Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Horses, Joy, and the New Year

by Laura Crum

Today I want to share a happy story, in honor of the new year and the hope I think we all hold that 2010 will be full of joy. Here in coastal California its greengrass season—all the pastures are bright with new grass. Those of you who have read my posts know that I keep five retired/rescued horses turned out in a nearby pasture. The other day my kid and I went out to do a little reshuffling, and were treated to such a happy moment that it made us both grin from ear to ear. So I thought I’d share it.

First, the background. My five pasture pets have various histories. One is my thirty year old horse, Gunner, who has been my horse since he was three. I got him when he had thirty days on him, and trained him to be a reasonably successful reined cowhorse, cutting horse, and team roping head horse, in that order. I did all the work myself; I was his sole rider. I still have many trophy buckles, headstalls and blankets that Gunner won for me. Gunner is featured prominently in my mystery series starring equine vet Gail McCarthy, so many readers know him from these stories. Gunner was retired at fifteen, due to various arthritic complaints, but he still trots sound today. Needless to say I have endless loyalty to Gunner, and had always firmly intended to retire him and give him the best life I could. However, my other pasture pets are a mixed bag, and I’m never quite sure how I acquired them all.

One is a horse I trained for my team roping partner. Rebby was never technically mine, but I did all the training on him, and was/am very fond of him. I’ve told his story in some blog post or other—I can’t any more remember the title or when it was done. In any case my partner and I agreed to share the burden of retiring Rebby when this great horse was crippled at the peak of his career. At nine years old Rebby came up with an aberrant wobble in his stride. He didn’t seem to be painful, but he was uncoordinated. Many dollars and a year later, there was no definitive diagnosis. The likliest culprits were/are a strained sacroiliac joint or EPM. In any case, that was over ten years ago, and Rebby has remained exactly the same. He walks, trots and lopes with a weird waddle, appears to feel fine, and does not deteriorate. He’s a friendly horse (was a bottle colt) and we all love him.

Next we come to Danny. Danny was my horse. I’d known him since he was born, and always liked him. I bought him as a three year old with thirty days on him, just like Gunner. Danny was the last colt I ever trained. After I’d been riding Danny for a year I got pregnant at the age of 42. And I quit riding. I let my friends finish turning Danny into a rope horse and he made a good one. But he was crippled in a freak accident when he was seven (hit by a truck—it’s a long story, and I’ve blogged about Danny before, too), and I made the choice to retire this very nice bay horse who is and will always be slightly lame in the left hind.

Then, there’s ET. I’m sure I’ve blogged about him, too. ET was never my horse. ET was the funniest looking horse I’d ever seen, and a great team roping heel horse. He was sold from cowboy to cowboy and as he got older and older it was easy to see what his end would be. I’d always admired him—such a sweet, gentle, hard trying horse, and really talented. He looks like a cross between a dachshund and a giraffe and is missing an eye (I’m not kidding). He was named by a previous owner because of his resemblance to the famous space alien. And he is the hardest keeper I ever knew. But he makes me smile and to make another long story short, I bought him and retired him. ET is thirty years old this coming year (like Gunner) and like Gunner, he still trots sound.

And, finally Gray Dog. Gray Dog makes no sense at all. I have too many horses. And yet I let a friend foist this older gentle lame (of course) gray gelding on me. However, turns out I’m very fond of Gray Dog, too. My post on him was titled “An Old Gray Horse”, if you happened to see it.

My five pasture pets live with an OTTB mare that the pasture owner rescued many years ago. So we have six of these old useless horses on this twenty five acre property. The property is divided into one twenty acre field which has an underground spring and grows very strong pasture—in a good year it supports four horses with only about a month or so of feeding hay. There are also a couple of two to three acre separate fenced fields. Because ET is such a hard keeper, he must live by himself in one of the small fields and eat free choice equine senior delight. Gunner lives in the other small field and gets a ration of equine senior delight that works for him. Until recently, Gray Dog lived with Gunner because he was skinny when I got him and I needed to put some weight on him. But the small field didn’t like having two horses. As the green grass tried to grow the horses mowed it down until the field looked like a bumpy putting green, and it was apparent that I needed to change something. Since Gray Dog is now in very good flesh, I decided to put him in the big field with Danny, Rebby and Ariel—the OTTB mare.

And now we come to the story. I moved Gray Dog on a sunny winter morning. The fields were brilliantly green, and the air was warm. The three horses in the big field came loping over the hill, feeling good despite their various soundness issues, and greeted their new companion. Gray Dog flagged his tail and trotted in big circles. Ariel crowhopped like a filly. Danny and Rebby came over to the gate to nuzzle me and my kid. And then Danny and ET did something so cute it just made my day.

Each on the opposite side of their common fenceline, the two horses paced down the fence together very purposefully. Their necks were arched and they pranced a little, but they were basically walking. Down and down they went, maybe fifty yards away. My son and I watched them, wondering what they would do.

Suddenly, as if at a signal, both horses wheeled around and began to run toward us, jumping forward as if starting from the header’s box—or the starting gate. Side by side, with the fence between them, they ran flat out straight towards us, as hard as they could run. My thirty year old horse and my cripple. They ran like the wind. Racing each other for fun. Running for joy.

My son’s eyes were wide, his face virtually glowed. “Its like being in ‘Spirit’”, he said (we rented that movie not too long ago).

And it was, actually. There we stood, in the sunny, wide open meadow, watching two horses galloping right at us. They pulled up as they neared us, manes and tails flying, and made a big circle around us.

“Danny won,” my son said. “But ET ran hard.”

Both horses trotted and snorted, looking proud of themselves. Danny came over for a head rub. My little boy patted ET’s shoulder. And I thought how much fun it all was, just being with these old useless horses on this sunny winter morning. Even if I can’t ride any more, even then, there will still be much joy to be had with horses. And I am so grateful that I have been able to share this joy with my young son.

Happy New Year to all of you. May many joyful “horsey” moments come your way in 2010.

And if any of you have any happy moments with your own horses to share, I'd love to hear them. Also, don't forget about "Reader's Write" Saturdays. Send Jami something you'd like to post on Equestrian Ink--a short piece of your own fiction, a description of the book you'd like to write, your own horse's story--anything you think would interest our readers. Send to

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reflections on 2009

This isn't really equine-related, so I hope that's okay. Is anyone with me that Christmas seems to have lost its meaning?

I used to love Christmas. These last few years, I've dreaded it. Christmas is for families, and my husband and I don't really have any immediate family to celebrate with.

I couldn't get in the mood, no matter what this year. I've talked to so many people this year who didn't even bother to decorate. The only reason I decorated is because I had the barn Christmas party at our house. Next year, I don't believe I will. I'm not looking forward to taking the decorations off of a twelve-foot tree. Ugh... I think next year we'll go to Hawaii for Christmas. We went to the San Juans for Thanksgiving and had a wonderful time. Treating ourselves to a trip sounds a lot better to me than buying each other a bunch of gifts we don't really need.

I managed to get a cold the day before Christmas. I'd planned this wonderful, old-fashioned Christmas Eve party, which to my surprise about a dozen people accepted my invitation to attend. I purchased prime rib, which I've never cooked before but thought I'd give it a shot. A friend was bringing his karaoke machine, and we planned on singing Christmas carols. It sounded like great fun to spend the evening trying to recapture the original spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately, I was too sick so I had to cancel. We did end up having a nice Christmas day and dinner with very good friends and my stepson and his fiance. I even felt well enough to enjoy it.

As I'm sitting here, reflecting back on 2009, I had to remind myself of the good things that happened this year. All in all, it truly was the best year ever for us.

My husband and I were not affected directly by the economic crisis. We are fortunate to have very good jobs. I'm happy to have both of my stepsons back in our lives after long absences for both. I'm thrilled with our new "man cave" addition. I'm glad my husband quit smoking. I'm grateful we were able to take several trips as we love to travel. I'm appreciative of our good friends and their support over this past year. They say people come into your life when you most need to learn the lesson they have to teach. That is the case here. Also, we both have our health.

I'm also thankful that the mystery behind my husband's identity theft has finally been solved, as best as it can be. Now there's a post for another day, even though it's not horse-related. It's certainly a lesson regarding protecting your identity, as the consequences of his identity theft are still with us in many ways.

As far as writing, The Gift Horse was published in February. It went into print in July and is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble (online). I really loved writing this book, and I hope you'll love it, too. I'm toying with several projects in 2010. I may try my hand at a suspense novel set in my hometown of Oroville, Washington. I'm finishing the last edits on Fourth and Goal as we speak, then I'll be submitting to several publishers. I have tentatively agreed to write four more books for my current publisher and need to get started on those.

Horse-wise, this was a very different year for me. I didn't show in one show. Of course, up until her bout with cellulites Gailey was going better than she ever has. I hardly rode at all, which is strange for me, maybe once or twice a week. As a result, I put on ten more pounds. Dressage really does burn calories. I'm also considering that I may not have a dressage-sound horse when all this is said and done. Which brings up a dilemma I haven't dealt with in years. Do I want another dressage horse? Will I just bring her home and trail ride if that's the cards fate hands me? After building the man cave, we really don't have any expendable income left for another show horse. So this may be something I'll need to face in the future.

Gailey is feeling good. She's been turned out every day and is leaping and bucking around her paddock. I'm going to ride her on Monday for the first time in over two months. At first, I'll just walk her. Her leg and hock are still swollen but not painful. I've had several people tell me that she needs exercise at this point to get the swelling down.  So that's what I'll tackle next. We both need the exercise.  ;)

Last, but not least, I'm thankful for the success of this blog and all the people we've met because of it, as our readership continues to grow.

Please send me a bio and picture so we can all get to know our readers for our Readers Write Saturdays. You don't need to use your real name, if you'd prefer not. We'll welcome anything that's appropriate, such as an equestrian-themed piece of writing, a story about a horse in your life, or just a bio about you. Just send me an email to

This has been a rambling post, but I hope you enjoyed it. Have a great 2010!!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reader's Write Saturday--Linda Benson

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. As Laura announced earlier this week, we are going to be doing a Reader's Write Saturday where we get to know our readers. Send us a bio about you, your horse, or anything that might be of interest to our readers. We'd love to get to know all of you better.

So if anyone is interested in writing a post for equestrianink, send it to me at, and I'll post it on the next free Saturday.

Our first participant in Reader's Write is fellow writer, Linda Benson. Welcome Linda!!!

Hi Jami - Nice to meet all of you. I enjoy reading Equestrian Ink. My name is Linda Benson and I am a horsewoman, animal lover, and children's author. I also blog at about horses, writing, animals, and other things.

Over the years, I've done lots of things with horses, including team penning, endurance riding, jumping, as well as owning a horse brokerage business and a successful saddle shop. I've even raised donkeys, and enjoyed learning another kind of equine mind. But more than anything, I have always loved to trail ride. At the moment, I ride an old quarter horse gelding in his twenties that packs me safely around the woods behind my house. I got Buddy last August as a very skinny rehab/rescue horse, and he has made amazing progress, which I've talked about in my blog.

I have two published children's novels, and an article coming out in Equus magazine about enjoying riding as we get older.

My next novel, called THE GIRL WHO REMEMBERED HORSES, is out on submission right now with my agent. It takes place in the future, during a time when humans have all but forgotten horses and their connection to mankind. Except for one girl, who dreams about them. Even though this manuscript is set in the future, I wouldn't call it a fantasy. I tried very hard to make all the horse details ring true - so that a horse person reading it might think, yeah, this could actually happen this way.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I've found a schedule that works pretty well for me. I write in the rainy winters, and I ride in the lovely summers. Right now I am pretty much chafing at the bit, wanting to get back on my horse. Hopefully, right after Christmas I will get the old guy out and saddle him up, whatever the weather.

Cheers. and Happy 2010!
Linda Benson


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter, Horses, Books, and Life

by Laura Crum

Its that time of year again. The days are short and chilly and we have rain (or snow) and the horse corrals are muddy (or frozen). Most of us aren’t riding as much as we were and its easy to feel guilty about that (see my previous post on “Taking a Break”). Its also easy to feel down this time of year and focus on problems, like my saintly kid’s horse who wasn’t a saint on his last few rides (see my previous post on “The Lazy Horse”). These last six months have brought me the loss of three friends—two to death and one to disagreement, and its easy to feel sad about that. My husband and son have colds…well, I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the winter season can get you down.

But Monday night was the solstice. We lit candles together as a family and acknowledged that we’re turning the corner…now the days will begin getting longer. We’re headed toward spring. And I thought about all the things in my life that are beautiful and delightful, as the candles sparkled in the winter night.

My husband and son are happy and (besides the colds) healthy, as are my horses, dog and cats. Henry may be lazy, but he’s hale and hearty, after going through colic surgery at the age of twenty. How grateful I am for that. We built a little addition to our house this summer—a small separate house with two rooms and a bathroom—much needed, as we live in a 650 sq ft house. This new little house turned out great and we’re so happy with it. I’m grateful for that. We live in a beautiful place where I can keep my horses at home and go trail riding out my front gate. I’m really grateful about that. I have the use of a lovely pasture just ten minutes away to keep my five retired/rescued horses—I’m thrilled about that. I have good friends and family around me. My life is great—I’m very lucky. I try to say “thank you” every single day.

On the writing front, the eleventh book in my mystery series about equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy comes out this spring. Titled “Going, Gone”, it revolves around the murder of a livestock auctioneer, and includes kill buyers, rescue horses, and a heroic horse blogger. Not to mention, for those of you who are fans of mugwump chronicles, “Going, Gone” features illustrations by mugwump herself. I’m sure you will all agree that the book is worth its purchase price for Janet’s drawings alone.

I hope that those who have enjoyed my books in the past, or enjoyed my blog posts on EI, will read “Going, Gone”. Many of my horses are used as characters in the story, and my local trails provide much of the background. I think you will find lots to interest you, and I’d love to get your reviews. The book should be out in April—it can be ordered from the usual sources or directly from the publisher—ordering info is on my website.

Currently I’m hard at work on book number twelve. The publisher has agreed to buy this book and release it in Spring 2012. Since my goal has always been to write and publish a dozen books in this series, I’m pretty tickled to be working on number twelve, knowing it has a berth. I’ve been very fortunate in my writing career, and I’m grateful for that, too.

Finally, I’ve very much enjoyed writing blog posts for EI, and getting to know those of you who write back. Season’s greetings to all, and I hope many blessings come your way. The earth is now tilting back toward the sun, for us in the northern hemisphere; may the coming year be a good one. Cheers--Laura

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Lazy Horse

By Laura Crum

So today I’m going to ask you all for a little horse training advice. Here’s the problem:

I’ve written before about my son’s horse, Henry, a twenty-one year old QH gelding, who was a good team roping horse in his day and who is an excellent babysitter now. Henry is steady and reliable, and has taken my kid on many, many trail rides. We have not had one truly difficult or dangerous experience—knock on wood. But Henry, like all horses, has his faults. A former owner allowed the horse to graze under saddle, and Henry has never forgotten this. Same owner fed Henry treats by hand, and Henry hasn’t forgotten this, either. These things haven’t caused much trouble—we don’t make a practice of feeding him treats by hand and my son is able to be forceful enough with his bridle and crop to forestall the grabbing at vegetation. But there is one more problem. Henry is lazy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Part of the reason I bought Henry is because he is lazy. My number one priority is to keep my kid safe, and Henry being lazy is a good thing. Henry does not run off—ever. Henry doesn’t jig or prance, almost never spooks. Henry is laid back at virtually all times—he is both reasonably well broke and lazy enough not to want to exert any effort he doesn’t have to.

The problem is that Henry does not want to lope as many circles as my son likes to lope. The older my kid gets the more competent he gets and the more he likes to lope along, rather than walk or trot. And though Henry is fit and sound and believe me, is never worked past a very light sweat, he is getting more and more adamant about not loping.

Because my son is gaining in competence, he has worked through this issue several times, developing a different way of applying his crop, becoming more focused on getting a good depart from the walk rather than letting the horse trot…etc. And he can lope Henry quite successfully….until the horse decides he’s had enough. At which point, on our last two arena rides, Henry came up with a new behavior. And this behavior was so frustrating for my kid that both times I climbed on the horse and gave Henry an “adjustment”, something I haven’t had to do in six months.

I rode in my son’s saddle, I wore the same soft boots with no spurs that he rides in, used the same mechanical hackamore and English riding crop. And I learned something. Henry was being a royal pain in the ass. I had to use a lot of force, with both bridle and crop, to correct him. I got it done and Henry minded his p’s and q’s (for me) quite sweetly, and loped exactly when told. But as soon as I put my son back on him he reverted. And I could see that my son wasn’t going to be able to work through this problem very easily.

What is Henry doing? Once he’s decided he’s done loping, he ignores the cue, puts his head down between his knees, bulls into the bridle, and just trots faster. He also uses this device to go where he wants to go…back to the other horses, to the gate, to the barn..etc. So, something has to change.

Now, here are the parameters. My son is cuing Henry correctly. Until Henry is done with loping, they get along fine. Henry is being flagrantly disobedient because he doesn’t want to continue loping circles. When I “fixed” him, I merely punished him effectively between bridle and crop and he quit defying me…and went back to doing what he was told. I need to find a way for my son to effectively discipline Henry and still stay safe.

That last phrase is why I don’t want to go to the obvious—put spurs on him. Henry minds very well with spurs. He’s been ridden with spurs his whole life, like many rope horses. But spurs can be truly dangerous. An old man of my acquaintance died last month…partly because of spurs. While making a team roping head run, he missed his dally, lost his balance, spurred the horse by accident, and the horse dumped him. A broken neck, and death, resulted. It is just too easy for a little kid to panic and grab a horse with the spurs, or lose his balance and gig a horse hard without meaning to. I’m not ready to put spurs on my kid.

I could get him a more deadly whip. But I don’t think I want to go there either. What I plan to try is putting a bridle back on the horse. I think Henry will be unable to bull into a bit the way he is currently bulling into the hackamore. Lets face it, Henry was ridden in a proper bridle with a bit his whole life until I got him. I put the mechanical hackamore on him for two reasons. First, many horses are more relaxed and comfortable in this, and this was true of Henry. Second, my kid, like many kids, would sometimes pull on the horse when he didn’t mean to, and this can be easier for a horse to tolerate in the mechanical hack. Overall, I just wanted Henry to let down and forget about being a ropehorse and pup around for my son.

Well, I got it done. And now I’m faced with wanting Henry to step up a little more and lope when he is asked to lope, even if he doesn’t feel like it. So, I’m going to put a bit back on him, and possibly a tie down, we’ll see. It sounds counter intuitive, but many horses, like Henry, who have worn a tie-down their whole lives, will raise their heads when one is put on them, as if they are feeling for that steadying restraint. I will have to try the horse in various headgear and see what works. But I have to find something in the way of a bridle that Henry can’t bull into and defy the signal to bring his head up.

The other thing I’m going to do is already happening. In the past, I have gotten past Henry’s “lazy” issues by giving the horse time off from arena work and doing trail riding, which he enjoys. Then when we go back to the arena, he’s more willing to lope. Its been raining for awhile, so Henry is getting some rest. And I have to admit, the two “lazy” episodes happened at the end of a week in which Henry had been ridden five times. And I have some sympathy for the old horse getting sick of loping circles.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Henry is not being asked to do anything that is beyond him, not even close. He is merely being asked to do something he doesn’t want to do. And he needs to learn to obey my kid under all circumstances. When he puts his head down and refuses to bring it up, he is essentially out of control and he clearly knows it and is taking advantage of it. And this is not OK.

So there you have it. That’s the problem I’m currently working on. Anybody have any thoughts?

Oh, and also, we at equestrianink would love to get to know you all better. We were thinking of a “reader’s write” Saturday, where we could put up posts you have written about you and your horses and writing about horses. So if anyone is interested in writing a post for equestrianink, send it to Jami at jamidavenport@att.nete and she will post it on the next open Saturday.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taking a Break

By Laura Crum

I mentioned in a post awhile ago about “finding balance” that I have a really hard time feeling Ok about not riding four or five days a week. Today I want to explain why I feel this way, and ask if any of you struggle with this “guilt issue”. I know that for me, it can really take the pleasure out of having horses and I am always working on finding the right balance in my life and not obsessing on riding. So, how did I get to be this way?

Well, I was raised to be a bit of a zealot about riding my horses regularly. My tough old team roper uncle, who was my first and main teacher, felt that you should ride your competition horses (and practice horses for that matter) virtually every day to keep them legged up. The horse trainers I worked for in my twenties espoused a similar ethic (though they didn’t always practice it). During the ten years Gunner was my main mount it was a rare day that I didn’t ride that poor horse. I bought him as a coming three year old and retired him at fourteen, due to various arthritic issues. I firmly believe those issues were caused by early and fairly intense training, and just an awful lot of miles.

By the time I was riding Flanigan and Plumber, my ideas had changed. My team roping partner was a more relaxed guy, and though he liked to ride and did ride regularly, if the weather was bad, and/or there was some other reason, he was perfectly happy to let a horse stand for a few weeks and then go roping on him. And lo and behold, nothing bad happened. The horse wasn’t too fresh; the horse didn’t get hurt. The horse didn’t even lose that much condition. This went on for years.

I learned something. You don’t have to ride a broke horse into the ground all the time to keep him going. It’s a fallacy.

I began riding my horses when I felt like riding. Sometimes that would be four or five days a week. Sometimes it would be once a week. The horses did fine. Plumber and Flanigan both stayed sound and competitive until they were twenty—far longer than Gunner had done.

Now, I grant you this won’t work on every horse. I’m not arguing that point. But on our fairly easy going mature QH team roping horses, it actually worked better than riding every day. The horses felt better, seemed happier, had less lameness and overall just did better.

I should add into this equation that I keep our horses in large (100 by 100 on average) corrals where they can run around and play if they feel like it, so they are not stuck standing in a stall or small pen when we don’t ride.

So, anyway, hey, sounds great, right? I’m riding when I want to, the horses are happy, no problem.

Well, there is one slight problem. I was raised by my zealot uncle (in the horse biz, anyway). I’m a Catholic school girl. The problem, in a nutshell, is guilt. I feel guilty if I don’t ride five days a week. At some deep level I still believe I’m “supposed” to. That the horses need this.

Fast forward to the present. I spend my riding time trail riding and riding with my son. Our mature easy going horses do just fine whether I ride them once a week or five times a week. They’re reasonably fit and I never demand too much of them. A long trail ride is a three hour ride. If they start to puff, we rest and let them air up. They are never ridden to the point of being really tired.

So wouldn’t you think I could let go of my guilt issue and just enjoy these horses?

Well, sometimes I can. And sometimes I get sucked right back into my old way of thinking. This fall we rode a lot. The weather was good—my son and I went riding three or four days a week. Week before last we rode six times. And then the weather got cold and wet. Suddenly I’m back to riding one day a week if I’m lucky. And I start to feel guilty.

Oh, and lets not forget the mud. I live in a part of California where we get a lot of pleasant weather all year round. It virtually never snows—it doesn’t get real hot or real cold. But in the winter we get these long rainy spells. And during these rainy spells the horse corrals get muddy. Even big corrals get muddy in heavily used areas. And I look at my horses, squelching through the mud and feel guilty. Never mind that none of these particular horses have ever had one mud related problem in their lives (if any of them had a tendency to develop abcesses, I’d be more concerned). But there is nothing like muddy corrals to ratchet up the guilt factor.

It took a conversation with a friend, another recovering “ride em every day” horseman, to show me what I was doing to myself. Between work and such, she is lucky to ride one day a week sometimes, just like me. Her corrals are muddy, too. And, as she pointed out to me, her horses are thriving. They are both sounder than they were when she rode more often. She reminded me of what I already knew, but had forgotten. Its Ok to take a break. Its Ok to ride when you can. Its Ok not to push too hard. Both our horses and ourselves benefit.

Now I’m taking a break, while the rain rattles on my tin roof. My horses are dozing in their sheds, taking a break, also. And we’ll all enjoy a trail ride on the next sunny (non-muddy) day—guilt-free. Or that’s my goal, anyway.

Anyone else have this issue? How do you cope with it? Any suggestions?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Claustrophobia and My Mare

I really enjoyed Michele's post and your comments on animal communicators. In fact, I've been planning a book in which the heroine is an animal communicator. I think it would be a hoot to write.

One really good book I read on the subject is called "Spoken in Whispers" by Nicci Mackay.

For those of you who've asked, my mare, Gailey, is finally getting over her cellulitus. This weekend was her first turnout weekend. The picture above shows my hubbie hand walking her Thanksgiving weekend. As you can see, she's lost a lot of weight.

On a personal note, I did have the misfortune of tripping across an animal communicator whom I didn't consider legitimate. I went to her for acupressure on my horse, not for her opinion on my horse's mental state and didn't appreciate her grandstanding at my expense in front of a bunch of spectators.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe there are people who are in tune with animals and can communicate with them. I also believe there are plenty who take advantage of the human owners. This particular person was quite arrogant and made me feel about 2 inches small. She treated me like I didn't know my mare, while she had her figured out. It didn't set well with me, but I gritted my teeth and kept my mouth shut. People who truly have these gifts are usually much more humble.

I do know this horse. I've owned her for 11 years. We've been through hell and back together. Many of you have read my old posts on her, including our trailering issues.

So this woman proceeded to tell me the mare was being belligerant, and she could get her to load in the trailer frontwards (I load and haul her backwards).  She also said she could "fix" her because the mare was a bully (she can be) had my number (only when I let her). She volunteered to have her husband assist me as he was a disciple of a well-known horse whisperer. The minute she said that, I knew I had her. You see, the man who told me to NEVER load my girl frontwards because of her extreme phobia regarding hitting her head happened to be her husband's mentor. I informed her of such, which rendered her speechless and her spectators in shock. I politely thanked her and left.

Which brings up the real subject of my post this month. My mare is claustrophobic to the point of it being a severe phobia. I've learned over the years to work around it. Unfortunately, not everyone who handles her understands her like I do.

If you knew her history, you'd understand where all this originated. As a youngster, she grew fast. As a result, I don't think she realized how big she was. At a few years old, she was being led into her stall. The barnworker didn't bother to open the stall door completely, and he left the latch sticking out. The latch embedded itself between two ribs and almost punctured a lung. She still carries the scars. Six months later, she was caught in a fence at the same boarding stable. She still has those scars, too. Add to that, a trainer who wenched her into a too-small trailer a year later and a broken nose from hitting it on the trailer.

I worked for years with natural horsemanship trainers to cure her issues to a point. I've outlined most of those experiences in past posts, so I won't bore you with any of those details.

Here's the problem. During her recent two-month convalescence and confinement to a stall, her claustrophobia issues have come back. It's really odd, as I'm the only one handling her. She balks coming in and out of the stall. Normally, I don't have problems with her unless someone else has scared her by yanking on her lead rope until she throws her head and hits it on the stall door.

Currently, she has been leaping in and out of her stall, after balking in the doorway. Not exactly a safe thing to have a 1500-pound horse going in and out of a stall like a horse breaking from a starting gate.

To handle her fear of stall doors, I don't turn and face her and pull on the lead rope when she balks like most people would do. I've learned that I need to stand at her head facing the same direction and walk out with her. I repeat until she follows me calmly. I've been working on this for the past month, yet she still leaps in and out of the stall door. It as if she believes a troll is hiding on top of the door to smash her on her head. I'm puzzled because she hasn't had any episodes that I know of what would have triggered this reaction. I don't understand what's going on.

So I, too, have been entertaining calling a animal communicator. Michele's post was quite timely for me. I'd be most interested in hearing anyone's theories as to what may have dredged up this old behavior.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Talk to the Animals

I have a question for you...Has anyone ever used an equine communicator? I have actually had a gal "talk," with our pony Monty and it was a pretty amazing "discussion."

Monty came into our family about a year and a half ago. He was fabulous. For seven months Monty was fabulous. My daughter took lessons from a wonderful teacher who is also a dear friend, but who is also a school teacher, so when she had to go back to her day job, she let us know that she had to back off of lessons and working with Monty. She was still able to do a couple of days a week, but I knew that with Monty being a new guy with us and with my daughter being small and although she'd been riding for a few years--she needed that extra attention. There was another trainer where we were at, at the time and I had watched him with some of the kids and thought he was pretty good with them, so I approached him.

Long story short--pony didn't like this guy. It wasn't long after they started working together that Monty had his first bout of colic, then Monty began to colic about every 3 weeks. Then he started doing things like bolting with his kid, and acting like a nervous wreck inside his stall. I started scratching my head wondering what the hell had happened to our fabulous pony?!?

My gut began talking to me, and my gut was saying there's something really wrong here. Monty colicked again, and at that point my vet looked at me and said, "Get him out of here, change everything about his program, or you might lose him."

There is so much more to the story, but it would be about ten pages long, so this is the short version.

Needless to say, I called up Terri (where we'd gotten Monty from, and she'd told me if there was ever any issue to bring him back and we'd figure it out). I told her the problem and within twenty-four hours we had the horses at her place.

Monty and Krissy have now been at Terri's for 9 months--and guess what? Not one colic, no silly pony shenanigans to really pique the fear factor for the kid or me.

So back to the equine communicator. This gal came to "talk" to the horses not long after we got up to Terri's. She had no prior knowledge of Monty and the issues. We told her we were concerned that Monty had had a tendency to get fast with his kid.

She wrapped her arms around the pony and after a few minutes looked at us and asked, "Who else rides him besides the little girl and Terri?" We said that I did and occasionally another working student (a young woman). The communicator said, "No. The man, who is the man?" She looked right at me and a shiver went down my spine. "You know who I'm talking about," she said. I nodded. "Yeah well, the pony doesn't like him and is afraid of him, and he has reasons to be." Now--there is still a lot more to this but for time sakes, I'll keep to the short version. Then she wrapped her arms back around him and asked all of us (my vet included here) to send him light and love and let him know how much he's loved. All of a sudden this lady begins sobbing. I mean--totally sobbing. We were all looking at each other... She apologized and explained that this happens about once a month with a horse. She told us that he had just let go of a ton of grief. That Monty never understood that he was anything more than a commodity. He never understood that he could be or was loved. Now maybe this sounds crazy to you, but this is what I can tell you happened afterward:

Up to this point Monty was never affectionate. He did his job but he never seemed happy. He didn't seem to care if his kid was there or not. He just did what he was supposed to do and that was that. The communicator told us to constantly talk to him and tell him how much he is loved and that he is now a part of a family and will always be a part of our family, because he had a fear that we weren't going to keep him. I did this with him for a week straight, and the most amazing thing happened after about a week. I was in the barn with him by myself and I took him off the cross-ties, and removed his halter to put the bridle on. All of a sudden, Monty just placed his head right in my chest and stomach. He just stayed like this with me for at least a minute or longer. Then he very gently (not pushy at all) rubbed his face on me--it was like when a cat rubs on you, not when my silly mare pushes me all over the place. I scratched him between his ears and told him hown special he is. And I swear he sighed. It was like this moment of true understanding for him--as if--"I get it. I'm part of the family." Since that day, as soon as he sees his kid or me, he jogs on over, he lets out a little nicker, he paws on the ground until we make it over to him, and it's obvious he feels like he is loved.

Both Monty and his kid are thriving together. He has been off his ulcer meds for two months now. He's fat and happy (maybe a little too fat), and he's settled.

Now I don't know your feelings on people who communicate with animals but I have to say that I am a total believer. I really believe that the lady who came and talked to Monty helped him and us a great deal, and I am really grateful for that.

Call me crazy or tell me if you've ever had anyone "talk" to or with your horses.

Have a great weekend,


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Feeding Treats

By Laura Crum

Awhile ago I read a, shall we say, spirited discussion on another blog about feeding horses treats by hand. Some were for, some were against—enthusiastically so. So yesterday, while my little boy and I were giving each horse in turn an apple that we’d picked from our apple tree, I thought, with an inward smile, that at one time I would have been amongst those who were adamantly opposed to feeding treats. In fact, in theory, I still am. Ah, the difference between theory and practice….

I decided this would make a good subject for a blog post, so today I am going to discuss, not whether we should or shouldn’t hand feed our horses treats, but rather why it doesn’t matter as much as I used to think it did, and the difference between theory and practice.

First off, the way I got to be one of these folks who sneers at hand feeding treats (in theory, anyway) has a lot to do with how I was “raised” in the horse biz. My tough old team roper uncle would no more have considered feeding one of his horses a treat than he would have considered calling them pets. I was raised to think of people who behaved in this silly way as somewhat ridiculous, not real horsemen who we, the real deal, looked down upon. It wasn’t said outright, but everything implied it. At some point or other I absorbed the viewpoint that not only was it “silly”, but it made horses pushy, rude and mouthy. To some degree, I still subscribe to this viewpoint. I don’t, in general, feed my horses treats by hand. But…

At a later point in my career with horses, about the time I took up team roping, in my thirties, I began to get a little less rigid about how I treated my horses. I began to play around more. If I ate an apple, I’d hand the core to my horse. If I drank a beer, I’d pour some in my palm for Gunner, who turned out to absolutely love beer. I didn’t worry about making Gunner pushy, mouthy or rude (and he wasn’t). I just enjoyed having fun with him.

Then I had a kid. I began by teaching him not to hand feed stuff to the horses. It just makes sense. Why lose one of those little fingers? But my kid got older. He read books, he talked to other kids, he had ideas of his own. He wanted to feed his horses cookies and apples and carrots. I taught him to put the treats in the manger. But then he wanted to hand them to his beloved pony. I let him. The pony had very good manners. No harm resulted.

Eventually my kid wanted to give his horse, Henry, a birthday party, complete with heart shaped cookies to be hand fed to each horse, “to show that we love them.” I couldn’t say no. Some of the horses take treats nicer than others. I handed the grabby ones (who I believe have been hand-fed by previous owners) their treats, and let my kid hand over the treats to the polite ones. We got through the party, though I couldn’t suppress the occasional inward eye roll. This was certainly not the “cowboy way” I was raised with. But we did have fun.

And now, from time to time, we go down to the barnyard and distribute apples. Mostly we put them in the mangers. Depends on which horse. Do I think this is a good idea? Sort of. I have to say, anything that makes us feel connected to our horses and helps us enjoy them is not really a bad thing. I don’t, however, allow my kid to feed the more mouthy horses treats by hand. It just makes sense to me. I don’t want to spend my time punishing these horses for grabbing. Its better not to encourage them.

So what do I end up with? In theory I don’t believe in feeding treats by hand. In practice, well, I sometimes feed treats by hand and I sometimes don’t. Depends. How’s that for a nice clear statement? In my own defense, let me quote the famous Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi. “You’re perfect just the way you are, and you could use a little improvement.” That pretty much sums up my practice.

So how about you guys? Any insights on this subject?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

General Lee

by Laura Crum

I’ve owned quite a few horses in my life. And because I rode my uncle’s horses, and rode for various trainers, I also rode a lot of horses that weren’t mine. Once in awhile, out of a clear blue sky, I’ll remember some horse I haven’t thought about in years. And the other day I remembered General Lee.

General Lee belonged to my uncle. He was a “trading horse” of no particular interest or value. He’d been somebody’s backyard horse and my uncle had acquired him for a few hundred. Once it was clear that the horse would not make a team roping horse, my uncle’s only purpose was to sell the animal at a profit. To this end he offered to loan me the horse for the summer, with the idea that I could put a few miles on the animal and make him more salable as a riding horse.

I was off at college at the time. I had just sold Hobby, a gelding I’d trained to be a reasonably successful reined cowhorse. In the fall I would buy Burt, a green broke five-year-old that I kept until his death in his late thirties. But for that one summer I did not have a horse. I agreed to take General Lee.

General Lee was a middle-aged gray gelding turned white, with a thick cresty neck and a heavy-boned, coarse frame. He looked a bit like an old war horse—thus the name. We always referred to him as “the General.” He was easy enough to climb on and ride, but not either well broke or reliable, as I found out. He was capable of bolting, rearing, constant jigging and stupidities such as turning sideways while descending steep hills. He was not a particularly endearing horse. I kept him at the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus and rode him through the hills there. I have memories of times he nearly got me killed and also happy memories of riding through that beautiful landscape on the old white horse.

One moment in particular sticks in my mind. A sunny summer afternoon, I was riding through the hills alone on General Lee. As we neared a place where the railroad tracks crossed the dirt road I was on, I could hear the train coming. I stopped, a ways from the tracks and waited. I was not entirely sure how the General would react to a train. The train, when it appeared, turned out to be the Amtrak, and the General turned out to be indifferent to trains. I stood by the side of the tracks and waved back to all the people waving at me from the windows. For a moment I saw myself through their eyes and imagined how colorful I must appear. A young blond woman on a white horse, way out in the middle of the wide-open hills, miles from any town. I realized just how lucky I was to be this person. And then the train was gone.

Summer wore on. I put some miles on the General. I let my friends ride him--with mixed success. No one was hurt, at least. The horse remained an ill-broke, not-too-reliable critter, but he was fun to have around. If you weren't an anxious rider, he was perfectly servicable as a trail horse.

When fall came, I sent the General back to my uncle. I never knew what became of him. Presumably he was sold to be a riding horse. But my uncle was perfectly capable of hauling such a horse to the local livestock auction and letting him take his chances. I never knew. I never even asked.

I was young, about twenty. I had been around my uncle and his somewhat callous way of treating horses all my life; I took it for granted. In my later years I began to think for myself and developed a huge distaste for such callousness. But at that time it did not occur to me to be concerned about the fate of General Lee.

When I think of the horse now, I feel very sad. He was one of many trading horses that my uncle went through over the years. I am sure that many of them did not come to a good end. And I rode and enjoyed lots of them. But General Lee was, for one brief summer, “my” horse, under my control. I could have kept him, if I chose, or found him a home. Today I would naturally assume this responsibility. Then I didn’t think to do so.

I remember that moment as the train went by and I wish I had thought to value what that horse gave me.

Its one of many things I wish I could do over. I wish I had had more understanding when I was young. I wish I’d done my part to place that old white horse in a good home. But its too late now. I can only do the best I can for the horses I have in my care, including my rescue horses and retirees. And I can help, once in awhile, to place a horse like Harley (see last month’s post—“A Thanksgiving Story”) in a forever home. And I can say “I’m sorry” to General Lee and all the others that I just didn’t step forward for.

I know we can’t help them all. And I’m not really beating myself up. I just think that most of us carry a little of this particular sorrow—the pain of all the horses we’ve known that we didn’t/couldn’t help. When, once in awhile, such a horse crosses our mind, we think, “I wish”….or at least I do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hiking Versus Riding

By Laura Crum

I think I’ve posted before about my resolve to hike the trails near my home as often as I ride them. The primary reason for this is that I am getting stout, and need the exercise far more than my horse does. But there are other reasons.

My husband is not a horseman and prefers to hike, and though he will hike with us when my son and I ride, we are not, in that instance, much of a group, as the horses outdistance the hiker, especially on the uphill climbs. Of course, when we hike, my husband, son, and dog all outdistance me, particularly on the uphill climbs. But, in general, we are together as a family unit far more when we hike than when we ride.

Another reason I hike is that I feel it is good for my young son to get the exercise, and another (and very different) experience of being in the woods. Yet another reason is that the trails are muddy after a rain and can be slippery, also it isn’t nice (in my opinion) to tear them up with our horse’s hooves when they are wet—makes them unpleasant for both hikers and horses for a long time.

A final reason that I hike as often as I ride is that some days I just don’t feel like dealing with the horses—to be quite honest. My trail horses are very reliable, as I’ve posted before, but I have to cross a very busy road (upon which the cars dash by at 50 miles an hour) to get to the trails as well as skirt my neighbor’s properties, and though this is generally not a problem, there are days (when my neighbor is running a weedwhacker, or the nearby church is having a party, or the wind is just blowing really hard, or something doesn’t feel right) when it seems too stressful/risky to me to put my kid on his horse and push our way through the unpredictable outside world to get on the trails. Some days are just like that. So we hike. Other days it seems easy and doable to go with our horses, so we ride.

I think I have mostly adhered to my goal of hiking as much as I ride. I hike more in the winter and ride more in the summer, but it balances out. And its interesting, hiking the same trails that I ride. It gives me two very uniquely different perspectives on the same ground. This last weekend I had the (to me) fascinating experience of doing the exact same route twice in a row. On Saturday we hiked it and on Sunday we rode it. Both days were glorious—bright, sunny weather, the trails dry and lovely—no dust, no mud. (This is one of the reasons I live on the California coast—we get many, many such winter days.) Because I had been thinking about this subject, I tried to pay careful attention to the differences in the way I saw the trails and the landscape. I had a lot of fun with this and thought I’d share my thoughts and ask if any of you have insights to contribute on this subject.

So, first off, the easy one. Hiking is much harder than riding. Many times during our hike, I had the impulse to wish I’d brought my horse, particularly as I was gasping for air on some steep climb. I can’t recall ever once wishing on my ride that I had gone on foot. That tells you something.

This particular route (about two miles) takes me an hour and fifteen minutes on horseback and two hours on foot. There is a lot of elevation change. We mostly walk the horses, though will occasionally trot or lope. When I am done hiking it, my leg muscles are worn out (OK—I’m not in very good shape). I can ride it without any effort to speak of at all.

But there are things about hiking that I like, besides the obvious benefit to my health. I see so many more details when I hike. I examine tiny mushrooms, new flowers, banana slugs and salamanders…I could go on and on. I rarely notice these things on horseback. Even at the walk, on a horse, the landscape just seems to flow gliding by, sort of like an Impressionist painting. Beautiful, filled with light and shadow, shape and color, but not much detail. When I hike I see the details. I stop and peer at things, special views I hadn’t noticed before, a particular tree lit up with light…etc. When I ride I tend to keep moving.

Besides seeing, there is hearing. I don’t hear much when I ride. The noise of the horse’s footfalls and the squeak of the saddle drowns out other noises. I need to shout a bit to be heard by my companions. If I want to listen for something, I often have to pull my horse up. Being cut off from the tiny sounds of the woods is a bit of a disconnect.

Riding is a great deal about connecting with the horse. I am always aware of what my horse is feeling—the landscape is more of a background. On foot the landscape (and my own reactions) assume the primary focus.

On horseback I feel empowered in a way I don’t on foot. I am perfectly happy to ride the trails alone, or take my son out for a ride. On foot I prefer to go with my husband…I just feel much more vulnerable on foot…to predators with two legs or four. (And yes, there are lots of mountain lions in these hills, and I have met some very odd seeming people on these little used trails.)

And on horseback I feel empowered in another way…it’s hard to explain but I think all horse people know what I mean. Somehow being a horseman is magically elevating (literally elevating, too). I won’t say that one feels “better” than pedestrians, but there is some element of this. I know this feeling from both sides as I often meet riders when I hike and hikers when I ride. I am always concious of the subtle distinction. As my husband says, he feels he should shout, “make way for the horse people.” He’s joking, but I know what he means. Somewhere, deep in our DNA, is the clear conciousness that horses make us superior, give us power.

And then there is just the simple thrill of being carried by the horse. The pleasure of rocking along on his back, the elemental fun of riding. This is always present.

Finally, the interaction with the horse is both the chief delight of riding and (sometimes) a pain in the butt. My trail horse, Sunny, is reliable and mostly cooperative and for the greater part of the ride I simply enjoy his steady, willing power that takes me through the hills effortlessly. But near the end of the ride, when Sunny sometimes gets cranky and prepares to give me his signature crowhop (see my last month’s post titled “A Quirk”), I am annoyed at his (albeit minor) show of attitude. On Sunday’s ride I talked him out of his little acting out issue, but I was aware that I was slightly ticked that I had to bother with this. So, again, interacting with the horse is both the chief pleasure and also the main nuisance of riding versus hiking.

All this considered, I find I am back to my original premise. Which is that I need to both hike and ride. Both for my health, and this odd assortment of reasons. I’d love to hear anybody else’s thoughts on this subject. Cheers--Laura