Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Strut Through the Forest

Qrac and I went for our first outside ride together yesterday. I say together because he’s already been on a few outside rides with one of the stable’s grooms, who reported him to be no trouble whatsoever.

“He’s very well behaved,” she told me when I enquired after her first foray with Mr. Caliente into the great wide open. “He calls a bit, but most stallions do. But he’s not scared of anything. He’s just very, err, very active.”

Uh oh, I thought. “Very active? Very active how?”

She smiled. “Let’s say he’s not interested in looking at the flowers, or taking in the view. He’s a bit of a Speedy Gonzalez.”

Not wanting to ask too many questions and get myself into a tiz-waz over my new horse’s increasingly evident desire to go forward, I left it at that. In the two and a half weeks I’ve had him, it’s pretty clear that Qrac is no plodder, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be doing transitions until the cows come home. Not that I’m complaining; I already love him to bits and have never felt as though he’s going to pull a nasty on me. He’s laid back, but with a big engine. And lots of stamina. He feels as though he could go on for hours. His forwardness doesn’t change between the beginning of a session and the end. It’s impressive.

Anyway, since I don’t really know anyone at my temporary stable, and that my reckless days are long over, I asked the groom to take him out a couple more of times. She went out once with another gelding, then with a gelding and a mare, then all alone, and each time Qrac was very well behaved. “He’s just very active,” she said nonchalantly. “He doesn’t drag his feet.”

Finally, I decided it was high time Qrac and I went for an outside ride, so I asked her whether she’d come along with us. She was happy to do so, and yesterday morning, made sure she saddled up a very chilled gelding. I climbed up onto Qrac, and off we went. Err, actually, off we pranced!

And would you believe the train came by as soon as I got on? It’s only a little train, but it’s right there, uber close, and it chose that very moment to choo-choo by. And then two teenagers on souped-up mopeds started zooming backwards and forwards, skidding around in the dirt. Yes, on my first time out with my horse. Typical. But Qrac wasn’t prancing because of the train (which didn’t seem to perturb him at all), nor was he freaked out by the souped-up mopeds. He was prancing because he wanted to go off into the forest with his buddy. So we pranced a little, and everyone watching the jumping lesson in the outside arena turned to look at my beautiful black stallion making a bit of a spectacle of himself, which was a little embarrassing. Then we pranced-sashay-clattered across the railway tracks, and once we got to the other side he immediately settled into his cruising speed, which I’d describe as a strutting power walk. Yep, this guy means business. He was on the bit, he wasn’t spooky, and I felt perfectly fine, but his energy level came as quite a surprise, especially after years of relaxed ambling along country trails with Kwintus.

Forty-five minutes later, we strutted back across the railway tracks, thankfully without too much show-offy prancing this time. However, Qrac couldn’t resist announcing his return with a loud whinny. Over by the jumping arena, a gathering of little girls from the pony club stopped eating their ice-creams and gasped with admiration. “Look, it’s Qrac!” they gushed. “Il est tellement beau! (he’s soooo beautiful!)

Qrac tossed his long black mane, Pantene-style. My new boy is hot, and he knows it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taking a Break

by Laura Crum

Lately I’ve been feeling a little burned out. Between finishing my twelfth mystery novel, keeping up with my son’s homeschooling, trying to get the spring garden in shape, doing the inevitable and necessary housework, and riding the horses at least a couple of times a week, oh, and did I mention I have a new puppy? Well, between all that I’ve gone into overwhelm. I don’t mean I’m having a nervous breakdown or anything, just that its been harder to feel very joyful. And this is too bad when you consider that I very much enjoy every single thing I’m doing. I just don’t enjoy them all at once, all the time.

I’m especially sad that I’m not enjoying the horses as much as I usually do. The new puppy’s demands for attention have really eaten into the little free time I had for messing with the horses. (Though the puppy herself is a delight--still, a lot of work, as all puppies are.) Not to mention the time I’ve spent pushing to finish the book. And paradoxically, once I get out of the groove of regular riding, I find it harder to enjoy the little bits of riding I’m able to do. I can’t explain it—I just notice its true.

So, I’ve decided I need a break. Time to shake things up a little. I’m mailing my completed manuscript to the editor today, and next week I’m departing on an open-ended camping trip, complete with dogs and family. Don’t know exactly where we’re going, except it will be south and east of here. Somewhere in the red rock desert. Don’t know exactly when we’ll be back, except it will be before Memorial weekend. I won’t be connecting to the internet, so no email or blogs. I hope to see some interesting things.

The only downer about this plan is that May is a lovely month here—my roses are looking wonderful, my horses are shedding out and looking pretty again as well. But I really do think I need a change of pace. My friend/boarder, Wally, is going to live here while we’re gone and take care of everything, which makes it possible for us to leave. So, anyway, I’ll post again when I get home, and I wish you all much fun with your horses in the meantime.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Little I Know About Horses

My mystery Shadow Horse was given a brief review in the March issue of Equine Journal and the editor was nice enough to send me a copy. It's been a while since I read a horse magazine from cover to cover, and even though I have been riding and caring for horses for decades (that's me doing what I do the most with my gelding Relish), I realized as I flipped through that what I know about horses could fit in a bucket compared to how much there is to know which appears to be an ocean.
There were articles and ads for a breed of horse called Gypsy Vanner, a draft type with gorgoeous black and white markings and flowing white feathers. Huh? I've never seen one, and all I could think of was the time needed to keep those feathers spotless in this mucky spring weather. Next a blurb for 'pasture in a box' caught my eye. It's a system for growing your own forage. What? Is this what they mean by "I'll do anything for my horse?" Actually, what I really thought was that I bet all I would grow is dandelions.
The next article "Chore Busters" had me drooling. Now I want a pasture vacuum, a UTV and bedding sifter. An article on horse manes got me worrying that my gelding's out-of-control hair-do dos not enhance his conformation, and another article on insurance had me wondering, "What insurance?"
Worse were the ads for barns that had more square footage and expensive hardward and siding than my house, trailers that had more appliances than my kitchen and bath, and products to treat problems I'd never heard about.
The most serious and enlightening news, however, was an article about parasite control. Prevention is hard enough--bot flies are ferociously determined in Virginia--but after reading, I am now paranoid that since these cringe-inducing parasites are developing resistence to de-wormers, I'll be spending my spring not riding, but battling roundworms and pinworms along with the stinkbugs and Japanese beetles that love my gardens.
Okay readers--fess up. What is it that you don't know about horses?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Introducing Qrac de la Font

It's all been a blur. A whirly, sparkly blur! It's been kind of tiring, too. Who knew acquiring a new horse would be so time-consuming? And I’m not just talking time spent with my new horse, but also running around, picking up things that Qrac desperately needs, because although I thought I had enough horsey equipment to cater to an entire polo team, it turned out that I didn’t have a second light cotton blanket, and that Kwint’s girth was too long, and that Qrac could do with over-reach boots, and the lunging-girth-thingy I’d bought (it’s called a surfaix in French; what’s the English terminology?) was way too big, and the draw reins (for lunging, not riding) were not the ones my trainer had in mind, and I was out of saddle soap, etc., etc. Naturally, all these realizations came one after the other on completely separate days, not simultaneously, and, since not all tack shops are created equal, necessitated trips to tack shops spread over two cantons.

Then there have been the niggling anxieties that come with getting to know a new horse. Does my saddle really fit him properly? Qrac is spectacularly short-backed, and very uphill, and my saddle seemed to be constantly slipping backwards because the original girth I was using was a little too long. Worse still, I was cantering around the arena the other day when it suddenly slipped sideways, which was a horrible sensation since I barely knew him and didn’t know how he’d react! Panic stricken, I coaxed him to a somewhat ungainly halt, dismounted and put everything back in place. Qrac didn’t seem overly perturbed. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be overly perturbed by very much, which is reassuring.

Nevertheless, I’ve yet to venture into the big wide open, limiting to my riding to the large indoor arena, although one of the girls who works at the stable took him out for a hack last week and said he was no problem at all. I’m hoping to meet someone to go out hacking with me as, for the time being, I’m too chicken to go alone. My trainer has been amazing, practically holding my hand for the first couple of days, making sure Qrac was comfortable, that I was comfortable, that we were all comfortable together. Transitioning from a horse as gentle, knowledgeable and laid back as Kwintus is a little intimidating. Although Qrac is laid back and very gentle (he loves being cuddled and fussed over), he’s still a stallion, and when we unloaded him from my trailer on arrival from the south of France he was very full of himself, very “ladies and gentlemen, here I am”, swaggering down the central aisle of the stable block like Ricky Martin entering the stage at the beginning of a concert. He was pretty vocal, too!

Yet by the following morning he had settled down nicely, and proved to be wonderfully obedient on the lunge, listening carefully to voice commands and doing exactly what I asked. I rode him for the first time on Monday, two days after he’d arrived, and enjoyed a lesson with my trainer. Again, Qrac showed no signs of bad behavior. Unfortunately, his teeth seemed to be bothering him, so Marie-Valentine
called the “super dentist” and managed to arrange for him to come last Thursday, which was super lucky as this guy is booked up months in advance. It turned out that poor Qrac hadn’t seen a dentist since he was two, and needed extensive work, which put him out of riding action for four days. His face was really sore and swollen, and he couldn’t wear his bridle, so I just lunged him in his halter, which was fine.

By Monday morning he’d made a full recovery, so I had my second lesson with my trainer. It was great! He’s an interesting horse to ride, ever so different from anything I’ve ever ridden before. He’s quick and nimble and very eager to please, yet tends to rush a little, so I’m forever half-halting, trying to bring him back into balance. The left lead canter is pretty good, but the right lead canter is seriously hard work because, apparently, according to the man who stabled him in the south of France, Lusitano/Spanish riders only work the bend on the side where the mane falls! Qrac’s mane falls on the left, hence his preference for bending to the left. I’d never of this concept before (only working a horse on his “natural bend” side), and neither had my trainer. Have you?

So that’s my Qrac news. By the way, someone asked me how you pronounced Qrac, suggesting it might sound nicer in Spanish than it does in English. Well, Qrac (whose full name is pretty posh: Qrac de la Font) is a Lusitano (Portuguese breed), yet he was born and bred in France at the Massa stud farm (which looks like an AMAZING place; I’ll have to go and visit one day). In fact, Qrac’s uncle (or is half-brother? Anyway, some close relation) Gallopin de la Font, is the only Lusitano to have qualified for the Olympics (the link is to his performance in Beijing in 2008). So Qrac’s name is pronounced with a French accent, quite similarly to how we English mother-tongue people would pronounce “crack”, yet with a subtle but very important difference. The “r” is more guttural, and the “a” is more…high-pitched, making his name come across as lighter than the way it does in English! It also rolls off the tongue more quickly, if that makes sense, and generally somehow sounds nicer in French. Also, the word “crack” in French horsey lingo means “champion”, and the only difference in Qrac’s case being that his breeders spelt it slightly more funkily to fit in with the year of the Qs.

Here is a little video I found of Qrac on the internet, filmed at a horse salon in Lyon (or maybe Paris?) when he was five years old, and beautifully ridden by one of the Massa breeder’s trainers, who seems to have no problem whatsoever with the right lead canter! Grrr! I’ve scheduled another lesson with my trainer for tomorrow morning, and am hoping to get him moving just as nicely for me at some point.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Looking Past the Ears

by Laura Crum

Between weather and busyness, we haven’t been riding a lot for the last month. Maybe twice a week at best. The occasional trail ride or beach ride, mostly short rides in our riding ring. The picture above was taken when we rode to the Lookout over a month ago (the view past Sunny’s ears is of Monterey Bay).Yesterday we went up to my uncle’s place to help gather the roping cattle for the first practice roping this spring. That was a blast. But overall, we haven’t been doing much. At times I feel almost guilty, as if I “ought” to be doing more with the horses. I turn them out most days to graze, and the horses seem perfectly happy. I enjoy our short relaxing rides when I get them, and both Sunny and Henry behave well and move out freely. But some sort of Puritan work ethic makes me feel bad about not doing more, or I hear about what someone else is doing with their horse and I am envious (that’s the bad thing about these horse blogs—you can always read about someone who is doing much more with their horses than you are doing with yours). I really know better than this—but I still fall into these traps. And then I got a reminder of what its really all about.

Last week we had a little boy over to visit who had never been to our place before. He’s part of my kid’s homeschool group, and a very sweet, smart, interesting child. I’ll call him Sam. Anyway, as I usually do, I offered Sam a chance to ride a horse (with his mother’s permission). Sam had never ridden a horse before and was very excited.

I have a simple protocol for this. Kids are only allowed to ride Henry, my son’s bombproof gelding. And they must wear a helmet. We all go down to the barn and I catch and saddle Henry, explaining to the kid how to “be” around a horse. No running, no shouting, don’t approach the horse from behind, listen to me and do what I tell you at all times…etc. Henry is actually proof against most anything, but I want to teach the right behavior. My kid models brushing the horse and our visitor gets to brush him, too.

Then I put my son on Henry and he rides his horse up to the riding ring and demonstrates a little walk, trot, lope. The visiting kid stays with me and I point out just what my child is doing to control Henry. If the kid seems keen, and Sam was, I put the visitor up behind my son on Henry (if they’re small enough) and let them walk around like that so they can get used to the feeling of being on a horse without thinking about anything else. And then I ask them if they want to ride by themselves.

Sam was very eager to do this. I legged him up on Henry, helped him put his feet in the stirrups (which have tapaderos—very important), and showed him how to hold the reins. I explained how to steer Henry, how to get the horse to move. I told Sam to hang on by the horn, not by the reins or his heels—under all circumstances. Sam’s face was bright, eager and attentive. And off we went—with me at the end of the long, slack leadrope, walking along beside him.

This is how I give kids their first ride. Henry has done it many times and knows what I am up to. He knows he’s supposed to obey the kid on his back—that I’m just there for backup. And this is important, because though Henry is safe, he is not above walking over to a patch of grass and putting his head down—which is way more than any first time kid rider can cope with. So I make sure this doesn’t happen.

Anyway, I’m following Sam along and I look up to see how he’s doing. And you never saw such a lit up face. He was positively incandescent with delight. “Do you like it?” I asked.

“This is so much fun! Its so cool just to be here on his back, looking past his ears. Its great!”

Well, I grinned and we went on, but his words stuck with me. Because I feel the same way. To this day, even when I’m so busy that I hardly have time to ride, when I do climb on my horse just to walk him around the ring or go for a brief trail ride, I have that exact emotion. This is so much fun. Just being on the horse’s back, looking past his ears at the world ahead. Feeling him carrying me along. Even if I do nothing but walk around my riding ring for ten minutes. I just love it. I hope I always feel this way.

And I realized (yet again), that its time to let go of comparing myself to others and worrying about what I “ought” to do, and simply take pleasure in the joy that horses bring me. If puttering around my riding ring on Sunny’s back looking at the roses on a spring day contents me, that’s great. Same for gathering the roping cattle and going on a short trail ride with my son. Not very exciting stuff by some standards, maybe, but if it brings me joy then its good for me. I need to remember this (!)

So today, in honor of Sam’s words, here are some recent photos showing the view from Sunny’s back, looking past his ears.

On a spring trail ride, along a rather overgrown trail.

Looking across the big meadow—gathering cattle at my uncle’s place.

On the beach, looking at my son on Henry and our friend, Wally, on Twister.

At the Lookout last fall. My kid is resisting having his picture taken.

Looking down at Sunny.

How about you guys? Do you love those “ear views”, too? And do you, like me, get sucked into guilt and envy in your “horse life” more often than you would like?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Do Ponies Ever Grow Up?

I had always dreamed of owning property with acreage so that I didn’t have to board my horse, Goslovich. I didn’t necessarily enjoy “visiting” him at a stable. I wanted to see him every day, all day, if I wanted. I wanted to keep him home with me, to be the one who fed him, and to be able to walk outside my front door, hand him a carrot, and say hello. That dream finally came true about 10 years ago when we first moved into our current home, several days before Christmas. For me, it was the best Christmas present ever – to pull the horse trailer up our driveway and unload Goslovich into a pasture that would serve as his forever home.

Wanting to share that dream with my 4-year-old daughter, and to give her something I had only wished for as a child, I set out to buy her a pony for Christmas. What girl wouldn’t want a pony to wake up to on Christmas morning? Every girl’s dream, right? Of course she was excited and loved the pony. What’s not to love? But there are varying levels of love and excitement – and duration. I’ve come to the realization, 11 years later, that Elena liked the “idea” of having a pony more than she actually liked having the pony. She did eventually inherit a horse and do some riding, but she lacked that intense passion I have for horses.

At her request, I have kept her pony, Hannah (and our other pony, Smokey). They have basically been pasture pets for the past several years and recently, I decided that their needs are going to come before Elena’s wants. The very thought of giving up a pet is troubling. They become a part of the family, bond with the other animals, and have a home. But, I do believe that there is something innate about ponies and their need to be around kids who adore them. Smokey used to be a summer camp pony for kids, and Hannah “lights up” when she sees a little girl. I imagine that ponies are like the toys in the movie Toy Story - they never grow up and always want a kid to play with them. Our ponies had been moved to the top shelf and I was about ready to take them down and dust them off.

Surprisingly, during this dusting-off stage, I realized that part of my reluctance to give up these ponies didn’t have anything to do with upsetting my kids or keeping the ponies as part of the family, but my own reluctance to accept the fact that my kids are growing up. Ponies stay small forever, have a youthful quality about them and “talk back” in their own special way, just like a kid. Although Elena has a youthful quality about her, she isn’t small anymore. Just this year, she has surpassed me in height. She is only 14 years old and now 5’9 ½” tall - and growing. It is slightly unsettling looking up to my daughter, literally. She is finishing up her first year of high school, part of the Associated Student Body, rows competitively, takes advanced placement courses, and actively researches colleges to attend. And, unlike what other people have told me to expect, this has been truly an amazing year. She wants to spend time with me and the family, appreciates and understands both the limitations and expectations that my husband and I have placed upon her, and is unbelievably confident and independent. I have grown to admire and respect her in ways I cannot even begin to explain. I could not have asked for more in a daughter – well, she could have enjoyed the horses a bit more.

As far as the ponies are concerned, it wasn’t as much trouble as I expected. I did find them a new home with a family that lives in the neighborhood. A young boy and his younger sister are now the proud owners of Smokey and Hannah. The ponies are happier, the neighborhood kids are ecstatic, and our own family transitioned well. I’m guessing that this was a warm-up exercise to bigger issues I’m due to face. Like moving the ponies to a new home, Elena will soon outgrow us and she will be off to college, ready to begin her new adventure with new friends and experiences that will shape her life and her future. And although we will always be home to love her with open arms, we won’t get to see her every day, feed her (more than just carrots) or say hello whenever we want. She will have grown up.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yes, There is Hope!!!

Since Gailey’s been off work, I’ve been riding other horses around the barn in my lessons, both my trainer’s and boarders’ horses.

At first, I was really nervous riding horses I didn’t know. I’d ridden the same mare for the past 13 years. During all those years, I considered myself the luckiest person in the barn. Gailey was an exceptionally smooth horse to ride and sit. In fact, I’d go as far to say she was incomparable to anything I’d ever ridden. Yet, while her gaits made her extremely easy to sit, her other faults didn’t make her easy to ride.
Up until recently, I honestly didn’t have a clue how difficult she actually was. I assumed our problems were all mine, that I was just an awful rider, incapable of doing justice to such a wonderful mare. While everyone else in the barn would parade around with the countless ribbons they’d won, I’d slink off to my corner and lick my wounds, grateful I hadn’t finished dead last my respective class (though at times I didn’t even have that little triumph for comfort).

Over the years, I’ve come to believe I’m hopeless as far as ever being any good at dressage. After all, if I couldn’t do well on a horse like Gailey, I obviously didn’t have it in me to do well on anything. Besides, I knew I was uncoordinated. My body just doesn’t work the way other riders’ bodies work.
When I first started riding other horses, I’ll admit I fretted about making a fool out of myself. Everyone would see what an incompetent rider I really was. Yet, that’s not what happened. Somewhere along the line, I came to the startling conclusion I could ride other horses and do them justice.
The horse who drove that point home was Ciro. Ciro is owned by a wonderful woman at the barn who I’ve known for years. She’s one of those older women who doesn’t look a day over forty, a fact which I attribute to her long-time love affair with horses. She’s a doctor’s wife and is one the nicest, most down-to-earth people you could ever meet. She’s gone a lot, so Ciro is often available for lessons.
My fellow riders rave about riding Ciro, a Grand Prix level schoolmaster who is relatively bombproof. Last week, I had the privilege of saddling Ciro for a lesson, and it was a privilege.
My first realization Ciro was a different kind of horse came as I rode at a walk down the rail, I shifted my weight and legs by accident, and he went into a haunches-in. I re-adjusted my seat and legs and he travelled straight. I tried a shoulder-in and just like a well-programmed machine he did a perfect shoulder-in. No fuss, not struggle, just push the correct buttons, and he did the rest.

Wow. I was impressed. When I moved into the trot and canter, it was more of the same. As my lesson progressed, Ciro did everything I asked him, even things I didn’t realize I was asking him. We did counter-canter, changes, collected canter, etc. Everything was simple and straight-forward. You do this, he does that. I’d never ridden such an uncomplicated horse in my life. What a joy it was, and what a confidence booster for me.

And an eye-opener. You see, up until last week, I had no clue how complicated my mare really was. Now I knew. It took a horse like Ciro to drive home the fact that I wasn’t nearly as bad of a rider as I thought, and my mare, while I love her dearly, is not an easy horse to ride.

Armed with my new-found confidence, I’m looking forward to my next lesson on whatever horse I’m assigned because you know what? I really can do this.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hidden Danger

by Laura Crum

This post is in response to something that just happened to some friends of mine. I want to put it out there because it exposes the very real danger presented by a common horse keeping practice. This practice is “normal” for many folks, who will also tell you it has great benefits. It is something I don’t believe in, and I have once again been reminded of the reason why.

My friends have a very classy horse program. They have a big barn and a couple of beautifully fenced, well maintained pastures. Their riding horses are stalled at night and turned out in these pastures during the day. Sounds great, right?

Well, maybe. Last week, one of their gentle geldings kicked another and broke his leg. The injured horse had to be euthanized. The people were heartbroken. And this sort of injury is far more common than most folks seem to be aware.

These two horses had been pasture mates for years. The odds are they were only playing, but no one knows, since no one saw the incident. The owners came home to find the one horse three legged. The vet they use is my friend, and when we were talking about how sad it was he said something to me which he had said many years ago. And I never forgot.

Most of the broken legs he sees occurred when a horse was kicked by another horse while loose in a field or corral. Very often the horse which did the kicking was wearing hind shoes. And almost always this occurred in a situation where the horses were not constantly loose together.

I have turned my horses out over the years and I still keep my retired horses turned out in a pasture. I have never had a serious injury, knock on wood. But these horses are out together 24/7—I very carefully avoid any taking them in and putting them back out stuff. When I turned my riding horses out, I put them out on grass for a few uninterupted months and then put them back in their corrals to begin riding them. I 100% do not agree with the practice of continually separating horses and then turning them out together again. It is a recipe for injuries. Particularly if the horses wear hind shoes. I absolutely will not turn out any horse with other horses wearing hind shoes.

Now I know many folks will pooh-pooh this and say they have done the turnout thing for years with no ill results. And that’s exactly what my friends said when we were discussing this one day. But now they have lost a horse. And though I am very sad for them, and for anyone else who suffers a serious horse injury this way, I have to say that the frequently stated reason for this practice—its so good for the horses—does not cut any ice with me. Its good for them until they get badly hurt. And then its not so good. And they do get badly hurt. I have known upwards of half a dozen horses among my own acquaintances that suffered broken legs this way. Let alone all the other injuries I’ve heard of due to being kicked in turnout time. I have personally known two horses that were killed when they were driven through the fence by an aggressive pasture mate (not my horses—belonged to friends).

People often justify daily turnout in a group by saying that horses “naturally” live in herds and work through these herd dynamics. The truth is that horses in a consistent herd situation develop a comfortable hierarchy. They are together all the time, and they move around a lot. They very rarely need to contest things, and even their play is just some friendly galloping around. I have observed this often with my pastured horses.

Contrast this to the daily turnout routine. The horses are separated and penned up every day, giving each horse the chance to frown at his neighbor from a safe little stall and ponder whether he might actually be the tougher horse. Then he spends twelve hours getting zero exercise. When turn out time comes around he has plenty of pent up energy and perhaps some ideas about world domination. And all this has to be re-sorted out with his herd. Even if the horses know each other well and are only playing, under the daily turnout regime, the play is often very rambunctious. And horses do get hurt.

In my own case, I keep my horses in big corrals—about 100 by 100, with run in sheds for shelter. One horse to a corral. They are separated by pipe panels. Every horse can touch another horse and play “bite face” through the panels. Every horse can run and buck and play as much as he wants to whenever he wants to. All the horses interact as a herd, going down to doze under the oak trees together, lying down next to each other in the sunshine. But they can’t kick each other.

I turn these horses out on my property to graze most days. But I turn them out one at a time. Turn out time is grazing time. And because they can run around whenever they want and are not balls of pent up energy, they are quite happy to munch grass for a couple of hours, thank you very much.

I realize that I have the luxury to arrange things the way I want because I keep my horses at my own place. And if you board you may not have that luxury. And its certainly better to turn horses out once a day than keep them penned up in a stall 24/7. But I would be very careful about daily turnout with a group. I have seen too many injured horses due to this practice.

Probably many people will not agree with me on this, and that’s fine. But the grief my friends are feeling and the serious injuries I’ve seen and heard about prompted me to write this post. If you do choose to use daily turnout in this way, you should at least be aware of the downside and know the risks of what you are choosing.

I’m happy to hear other opinions on this subject—fire away.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Real Horses Behind My Fiction

By Laura Crum

I usually write posts about what I’m currently doing with my horses—but at the moment, just as Alison said in her last post, there’s not much for me to say. The occasional quick ride and turning them out to graze is about it. Instead I’m focusing very hard on finishing my twelfth mystery novel, which I must turn in to the editor at the end of the month. So my attention is really on my writing. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about my horses. Because my horses play a big part in my books.

In my novel, Chasing Cans, for instance, Gail McCarthy, my equine veterinarian protagonist, acquires a pony for her child. This particular plot device never would have occurred to me were it not for the fact that several years ago I acquired a pony for my little boy. I had never owned a pony before and Toby was an education to me. I found the little critter so endearing that I just had to write about him, and Toby our pony is faithfully described in Chasing Cans, though the way in which Gail acquires him is rather different than the way in which I came by the real Toby.

This is often the case with my equine characters. Over the course of my twelve mystery novels, I’ve based virtually every horse that Gail encounters, owns or rides on real horses I’ve known. Gunner, who is Gail’s main mount through most of the books, is modeled on my own horse, Gunner. He is accurately portrayed as to appearance (a fifteen-three hand Quarter Horse gelding with white socks, a blaze and a blue eye), personality and quirks (the real Gunner is a big spook, as is Gail’s “Gunner”), but the living horse’s history is a bit different from the fictional one.

Gail acquires her horse Gunner when a veterinary client refuses to spend the money and time it would take to allow the horse a chance at recovering from severed flexor tendons. (This occurs in my first novel, Cutter.) Gail takes the horse to save him from euthanasia. (The story is also based on a real horse; it just wasn’t Gunner.)

The real Gunner’s life history is rather different. I acquired him as a three-year-old, just as Gail did her Gunner. I was twenty-four years old and working for a prominent reined cowhorse trainer who shall remain nameless. As his assistant, I rode a string of eight horses every day; these were horses that, for whatever reason, he didn’t care to ride. Some he considered less talented, some were in the barn just to be broke and the owners weren’t interested in showing them, some had a bad attitude (poor me)…etc. Gunner was in my string because the trainer wasn’t collecting training fees on him; the horse was there to be sold. Gunner was a well-bred and talented cowhorse prospect, and the trainer thought that not only would he collect a fat commission when he sold the horse, he might also be able to place him with one of his own clients who would then pay the trainer to ride this gelding and perhaps enter him in the major futurities. Needless to say the price tag on this horse was high. He was probably the best colt I had in my string; he was also a very likable horse.

Just as he is described in my books, Gunner had a friendly, clownish personality, a willing and cooperative nature, and tons of athletic ability. He came to me in January of his three-year-old year with about thirty rides on him, and I took it from there. He was always an easy horse, never prone to bucking or other negative behaviors, other than his penchant for unexpected sudden twenty foot sideways leaps whenever he saw something worth spooking at, which was often. He never dumped me (and never meant to), but it was a near thing more than once.

Despite the swerves, I loved riding Gunner. It amazed me how quickly this colt came on and how much “cow” he had. As the months passed with no buyer coming up with the purchase price, I grew fonder and fonder of this horse. I began hoping desperately that no one would buy him; I dreaded his removal from the barn or seeing him placed in the trainer’s string (by this time I’d had lots of experience with the well known trainer’s rather harsh methods and didn’t want to see this kind, willing colt subjected to them).

Eventually the day came. A prospective buyer was due to arrive, one who would surely buy Gunner. He was a rich man; the purchase price would mean nothing to him. He was known to be looking for a good futurity prospect and to like Gunner’s breeding. The trainer was very keen to make the deal. I gave Gunner a bath with tears running down my face. That morning, despite the fact that I had no idea where I would get the money, I told the trainer I would give him the full price for the horse and wrote and handed him a deposit check.

I’ve never regretted this decision. I borrowed the money to buy Gunner and I left that trainer’s employment almost immediately thereafter. I trained Gunner myself and showed him at a couple of futurities and “stakes” as a three and four year old, winning some very minor awards. Gunner became an accomplished cutting horse over the years and I won quite a few events with him eventually. Later I trained him to be a team roping horse and competed on him for several years at ropings. I still own Gunner; he’s thirty-one and sound, if a bit stiff, and retired to the pasture. He’s been my friend the whole time.

Gail’s Gunner is given a slightly different history. She never uses him as a cutting horse, but does compete on him at team roping in Roped, my fourth mystery novel. In Slickrock, the fifth book in the series, she rides him on a major pack trip through the Sierra Nevada Mts of California. Though this pack trip is based on many pack trips that I made over those same mountain passes, the mount that I used on those trips was Flanigan, a horse I also rode for years and loved dearly, just as I did Gunner. Flanigan loaned his skills as a team roping horse and his quirky personality to Burt in my third novel, Roughstock.

In my latest novel, Going, Gone, Gail acquires Sunny, who is my current riding horse. The fictional Sunny is an accurate portrayal of the real Sunny, and those of you who read my blog posts will instantly recognize this horse. So the horses in my books are real horses, and the adventures Gail has with them are all based on things I have really done with my own horses. Thus my mystery series is a tapestry of fact and fiction, which I hope will engage readers in much the same way that the actual horses have engaged me.

Anyway, since I am currently pushing so hard to complete one more book, I thought you all might like to see how I have worked my horses into the stories, and perhaps some of you who enjoy these blog posts will be moved to give my novels a try.

And for those who would like to buy my earlier novels in hardcover (they are out of print), my friend/boarder, Wally, sells them through his feedstore. Wally doesn’t do the internet, but if you call Valley Feed, 831-728-2244 (in California) and give Wally or Lynn a credit card number, you can order any of my first eight books for $20.00 each (which includes shipping to anywhere in the continental US), and you will get signed copies, which I will also personalize for you if you would like. If you want to find out more about these books and read the first chapters, you can go to my website

Anyone who has read my novels please feel free to give a reader review in the comments. I like feedback and can stand a bit of criticism, so let me (and others) know what you liked or didn’t like. Cheers--Laura

Monday, April 11, 2011

Horses & Taxes

OK so if given the choice between doing just about anything related to a horse versus anything related to book-keeping, accounting or taxes - well lets just say I am sure you can all guess what I will choose. So, as every year, I am in my annual "Oh my God how did April get here so quickly" panic attack.

Why can't keeping books and doing taxes be as simple and pleasant as keeping horses. Am I asking too much, really? I keep very thorough records (although not always legible to anyone but me) on each of my horses. I can tell you when they last received a vaccination or Legend shot, when they were last shod, last rode, their fitness level, feeding regimen, supplement needs etc. But ask me to balance my checkbook, or produce a Profit & Loss statement and you might as well be asking me to perform brain surgery. I do eventually get everything entered into Quickbooks (a program designed by the devil himself by the way) but it is only after this painful marathon of entering data at the last minute with the deadline of tax evasion looming over my head.

Quickbooks is supposedly a program designed to help the small business owner with their accounting. But what they don't tell you is that you need to have an accounting degree to understand it. That is why they has "certified Quickbooks experts" that you can hire. Really? Then why did I need to buy the stupid program, I should have just hired a bookkeeper. Geez, horses are so much easier to get along with.

I can tell you a horse's heart rate, calculate their mega cal daily requirement and estimate the weight of roughage needed daily but in any other application, numbers in general and math in specific, are way over my head and make my brain hurt. Not to mention the headache and indigestion. With horses it is a simple matter of input and output. They eat, they drink, they get exercise - leads to manure, wet shavings and better fitness and a happy horse. Taxes for me are just not that simple. Assets, expenses - deductible and non-deductible, depreciation, income, interest, dividends - blah, blah, blah - I can understand my horse's language much better.

My poor long suffering tax accountant is like that kind and gentle quarter horse everyone should have in there life. If I ever got him info prior to the 12 of April, I think he would fall over in shock. Every year the poor man says "get me numbers when you can" and "maybe you should have an assistant to get you better organized". I know I need to set aside time on a regular basis to keep up with the data entry and bookkeeping but I can be the queen of procrastination when it comes to something I really don't like to do.

I am open to any and all suggestions as to how not to end up in this dilemma next year. Is it just me or do things get more complicated each year while we have less time to get things done in. Am I the only procrastinator out there? Someone should come up with a program that we can use to enter records while on a trail ride. Now I would buy that one!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Simple Horsekeeping

Since I've joined Equestrian Ink, I have enjoyed everyone's terrific horse stories. My blogs have been more writing-oriented basically because my horse experiences these days are not interesting, challenging nor exciting. As I got older and life got more complicated with kids, teaching and writing, my horse-life got simpler. Fortunately, I pared it down so it was doable. I have many other 'mom' friends who had to give up their horses when family, careers and sheer economics made owning horses impossible. This even happened to friends who promised themselves they "would never be without horses."

Since I take total care of the horses (neither of my kids caught the horse bug), 'doable' means I am down to two horses, one a babysitter and one that I ride as often as weather and time allow. Care is streamlined so their needs are totally met, yet there are no frills. In winter, Relish and Belle have a huge run-in shed (one whole side of a barn) with dry footing. Their hay is local amd fresh, compliments of our neighbor's field. They have a running stream that never freezes, grain, supplements, mineral salt and four acres to graze on winter grass. I feed twice a day, check them over carefully, and groom as needed. Riding is reduced to Relish and I ambling in a hayfield (groundhog holes marked)with some schooling (there is one flat area) when the ground isn't too hard or too soft. Memories of organized trail rides, showing, lessons and fox hunting are long past.

In the spring, Belle and Relish come back home (across the street) to our fields, which are divided so we can rotate them for grazing. Work is more intensive during these hot days. During the day, I'll start bringing them in the barn, which has big fans for fly control, so I have to muck stalls. Without a running stream, I need to keep a tub full and clean (I'm thinking of trying Linda Benson's nifty idea to capture rain water), put on fly spray and masks, mow pastures, spread manure and vigilantly keep an eye on Belle who like most ponies, overeats on the rich grass. Riding stays about the same--we have a few tiny trails but until the farmer cuts the hay in the field, I don't have many places to ride nor anyone nearby to ride with. Still, I have decided that this very pared down and uneventful horse life suits me just fine. I am blessed to be able to still have horses, keep them in great health, and love and enjoy them.

What about you? Has your horse life changed? Are there ways that you manage horses, job and family that might work for others?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Swiss Smiles at One-Thirty

Today’s the day! I’m going down to the south of France to pick up Qrac! I’m driving down with my daughter and our trainer and I’m effervescent with excitement. It’s going to be a long day, as driving down hauling the van is way slower than just zipping down in the car, and tomorrow will be even longer, and I know I’ll be nervous because that’s just the way I am. But the weather is gorgeous, and my daughter has made a special Qrac collecting playlist for her i-Pod, and we're going to have a wonderful time.

This is only going to be a mini-post because I can barely think straight this morning, but I thought I’d tell you about a funny thing that happened to me yesterday after I picked up my van from my stables and hauled it to a little yard right across the road from my house. This where they keep the heavy horses that haul away the "clean rubbish" once a week (I wrote about them about a year ago), and the lady in charge was kind enough to let me park my van there overnight. Having it so close is going to save us lots of time today.

Anyway, on the way here I stopped at a garage to see if someone could check the pressure of my van’s tires. It was one-twenty as I pulled up in front of the workshop. There was a man inside working on a car, so I ventured in with a big smile, said hello, and asked him whether he would be kind enough to take check my tires. He looked at me, scowled, then mumbled that he could indeed, but only at one-thirty as this was lunch time and he wasn’t open for business. Then he turned away and dove back underneath the car.

What a grump, I thought, slightly miffed as I headed back to my car and sat down to wait for the clock to strike one-thirty.

At one-thirty on the dot (it's a Swiss thing!), he emerged from his workshop wielding his tire-pressure-checker machine and waved at me, beckoning me to move forwards. I did as I was bid, then cut the engine and got out,curious as to whether the tires had lost a lot of air since I used the van last autumn. I stood behind him, a little guarded now, mentally preparing to deflect an onslaught of scowls and grumbles and mumbles. Imagine my surprise when instead I was treated to big smiles and friendly chatter, followed by a cheerful prognosis that everything was A-OK and good to go!

What a difference ten minutes made! Maybe there’s some truth in what they say about biorhythms…

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a horse to collect!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ride a Gimpy Horse?

by Laura Crum

My last blog post about my son’s horse, Henry, generated some wonderful comments and stories about older horses. Some of them referenced “slightly gimpy” oldsters who were still having a good life teaching kids to ride, and these stories made me want to bring up this topic to discuss.

The topic is actually pretty relevant for me right now, because my horse, Sunny, is entering this category. Not that Sunny is so much an oldster. As a matter of fact, I don’t know how old Sunny is. He came from a California horse trader who bought him from a Mexican horse trader at a sale in El Paso. He was said to be six years old at the time. Those who know the horse business at all will automatically add at least two years to that age. I bought the horse two years later, so by this reckoning he would have been ten then. I had his teeth floated shortly after I bought him and asked the vet how old she thought he was. She said, “Fifteen.” I said, “Well, drat, I thought he was younger than that.” She looked again and said, “I don’t know. He’s got a funny mouth. The bottom teeth look younger than the top teeth.”

So, okey dokey, I don’t know how old Sunny is. That was three years ago. Which makes him somewhere between thirteen and eighteen now. And one thing I do know is that his previous owner had her vet X-ray him when he came up lame after a thirty mile ride (the problem turned out to be a bruised sole), and the X-rays showed “incipient ringbone”. So between that and the fact that he’s certainly at least a teenager, I’m pretty sure that the occasional “bad step” I’m seeing this spring is the result of an arthritic complaint—probably ringbone.

I didn’t vet Sunny when I bought him. I knew his history and I knew he was sound enough for the work I had for him. He has always trotted without a bob in a straight line. But I have always been aware that the horse was not 100% even, and that he needed plenty of warmup to move freely. (This is true of most older horses.) Even experienced horsemen couldn’t spot it watching him. But I knew it was there; I could feel it.

I’ve dealt with ringbone before (and navicular and various other arthritic complaints) in horses as they age, and I know the parameters. And the first parameter is that every horse is different. Every situation is different. There is no one “best path” that works for everyone (like most of life). Back when I was competing at team roping and my good horse, Gunner, came up slightly gimpy with a couple of arthritic complaints when he turned fourteen, I retired him to the pasture. But I’m not ready to do that with Sunny.

First off, Gunner was a sensitive horse who was a BIG baby about pain. I had buted this horse to use him for several years, due to the relatively minor problem of bone spavin in the hocks (and for those of you who will think I am a bad person for doing that, I would like to point out that Gunner is pasture sound today at thirty-one, so I don’t think I did him any harm— and I still own him and care for him). I was unwilling to up the bute dose when Gunner began to have navicular issues in one back foot. The other problem was that I wanted to compete at team roping, which was a strenuous event for a horse. I had no use for a “light riding” horse at the time. So I retired Gunner.

In Sunny’s case, he is a tough little trooper who is not in the least a big baby. All I use him for is very light riding in the ring and on the trail and he is still plenty sound enough for that. So, yes, in his case I am going to ride a slightly gimpy horse. And there are lots of other slightly gimpy older horses in the world who would make wonderful light riding horses for so many riders who are currently struggling with younger horses who have behavioral issues. These riders are not having fun. They are, quite frankly, scared. I read their blog posts (or talk to them) and it is easy to see that underneath the various things they say is a simple fact. They are not having much fun because they are anxious—afraid the horse will dump them, or at the very least, give them grief. Their interactions with their horses are very limited—because they are quite simply scared to just head out on a ride. And I don’t blame them. I often think that “so and so” would be having a lot more fun if they owned Sunny or Henry. But the Sunnys and Henrys of this world are mostly older horses who have been there and done that and most of them are likely to be a touch gimpy for this reason. Even if they’re just a little stiff before they’re warmed up.

Now I understand why people often choose a younger horse and try to be very sure there are no soundness problems, such as “incipient ringbone”. They hope that the horse will be with them as a sound riding horse for many more years than that older, slightly gimpy horse would be. And there is obviously some logic to this. But over and over again I have seen people overestimate what they are going to be comfortable coping with in a horse and essentially “overmount” themselves. Often they are people like me who once rode pretty well, and then took a break and came back to riding as an older person. Sometimes they’re just people who haven’t had a lot of experience. They buy a youngish horse that is said to be broke and gentle and at first it is fine. But then the young horse spooks or does some typical young horse thing that scares the rider. The rider is after this worried that the horse will do this again and nervous when they ride the horse. This anxiety creates responses from the rider that make the horse more anxious. And pretty quick the rider is not having any fun because she is scared and the horse is learning bad habits. This scenario usually does not end happily.

Why do people do this? A lot of times they are simply not aware that a young horses will almost inevitably have less than “solid” moments no matter how well broke they are. If you have ridden as many young horses as I have, you know this. If you haven’t, you might suppose that because the young horse was very well behaved when you tried him, he’ll always behave like that. Not so. Horses younger than eight almost inevitably have their less than perfectly behaved moments. Horses older than eight can certainly have these moments, too. But its pretty much a given with younger horses. It doesn’t mean the horse has a problem, necessarily. Its just part of the overall package that comes with a younger horse. (And yes, there are exceptions—though I personally have known very few.)

Another reason people buy a younger horse rather than the older, solid horse that would better fit their needs is ego. They don’t see themselves as needing a “bombproof” horse or a “babysitter”. They think they are a much better rider than that. Buying that old solid horse because he is more reliable feels demeaning to them.

Now I am the first to admit that for many years I, too, would have scorned to ride a babysitter. I trained young horses, I competed…etc. I didn’t need a solid, broke horse. I could train my own. But when I came back to riding after a several years break to have a child, I soon realized that my skills were not what they once were. And I realized something else. I didn’t want to work that hard. I didn’t want to take the chance I would come off and be hurt. I wanted to enjoy relaxing rides on a horse I trusted.

Oh, and lets not forget time. As the busy mother of a young child, I had/have very little time to work with a horse—and young horses need regular work. My riding time has to be fitted in around a full schedule, and sometimes I only manage to climb on once or twice a week. Younger horses usually do not thrive on such a pattern. I realized that at this point in my life I wanted and needed an older, solid horse, and was willing to accept slight gimpieness as a trade off. And this choice has worked well for me.

That doesn’t mean this is the right choice for everyone. If you feel relaxed and comfortable on your young horse despite his “young horse” moments, and you look forward to riding him, then you are doubtless in the right place. And I might be in your camp (if I had more time), except for the fact that for many years now my goal has been to have safe, non-eventful, fun trail rides with my son. I needed that solid horse to let me relax and keep my focus on my child, not be dealing with my horse. I did ride my boarder’s young horse occasionally for the last few years and realized I could still do a competent job of this. But I have to admit, I wasn’t drawn to it. Those who have similar emotions/situation to mine may want to give a good hard look at that solid older horse with a slight tendency to gimpieness.

So today I want to discuss how I decide what is an acceptable level of “gimpiness” for a light riding horse. And its actually pretty simple. The horse needs to trot in a straight line without a noticeable bob of the head. If he can do that, he’s sound enough for light riding. If he can’t do that once he is warmed up, then you need to address the lameness in some way in order to use him.

As for Sunny, if he is warmed up at the walk sufficiently, he trots without a head bob. However, if I pull him out of the pen and trot him “cold” (which I did last week to see where he was at) there is a slight bob. And that is new as of this spring. I have also seen the horse take the occasional “bad step” this spring, both in the corral and under saddle, so I am clear that his arthritic issue has progressed—as such issues almost inevitably do.

However, Sunny still runs and bucks and plays (a lot) at liberty, and once warmed up, trots freely up my long graveled driveway, without any bob at all. So I consider him sound enough for the work I have for him.

Now I could spend a lot of money getting Sunny “diagnosed” and then a bunch more money having whichever joint “infused”, and maybe it would help him. And, if he gets significantly worse, I may yet do that. But I’m not going to do it now, because I’ve been down that road before and frequently all that money spent does NOT help the problem.

What I plan to do is be observant, trim him regularly, make sure I notice any changes in behavior and soundness, and keep the horse within his comfort zone. In practice this means walking him a lot before I ask anything more of him, and I have always done that and will continue to do so. If I wanted to do something more strenuous with him (which I don’t) I would have to be more proactive about addressing this issue. But for those of you, like me, who enjoy not too strenuous trail rides, a slightly gimpy horse can usually do this and continue to enjoy it, if you are thoughtful.

Will Sunny get worse? Obviously I don’t know. I have known ringbone horses who got first worse and then better—the joint will sometimes fuse. There is no simple answer. But for those who are considering taking on a slightly gimpy older horse (due to arthritic issues), sometimes the horse gets worse and you can’t use him and sometimes he stays pretty stable and you get many years of happy riding. Sometimes you need to bute him or inject him and sometimes this can help a lot. Sometimes no matter what you do he gets worse. I’ve seen both. It’s a crapshoot. But so is all of life. Young horses who pass the vet check with flying colors can also come down with serious problems. If your intended use is light riding and you value being relaxed and do not want to struggle with training issues—these slightly gimpy older horses can be an extremely good deal—as they can often be had for not too much money.

Am I sorry that I bought Sunny? Not at all. I’ve had three marvelous years of happy trail rides with my son without one disaster or even one scary moment—thanks to Sunny and my son’s horse, Henry. No one, horse or human, has had so much as a scratch, and we have covered a lot of country in that time. I absolutely could not have done this without two rock solid horses—which are not all that easy to find. Coping with the fact that Sunny is getting slightly gimpy is a small price to pay for what I’ve been given. Have a look.

Sunny and me in the lupines.

Taking my son on a trail ride.

Riding with my little boy at the beach.

I guess this post is somewhat a repeat of my previous post. Look at all the joy that can be had in a rock solid older horse, even if that horse is a little bit gimpy. There are so many of these horses that both need and deserve a good home. I do understand that for some of you the sort of riding I am describing looks very tame and downright dull. I once felt the same way. Some of you want to do more exciting things and have a horse that is more of a training project; my little palomino plug would bore you. But if you’re looking for a horse for “light riding” and you just want to enjoy your horseback time and not work too hard, maybe see some pretty country, its worth thinking about. Anyone else have any gimpy horse stories to share?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Keeping Records

Do you keep good records on your horses? Or are you one of those people who jots notes on your calendar, day runner, checkbook, or other place it might get lost? I'd like to share a very easy method I use to keep track of important dates on my animals, and this works for horses, dogs, cats, donkeys, or any animal. All I do is take a plain piece of paper, and with a ruler, mark out columns as below:

At the top, I put the animals name, its birthdate (if you know it) and when you purchased the animal.

On the three columns, I label them Vaccinations. Worming. Shoeing.

You can easily make more columns if you need to, for breeding/foaling, etc. or whatever you need to keep track of. I give each animal their own manila folder, where you can keep this permanent record as well as papers, vet receipts, or whatever else you need.

I use this system for cats and dogs, too, and I label the columns Vaccinations. Worming. Flea Treatments. And for my donkeys, I just change the Shoeing Column to Trimming.

This system works so well for me I thought I'd share it. There's nothing worse than having to flip back through your calendar to try and find information, and if you have lots of animals, it can get confusing.

Probably those of you with big stables may have a white board up in the barn, but this is a simple method to keep those records in the house, and if you ever need a copy to give to the vet, it's all right there.

Do you keep good records on your animals? Any other tips to share?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Take Care of Your Horseshoer

I live in constant fear that my horseshoer will “fire me” or leave the area. Does that sound weird?

Well, here’s the deal. Good horseshoers are hard to find. My mare requires hot shoeing because three of her feet are odd-shaped, especially one front foot which is somewhat of a club-foot. The two hinds require bar shoes. On top of that she wears size 3 shoes which he orders ahead of time since he doesn’t usually carry shoes that big. I also understand dressage horses are shod differently than other horses. I don’t know exactly want the difference is. I leave that up to my shoer and trust him to handle it.

My particular shoer used to teach the horseshoeing school at the local community college until they shut down the program. Unfortunately, he has back issues so shoeing my horse can be a trial for him. Gailey is a leaner, and we’re talking about 1350 pounds of leaning. My poor shoer is moaning and groaning the entire time.

He’s also the first shoer who’s actually explained a few things to me about her. First of all, when he works on her feet and then releases her foot, she holds the foot up as if she’s going to kick him. I used to swat her for that behavior, and my former shoers would get after her. This shoer doesn’t. He explained to me that she’s arthritic, and it takes her a while to uncramp her foot and put it back down after he’s held it up for a while.

Also she makes it hard for him to pick up her foot and place it on his little foot stand (I have no idea what those things are called). He’s the first shoer who’s explained that her hocks get sore, and it hurts for them to be lifted up that high and held in position.

I never realized any of this. I thought she was being belligerent so did my former shoers.

A few months ago when he came to shoe her, she’d been on bute for a few weeks because of lameness. He said it was the easiest time he’d ever had shoeing her. She wasn’t resistant and didn’t fight him when he lifted her legs. I was mortified. I hadn’t realized how sore she’d been and how much her arthritis affected the shoeing process, not just for her comfort but also for his.

I’ve started buting her a few days before each shoeing to make it more comfortable for both of them.

A few weeks ago, I was really sick and missed my shoeing appointment. I didn’t know I missed it until a week later, I was that sick. I’ve never missed an appointment before so I started calling my shoer and apologizing profusely. After a few days of nail-biting in dread that he may add me to his list of fired clients, he finally called me back. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

He's a great shoer, and he's also entertaining. Someday he should go on the road as a comedy act.

Now he’s threatening to move to Boise, but I’ll cross my fingers he doesn’t. Searching for a new horseshoer who understands Gailey and her issues would not be an easy process.

If you have a good horseshoer, treat them like gold. It seems to be a dying art.