Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feeling Good

by Laura Crum

The title of this post is a bit ironic, as I have been sick for the past ten days. But there are still some ways in which “Feeling Good” describes my life. Look at the photo below.

This is my 32 year old horse, Gunner, when I brought him home from the pasture on Thanksgiving Day 2011. He doesn’t look too bad for such an old horse—especially one that’s been out on pasture. Since then I have put at least 50-100 more pounds on him. Nothing will change his dropped back and peaked rump, which are the results of old age, but Gunner has a nice layer of adipose tissue all over his body. No ribs or hipbones to be seen or felt.

Anyway, living the good life as he is, Gunner is feeling pretty good. He surprised me the other day when I got him out to graze. Head and tail up, he pranced along beside me on the leadrope like a 2 yr old TB being led to the post.

“Come on,” I said, tugging on the rope. “You’re 32 now, not 2. You should be able to walk. All the other horses walked out to graze.”

Gunner wasn’t interested in walking. He pranced along, snorting and spooking at various things. I rolled my eyes. “I can’t believe I have to deal with this in a 32 year old horse.” Inwardly I was feeling pretty happy. My old horse felt good enough to behave like a colt. How cool was that?

Cool or not, Gunner felt so damn good that he couldn’t settle down to graze. Of course, he gets fed free choice hay and an ample ration of equine senior delight feed. He is never hungry. But I thought he’d enjoy being turned loose to graze. Well…I was never able to turn him loose. My property is fenced on the side with neighbors and a driveway and I keep the gate closed—the back of it is steep, brush-covered hills—not fenced. No horse has ever tried to escape that way—even so, I turn the horses loose one at a time and if they quit grazing and start roaming, they get caught and returned to their pens. I let Gunner graze on the leadrope for awhile and every thirty seconds his head would come up and he’d start to prance around me. It was perfectly clear that if I turned him loose, he’d start to run around.

After ten minutes of this, I gave up and led my prancing old horse back to his large corral and released him. You should have seen him. Head up and tail up, breathing out those long, rolling snorts, Gunner trotted up and down the two hundred foot length of his corral in a floaty trot—perfectly sound, I was tickled to see. This got some of the other horses excited and pretty soon my two retirees and my boarder were racing around at a gallop, whirling and spinning and throwing in plenty of bucks. Gunner definitely looked like he was two years old, rather than thirty-two. Our two saddle horses, Henry and Sunny, who had just been ridden and turned out to graze, watched all this with bemused expressions, feeling no need to gallop after their ride. My son and I both laughed to see Gunner feeling so good.

Having two retired horses is hard on me spacewise—they take two of my four available large corrals. They cost me more in feed than my using horses. My chore load is increased as I have two extra horses to care for—that I don’t ride or get any “use” out of. It doesn’t make any logical sense to keep them. But…

There is nothing like the joy I feel in having my old horses with me—both of whom have been my horses since they were three years old. I don’t feel burdened to have them, I feel blessed. I bought Gunner twenty-nine years ago as a just turned three year old with maybe thirty rides on him. He was green as grass. I trained him myself and he competed successfully at cowhorse, cutting and roping. Not to mention all the gathers and trail rides we did. He was my main riding horse for over ten years. We have so many memories together. And I smile every single time I see his blaze-face looking brightly at me. I feel so lucky.

So there are two of us who are feeling good. Gunner and me. And today I want to say something that I have said before. Others have said it, too—on this blog and elsewhere. But its worth saying over and over. Please, all of you, keep your good, old horses and retire them when their working life is done. Its Ok to find them a home as a leadline horse or a companion horse, if that works, but keep track of them, stand behind them, take them back if its needed. Give them the reward they deserve for the work they have given you. Do not suppose that it is the job of a horse rescue, or some other entity, to take care of your old horse when he is no longer ridable. And do not expect that you are going to sell/give him to a “good home” that will take perfect care of him for the rest of his life. This CAN happen, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. Nope—no matter how inconvenient it is, it is your job to take care of your old horse—no one else’s.

And I am here to say that if you do this job, and take care of your horse, you will never regret it. It is worth the time and money spent, a thousand times over. It will fill your heart with joy and peace. Contrast this with wondering for the rest of your life about what became of old Red, who gave you so much, and “hoping” Red found a good home for his last days. Believe me, folks, there is no good karma or peace of mind in that. Nor is it very likely that an old not-sound horse will luck into a good forever home. Far more likely that he eventually ends up at the sale, and then on a truck to Mexico or Canada. Even if you find him a “good home”, how likely is it that someone who has owned an old horse less than a year will pony up with the money for taking care of him if he is hurt or crippled or ill? Think about it. You need to stand behind him.

Horse rescues do good and important work, but today I want to give a shout out to every single owner who keeps and retires their good old horses and takes care of them until the end. Thank you, all of you, for what you are doing to improve the lot of horses in this world. And those of you who are trying to decide what to do with an old friend, please pay attention. This is both your responsibility—and one of the greatest gifts you will ever be given.

OK, I’m climbing off the soapbox now. All feedback is welcome.

PS—Also on the “feeling good” subject, my second book, “Hoofprints” is now available on Kindle for 99 cents. Here is the link. The first one, “Cutter” is there, too, for the same price. Here is that link. I hope/expect to have the first eight books, which are all out of print, up on Kindle by April 1st. I will let you know as they get there. I’m hoping some of you who enjoy horse stories will be moved to give my books a try at this price. The series features an equine vet as a protagonist, and each book is set in an area of the horse world where I’ve spent much time. “Cutter” revolves around the world of cutting horses, and “Hoofprints” is set in the reined cowhorse arena. And dear old Gunner (and my other retiree, Plumber) have starring roles in the stories. I’d love to get your feedback/reviews on these books.

Monday, February 27, 2012

When to say when

This is going to be one of my shorter posts because today, frankly, has been the day from hell which is only matched by last week and the horse show from hell. The details of how crappy my horse show was last week on Uiver would take far more energy to describe than I currently have at the moment. Lets just say that, anyone who has shown knows, there are just shows that are jinxed from the start and only get worse and then bad show management, a mediocre facility and discrepancies and inconsistencies in judging combine to make in nearly unbareable. That was my show last week and yes I am ranting a bit.

But I digress from bad to worse. My day started with a confrontation (which has been needing to happen for a long time) with my barn help over taking a very lackadaisical approach to her work. She has been doing less and less over the past several months and constantly complaining about too much work and one feigned pain or illness after another. After I laid down the law on the issue because, oh yes I am her boss and I pay her, she proceeded to quit. So anyone looking for a job in California? It seems that asking someone to actually do the job they are being paid for is far too much to ask. Go figure.

Then to just put more icing and such a lovely cake of a day, my beloved 30 year old lesson pony Tahoe, either collapsed or cast himself in his stall. After getting him up he was very ataxic and clearly disoriented and then collapsed a second time, almost as if he was fainting. When my vet got here she listened to his heart and told me that his heart murmur, which has been mild and we have been monitoring for years, was very pronounced. So did he have a heart attack, or a stroke, or a seizure of some kind?? She could not say for sure but after DMSO and fluids, he did stabilize and tonight seems to be better although a little weak.

So that brings to my title question - When to say when? Tahoe has been in very light work (only a few days a week) and ridden by a 7 year old girl in pony club. Sadly for her Tahoe's Pony Club days are over and he is now completely retired. For me, Tahoe's case is a clear decision, what happened today tells me it would not be fair to him or safe for him to be ridden again. But for other older horse's when do you say when?? I know I will be asking myself that question relatively soon with Pete who is now 23. Pete is sound and appears to enjoy his job as a schoolmaster, but he is so giving and so stoic of a horse I am not sure he will tell me when he should be retired unless something obvious like a lameness or illness happens.

A week ago yesterday, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a wonderful, 27 year old schoolmaster of a mare fall on a jump and fracture her stifle. Needless to say she had to be euthanized and both the young lady riding her and her owners were devastated. Before her tragic death, this mare was sound, spunky and happy to be working. Should she have been retired sooner? She did at least die doing the thing she loved the most in the world - jump, but how do you know when to make that decision. Some horses are so giving, and want to please so badly, I think it must be our responsibility to make that decision for them.

What do you all think?? Thanks for letting me vent, it has made me feel better. I look forward to your comments.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finding the Inner Child

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have morphed into a thrifting, picking, crazed, treasure hunter feeding my booth in an antique mall. At the old age of 60, I have discovered a new passion, and I feel as if I am a little kid again. Yesterday, I was knee deep in a storage shed 'picking' old wooden school chairs and desks from an assortment of trash. I came home with a van full of dirty treasures including a 1960's radio in wonderful condition and a school desk and chair from the 1920s complete with hole for an inkwell. Then this morning, I woke at 5:30, too excited to sleep. Walked and fed the dogs and horses in below-freezing temps, piled into the van before my husband (and the sun) was up, and headed to an indoor yard sale.

My adrenalin was pumping as I hurried into the church hall. I'd never been to this particular venue and figured it would be filled with kids' clothes and old purses. But when I walked inside, the first thing I spied was BREYER HORSES!
I galloped over to that table like my horse Relish races to his grain bucket. Right now, my booth does not have a horse 'section' but I have been slowly collecting an interesting array of horse stuff to create a nice display. I have vintage Thelwell books, hunt scene place mats, a needlepoint hunt pillow and a brass horse towel holder (don't ask.) But I was missing Breyer. My own collection suffers from chipped ears and broken legs (from hard riding) and I really didn't want to part with them. So finding Breyers with good prices was a treat. The problem? My heart took over my brain.

I wisely picked three horses still in boxes as well as a bag of miniatures (I knew not all were Breyer in the bag, which was okay because they were all cute.) I unwisely did not check the name of the horse on the box with the horse inside the box until I got them home. Um. Snookered.
I have the horses, and I have the boxes, but they don't match. And really, I am happy with the price, and as my husband said "It was a ten dollar mistake, so who cares" but oh how I wish I had kept my head and scrutinized each horse and box. If I'm going to be 'good' at this business of thrifting and picking, I have to make smart choices. Fortunately, I redeemed myself at the same yard sale with a Winnie the Pooh jewel box full of the complete set of Madame Alexander Wizard of Oz dolls (McDonald's happy meal prizes in 2007)that are absolutely adorable and worth four times what I paid. In the end, it did balance out.

So if anyone needs a box for Polo Pony No. 733. I've got one. And what in the world is "Bareback Riding Gift Set"? I couldn't find it online, so have no idea what should be in that box, but I know it's not the prancing pony I found. Or if someone wants to sell me polo pony 733 or Bareback Gift Set, let me know. Hey, let me know if you are ready to sell any of your horse statues, china horses, stuffed horses, Billy and Blaze books . . .you get the picture. I have a home--and love-- for them all!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Feeding Issues

Six colics in a month? Seriously? Yes. Six horses have colicked at my stables in the past month. One horse died, as nobody noticed until it was way too late to do anything but put the poor animal out of his misery. Qrac inherited his stable, which, for him, was a good thing, as it’s far nicer, lighter and roomier than his old one. But the thought of what that poor horse went through still makes me ill.

I only moved Qrac there in November, when the place where he lived before didn’t manage to build their indoor in time for the winter. Initially, everything seemed pretty hunky dory. The indoor is fantastic; it’s huge with a great floor. The new stable block (where Qrac now lives) is fab. There’s a solarium (pay per go) which I almost always use before and after a ride as it’s great for Qrac’s muscles, not to mention lovely to be under when it’s minus a bazillion degrees. There’s a nice, friendly crowd (although, like in every stable, there’s bound to be a little meowy stuff going on). Until very recently, I always thought that the only real negative point was the fact that it’s 60 kms from where I live.

But in the past couple of weeks it’s become blatantly obvious to me that this place’s giant negative point is that the horses aren’t fed properly. Feeding times are mega irregular; for instance it seems that last night the horses only got their grain at eleven o’clock. Hay is distributed at around six in the evening, after which the horses don’t get any more until eleven o’clock the next morning, when all the mucking out is over, which means the morning feed (I’m guessing around seven, give or take an hour) is served on an empty stomach. Lunch is served between eleven forty-five and twelve-thirty, although when Qrac was in the old stable block there were a couple of times when he didn’t get lunch at all. I complained and, as far as I know, it didn’t happen again. Also, since they don’t provide bran mash, I buy my own and feed Qrac three small portions a week. I’ve never been at a stable where bran mash wasn’t provided on a weekly basis, but maybe I’ve been spoiled. I don’t know.

The crazy thing is that, from what I’ve been told, whenever anyone has pointed out that horses need regular feeding hours to cater to their delicate stomachs, they’ve been blown off. Like, yeah yeah yeah, whatever. Insist a little too vehemently and you’re apparently given an earful. But in the last few days, when yet another horse developed a colic, people are getting worried. I’m very worried. Today, there was talk of calling a meeting and confronting the owners, as people who have been there for a long period of time say there’s no way anything will change unless everyone comes together as a group, and that, even then, chances are there will just be angry words exchanged, lots of eye rolling and maybe a slight improvement for a couple of days. Hmmmm.... Another worrisome issue for me is that nobody checks on the horses in the late evening to make sure everyone is alright. If someone did, the previous occupant of Qrac’s current stable might still be alive…

As you can imagine, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Qrac means the world to me and the idea of him being in danger because of ignorance/laziness/negligence/whatever really freaks me out. I’m going to drive up to look at another place closer to where I live early next week, since the yard where I’d like to end up still has no vacancies, and I’ve been told my chances of getting Qrac in there before next year are slim to none.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? What would you do? Should I sit tight, join in with "pestering" the owners, feed bran mash and hope for the best until I can get Qrac into the stable of my choice? I know that no place will be perfect, that there will be issues in every single yard, but, as far as I’m concerned, good quality food fed at regular hours is the foundation of horse care. Maybe things will change if enough people speak up. Maybe…

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beach Ride--Avoiding a Disaster

by Laura Crum

We rode on the beach the other day. It was a lovely day—I started out taking photos. Here I am following my son down the trail to the ocean.

Sunny and I look at the view toward Santa Cruz.

My son and Wally ride off toward Monterey. Wally is going wading with Twister.

Wally and Twister coming out of the ocean.

At a certain point I realized that all my beach ride photos look like the beach ride photos I’ve posted before and I put the camera back in my pocket and just rode. But later I got to thinking about this, and I realized there’s a reason for this sameness. I like to ride on the beach on sunny winter days, mid-day, when the tide is low. So my photos reflect more or less the same scene every time. For the last four or five years, every beach ride has been with my son and our friend Wally. Wally rides his gray horse, Twister, my son rides sorrel Henry and I ride palomino Sunny. So the characters are always the same. I’m the only one who likes to take photos these days, so all you see of Sunny are his ears. Thus my beach photos are pretty repetitive.

On top of this, we ride on the same stretch of beach most of the time. The ride takes a little less than two hours, like most of my rides. And its mostly quite uneventful (my favorite sort of ride). We walk a lot, sometimes we trot or lope along on the hard sand. Sometimes some of us wade in the surf. Sometimes we ride back down the trail through the sand dunes. Its good exercise for the horses and pleasant for us. We’ve only had a few “exciting” moments in many years of riding there (my recent post titled “A Near Wreck,” in which Twister lay down, was one of these times).

Anyway, I was thinking about this, and I realized that the sameness of my photos and the uneventful nature of our rides are linked in a fundamental way, and today I wanted to talk about this. Because I have heard from so many of you who really want to try riding on the beach (kel and Mrs Mom, I’m thinking of you). And it is (or can be) a lovely experience. And yet, so many people have disasters when they try it. So today I’m going to talk about how to ride on the beach sans disaster.

First off, I have been riding on the beach for over twenty years. I’ve ridden several different horses there in that time. Most of my “horse friends” around here also ride on the beach. Between us all, I’ve heard a good many stories, above and beyond my own personal experiences. And then, there’s what I’ve heard from my blogging friends. The first thing I want to talk about was brought up in the comments on my last beach ride post by Aarene of “Haiku Farm” (listed on sidebar). And this experience has happened to many others I know—besides Aarene’s friend whom she mentioned. Listen carefully here, cause this is important. Very steady, reliable horses will sometimes freak out at the sight of the ocean. And if that alone doesn’t do it, being ridden in the surf often will. Aarene’s friend had a steady horse flip over backwards with him. when he rode the horse in the water.

So, tip number one is to try to make your first ride on the beach in the company of experienced “beach horses” ridden by folks who have been there often. Pay close attention to your horse. There is a difference between being excited and “up” and being truly frightened. If your horse is truly frightened, just let him follow a steady horse along. Don’t force him in the water. Or if you do choose to force him in the water, be prepared for a violent reaction.

Wading in the surf, though it looks very fun, is problematic in a lot of ways. Many horses don’t care for the waves. All three of our horses will go in the water if we insist-none of them love it. I never take my horse in very deep because I’ve had the experience of a horse getting dizzy in the surf and almost falling down. This is very common. If you wade in the waves, be aware if your horse starts to get dizzy and staggers. They do fall down—its not a myth.

Some folks are absolutely determined to get their horse in the water. (Wally is one of these.) And some horses really don’t want to do this. My recommendation is not to fight this battle—but if you choose to do it, the easiest way is to back the horse in. OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you that it can be a real wreck. The commonest problem occurs when a person rides a horse in as the wave goes out and the horse is “trapped” by the next incoming wave—he can’t get away from it. Some horses find this WAY too scary and really do panic. So be careful.

Now I know not everyone will be able to find a friend on an experienced beach horse to give them a lead. But whether you can do this or not, there are a few other important things you can do to improve your chances of having a positive experience on your beach ride. First off, choose a nice day, weatherwise. As I say, I like to ride mid-day in the winter on a sunny, peaceful day mid-week. But certainly, just as in a trail ride in any new place, don’t pick a windy day for your first time. That’s just asking for trouble.

Its very important to ride on the beach at low tide, or close to it. We do not plan a beach ride unless the weather is good and the tide is low at mid-day. If you go at high tide there will be no firm sand to ride on, and I can assure you that plowing through the deep sand the whole ride will not be enjoyable for either you or your horse. It is very dangerous to trot or lope for any length of time in deep sand—horses can easily injure themselves. So, go at low tide.

Another factor is how high the surf is. This is different to the tide. The tide can be low but if the swell is up, the high swell produces big breakers. This makes the “energy” down on the beach much more exciting. The breakers boom and crash, and if a horse is going to get over-stimulated, this will do it. We do not mind riding our experienced horses on the beach when the surf is high (at low tide, of course), but the “feeling” is very different from calm days when there is little swell. I highly recommend going for your first beach ride when the swell is down.

OK—you pick a calm, sunny day at low tide and with not much swell. What else can you do to make for a good experience? Pick the right beach.

In my part of the world, horses are not allowed on most of the beaches near town. But even if they were allowed, those beaches would be no fun. First off, you need a good, safe place to park your rig—roomy enough and away from traffic. Second, you want the beach to be reasonably empty. If you look back at the photos I posted, you will see that there is not a soul on the beach. This is the way I like it. Most rides we meet a few other people, and that’s no big deal. But let me tell you what can be a big deal.

One November weekend it was seventy degrees and we were free to go and the tide was right. It happened to be a Sunday afternoon, but we went anyway. Big mistake. The parking lot was packed and we had to park the rig on the road. The entrance to the beach was crowded with people, including many running, yelling children. There were kites in the air, and surfers running toward the waves carrying surfboards over their heads, and flapping tents, and boom boxes blaring and beach balls flying through the air. Our steady horses marched right through this zoo (thank God) and once we got a ways down the beach it was reasonably quiet, but I learned a big lesson. I don’t go to the beach on the weekend any more.

So my suggestion is to be sure you choose a beach where horses are allowed, and go check the place out first, sans horse. Try to go at about the same time/day of the week that you plan to take your horse. Check out the situation. Is there room to park in a safe place? What does the access to the beach look like? Is it horse friendly? Are horses allowed? (In any case, be sure they are not prohibited.) How crowded is it? Try to imagine if your horse will be OK with what you find.

Long, flat beaches are the best to ride on. Steeper beaches don’t produce the hard packed sand that flatter beaches do, even at low tide. And a short beach just leaves you going back and forth.

Now on to the unpredictable. We all know that stuff happens you can’t predict. It happens on trail rides and beach rides; it can happen in an arena, too. But trail rides, including beach rides, make you most vulnerable to the unpredictable. A few years ago we had one of these unpredictable scary events and it really taught me a lesson. We were riding down the beach on a pleasant day at low tide and everything we could predict was in our favor. We were having our usual relaxing time. And then….

Two helicopters came flying down the beach, flying exactly above the shoreline, side by side, very low. We could see them coming, but there wasn’t much we could do to get out of the way. Of the three horses, my son’s horse, Henry, reacted the most. His head came up and his eyes got big. I rode my horse up next to Henry and—this is key—I grabbed the halter he always wears under his bridle. Wally rode up on the other side and stood next to Henry. We really didn’t have time to get my son off safely, or I might have done that. I said whoa to Henry and held him (this might backfire if you are holding a horse by the bridle—this is why the halter is important) and fortunately Sunny and Twister never flinched. The helicopters flew right overhead in a huge storm of noise and wind and Henry took a nervous step backwards, but heeded my tug and “Whoa.” We got through it just fine.

So, always keep the halter on under the bridle when trail riding. It can help you in so many ways. Ever since the helicopter incident I also carry a leadrope wrapped around my saddle horn. If you need to tie a horse up, lead a horse from another horse or from the ground, pull a horse out of the mud…etc. that leadrope will come in very handy. If I had had it the day the helicopters came by, I could have clipped it on Henry’s halter and I would have felt much more confident that I could hold him. Having the halter on under the bridle does no harm (yes, it looks ugly) and it can really help you in a bind.

Let’s see, check out my recent post “A Near Wreck” for the description of how Twister lay down at the beach. Be aware. Horses will sometimes try to lie down in sand or water. If your horse stops for no reason, make him go on. Especially if he paws the ground (though Twister gave no particular warning—he just stopped for a minute and then lay down).

Wearing a helmet is always a good idea—says I, who just got one a month ago (but I’m wearing it). Riding a steady, reliable horse in the double digits that has lots of experience “outside” will go the farthest towards keeping you safe. Even if the horse has never been to the beach, the odds are in your favor that he’ll behave himself. Especially if you follow the tips I’ve listed. We took Henry and Twister for their first ever beach rides, and they did great.

That about covers my beach ride insights. I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten. Please fell free to add your own tips in the comments, or ask any questions you may have. Riding on the beach IS really fun, and I hope you all get to do it—sans disasters.

PS--I have been pretty sick the last couple of days and not on the computer much, so have not kept up with email or comments. But hopefully I'm better now, and will catch up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012: Year of the Thoroughbred

I hereby declare 2012 the Year of the Thoroughbred.

(I can do that. I have that power. Declarations and such.)

I write about Thoroughbreds, you know. It started out years ago with a blog about the broodmares and foals at my old Union Square Stables. Then it turned into Retired Racehorse Blog, all about my new project, a five year old retiree named Final Call. A couple more incarnations later, and I'm writing, as fast as my fingers will type, about the incredible advancements that Off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) are making as they re-emerge into the limelight of the show-ring. Even my novel, The Head and Not The Heart, is about the special love a horsewoman bears for her Thoroughbreds.

And so it's a good time to be me. 

There is so much buzz about Thoroughbreds on the Internet, I'm surprised they haven't had a review in Pitchfork yet. And with websites like Off Track Thoroughbreds, Retired Racehorse Training Project, and The Thoroughbred Chronicles (not to mention my own humble site, Retired Racehorse Blog) picking up more and more hits every day from search terms like "Where to find a retired racehorse" and "What can a retired racehorse do" it's clear that the message is coming home to people: Retired racehorses can do... well... just about anything. 

Xlerate wins Horse of the Year at Barastoc,
Photo: Derek O'Leary
Consider Xlerate, who just a few days ago took home an unprecedented honor at the Barastoc Horse of the Year Show in Australia, winning both the Newcomer division and the Open Horse of the Year Division. Xlerate was a stakes horse who won a pretty penny in Hong Kong and Australia; six months ago he was eventing; now he is a champion show hack, showing gorgeous brilliance of movement and temperament. (In fact, seven other finalists for Open Horse of the Year were also Off-track Thoroughbreds.)

Consider the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, presented by the Retired Racehorse Training Project. Headed by Steuart Pittman, the Maryland-based event rider who has stood at stud Thoroughbred stallion Salute the Truth, an OTTB who ran a few races before eventually eventing at the Advanced level, and a long time supporter of OTTBs, the Trainer Challenge took three Thoroughbreds, fresh off the track, and gave three trainers five weeks to put them together into something resembling a sporthorse. The video training diaries alone have attracted tens of thousands of views. 

Tens of thousands of views, of videos on how to train retired racehorses.

Something is happening here.

And it's happening on the backside, too.

The Jockey Club, once an organization formed merely to handle the breeding records of the hundreds of thousands of Thoroughbreds foaled each year, launched first Thoroughbred Connect, a database to connect racehorses with potential new owners, and then the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program, which provides awards to OTTBs competing in a rainbow of disciplines. 

Some of the racing industry's heaviest hitters took part in the initial funding of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, including Fasig-Tipton, the Breeders' Cup, and major racecourses, in an effort to provide accreditation and standards to after-care facilities, as well as provide fund-raising efforts.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has launched a website,, offering resources and best practices for both racehorse trainers seeking to retire their horses responsibly and potential purchasers and adopters. Their Aftercare subcommittee includes members of both the racing and sporthorse communities. 

The gap is being bridged. From the backside to the show-ring, the endless possibilities that arise from a racehorse's athletic and workmanlike background are being recognized. And I, for one, can barely keep up with all the links, e-mails, and phone calls from people who want to tell me more about the OTTBs in their life. 

So yes, I declare it. 2012 is the Year of the Thoroughbred. 

(I bet that means it goes by really fast.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Life after Horses

I'm going on one month in my life without horses. Well at least life without a horse to ride. I certainly have a horse in my barn, and she's eating me out of house and home.

Regardless, as I've mentioned previously, I've been taking dressage lessons and riding since I was about 20 with maybe a year break in there. So this is a big change to me, but I'm surviving quite well, thank you.

Yes, there was a moment earlier this week when the bug bit me again. I started searching for horses online and looking for a bargain. Then I reined myself in and stopped looking. Buying a horse is not in my near future. I'm not sure it's in my distant future. Despite the economy, good horses in this area are still relatively expensive. Even worse, I've become a coward in my "old" age. I want a dead-broke, bomb-proof horse. Most bargains are not in that category. Nor do I want an "older" horse. After all, I have one of those, and I'm not running a retirement home for geriatric horses than can't be ridden.

As a result, it didn't take much convincing for me to close those horse for sale sites and get back on the straight and narrow. My money expenditures will go towards updating eighteen-year-old house which still has the original carpets. I spent part of my last royalty check on a very nice office set for my library so I can write in peace. My poor hubbie is somewhat hard of hearing and a TV addict, which makes it hard to concentrate on writing.

So my current projects revolve around updating my library/writing space and saving money for hardwood floors in the great room. Oh, and of course, writing, always writing. I'm working on a couple different books right now, which should be published this year.

My horse magazines sit unread on the coffee table. In fact, I've let at least two the subscriptions lapse. My saddle and bridles a collecting dust in my tackroom. My riding clothes and boots are put away for another time.

Life is busy, and I don't have much time to mourn the loss of riding. Yet. I suspect in a year or so, I'll be "chomping at the bit" to get back on a horse. I guess time will tell.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Family

It has not been a great horse week for me. It all started on Monday afternoon when I received a call that one of my young horses had been hurt. I have horses up at Terrie's and then a group at my parents' house. My folks only live a few miles away, so I jumped in the truck and blasted over there. Sure enough my big chestnut filly was hurt pretty bad. Long story short, someone did something stupid with her (something I had told them not to ever do--tie horses to a pipe corral). She was tied next to her sister who is also three as they were being blanketed. Dogs came around the corner out of the bushes and spooked them. One pulled back and as you can imagine so did the other and apparently chaos ensued. My Bronte girl tried to go forward and jump the pipe, my Mia girl kept pulling back and fortunately came out of the halter, but Bronte got hung up in the pipes. All four legs are pretty beaten up and I am extremely fortunate that her canon bone was not fractured, or this post would be a very different one today.

Needless to say, this horse has never been hurt. She has lived a very nice babyhood and I was getting ready to send her to Aunt Terrie's for school (along with her sister). Bronte has also been my shy one and startles easy. I had finally gotten her to a place where she felt some real confidence and now I am having to go back and help quell her anxiety again. But, the real point to this story is what happened in the hours that the vet was with us. My very sweet young mare trusted us both completely--yes she was sedated but not heavily. She needed stitches, x-rays, a Tetanus shot, wraps--the works (you don't even want to guess how much this is costing). She would get a bit twitchy and nervous and I just kept telling her how brave and strong she is. I tapped her forehead and kept that motherly voice going and my girl relaxed. My vet even said, "This horse loves and trusts you." Now, I know I say that I don't pick favorites but this baby happens to be my favorite one. There is something very special about this horse.

As all of this was going on, her sister Mia was quite concerned and so was the gelding who lives next to them (Mouse). Mouse kept trying to stick his nose out and reach her, checking to see if she was okay. Then, he and Mia would touch noses and have a conversation about it. The horses in the top barn (Will, Hobbit, and Little Grey) could not see anything but they knew something was going on as whinnies from all three echoed off the mountains around us. I eventually had to go up top and give everyone an extra snack to quiet them down. My neurotic Will had paced himself into a sweat. Seeing and sensing all of this made me further realize something I already knew, but it cemented it for me-- this group of horses is a family. And all horses are emotional, sensitive creatures. They feel pain, they feel worry, they express love and concern, anger and dismay. They work from their heart, and maybe that's why we love them so much. They simply "Get it" way better than most humans do.

I am happy to say that Bronte is healing. She's sound, but has some serious tendinitis at this point. Icing, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories are the protocol, along with 6 weeks of rest and only hand walking, but I am so grateful it wasn't worse. As you can imagine, I have now taken over all horse duties at my parents' place. I feed, I blanket and I turn out. I can't risk losing any of my family, and this week it was just too close.

My Bronte Girl and me
I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Love your animals and your people.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Come on a Winter Ride

by Laura Crum

I really love looking at everybody’s trail ride photos. All those ear pictures! All the different places, some so unlike where I live. It may be my favorite part of reading horse blogs. Every time I see ear photos I feel as if I’m going on a ride with the blogger. So here’s a winter ride for you guys. A short pleasant ride along my local trails here in the hills by California’s Monterey Bay. My regular “go to” ride. Nothing too spectacular, nothing too difficult. Come with Sunny and me through the redwood forest, across the creek, and up to the top of the hill to see the view. The whole ride takes a little less than two hours. (I am no endurance rider!) Pretty much the entire thing takes place on singletrack dirt trail that is seldom used. We rarely see other riders and hikers—maybe one ride out of half a dozen we meet someone. Its pretty solitary. Very barefoot friendly (Sunny is barefoot). So here we go.

Off through the redwood forest. Its pretty dark down here under the big trees. The temp is in the 60’s, so its not too chilly. I’m wearing a light vest and I’m comfortable. Sunny is wearing his winter coat—as you can see by his fuzzy ears. You can also see lots of downed limbs from a recent winter wind storm.

Now we are going down to the creek. Passing between two big redwoods—you can see the creek in the bottom of the gully (its pretty low right now, due to a dry winter) and the trail going up the other side.

Headed uphill through the forest. Light ahead. Some of my photos are a little blurry—sorry. I have not yet mastered taking sharp “ear photos” from a moving horse, and all of these were taken as we marched down the trail.

Still going uphill. Its getting misty as we get closer to the ocean. Right about here I saw a deer, but was not quick enough to get her photo. We see many wild animals on these rides. Deer, bobcats, coyotes, foxes. Not to mention squirrels and rabbits and all the little guys of the woods. Fortunately Sunny is not bothered by such critters, even if they emerge suddenly from the underbrush. We have the same assortment of wild animals at home, so he sees them regularly.

Getting near the top of the hill. Things are opening up. We’re almost at the place we call “the Lookout”.

Now we’re there. Its very misty today out over the ocean. Not much view to see.

But since we are here on the computer, rather than riding in real life, I can show you the view on another winter day. Here’s the same view on a clear day last January. That’s the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz in the distance.

OK, now we’re headed home. Taking a different way back, through more open scrubby country, populated by oaks rather than redwoods. Tired of the deep shade under the big trees. This is a stretch where we often trot or lope, so I’m putting the camera away. (You'll just have to imagine us loping along--which we did--my skills are not up to making videos yet.)

Hope you enjoyed the brief winter tour of my local trails. We’ve had a mild winter and I’ve been able to ride a lot. As you can see, the trails have been dry. Around here, winter is the green grass season. The grass will be bleached gold in the late spring and summer, and brown by autumn.

I can access these trails by riding right out my front gate, so this is one of my regular rides. Its been featured in several of my novels, including "Barnstorming", due out this spring. If you read the book, you'll be able to picture the trails pretty well, after reading this post.

Its always so much fun for me to see the country that others ride through-- I thought I’d return the favor. Now we’re ready for a glass of whisky by the fire, after our pleasant winter ride.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Optimum Performance - At what price??

My last few weeks have been consumed by training, competing and coaching at horse shows and no, I am not complaining. Even though there never seems to be enough hours in the day, I acknowledge that there are certainly less pleasant ways to make a living and spend your time.

With that said though, I have recently witnessed some treatment of horses at the last couple of shows that got me thinking about the often blurred lines between the use of whips and spurs to enhance your aids and hence your performance versus being instruments of abuse.

Anyone who knows me and certainly anyone who has followed my blog posts should know that I take my role as guardian and caretaker of my horses very seriously and think that everyone else should as well. Whether a horse is a pet, used for trail, a lesson horse or a high level show horse, I think that their standard of care and treatment should not differ and that includes how discipline is established.

As a trainer, I have dealt with horses of many different types of personality and at times serious temperament and discipline problems, more often than not caused by inexperienced or uneducated owners. I believe that horses, like children, need to be given clear boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and that they must understand that there will be consequences for stepping outside of those boundaries. I don't hesitate to correct a horse when needed but making a clear, firm correction versus the extreme use a whip or spurs are miles apart in my mind. To others it seems that perhaps, those lines are not so clear. I was at a horse show a few weeks ago with Uiver and we had a close encounter with an ugly scene that unsettled both of us.

I was warming up for my Prix St. George class and as is the usual case, the warm up was busy with horses and riders warmng up for classes in other rings and a few riders just schooling horses. There was a very well known and "respected" trainer from my area in the arena schooling a horse and he was obviously displeased with how the horse was performing. It appeared that he was trying to get the mare more active in her hind legs but I was not sure what, if any, movement he wanted her to do. I was going around the arena working some canter movements when this trainer hit this horse down her hind leg several times and hard enough with the dressage whip that it made a cracking sound. Uiver and I were relatively close when this happened and the sound scared him enough to send him bolting away for a few strides. It did not take much to get him back under control but he was clearly rattled and looking fearfully back toward the other trainer. When I put him back to work, he was nervous and hesitant to go back to that end of the arena so to calm him I just avoided that area. I certainly couldn't blame him, it had startled me as well. We went on to do our test and had a solid ride scoring a 65 but even when I went back to the arena to cool Uiver down, he was leery of that end of the arena.

So that brings me to the question - was that discipline or abuse? Even if the "correction" was warranted, I feel it was completely inappropriate in a horse show setting and cedrtainly in a crowded warm-up arena. Over the years I have been blessed with very sensitive, and slightly "hot" horses that usually require more finesse than drive. Others would consider this type of a horse more of a curse, but I seem to mesh the best with horses that need more codling than force. I am not against the use of a whip or spurs but I tend to use them sparingly only as an extension of my leg aide and rarely ride with both. I tend to ride Uiver with either/or depending on what we are working on but at shows don't use a whip at all since they are not allowed for FEI dressage competition anyway. Now with Uiver, and before with my older horse Pete, the most I would do with the dressage whip it to tap to ask (not demand) for a little more effort or encouragement. If I was ever to hit Pete the way that trainer did I am sure I would have been launched into orbit and you could not get within 10 feet of my other horse, Hank, whip a whip or spurs because of the abuse he endured in his past.

So what do you all think, should I have reported this trainer?? Do you use whips when you ride/compete and how do you draw the line between discipline and mistreatment? In Dressage competition today they do check rider's spur and the horse's side for spur marks at the completion of your ride, but what about what takes place in the warm up?? I am interested to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Surviving Winter

My post title is not quite accurate, since winter here in Virginia has been incredibly mild. I read about unusual snows in Europe and the northwest has had its share of cold and icy weather. We have had two dustings . . .knock on wood, and I know that winter is not over yet, unless you are a daffodil in my garden.
The flowers in my gardens and elsewhere on the east coast are very confused. My phlox has bloomed on and off all winter. The Dusty Miller in a pot on the outside steps never died. A Rose of Sharon in the small town nearby is in full bloom. My sister says the azaleas in Philadelphia are also blooming. I've loved this mild winter, and certainly have not complained about the three measly times I had to scrape frost off the windshield, but I worry that the weather will screw up our trees, bushes and flowers this spring. Not to mention the stink bugs, flies, beetles and ticks. We've had several hard frosts, but the vet said there have been cases of Lyme disease all winter. I foresee summer coming along with hordes of chewing and sucking insects. Okay, call me doomsday, and you're right, why worry about it now, but like a scientist, I have been wondering.
Other than that, surviving winter had been downright easy. I quit riding when the freeze/thaw cycle of the ground got too hard on legs and hooves, so the horses have been very lazy and dirty, since mud-rolling is a full-time occupation. I haven't missed a day of dog walking due to weather, I finally got a two-book contract (for books about dogs!) that I'd been waiting for since September, and my booth is up. Okay, I do worry that I won't be able to pay the booth rent until spring (this is the worst time of the year for retail) but I am totally enjoying the businesswoman experience. Especially the buying, which is so much more fun and easier than selling. (Just like horse-trading.)
Who can pass up adorable bears in baskets?? Plenty of people it seems!
But as winter moseys into spring, I am counting my blessings that my family and animals are healthy, Dozer is at peace in our field, I am still employed (as a writer!) and that I am able to connect with this wonderful group at Equestrian Ink. Please share your 'surviving winter' thoughts!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Retired ? Over the hill? At almost twenty, our former dressage schoolmaster Kwintus may be livin’ la vida tranquila in the rolling hills of Burgundy, but he now has something in common with Kate Moss, Elle McPherson, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, et al. Our handsome old gentleman was recently featured in Italian Vogue Online, courtesy of my talented daughter, Olivia (

Olivia is studying Fashion Photography at Falmouth University in Cornwall, and, some time ago, she submitted a series of photographs to Italian Vogue’s online talent-spotter. Most of the photos were fashion oriented, but one of them was a photograph of Kwintus showing off his “airs above the ground” in the snow. I think it’s a wonderful photo, and clearly someone at Vogue thought so too since it was picked up and posted on the iconic magazine’s website, along with several more of Olivia’s photographs.

As you can imagine, we were all thrilled about Olivia having her photos featured on such a prestigious magazine’s website; Italian Vogue must be inundated with submissions, day in, day out. I’m bound to be biased, but ever since Olivia started taking photographs, I’ve always been amazed by her ability to bring emotion, romance, and an element of magic to her images.

Olivia took the photograph of Kwintus playing in the snow a couple of months after we were forced to retire him due to arthritis in his neck in late 2010. My daughter had left Switzerland for university in the UK in September, which is exactly when Kwintus made it clear to me that his job as a dressage schoolmaster was done, and that it was time for him to move on to enjoying life in the meadow.

Olivia hadn’t seen her horse for some time when she took the photograph, so it was a very emotional moment. Of course, the fact that it had snowed a lot over the previous couple of days, that the sky was bright blue and the air crisp, fresh and sparkling made the atmosphere even more magical. Kwintus clearly loved prancing around in the snow, playing chase with our two dogs, Leo and Tom.

Kwint has always been a bit of a show off and loves to be the centre of attention. He’s a real people horse; my trainer, Marie-Valentine, calls him Mr. Public Relations. I recently found out from one of his previous owners, Tamara, that he’d already had a stint at modelling and was once the “face” of Dengie Horse Feeds. Here he is with Tamara, posing for his dinner!

I showed a friend of mine at the stables Olivia and Kwintus’ Italian Vogue photograph earlier today, and she asked me if she could use it on her new website dedicated to finding sponsors for talented Swiss riders. Might Kwintus might have a new career in the works?!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Near Wreck

by Laura Crum

We had a sort of near wreck on our last beach ride, and though no people or horses were hurt (thankfully), it still got me thinking hard over what went wrong and how such things can be prevented. So today I’m going to share the story and see what you think.

First off, it was an awesome day for a ride. Sunny, sixty-five degrees, a little breeze. The horses all seemed to be feeling good, but showing no signs of acting up, as we headed off down the beach. The photo below shows Wally on Twister and my son on Henry and Sunny’s ears. Monterey Bay is on our right, the town of Monterey is in the distance.

We rode along for a couple of miles, our usual ride. Sunny and I waded in the water briefly—only ankle deep. I don’t like to go deeper because I have had the not-so-fun experience of a horse getting dizzy in the surf and almost falling down (this is very common, by the way), so I am cautious. Below you see Sunny starting in—I couldn’t take pictures after this cause I had to steer.

Wally rode Twister in deeper. Wally is much braver and more confident than I am, but this does not always work out in his favor, as the post will show. Twister has several times staggered and almost fallen in the waves, but Wally persists in making him go there. So below you see Wally and Twister.

My son has ridden Henry in the shallows before, but today was content to watch. It was a lovely day, bright and clear and warm. There was no one else on the beach. Many birds and sea lions to watch, and the light on the surf was just spectacular.

Anyway, all went smoothly and after a couple of miles we turned inland to take the path through the dunes back to the trailer. This is our usual “loop” and we do it partly because slogging through the dunes (for a short distance) is good for the horses and builds condition. Below you see Sunny following Twister down the trail. In the distance is the town of Santa Cruz and the mountain called Loma Prieta. (The local Native American name for it was Uminum, which means hummingbird.) This is the last picture I took, because after that things got a bit exciting.

Well…all of a sudden Twister stopped and stood still for a minute. No big deal. Wally and I both assumed he needed to poop or pee. But he did neither. My son and I caught up and were standing right behind him. Wally said, “Come on, Twister,” in a relaxed way, confident and unworried, as always. I wasn’t paying much attention, really, just waiting for him to go on, when I noticed Twister’s front knees buckling. He started to go down in front.

This caught both me and Wally entirely by surprise (as we discussed later). I wasn’t sure what was happening; Wally didn’t react much except to look puzzled. And Twister lay down on his side in a sand dune. Not good.

In another second Wally was coming off the horse and Twister was scrambling to his feet, and running off, obviously scared. My son’s horse and my horse were both spooked by these scary events and jumped sideways, away from the action. Fortunately both my kid and I were able to pull our always-reliable horses up quickly.

About a hundred thoughts ran through my mind as Wally landed in the sand with the horse on his leg. Would Wally be hurt, would he get hung up as the horse scrambled up, would the horse get hung up on the cable that bordered the trail, would the horse run off and …etc. Instinctively I did the only thing I could do. Pulling Sunny up, I said calmly (I hoped) to my son, “Just pull Henry up and hold still.”

This was easier said than done, as Twister was scrambling down the dune and running away as I spoke and our horses found this upsetting. But like the good horses they are, they held it together. Their eyes were big, their heads were high, and they snorted. But they stood still.

Our stillness was eventually observed by Twister, who coasted to a stop about sixty feet from us and looked back. “I guess I really don’t want to leave you guys,” was written plain on his face.

At this point I looked at Wally, who was still lying in the sand. “Are you OK?” I asked him, again, I hoped, calmly. Wally is 78 years old. The horse had gone down on his leg; I was afraid it might be broken.

“I’m fine,” he said, and got up and walked toward Twister.

“What about your leg?”

“He lay down right on my foot, but the sand’s so deep and soft it didn’t even hurt.”

Well, OK then. Wally caught Twister with no trouble, re-mounted and off we went. We had one minor setback when he realized he had lost his glasses in the fall and we had to go back and look for them. But we found the glasses and all was well. Glasses were undamaged and there was not a scratch or a pulled muscle on either horse or person.

But….obviously we were lucky. Both Wally and Twister could have been hurt. So I’ve done a little thinking about what happened and today I’d like to see if anyone else has any thoughts to offer.

First off, the biggest thing we were guilty of is complacency. Yes, we ride solid horses, yes, we’ve done this ride many times, yes, the horses were relaxed and quiet that day. But that still doesn’t mean we should go to sleep at the switch. Both Wally and I have seen horses try to lie down in loose sand before (they’ll also do this crossing water). We both know enough to get after a horse pretty smartly if he shows any sign of wanting to go down. But instead Wally simply sat there, doing not much at all, until Twister was already on the ground.

Now Twister has never done this before, or I’m sure Wally would have reacted quickly and firmly. But neither Wally nor I had any clue that Twister was thinking of this (he did no pawing), and when he actually started to lie down we both had the sudden fear (as we discussed later) that he was having a heart attack or some such thing. Wally simply didn’t think to give the horse a good hard boot and a loud “Here now!”, as he felt Twister’s withers start to drop. In hindsight, had Wally done this, Twister would no doubt have popped up and kept going and our near-wreck would have been completely averted.

In retrospect, hindsight being twenty/twenty, it seems obvious that Twister was itchy and wanted to roll. He is by far the hairiest of our horses and always gets very hot and sweaty on winter rides, while Henry and Sunny are just a little damp. In any case he showed no signs of a problem either before or after his little “lying down incident”, so he wasn’t colicked or in any sort of distress.

The ironic thing about all this is the fact that it happened the day I made a huge step forward in rider safety and being prepared for the unexpected. Yes, I’m talking helmet. Those of you who have followed this blog (and chided me) will be pleased to hear that your advice has had an effect. Several months ago I went shopping for a helmet and (when none of them fit) finally ordered one. After much delay (when the order was lost and then the helmet had to come from Europe) the helmet arrived last week—and it fit. This does not mean that I was thrilled with it—I am someone who never wears hats because they give me a headache. But I was determined to give it a try. Courtney King Dye’s story really hit home to me. Any horse can fall—I can’t prevent that. And I was beginning to have this niggling uncomfortableness with my bareheaded state on the horse. Perhaps because I am so careful that my son always wears a helmet. Who knows? But I actually felt a bit naked, though I have never worn a helmet while riding since I was a teenager jumping horses (and then it was one of those velvet hardhats). Still, it was this “feeling” more than logic, which convinced me I should get a helmet.

So for our beach ride last week, I strapped the helmet on (after whining that I didn’t need it with all the soft sand) and wore it the entire ride. And you know what? It felt good—like it belonged there. I think I’m going to be able to stick to it. However, one of my thoughts when Twister went down on Wally’s leg was “helmet wouldn’t have helped here.” Until I thought more about it and realized that if Wally had gotten hung up when Twister scrambled to his feet, a very real danger would be getting struck in the head by one of Twister’s hooves. A helmet would have helped with that, maybe. However, Wally is not going to be wearing a helmet any time soon. But I’m glad that I am.

Twister lying down unexpectedly like that illustrates the basic truth that even a solid horse can go down. Though Twister did not fall, any horse CAN fall. And though a helmet will certainly not prevent all serious/fatal injuries, it can prevent some. And the downside of wearing one is pretty small.

I did have a very tense moment when I worried that Wally’s leg might be broken. Twister was loose, and I still had my son and our two horses to take care of. How was I going to deal with all these things? As you can tell from the photos, there was no one else around. But I was carrying my cell phone and it gets a good signal at the beach. Though we were a couple of miles from our rig, we were actually not that far from another parking lot, and my husband’s workplace is not that far from the beach we were riding on. Here’s what I think I could have done. Called my husband and given him directions, let my son hold Sunny from Henry while I caught Twister, and then waited with all three horses by Wally until help arrived. Makes me realize how smart it is to carry a cell phone.

So how about you guys? Have you had a similar experience? Any one else’s horse ever try to lie down with them? How did you cope with it? Any other safety-on-the-trail tips you’d like to share?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Awaiting Royalty

With dire talk about the overpopulation of horses, and the fact that many end up unwanted and perhaps going to slaughter, it seems almost hypocritical to write a post celebrating foals.

But hey - it's almost Spring. Time of hope and renewal. And there are certain foals, born to royal equine parents, which are so eagerly awaited they are a cause for celebration.

Remember the brilliant race mare Rachel Alexandra, who captured not only the Preakness but also Horse of the Year honors in 2009? Last year she was bred to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, and here is their foal, a colt born January 22, 2012.

But the horse I am most excited about foaling is Zenyatta. After winning 19 races in a row, including the Breeders' Cup in 2009 and being named Horse of the Year in 2010, she was retired to broodmare status and bred last year to Bernardini. She is expecting her eagerly awaited foal in early March. Here she is heavy in foal, with her friend Tasty, (the grey) who is due at the same time:

I have been a huge fan of Zenyatta during her racing days, and I'm not ashamed to admit I'll probably go all gaga over the news of her foal. I even had a "squee" moment when she was moved to the foaling barn last week, in anticipation of her new arrival. Here she is in her new foaling stall:


If you'd like to follow along with news of these "royal" horses - Zenyatta has her own "diary" right here: and even her own facebook page: and you can learn more about Rachel Alexandra and her foal here: or here:

Have you been following the news of either of these "royal" births?
Any other horse arrivals that you are looking forward to?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Crossroads Crossed

Those of you who follow this blog, know about my on-going struggle regarding my dressage future. An incident based on misunderstandings happened about two weeks ago which forced me to make a decision.

Yes, I've been wishy-washy about dressage riding ever since Gailey could no longer be shown. One minute I was quitting, the next I was going to buy a new horse, the next I was leasing a schoolmaster. I wanted to give it up, but I didn't. Partially because it's what I've always done. Partially because I've left so many goals unearned.

I'd been half-leasing the schoolmaster since September. For various reasons--some of my own creation and some out of my control--I rarely rode him more than once a week. In December, I informed my trainer and the owner that I would not be leasing him any longer if I couldn't find a way to ride more often. They both convinced me to stick with it. A month later a friend of mine started half-leasing the horse with me. That caused an interesting problem. Along with her half-lease and mine, another person was also riding the horse one day a week in lessons. That didn't leave any leeway if I couldn't ride on my three assigned days. I asked the owner for a swing day by taking priority over the person who rode in a lesson once a week. She has another horse anyway, so she was just riding him to learn the upper-level movements.

At this same time, the person who was half-leasing wanted to full lease the horse. The person riding one day a week didn't want to give up their day. Based on a few conversations, I believed the owner was going to allow the other rider to full lease the horse. Without going into details, it all culminated in many of us jumping to conclusions and making assumptions that may not have been accurate. So I gave up the horse and my lessons. I was a little upset at all involved.

The horse's owner realized she might have given me the wrong impression and offered to work with me on the lease. The trainer wanted me to keep taking lessons. I realized I'd jumped to conclusions which weren't exactly accurate. But for once, I'd made up my mind. I stuck with my decision, and I told them so. While they were both sorry to see me go, I hope they understood.

Once I'd made the final decision to give up lessons and the lease, I experienced some feelings of grief, though not as intense as I'd expected. I've been taking dressage lessons without a break since 1984. I've had a showable horse since that date also. It's strange not to go to the barn after work or feel guilty because I didn't go to the barn. I now have very little in common with my dressage friends, and the majority of my friends I met through dressage. For years, dressage was where I spent my time, energy, and money.

Now I'm not doing that. Part of me is sad.

Part of me is liberated. I'm free to go home after work, putter in the yard, spend money on clothes, take the $500 a month I was spending on the lease and lessons and pay off some bills, spend more time writing novels, and make friends who aren't in the dressage world.

So while it's the end of an era, it's the beginning of a new one--one that will always have horses in it in some form or the other, but perhaps not as high of a priority as before.

I'm not totally closing the door to dressage riding and showing, but I don't see it in my future at this time. This year will be my year of spreading my wings and concentrating on other aspects of my life. While I'm a little forlorn, I'm also excited about the possibilities.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Meet Jane Ayres - Guest Blog

From time to time we feature a guest blog from another horse author. Today we welcome UK author Jane Ayres, who has published several horse novels for children and teens. She also has a piece in WHY WE RIDE.

Sharing the journey
by Jane Ayres

When I was a child I avidly read every pony book I could lay my hands on.  My favourites were by the Pullein-Thompson sisters - Diana, Christine or Josephine - and I devoured tales about girls who were lucky enough to have a pony.  I wanted to be those girls, so I started to write my own pony stories.  With a twist.  Because, after pony books, my next favourite reading subject was ghosts and the supernatural.  So I wrote a creepy tale called Dream Pony about a girl whose perfect new mount goes unexpectedly berserk at a horse show.  It doesn’t end well for the girl or her pony, but it was the first story I got published by a short lived but wonderful UK magazine called Pony World.  I was 14 years old and the thrill of getting my work in print was….well, it’s hard to put into words.  (Ironically!) 

Since then I have written many “straight” pony tales but I especially enjoy combining two genres. Sometimes, the supernatural element is implied or ambiguous rather than explicit.  I am interested in exploring the dark side of characters (and horses), especially in my last few books, The Horse on the Balcony, Dark Horses, The Runaway Horse and Last Chance Horse. 

But the novel I am currently writing reflects another thread that runs through many of my books.  Often the “life journey” of the characters, human or animal, is paralleled with an actual journey.  It’s only in later years that I have realized how much this figures for me - and how far back it all goes.  When I was 10, I started to write a pony novel which was never finished.  It reflected my reading influences, which, as well as pony books,  included a lot of Enid Blyton Famous Five, Secret Seven and boarding school stories. My novel featured two girls (whose names I can’t recall) and their ponies, Nutmeg and Shadow.  The girls are away at boarding school when they get the news that Shadow has been stolen, so, with no clues whatever, they secretly run away from school, with a few friends, and set off on a horseback mission to solve the mystery and get their pony back.  Midnight rides and picnics also featured heavily!

The second book I had published, in my mid twenties, was called Wild Horse Island and the main character is Zephyr, a wild horse who is taken from his herd on a remote island and begins a long journey to find his way home, encountering two lonely people whose lives he changes.  More than twenty years later, I was asked to update the story and extend it before it was republished as Zephyr of Wild Horse Island.  This book remains dear to my heart.  Years later, without even realizing it, I explored related themes in Coming Home, a rare non-horsey novel about a girl and her two Norwegian Forest cats who are tragically parted but, after many adventures, find each other once more. 

When I got thinking about the stories that grip me as a reader, they often involved characters undertaking, often unwillingly, some kind of journey.  I like to feel when I am reading that I am sharing that journey with the characters, whether it is a girl trying to find her stolen horse, or a loyal pony finding its way back home.  I believe the act of reading, and writing,  a book is a kind of journey.  And I hope I will be travelling for a long time to come.

To learn more about Jane and her books, follow her blog: or find out more about her books here:

Thanks so much for dropping by and visiting, Jane. European readers, have any of you read Jane's books?