by Laura Crum
That is how I see myself these days. Sort of like a cat lady, only with an over-abundance of horses rather than cats. I know, many of you will protest that mid-fifties isn’t old, and in a way you are right. However, I am old in the way of hours spent in the saddle aboard a horse. I spent twenty-five years (from fifteen until forty) non-stop riding, training and competing on a wide variety of horses, in three different very-demanding events. Not to mention many hours on the trail and horse packing/camping in the mountains. My mystery series was born out of my desire to convey some of the magic and delight I found in all those years spent horseback.
I took a break in my forties to have a child and raise him (oh, I rode occasionally, but it was always with a kid in the saddle in front of me or ponying my child’s leadline pony). Then, when I turned fifty, I bought two solid, older geldings and for five years my boy and I rode the trails non-stop. We rode at least two or three days every week through all kinds of terrain—our local trails through the coastal hills, the beach, the redwood forest, the mountains. And these years provided the inspiration for the last four books of my horse-themed series.
And now? Well, the short answer may be that I’m tired. Those of you who have spent thirty years steadily horseback (and for many of those years I rode seven days a week), might understand. Or maybe you are in a different space mentally and are just pushing on to new horseback achievements. Those who are in an “earlier” stage of your horse life (at least in the sense of lifetime hours spent in the saddle) may find my attitude kind of perplexing. Because I still love my horses. I just don’t have a lot of motivation or ambition to ride right now.
I’ve been through this before, and I’m aware it may be a stage. I’m not fighting my head about it (too much). I’m pretty accepting that this is how I feel at this point in my life. I still ride (maybe once a week), mostly here on my own property. I cruise my little yellow horse around the riding ring for awhile and then let him gallop the quarter mile up the hill from the gate to the house a couple of times. This seems to be enough for both of us at the moment.
My horses are older, too. Sunny, my riding horse, is in his late teens (I think). Henry, my son’s riding horse, is 25. Both horses are sound, but both are obviously a bit stiffer and slower to warm up and move out freely than they were when I bought them, six years ago. They don’t seem to mind a lighter riding schedule—at all.
My other two horses, Gunner and Plumber, are retired. A lot of my horse life right now is taking care of 33 year old Gunner. He’s got an arthritic knee that is getting worse and he’s having a harder time keeping weight on than he did a year ago. His appetite is not as good as it was. But he is still bright-eyed and perky and seems to enjoy life. I let him out to graze every day (which he is very eager to do), and I give him pain meds, and I feed him (and all the others) three times a day. Lately I’ve been blanketing Gunner every evening and taking his blanket off every morning, hoping to help him keep weight on. Along with all the regular horse chores (and all the other life chores), it keeps me busy.
But I don’t begrudge the time spent with my retirees. I enjoy it. I look at them and think how lucky I am. I bought both Gunner and Plumber as three year old horses. Gunner had thirty days on him; Plumber had never been ridden. I trained both these horses myself and went on to ride them all their working lives. Both horses won many competitions and carried me for many miles. They are still my horses today and greet me with eager nickers every time they see me. Plumber is twenty-four and I’ve owned him for twenty-one years. Gunner is thirty-three and I’ve owned him for thirty years. How many horse people can say this? If I did nothing but look after these two beloved horses, I would consider myself so lucky.
And then there is life. That sometimes annoying part of life that has nothing to do with horses. The truth is that I have had a difficult and emotionally draining autumn in many ways and I find my desire to be with my horses--watching them graze, or eat their hay, or just brushing them-- is stronger than my desire to hitch up the trailer and go somewhere, or even to head out my front gate and cross the busy road to get to our nearby trails. My son, at thirteen, is more interested in riding his bike than his horse these days, so I have been doing a lot of riding the trails with my husband and son on two wheels rather than four hooves.
Actually, riding a bike rather than a horse is probably a good thing, as I am, if not truly old, definitely getting stout and stiff, and pumping that bike up a hill is a hell of a lot more exercise than letting Sunny carry me up the same hill. So I ride my bike as much as my horse right now.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for me horse-wise, in terms of riding. I may ride a lot more in the new year, and I may not. I’m pretty sure I’ll ride at least occasionally—I can’t imagine my life any other way. One thing I do know, the five horses I have here have a permanent home with me and I will take care of them until their time is done. If this means my entire horse life is taking care of a bunch of retired horses, so be it. These horses have paid their dues and given me years of good times in the saddle, carried me for so many, many miles, taken good care of me in all kinds of “interesting” situations. Every time I feed them, or turn them out to graze, those many happy riding hours are present in the moment, as I run my hand over their shoulder or touch noses with them. Time past as present as time present.
Does anybody else out there share this feeling? I do sometimes feel like the only slacker in an internet horse world that is full of people busy doing lots of very active things with their horses. Not that there is anything wrong with having a busy, active horse life. Not at all. I was that person for many years, and enjoyed it very much. It’s just not where I’m at now. And I’m curious to know if there are others that share my current emotions.