed. It's wonderful that you have some very special horses that have been long term companions and that you are able to care for them through their retirement years. I hope to do that for my mare and any other horse that joins our family.

Change caught me a little by surprise. I returned to riding and horse ownership after a 20 year lapse. I thought I would pick up right where I left off. Nope, not to be. My confidence is not what it was, I'm not competitive, and my energy level is much lower...and the ground has gotten a lot harder. Lots of things have changed. But my love for horses has not changed and I'm enjoying them even more now than when I was younger.

Laura Crum said...

Once Upon--Thanks for a very insightful comment. You know, that's true for me, too. I enjoy my horses even more than when I was younger and could do more with them. I think because I'm not so driven.