Sunday, March 29, 2009

Conrad Schumacher

I'm just dropping by to let everyone know that I just spent two days at a Conrad Schumacher dressage symposium. It was the single most educational and incredible experience I've had in my 30 years of riding dressage.

I took 60 pages of notes and will be posting them here in future blogs. So stay tuned.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The First of Many Crossroads

by Mary Paine

Hi Everybody,

The last time I posted I was in a mild (OK, maybe not so mild) panic over reaching the deadline on my current work in progress, a contemporary fantasy titled The Grimoire. I'm happy to report that despite a bout of positional vertigo, the manuscript is moving forward again. I have three new scenes completed and a rewrite of a chapter, but the pace still isn't fast enough. I'm hoping by the next post (assuming my vertigo is tapering off) I can claim at least three additional chapters completed. Keep your fingers crossed for me as the deadline to have the manuscript ready for the conference I'm attending is the third week in May!

I may be at a professional crossroads, but my daughter is at one as well. I'm hoping the members of our Equestrian Ink family will weigh in on this one. It's a problem shared by many people in the horse world. My daughter is now seven and completely horse crazy. She has firm plans to become a veterinarian and though many kids change career plans by the time they reach adulthood, in this case I believe she's serious. Her unwavering dedication to animals has sustained itself since she was a toddler. I bought her an enormous dollhouse and she named her toy horses 'The Doll House Friends' and they took over the house!

She's done very well at walk trot, but recently, although she still loves animals with all her heart, she's expressed an interest in new areas of sports. She wants to try softball, tae kwon doe, soccer, and cheerleading. What she hasn't yet figured out is that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. To let her try all the new areas she wants to explore she will have to take a break from riding.

I've had friends share several different opinions with me on this. Some say that it might be best to wait until she's older and stronger with more leg to advance in her riding anyway so this is the best time to explore other options. Some friends have questioned whether she's too young to begin jumping, although I've seen many children her age in short-stirrup cross rails classes through the years. The mom in me pictures her going head over heels, literally, so I'm leaning toward waiting on cantering and jumping, but I might be overprotective.

I know some parents continue their children riding every year, but limit the hours riding or the number of shows attended to make sure there is balance with other activities. I've talked with parents who have a different opinion on the matter. The say if horses is what the kids love, then the kids have to realize the hours involved and that they may need to forgo other activities.

Personally, I'm in a quandary on this one & hoping for some more of the good advice Equestrian Ink authors and readers have been gracious in sharing in the past.

Happy Riding, Everyone!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Michael Barisone . . .

by Kit Ehrman

I have to admit, the day kind of got away from me. I’d think about what I might write in the blog and never came up with a topic I liked, so I’m turning to the past. After I stopped riding my horses over fences, I switched to dressage and loved it. I used to smile to myself when acquaintances, generally non-horsey folks, would ask me why I was “still” taking riding lessons when I had horses and knew how to ride. What I love about riding, and dressage in particular, is that you never stop learning.

I had the privilege of watching Michael Barisone give a dressage clinic near my home many years ago and thought you might find my notes interesting, especially those of you who ride dressage.

Michael and Neruda
Chronicle of the Horse

On the Bit . . . Basic Softening
Keep the inside leg on, steady outside rein, sponge the inside rein. If sponging the inside rein is not effective, flex to the inside and give, flex to the inside and give, flex to the inside and give, all the while keeping the inside leg on and a steady outside rein.

If they are leaning 10 pounds in the mouth, you have to use at least 10 pounds of pressure in the leg to get over the resistance in the jaw. If they think you’ll hold them, they’ll lean on you. If they lean, sit, use the inside leg, and vibrate the inside rein. Or sit, use inside leg, flex a little to inside, then give. You can also try moving the bit left, right, left, right, with inside leg on. If they get behind the bit, take the contact the push with leg. When the horse is soft, it is his bit. When the horse leans, say “Hey, it’s my bit.” and get it back with a steady outside rein and a vibrating inside rein, or a left, right, left, right movement of the bit (not the head). The minute they get heavy, use your inside leg and slide the bit, or flex left, then right. The outside rein helps control the shoulder. Keep a straight line from the elbow to the bit. As soon as the head comes up, correct immediately. Don’t be slow to correct. Let your shoulders be soft and keep elbows close to the body.

Half Pass/Trot
Do the diagonal. At X, start half pass by aiming at the letter. Aim front of the horse at the letter and push haunches to the outside (like haunches in), always keeping the front of the horse straight.

Canter Work
To be straight in the canter, always ride a slight shoulder fore, then the horse will be straight. Canter depart--count down to the canter, 10, 9, 8, 7, . . . 1, canter, all the while building the trot but keeping on-the-bit frame with the horse soft in his mouth with as much self carriage as possible. At canter depart, put inside leg on at the girth, sponge inside rein, steady outside rein, deep seat, slide outside leg back, squeeze with inner leg at the girth also. If the canter is too fast, hold with both reins, then give, hold with both reins, then give, hold with both reins, then give until you get the pace you want, always keeping the inner leg on. When cantering, don’t let him quit. He must know that he has to canter until you ask him to change gaits. “You should be able to get off and get a cup of coffee and come back, and he will still be cantering.” If he breaks, push him into the canter immediately. Don’t worry about how nice the transition is because you are teaching him not to change gaits unless you ask. In the canter, sit heavier on the outside seat bone. To slow the canter, as you feel your seat drop with each stride, close outside rein.

Fine Points
Always ride deep into the corners. Look ahead, not down. When you take with the reins, always give, even if you don’t get what you want, then repeat. Do not hold the mouth with pressure. They can’t lean if you don’t give them anything to lean against. Always think soft. When riding a circle, corner, or figure, both reins should be slightly to the inside, guiding the horse’s forehand around the circle. The inside leg keeps the horse out on the circle. The inside rein is a slight open rein. Do a little flexion, then give, little, flexion, then give . . . Keep the outer rein against the neck. The inside rein points towards your inside hip. Teach the horse to go from release, not from the push. If you ask him to go forward, and he doesn’t, use the spur. If he still doesn’t go forward, remove leg and boot him with it. Eventually he will respond to the release because he knows what’s coming. Ask nice, if you don’t get a result, ask again. If he still doesn’t go forward, clobber him with the aid--but let him go forward by softening the reins.

Here's a 2008 ride by Michael. The horse is Pasop, and it's his first Grand Prix:

to be continued . . .

Happy riding and reading,

Monday, March 23, 2009

When Common Sense is Amiss at the Barn

The past month has been an exciting time for my eight-year-old as she prepares for her first dressage rally with The Pony Club coming up this Sunday. She has memorized her test, practiced it on foot nightly in our living room, set up her Breyer model horse dressage arena and had her models do the test, and of course she has ridden Monty daily and they look beautiful doing the test.

So, we were very excited last Thursday to have a good friend of ours who is also a grand prix level dressage rider and instructor come over to our barn and give her a lesson. The pony and my daughter warmed up and things were going well. They did the test a couple of times and then...

A guy with a horse and a dog is what happened... The guy decides to turn his horse out into the back arena, behind the dressage arena, about a hundred or so feet away. My hunter jumper trainer sees this and starts to walk over there to tell him, "Hey, we have a little one in the arena, can you hold off on the turn-out." But he wasn't fast enough. Not only did the guy turn the horse out, he proceeded to chase after the horse, arms flying in the air and the dog in tow, jumping and barking. See where I am going with this, right? Monty spooked, jumped over the arena (Kid stays on), he's going pretty darn fast and headed toward a good sized jump, which he swerves around and she comes off. I run to my child, pony takes off (heads straight for a stud horse--of all the horses in the barn) and my hunter jumper trainer comes unglued at the guy in the arena chasing his horse. Of course the man felt awful and was sorry and he isn't the most horse smart guy, but come one--doesn't common sense dictate here? You can see a child in an arena taking a lesson, it's dusk, they were down on the end closest to the turn-out--ay, ya, ya!

Fortunately my little one was okay. She did have a little bump on her forehead (thank God for helmets). We iced it and she did get back on the pony and do the test again. I was very, very proud of her. I was also very, very, very happy that she wasn't really hurt. I was also extremely angry that what happened was completely avoidable. Well, as of this week there is a sign up in front of the turnout arena that states "No turnouts when riders are in the dressage or jump arenas."

How about any of you? Any no common sensers at your barn? Love to hear the stories.



P.S. Check out my new book trailer for my tween book "Zamora's Ultimate Challenge," and visit my and learn how your child and you can win a trip to San Deigo, Ca and visit the world famous zoo, Sea World and a chance to be a character in my next children's book.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


By Laura Crum

The last colt I ever trained is standing out in my sixty acre field right now, a retired pasture ornament. Fourteen years old this coming spring, Danny is arguably the most talented horse I ever owned, and certainly the one I got the least use out of. In some ways his story reminds me of the line from an old blues song, “If it weren’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” And yet, in a way, Danny was and is a lucky horse. Here’s his story—see what you think.

My uncle, who used to breed Quarter Horses, both bred and raised Danny, so I’ve known this horse since he was born. Like Plumber, another horse I bought from my uncle (see “The Horse With Two Left Feet”, August 08), I was taken with Danny from the time he was a small colt. Interestingly, both Plumber and Danny were their respective dams (two different mares) firstborn colt, and I have heard many old timey horsemen say that the first colt out of a mare is often the “special” one. In any case, the two horses I own that came from my uncle’s breeding program are both firstborns.

I had good reason to be interested in Danny. His dam, Sugar, was a promising barrel horse who had been seriously injured in training—my uncle had traded a gentle older kid’s horse for the well bred and talented mare with the intent of using her as a broodmare. Sugar’s full brother was an immensely talented and successful barrel horse; the owner, a huge name in that business, had turned down big bucks for him. I had watched this horse run at the Salinas Rodeo and was really impressed. Danny’s sire was my uncle’s new stud, who, though quite unproven, had bloodlines that I liked. And Danny was a solid bay without a white hair on him, which has always been one of my favorite colors. The little bay colt had a bright, curious, calm eye; I just thought he looked like a good horse. My uncle let me name him, and I chose “Dannyboy”, which seemed to fit.

Well, Danny grew up, as colts do. He was a well-made horse, with a big, plain head and an exceptionally nice, kind eye. He seemed quiet and sensible. He looked like he’d be able to move well. My uncle had him started the fall of his three year old year by a woman who worked on a large cattle ranch and started colts on the side. She put thirty days on Danny and my uncle brought him home.

I was there when the colt arrived back at my uncle’s place and was unloaded from the trailer. “How’d he do?” I asked.

“See for yourself,” my uncle said. “Go ahead and ride him.”

Now this was ten years ago, and I had not yet given up riding green horses. So I climbed on Danny and rode him around the arena for awhile. He seemed like he was started pretty well, though he wanted to crowhop when I kicked him up to a lope and didn’t seem to know how to hold the lope in a all.

I rode back over to my uncle and said, “He’s got real smooth gaits and I like the way he moves. She sure didn’t teach him how to lope a circle.”

My uncle laughed. “She only has a bull pen. No arena. Once she can get on em, she just rides em around the ranch. Mostly at the long trot. That horse has never been in an arena and I’m sure that’s the first time anybody ever loped him.”

Well, OK then. I asked my uncle what he planned to do with the horse and he said, “Sell him.” He named a resonable price, and to make a long story short, I bought Danny. For no other reason than that I liked him. I had plenty of horses to ride, but no green horses, and I thought I had time for one more project.

I rode Danny a few more times as a three year old, enough to teach him to lope a circle. Then I turned him out for six months in my sixty acre pasture. I brought him back in as a four year old and rode him for several months. I taught him to collect, to watch a cow, to have a rope thrown from his back and stop a slow steer, to pull a log…etc. The stuff I would routinely teach a young rope horse. I liked him. He was a little lazy, very athletically capable, smart, sensible, calm and overall easy-going. I never could get him over the tendency to crowhop a little, usually when I first loped him. It was unpredictable; he’d do it some rides and not others. Sometimes he’d just hump his back. He never bogged his head; he wasn’t hard to ride. If I over and undered him he scooted forward out of it. If I yelled at him he usually quit. As they say, he couldn’t “buck your grandmother off.” He certainly never even threatened me. But, he did have this quirk.

I turned him out for another six months on grass that winter, intending to start roping on him next spring, when he was five. But….I got pregnant. I was thrilled. But I also knew I would not be riding Danny.

So, I made a deal with my team roping partner, who liked the horse. I would send Danny to a trainer we both knew and liked in the spring and have this guy put thirty days on the horse and get him going good. Then my partner could start roping on him in the practice pen. My partner had ridden Danny several times in the past and was quite comfortable with him. We all thought it was a good plan.

The following summer, as planned, I took Danny to the trainer. The trainer rode him for thirty days, complimented me on what a nicely broke horse he was and said he’d had no problems. I asked if the horse still crowhopped and he said not to speak of. No problem.

I brought the horse home and my partner started riding him and getting along with him fine. That was the thing about Danny. Everybody liked him. He was an easy horse to like.

By now I had a baby. My partner was ready to start heading on Danny in the practice pen. He’d heeled on him a little, stopped cattle on him, logged him, done all the stuff to get him ready. Danny was doing great. I was up at the roping arena, holding my baby and watching, as my partner ran down the arena and headed a steer on Danny. Before my partner even went to the horn, before the horse was asked to pick up the weight of the steer, Danny started bucking. My partner kept on with the run and yelled at the horse, confident that he would stop. He always had. But Danny put his head down and bucked harder. He bucked my partner off (hard) and bucked all the way down the arena with an empty saddle.

Fast forward here. After I’d hauled my partner to the emergency room, seen him diagnosed with six broken ribs and admitted to the hospital, where he struggled for a week with pneomonia, I was ready to be done with Danny. Yeah, I liked him, but I didn’t need him. I had a baby; I already knew I wasn’t going to be riding a horse that had even a snowball’s chance in hell of bucking like that. My partner wasn’t going to ride him any more either. I had no use for him. I hauled Danny to a cowboy friend of mine and told him the horse was his. He could keep him and ride him or sell him. And I told him exactly what the horse was.

My friend could ride a horse that bucked. He took Danny to the team roping practice pen and made a run on him. Or tried to. As soon as he threw his rope the horse started to buck. And my friend sat up on him and rode him. I don’t mean tried to get his head up or discourage him from bucking by whipping him, which is what most of us, including me, would have done. I mean sat up there, gave him his head and kept spurring him, encouraging the horse to buck as hard as he could. Danny kept bucking, getting higher and higher but staying straight. My friend kept spurring. This went on for awhile. Eventually Danny gave up bucking and started rearing. As those of you who are familiar with roughstock know, this is a sign that a horse is defeated.

From then on Danny got better. No, he didn’t give up bucking altogether. But it became manageable. He could be spanked or scolded out of it when he tried it. He began to be a very effective rope horse. And everybody liked him. Despite his “quirk”, in every other way Danny was a kind, cooperative, willing horse. My cowboy friend thought his bucking was an odd form of cinchieness, something the horse couldn’t help, like being ticklish. In any case, in all other ways he was great—fast, strong, good minded…etc. My friend was offered plenty of money for him but chose to keep him and rope on him. Danny was ready to compete on…..

Part 2 of this story will follow next time. (I type with one finger, and I’m tired.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Trails....

By Laura Crum

Recently Jami posted here about trying to decide between showing and trail riding. I commented that I had made that choice long ago…it is the trails on the ridge across the road that call to me, not the show ring (not that one actually needs to choose; it is, of course, possible to do both). My own situation right now is even more frustrating (or so I think) than Jami’s. I am quite clear what I want to do with my horses and quite happy doing it. Unfortunately, I am unable to ride the trails, at least for the moment.

Those of you who read this blog know that my son’s horse, Henry, colicked at the end of January and had to go to colic surgery to save his life. (See my post “Colic” Feb 09). Between Henry’s rehab and the fact that it rained most of February, I didn’t manage to get on a horse for the entire month. On top of this, when I do go out on the trails, my son is always keen to go with me, and I don’t have the heart to go for a ride when his horse is layed up and he can’t come. This has resulted in my riding Sunny (my own trail horse) in the arena (sporadically) this month, in an effort to keep him in shape, while I continue to give Henry his rehab regime. For those who are interested, this includes three small meals a day, antibiotics twice a day, hand walking and grazing for half an hour twice a day, stall cleaning twice a day, changing the dressing on his incision once a day. Between Henry’s care and my hours at the computer desperately typing book number 11, which is supposed to be turned in the end of this month….well, I just don’t have much time for any kind of riding, let alone trail riding.

This has been really frustrating for me, as I spent all of last year riding the trails on the nearby ridge, well, some would say obsessively. I was out on the trails at least twice a week all year, and riding in the arena another two or three days a week. So, I spent a lot of time horseback. Going an entire month without once being on a horse came as a big change. Maybe I’m having a form of withdrawal.

All I can say is that by the end of February, with my corrals knee deep in mud, my horse activities confined to rehabbing Henry (which involved a fair amount of hand walking him in a downpour), and the many hours I spent in somewhat frantic efforts to type an entire book with one finger, I was in a sorry state. So, what happened? My husband showed me a photo he took near the end of January, of the last trail ride my son and I went on before Henry colicked.

There we are, my little boy and me, on Sunny and Henry, our two good bomb proof trail horses. We are at a place where we let the horses air up after a steep climb. It’s a peaceful shady flat, a pleasant place to rest on a warm afternoon. My husband was hiking with us and took the photo when he caught up to us there.

Do we look relaxed and happy or what? Janet has posted on her mugwump chronicles blog about how she is always thinking about training her horses when she rides on the trail. Not me. As much as I admire the thought and desire to improve that goes with that attitude, I am so much lazier than that. I think you can see by this photo that I spend my time on the trail in a happy daze, watching the landscape go by, enjoying the green world. I am, as Janet said once, the quintessential hippie chick on horseback. I live in Santa Cruz California, after all.

And for those who are interested in such things, my son does ride in Ugg boots, which have no heels (so do I), but his stirrups have tapaderos, which prevent his foot from slipping through.

You can also tell that I don’t waste much time fussing with grooming. Both horses are hairy and Sunny’s white mane is, well, not white. But I took one look at this photo and almost burst into nostalgic tears.

I so miss being out there on the trails, cruising along the ridge. I revisit all the favorite spots in my mind—even more so as the book I’m writing has a long passage that involves these very trails. I think about the next section of trail after the resting spot in the photo, and how it is steep and leads to what we call the “Lookout” a clearing high in the hills from which we can see the whole Monterey Bay. I think about the long, gentle sloping trail we take on the homeward trip, and how we call it the “pretty trail” because it looks so idyllic, with broad leaf trees waving graceful branches overhead and wildflowers on the fringes. I miss it all. I don’t know when we’ll get back there.

For the moment, I’m focused on rehabbing Henry successfully so that we can use him again. And yes, so far, he’s doing well. I try to keep Sunny at least a little bit legged up. I wait for the weather to improve. And I struggle to finish this damn book. That’s my horse life these days. I hope the rest of you are doing better.

Happy trails (some day)—Laura Crum

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Went to the Show

There was a NRCHA sanctioned reined cowhorse show in my neighborhood today. Being recently retired and having decided to stay off the circuit for awhile, I was a little ambivalent about going.

I've been avoiding the shows and the people involved in them for many reasons,
one of which is having to decide if the sport I've been so heavily involved in is fair to the horses I love so much. I took a good friend with me, a former client who hasn't been showing either. We stood by the rail, looking around and feeling a little awkward.

It wasn't long before I heard a friendly, "Well hi there Janet! Where have you been?"
I turned to see a fellow competitor coming up with a big grin and a friendly pat on my arm. For Colorado cow folk, that's the equivalent of a bear hug.

I explained that I've quit training and am now a writer for a small town paper and was congratulated in earnest. It turns out most of my fellow trainers are happy to hear I've escaped. I guess I'm not the only one who thinks horse training is a crazy way to make a living.

My friend Kathy and I settled in to watch the show. The non-pro bridle class was up and running. In two-and-a-half more years I'll be considered a non-pro again, as long as I'm not tempted to start giving lessons again or take one last horse in for training. I haven't known if I was ever coming back, but I was pretty interested in the class in front of me.

I saw an awful lot of people I didn't know. In the months since I've been gone there's been a big jump in the people showing cowhorse. The economy hasn't hurt this show circuit much.
People kept stopping by and saying hello. I felt more at ease by the minute.

I saw a couple of horses I was really impressed with. Some nice, solid geldings who knew their job and took their fairly green riders through the pattern and down the fence with ease.

I saw a couple of sharp, confident riders on some pricey horses. They were as tough as anything I rode against in the Open classes. I watched the owner of the last ranch I worked at take her 11 year old stud horse down the fence. They looked a little rusty, but I was happy to see he was sound. His chronic quarter crack must be staying healed, thanks to my shoer and his barefoot trims. People thought we were nuts when we showed this horse barefoot in the front with sliders in the back. Seeing him take that cow down the fence happy and sure, made me feel pretty good.
"Do you wish you were riding?" Kathy asked.

"I don't know, kind of," I answered.

"Me too," she said.

It was bittersweet though. I want to get out there again. But I realize I'm not ready. I quit because I saw too many horse snap from being pushed too hard. I quit because the life I led was breaking me down as sure as it was so many good horses.

I'm just now starting to really formulate how I want to train my horse. I think I've figured out how to be competitive and still have a sound and happy horse to ride. Much of my theory revolves around not being in a hurry. In making sure I complete each tiny step in a way to build on the next.

I still have some thinking to do. I have a lot of riding to do. Most of it won't be in an arena either. But I'm starting to think I will go back. In a couple of years.

Before we left I visited with a bunch of folks I used to consider friends. I even managed a conversation with somebody I hadn't been able to talk to for quite a few years.
He seemed genuinely happy for me and glad we were talking.

It was a pretty good day. It gave me lots to think about and made me eager to ride.
I can't wait to get my horse and head out. But I can't imagine doing anything but saddling up and heading out a mountain trail. I want to trot up a few hills and daydream about showing again. But for now, I guess that will be enough.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

All About Commitment

Hi Everybody,

Today I've been thinking about commitment from several different perspectives. The first I'd like to share with you is the commitment my in-laws have made to taking in retired horses and giving them a retirement home that roughly rivals an equine version of The Ritz. They have acres of green grassy pasture, updated stalls, lots of apples and carrots, homemade horse cookies and warm, apple flavored water in the wintertime. I think if the area horses could, they'd line up at my in-law's door to apply for the retirement facility.

At the moment they have nine retirees. Here's a picture of two of them, Pride and Star. They have been with them a couple of years now. I remember when I first heard about them. They were retired show horses, very even tempered, well mannered gaited Tennessee Walkers. They were at a farm with a total of 35 horses owned by a couple who had developed health problems and could no longer care for so many. The prior owners loved these two so much, they wanted to find them a home where they could always be together.

My in-laws took them in and promised they would always keep them together. They were both thin when they arrived, but rounded out nicely, as you can see. Star is about 19 and Pride is 20 this year, and they're completely happy. I know many of you have taken in retired horses as well. It takes a special kind of commitment to care for horses who are aged, knowing your time with them will be limited, but it's a wonderful act of kindness.

On another note, I made a commitment of my own in January. I signed up to attend an Agent Author Day Conference as I currently well my novels unagented and have been advised by individuals much more experienced than myself that it's time to get an agent.

Well, in January it looked very do-able to finish my current work in progress, a contemporary fantasy with, of course, an equestrian setting. Hmmm. This was before my son's broken foot and two other family members on antibiotics for respiratory infections that wouldn't quit. Well, here I am in mid-March with 30,000 word count completed on an estimated 85,000 word novel. Here, folks, is the reality of the professional writer. I have three options 1.) cancel the conference and wait for next year's (probably not a good idea as I've been advised not to sell anything else without an agent); 2.) attend the conference whether the book is finished or not (this assumes no agent will want it, which would be going in with a rather self-defeating attitude) or 3.) work like crazy. Ah, here is ground I'm very familiar with both professionally and with horses.

Okay, folks, the clock is ticking. I'm at 30,000 words. Can I do it? Stay tuned!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

To Show or not to Show

Subtitled: Just when I thought I had it all figured out.

A had another good lesson last week. Gailey is as sound as she's been in a long while. We're both having fun, things are going well, and oh, no, here it comes again. Out of the mouth of my trainer: "How many scores do you need for that USDF medal? Have you considered showing this horse again? This is the soundest I've seen her in a while."

That dreaded four-letter word. You know the one.


Yup. That's the one.

It's expensive, nerve-wracking, at times demoralizing, and other times a heck of a lot of fun. Why I'm entertaining the thought of doing this again, I swear I should be smacked up the side of the head.

I'm no good a horse shows. I suck in fact. And by sucking, I get embarassingly low scores and suffer the pitying looks of my barn friends. Why would I consider putting myself through this again. Last year, I swore was my last show. My fragile self-confidence can't handle the whispers and comments behind my back or even worse, to my face. Such as, she can't ride that horse. She needs to get a different horse. I could ride that horse much better than her.

I know what you're thinking: Oh, she has show nerves. Man, I wish it was that simple. The truth is I don't, exactly, not really, not like many people. I sleep fine the night before a show. I don't get butterflies when I ride into the ring. I don't have problems eating (unfortunately) before a show. I can remember my tests. So what is it?

If I knew that, this wouldn't be such a delimma to me. I just don't ride tests well. And my mare, for all her talent, doesn't show well. She tries too hard, over compensates, second-guesses me, memorizes the tests, then gets mad if I don't ride the test she's doing in her head.

Okay, well, I should be able to solve that, right? I wish. For some reason, when I get in a show ring, I lose my judgment (I know what you're thinking--Ah, ha! She does get show nerves.). I ride the tests pretty accurately, I just can't seem to get a good handle on whether or not the horse is forward enough, round enough, through enough. My subconscious tries to send me signals, but my conscious mind ignores them.

My trainer and I have also come to the conclusion that I am often saddled with reverse prejudice. What's that? Well, in dressage there's a lot of talk about non-traditional dressage breeds facing breed prejudice in scoring. In my case it's the opposite problem, the judge sees this big beautiful mare floating around the outside of the arena, and thinks what a lovely mare (truthfully, I can't tell you how many times, they've also told me that as I ride by before my test starts), As soon as we enter at A it all goes to H@#$ in a handbasket. I stiffen (okay, I know, show nerves), she stiffens. I hang with my hands, she opens her mouth and pulls. Her head goes up, she plows on her forehand and speeds up.

Meanwhile, the judge's expression has gone from one of expectation to looking like she's swallowed a lemon.

I swore after the last two years, I'd never put myself through this again. I spent more time hiding in my horse trailer or camper and crying than I did having fun. This is supposed to be fun, right?


I really want that medal. I've done this for too long not to get one lousy little medal. Okay, I could borrow a friend's upper-level horse, zip through the tests, and be done with it. But I really want it with my horse, the horse I bought as a baby.

What am I getting myself into? Is it really worth it?

I'm not sure. Those trails behind my house are beckoning to me, but so is that medal. What should I do?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rescuing Horses---Freddy's Story

By Laura Crum

Whenever I read Joe’s Thoroughbred Friends blog, I am overcome with the desire to rescue a few horses in need of homes. And right now, as I think all readers of this blog know, there are many, many horses in need of homes. What holds me back? I already care for twelve horses and am stretched to the max making sure that every one is cared for appropriately. See my post (“Happy Stories For the Season” Dec 08). In general, these are all horses that I rode and/or trained myself. I retired them and care for them because they are my legitimate responsibility. I have owned enough horses in my life, that just taking care of all of them is a fair amount of horses, so I don’t often rescue other horses. (And recently one of my horses colicked and had to go to colic surgery to save his life, which brought home the financial truth in spades—responsible horse ownership can be very expensive—see “Colic” Feb 09.)

I have never been in the business of rescuing horses. And, in fact, I have never driven down to the auction and bought a horse that was unknown to me, just to save him. Maybe I should, but I haven’t. The horses I’ve rescued were horses I knew, horses that I liked (see “Why I Have One Skinny Horse” September 08), or horses I felt sorry for (see “A Happy Ending” June 08). In this latter category was Freddy, a horse I rescued many years ago. Freddy is dead now, but I’d like to tell his story here, in the hope that it might inspire a few people.

Freddy was a rope horse. Not a particularly great rope horse, but a decent rope horse. He was a medium sized bay (about 15.2) with some white on his face, a nice eye, an absurdly short tail carried high, not much butt, a deep heart girth, and straight, well made legs with plenty of bone and not a bump on them. Like all horses, he had good points and bad points. He was completely sound. He would really stick his leg in the ground when you turned a steer on him. He could cover country outside in a fast determined walk that left most horses in the dust, and he could keep it up all day. He could run across broken ground faster and more sure-footedly than any horse I ever knew. He was great on a gather. He was also a nut case.

A friend of mine bought Freddy as a seven year old green rope horse. He roped on the horse for several years. All would go well until some little thing pushed Freddy’s panic button. The things that pushed this button were unpredictable. Freddy wasn’t like a normal spooky horse. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he would panic. When he did he was violent, willing to run right through an arena fence, rear straight up…etc. My friend put up with this for a couple of years and made excuses for the horse as being green, but in the end, quite wisely, decided that Freddy was going to get him killed and determined to get rid of the horse before that happened.

And this is where I came in. I’d been around Freddy the whole time, and I felt sorry for him. He really was a nut case; he didn’t want to be a panicky idiot. He couldn’t help it. He had fear issues that sprang from somewhere deep in his past—a horrific looking scar on one pastern might or might not have had something to do with it. He was a pretty good rope horse when he wasn’t panicking. My friend was planning to price him cheap, and I knew some team roper would probably buy him. I also knew if he was bought by another team roper, he would either hurt the guy or find himself seriously beat up, sold to slaughter…you name it. No team roper was going to put up with Freddy’s aberrant behavior. I looked into those big brown eyes and made the choice. I bought Freddy.

I had ridden Freddy several times and I really enjoyed him as a trail horse, but I knew better than to think that I could get along with this horse on a regular basis. To be frank, I was scared to try. But I had a cowboy friend who could handle a tough horse and who kept his horses turned out in my sixty acre pasture. So I gave him the horse. I explained what he was. And my friend used the horse for many years. He team roped on him, gathered cattle on him, branded calves on him, rode him through the hills…etc. Freddy was one of the best head horses this guy ever had, and considered the best horse “outside” in that part of the world. Tales of him outrunning cattle who were headed in the wrong direction in rough country were numerous and admiring. He never put a foot wrong. He was in great demand on gathers. My friend was often hired with the request that he “bring that short-tailed horse”. But Freddy remained a nut case. My friend had several close calls when the horse panicked. We discussed the horse many times. It was a tough choice. But in the end my friend gave Freddy back. He was too dangerous, even for this fairly tough cowboy.

I turned Freddy out for awhile. I didn’t know what to do with him. He was in his teens now, still sound and healthy. Another friend approached me, and asked if he could use Freddy. He wanted to rope and go to gathers and brandings. I explained exactly what Freddy was. This guy agreed to try him and be kind to him. In the end, he found he could get along with him (getting older helped Freddy a lot). Freddy was still a nut case. He could still do a good day’s work. I asked the guy to retire the horse if he kept him and used him and he agreed.

That was ten years ago. This last roper kept Freddy and used him successfully for many years. I saw them at the ropings, and Freddy looked good. He even had a long tail (a first for him—his tail just never seemed to grow). His new rider even appeared to be fond of him and to understand him. In the end, he was retired to the pasture. They sent me photos of him at Xmas. Last year I was told that he was having so much trouble getting up and down that they euthanized him. I thanked them.

The point of this rambling story? I stepped forward for Freddy out of pity. He was a horse that I knew, a horse that I was sure needed help. And I was the one person who was in a position to know his problems and want to find a solution that would work for him. Freddy had a decent life because of me. I’m glad I was able to make that happen.

If more of us were willing to do this, just as much we can, and step forward for the horses we know who need some help, a lot less of them would fall between the cracks. The true rescues, like Joe at TB Friends, wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. I offer my story as an example of what can be done, by all of us, one horse at a time. (And see Janet’s previous post about Pete for another example.)

If I could afford it, and had the room, I’d love to take on some of the horses that Joe and Cathy Shelton are rescuing, horses that are doomed, except for the intervention of TB Friends. I encourage everyone to check out this website and for those who are able, to consider adopting a horse from TBFriends.

To Joe, and the good work he is doing….
Laura Crum

Monday, March 2, 2009

Life's Lucky Lesson

I'm always telling my kids how lucky they are. Do you ever do that? I tell them they're lucky they live in a country where they can make choices, have clean water, eat three meals a day, have clothes, etc. It's the same line we all heard growing up, and I think many of us dish it to our children now.

I am constantly telling my youngest in particular how lucky she is to have her very own pony and to be able to go and ride and learn all about her animal and horses in general. I wasn't sure how much she was grasping the concept until this past weekend.

My cousin Jessica owns a ranch (check out the site. She has some nice horses)--anyway my daughter and her friend took a drive out with me to Jessie's place because there is a therapuetic riding center around the corner that we were donating some products to from Professional's Choice to and we were invited to take a tour of the center and ranch.

We picked Jessie up and ten minutes later pulled up to the center, which was a sprawling, pristine place. Last year when the fires burned through So. Cal they burned through this place and actually the house on the property is gone, but thankfully no horses lost their lives. It was kind of eye awakening for me to see how much the fire burned. My parents had to evacuate during it and we moved horses, but it was diverted two miles before it reached their place. Anyway, we pulled up and in the arena there was a private lesson going on with a girl of about fifteen. She had a pretty severe case of cerebral palsy and to watch her was completely inspiring. She could not sit up on her own, or hold on to the reins, but you could tell by watching her and the pony together that there was something very spiritual going on, and there was a healing of sorts taking place. At one point she wrapped her arms around the pony and gave him a big hug. I took notice of her mother and how dedicated she was to her daughter and her comittment to help her lead and live a full life. The instructors and volunteers were as amazing as the student herself--each one working toward a goal. When the young girl was taken off the pony, she smiled and it was so obvious to me that she truly enjoyed being up on that horse.

On the drive home, my daughter and her friend asked me about the girl and what was wrong with her. I explained in eight-year-old terminology what cerebral palsy is and how it affects people who have it. We talked a lot about what her life might be like and what her parents have to do to help her. I think it was eye opening for my little one. That night as she got ready for bed and said her prayers, she prayed for the girl on the pony, and she thanked God for giving her, her very own pony and for making her a healthy kid.

Maybe it's better sometimes instead of hearing how "lucky you are," in actually seeing it. Now, I'm not saying this child is a problem or this is a negative to be physically or mentally handicaped. Not at all. I think we are all God's children and in saying that I don't think He makes any mistakes. What I am saying is that I can't imagine it's an easy life for the person afflicted or the people who take care of them, and when we turn on the news everyday and there is nothing good to hear, and we get the bills in the mail, or we have to do something we don't want to, etc., that it's in those moments we look to a child suffering from a disease who is willing to go out and work hard, play hard and make a connection with a horse or any animal, then we can stop (as my child did) and take a look at our own lives and think--"Wow. I'm pretty lucky."

I love to hear any of your inspiring stories. I think we can all use some good news these days. So bring them on-feel good, get inspired, be grateful and feel lucky!


P.S. Update on Krissy-- Blood tests came back on Saturday and Fibrogen level was at 450! No fever, but she was one sick girl. She's on Azium and bute for another week, as well as Red Cell as the virus & bacterial infection caused her to become anemic. She is now allowed daily 30 minute tack walks around the ranch, so it looks as if I'm back in the saddle again, and we're both happy about that!