Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life With Horses....Now

By Laura Crum

As those of you who have read my posts here and/or my ten mystery novels featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy already know, I’ve spent most of my life with horses. I grew up riding horses on our family ranch, I spent my twenties cowboying on a cattle ranch and training and competing on cutting and reining horses, and my thirties competing at team roping. Along the way I’ve broken and trained many colts (for myself and others), horse packed across the Sierra Nevada Mts numerous times, and hey, even showed jumping horses as a teenager. I’ve owned and loved many good horses in my life; currently I have eleven. So I think I can say with some fairness that although I was never a world caliber rider by any means, I have as much or more experience with horses as many horsemen (or horsewomen) who bill themselves as experts.

Whether these experts are trainers or horse bloggers, clinicians or authors of some kind, they all have opinions, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. While reading a horse blog the other day, I came across the blogger’s description of how to catch a difficult horse. Now I believe this gal is reasonably knowledgeable; nonetheless my first thought was, “that’s sure not how I would do it.” I considered posting a comment to that effect, complete with a description of how I would do it, but then decided, why bother? She has her opinion; I have mine. And more and more, at fifty-one years of age, after a lifetime spent owning and training horses, I do it my own way, with no regard for what anyone else thinks. (And I try to make space for others to do the same—which means not proffering unasked for advice to the lady with the blog about horse catching.)

Yes, that’s me in the photo, which was taken just this last summer. Those of you who read my May post titled “The New Horse” will probably recognize Sunny, the little “palomino plug” I bought to ride the trails with my seven year old son. And in case anybody’s wondering, yes, I ride him in Ugg boots and cargo pants. Very comfortable—not at all PC by horseman’s rules.

I do realize that the boots have no heels and most of the horse world would say it was dangerous to ride in them. Folks, I ride in sandals, sometimes even in flip flops, in the summer. Its not that I don’t know the rules. Having trained horses and competed in contests for so many years, I can’t possibly count up the hours I’ve spent in cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, pressed long-sleeved shirt, cowboy hat…etc And you know what? I’m not planning on going there again.

Today horses are part of my life in a different way. I no longer dress up to “do” horse activities; I don’t drive to my horses in someone else’s barn. I rarely haul them anywhere in my trailer (believe me, after hauling horses around the western United States for twenty years, the trailer does not look very appealing to me)> My horses live with me: I can see their corrals from my front porch. I feed them night and morning (sometimes in a sarong and sandals); I ride them out my front gate and through the hills in whatever comfortable clothes I have on. They graze around me as I work in the garden and nicker to remind me when I’m late with breakfast or dinner.

I don’t mean to heap scorn on the idea of boots and/or hardhats or other items relating to safety. I would never ride a green horse or a rank horse in anything other than proper boots. My son wears a helmet when he rides and has tapaderos on his saddle, which I highly recommend for kids. I definitely believe that its best to err on the side of caution if you are a novice rider, and especially with children. But at this point in my career, I’m perfectly comfortable on/around my broke horses in Ugg boots, sandals… you name it. And I take deep pleasure in how comfortable I am with my horses now. They are part of the fabric of my life in a way that’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it. Those who have will understand.

At a “girl’s night out” not too long ago with two fellow horsewomen who have been at it as long as I have and have reached a similar (but not exactly the same, of course) point in our thinking, the thrust of our conversation was mostly about how enjoyable this stage of life with horses is. Yes, none of us are as good at riding as we once were, all of us have given up competing, two of us are stout, two of us have back problems…the list goes on. But we are all having so much more fun with our horses, now that we aren’t so driven to compete, to improve, to excel…etc.

In short, after a lifetime spent with horses, and a few trophies to prove I was once a decent trainer and competitor in some pretty demanding events, I can honestly say that this is the very best part. Or my favorite part, anyway. My life with horses right now, as a plump fifty-one year old mama riding a little palomino plug down the trail wearing my comfortable Ugg boots, with my son following me on his old, gentle horse, headed back to our small horse ranch where the other equines (and dog, cats, chickens, vegetable garden, not to mention husband) are waiting….this is the life with horses that I want now.
Laura Crum


mns said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this with us. I'm an almost-44, somewhat fluffy woman who wants to do exactly what you describe - just enjoy my horses. You wouldn't believe the funny looks I get when I say I don't want to show. In anything. Nope. I just want to be comfortable and enjoy my "teenage boys" (ie, geldings) and go on the occasional trail ride. Thanks for writing it out and explaining that feeling so well.

I think I'll be sharing the link to this blog with a few friends. :)

Leslie said...

Laura,I really enjoyed reading this post. It shows who you are and how you've evolved. With the exception of the horse experience,(me having only a 4 years so far) I can relate to your feelings. I really do admire the horse life you led! Love the idea of packing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains!

Anyway,I've decided being the age I am (47) it's my time do as I please. With my horses, being a new owner but lifelong enthusiast, I wanted to do right by them after I got them home. So, I tried to follow all the rules I'd learned. Now, it's my rules!

I do better with guidelines so all those rules I learned helped in the beginning. But, when I quit working at the small riding facility I worked at for 2 1/2 years, I decided I'd work and care for my own horses in my way and what is comfortable for me and for them.

I may not ride them as much as I should, which does bother me sometimes, but just being around them and caring for them has enriched my life. They don't care how I look when I feed them in the mornings! They don't care that I sing a little off-key when I'm grooming them. They really don't even mind when I make some mistakes while riding. We're all learning as we go.

I wish I had years and years of horse experience but I don't. I have a condensed version, and learning every day. I wish I had a covered arena to ride in during the bad weather months, as I read some folks do. I don't. But, you know what? That's ok. I'm happy and my horses look happy. That's what it's all about, in my opinion.

How fantastic to share your love of horses with your son! I am hoping that one day, when I have a grandchild (though don't get me wrong, I'm sure not rushing that!) I'll be able to share with her or him too.

Loved your last paragraph!

Anonymous said...

Thanks mns and Leslie, I had fun writing the piece. I know there's lots of us out there--sometimes it just needs to be said. As I told mugwump yesterday--I don't train anything any more....I just cruise around enjoying my horses and the scenery. It works for me.

Anonymous said...

I'm lucky to be able to take riding lessons at a small stable where the most important expectations are fun and safety. We are allowed to ride in our comfy jeans, track pants and rubber boots (with heels) or we can dress to the nines with riding breeches, English riding boots and velvet helmets etc. Some riders/boarders show English or Western. Others like my DD and I just like to ride, hang around the barn and be around the horses. I have to confess that as a relatively new but middle aged re-rider who has only been riding for 3 years, I still wear the right shoes, clothing and helmet whenever I'm in the barn and on a horse. It's the comfort zone that I'm in right now.

Re the comment about bringing the horses in from the fields. All of our lesson horses are like big friendly dogs. They come to the barn when we call them - never had a problem bringing anyone of them in :)

mugwump said...

I haven't learned to decompress. I'm wondering if I will. I have retired as a trainer,I left my world because I couldn't handle the treatment of our "disposable" horses. My body is beat to death.
Yet here I find myself seeking out input from yet another student of the traditional California Vaquero style of riding. I still want to learn to create a bridle horse without hurting them. I still want to compete and win. I can' seem to quit.
I have started walking my dogs in the gorgeous Garden of the Gods again.Something I haven't had time for in years.I found myself running the trails, wondering if I could get in good enough shape to run the Bloom's Day run in Spokane Washington this coming spring.Why can't I just appreciate the scenery?
I'm writing for a living. It's wonderful and exciting. I'm also pushing myself to take the plunge on trying a book.
Why can't I take a breath?
I envy you Laura. You have learned to breathe. I worry about what I'm missing because I can't seem to just walk the damn dog.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing, mugwump, is that I look at you in complete amazement and admiration. We're the same age and it sounds like we've got about the same miles on us, but you are continually trying to improve and become a better rider and trainer. I am in awe of your ability to stay engaged like that. In many ways, I've just opted out. Its true I enjoy what I'm doing, but I don't think that mine is necessarily the better path. You talk about spending some time working on cutting, and I think, oh, I remember how much fun I had with that. And a part of me is regretful that I just don't have enough, what, maybe enthusiasm is the word, to do the work and jump through the hoops to be there again.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

At 51, I am pretty much a mix between you and Mugs...I ride in what I have on...sometimes jeans, sometimes sweats. I ride in the winter bareback and a time in the middle of the night with a full moon and freshly fallen snow wearing my snowpants and snowboots. Someone once asked me what I rode in, I pointed to what I was wearing, and said "This."

All that being said, I would love to play around in the show ring..more to meet other horse people, and also to see how much my mare has learned from me. However, I would have to get dressed differently...don't know if that is a direction I want to take!

I have been in love with horses all my life, been involved more or less through my life, and now am filling my life with them again. I was never a big time trainer or competitor, but they have always been there, either physically or in my heart.

Now, off to feed!


HorsesAndTurbos said...

Oh, takes a while to "exhale" day you'll start having little moments when you realize you have actually relaxed!


Anonymous said...

Jackie, I loved the moonlit snow scene. Thanks for telling that story. I can totally relate.

SOSHorses said...

Hi, hope you don't mind but I tagged you for a game of Book Tag. I thought it would be neat to tag the bloggers that I've just discovered and kinda get to know them.
The rules can be found on my blog on the post titled Tag I'm "it"

Anonymous said...

SOSHorses, I appreciate the thought. I'm trying to get a chapter done on my book today and homeschool my kid at the same time. I checked out your tag game, and if I can get some time, I'll try to play. But if I don't get it done, its just cause I'm overimpacted.

Joy said...

Your place sounds like a slice right out of heaven to me. I loved this piece. I also really enjoyed the pictures on your website. Once I've got a little extra money (it will happen, I just know it...) I plan on getting the first in your series of books. is my friend.

ezra_pandora said...


Didn't know where else to leave this :) I saw the ad for your book Chasing Cans in Horse Illustrated that I just got yesterday. Cool!! Your books are definitely on the Christmas list my hubby just asked me to make for him :)

Linda said...

I like the thought of riding in Uggs--or knock-off Uggs in my case. I usually head to the barn in my Wal-mart pull on mucking boots--tuck in my PJs--throw on a coat in this weather. I just can't seem to get out of my PJs to feed the horses. Today, however, there was a draw on the fence, and I walked the entire acreage in the cold rain, in my pjs, tracing the wire--NOT A GOOD IDEA. I froze my butt off!!!

I used to homeschool my kids. My daughter learned her most valueable lessons on horseback.