Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Horse Hermit

by Laura Crum

That’s what I am these days. Most of my “horse life” is spent here on our property (where I cannot see another house from my front porch), enjoying my horses with my family. We ride in our ring, trail ride in the hills near our home, turn the horses loose to graze, feed them night and morning…etc. In some ways, it is almost like my horses are part of my garden, or part of my family. They are not an “event” that I do. They are just part of my life. I do not dress up in special clothes to interact with them. This weekend I rode Sunny bareback with a halter, in my cargo pants and sandals, after weedwhacking our home trails in the same outfit. I climbed on Sunny mostly in order to ride him up the hill from the front gate, where he had been doing his share of weedwhacking along the driveway. Once I was on him I was having fun, so I rode him in the ring for awhile.

Though I still enjoy trail riding farther afield and gathering cattle with my team roper friends, I have to say that it is these regular daily interactions with my horses that are my greatest pleasure. Watching them graze below my house with their just getting slick coats shiny in the spring sun—it doesn’t get any better than that for me. Unless its sitting in my chair in the barnyard, just after five o’clock in the evening, a glass of wine in my hand, listening to them munch their hay. What a great thing that is—listening to horses munch hay. And then there’s watching the smile on my kid’s face as he lopes his lazy, red gelding, Henry, around the ring. That is maybe the best of all. Unless its sitting on Sunny in the spring sunshine, marveling at the silver and gold light sparks on his palomino neck. I could go on and on.

Once upon a time I valued my horses mostly for what I could do with them. Cutting, team roping, horse packing in the mountains…this was what I had them for. I still loved them, but I sure placed a priority on what they did for me. I spent over twenty years training, competing, progressing as a horseman. Many good times were had, and I remember that period of my life very fondly.

Now I value my horses more for who they are, for what its like to be with them. For what our life is like together. I have enough skill to “read” them fairly easily and know how to get along with them, but certainly I am not training or competing…or progressing as a horseman (at least, in any obvious way). In fact, some might say I’m stagnating. I tend to view it as contemplating. I’m more into “being” than “doing”.

In a way, this is very tame—perhaps its an old lady’s way of having horses. My progress with my much loved garden has been similar. Once upon a time I agressively planted and weeded and tended, let alone all the planning I did of new garden features. I must have planted over a hundred different old rose varieties out here, during the many years that I obsessed on acquiring these plants. And then there was the pond I dug, and my collection of California native plants and Mediteranean plants. Oh, and the bulbs. The list of things I created and developed in the garden is endless. And now?

Now I watch the garden grow. Oh, I’ll weed and water a bit, mostly I just observe the wild garden. I love to see what survives and how it combines with the native flora—I delight in each new bloom I find. I don’t feel much like “messing” with it any more. I just like to see how it evolves. (My husband still “farms” the vegetable garden, so there is one area that’s agressively tended, still.)

I don’t in the least regret my more active periods with horses and garden. This active work is what taught me to be a horseman, so that my horses are a pleasure to me, and to understand my garden, so I appreciate what I see. I could not, I think, as a beginner at either thing, have moved right into the contemplative phase I’m in now. No, I needed the active phase, where I learned and did so much, to be able to be contemplative in any deep way. It is hard to truly love something that you are mostly ignorant about.

Because I live a fairly solitary life here with my family, animals and garden (not to mention writing my books), I find that I really enjoy the connections I’ve made here on the blog with other horse people. I can remain in my little horse hermit mode, and still share insights with others very much like myself. Its been great fun. I know that many of you that write in here lead pretty active horse lives, showing and training and interacting with many other horse people (and I, too, lived that life for many years). I’m curious if there are other horse hermits out there, who, like me now, are mostly enjoying their horses in a quiet one-on-one way. Or maybe I’m just really aberrant?

I do sometimes get into “guilt mode”. I’ll read about what someone is doing with their horse, or get talking to one of my team roper friends who’s still actively competing, and I’ll suddenly wonder what’s wrong with me, why don’t I feel any draw to do that any more? Where did it go, that urge to actively train, compete, progress? Why am I now content with such a quiet horse life?

I don’t usually get much answer to this sort of questioning—just the clarity that that’s where I’m at now. And I’m content with it.

Anyway, someone once wrote to me that we go through different phases in our lives with horses, and I was wondering if any one else had hit this particular phase or had any insights to offer on this subject. Any other horse hermits out there?

And, now that I’ve admitted to being a hermit, if anyone actually wants to meet me (not that I am all so exciting to meet in “real life”), and you happen to be in central California, I am doing a book talk/signing with my friend, author Laurie R. King, on Thurs, May 6th at 7:30 at Capitola Bookcafe in Capitola. Also one at M is for Mystery in San Mateo on May 15th at 2:00. Both of these stores have websites, if you want more info. Or email me at


Beth said...

After that post you will probably really appreciate how I started out reading your latest novel, Going, Gone (I'll be blogging my review soon. . .just a few more pages to go) . I took a chair out into the middle of the pasture, sat in the sun and read as my horse grazed around me. It was one of the most enjoyable moments I have had in the past few weeks. I am a hermit, although I have been for most of my horsely life. I enjoy feeding and looking after my own little herd, just as much as I do doing activities with them. Maybe even a little more. Watching them snooze in the sun or go rip roaring around the pasture is just as enjoyable as taking a trail ride or driving down the road. I also just love to take a break, pull a horse out for a quick training session. I don't feel like I have to work them for an hour or so just get get good use out of my time. Ahhh . . . I think I am going to go scratch someone's nose and doing some gardening now. :)

Laura Crum said...

Beth--You sound like a kindred spirit. I don't know why, but its reassuring that I'm not the only one who lives this sort of horse hermit life. I loved the image of you reading my book while your horses grazed around you. I think it must have been a good fit. If you could, shoot me an email with your review, or at least let me know its up. My old computer sometimes struggles to connect with blogs--there are a few I love to read but for some reason they freeze my computer up every time. (I guess you can see I'm not a very techie person). Thanks for the fun comment--it made my morning.

Anonymous said...

I think, of everything I do with horses, I like just spending time in their company best; just watching them be horses, particularly when they're interacting with other horses. I love their look and smell - and you're right about the sound of horses eating hay - I think one of us should go in business making ambient sound recordings of horses eating hay and other sounds like that and make a fortune selling it to the community of horse lovers - instant relaxation.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--Yep, the sound of horses muching hay, and for me, the sight and sound of horses grazing on green grass--these things are endlessly soothing. I also love the way the sunlight sparkles on their coats when they turn shiny this time of year (you can tell by this statement that I don't blanket). Its sort of like that old song: "These are a few of my favorite things". Just thinking about this stuff makes me smile.

Shanster said...

Now I watch the garden grow. Oh, I’ll weed and water a bit, mostly I just observe the wild garden. I love to see what survives and how it combines with the native flora—I delight in each new bloom I find.

I hope I get to that point with my gardening! I'm just starting... with a field full o' bind weed. Ugh. Once things are established, I'd much rather let it all go wild in it's beauty than have everything perfectly manicured. Tho now the weeds outnumber the rest by about a'gazillion.

The horse thing. Well I'm at an interesting thought process with them right now. I haven't ridden since my clinic a couple weeks ago and I have a bad case of the "shoulda's". I'm thinking a lot about the past and how I rode just for fun and how I rarely do that anymore... I work on my lessons and while that IS rewarding, it's not the same as experiencing that joy of just being that you speak of... just riding for the sake of riding..

And how I've lost that, I dunno, innocence from childhood where you just got on and didn't think about stuff... didn't think about going out alone or what you might come across that you couldn't handle ... you just went along.

And I'll never be a top rider - it's not really my goal nor do I have the means to compete that way... money or time. So I think - well, what are you doing then?

Dunno - I'm in an awful funny place in my head. Tho the other day I had a long day at work and spent time at the Dr. for some chiro work (stoopid back of mine!) I got home and my old Cushings gelding looked a mess of long hair... I spent a good long time grooming him and enjoying the peace and comeraderie with him. Thinking 'bout all those days past together...

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--I really hear you. You have no idea how long I spent-it was years--being in that sort of mind state. I was still competing at team roping every weekend and practicing at least two days a week, training my horses on the other days...etc, but a big part of me wanted to let go of that and move into a simpler life with my horses. And I just couldn't do it for the longest time. I was so torn. I'd tell myself I really wanted to stay home and dink around in my garden, but I felt like I "ought" to go compete (or train, or practice). I mean I seriously felt guilty if I didn't. It took getting pregnant (and feeling I really shouldn't be roping) to help me let go of it. (Not that I'm suggesting that's the only path.)I don't think there's any right or wrong. If training and competing feels good, fine. For me it got so that it wasn't rewarding any more--it felt like an obligation. Like you, I want to go back to just hop on and ride. And I have to admit, now that I am back to hop on and ride (and just enjoying my horses), I'm happier and more relaxed than I was those last few dogged years of competing and training. Yes, I have more fear issues when it comes to trail riding than I did when I was younger, but I still get out there on my steady little horse and enjoy it a lot.

As for the garden, I took immense pleasure in creating it--I absolutely loved the ten years or so that I spent obsessively acquiring plants and designing new features. And I know just what you mean about the gazillion weeds. I worked really hard at my garden for a long time. I dunno what shifted, but one day I realized the garden was "done" in a sense--it didn't need more plants and more fussing--it just needed to evolve and find its own path. Not that I never do anything. Two weeks ago I rooted all the grass out that was invading my pond, and now the water lilies and iris are a delight again, rather than being choked out. I guess my system now is to act when something is actively bugging me--if it isn't bugging me, I don't fix it. It helps that I like the garden wild.

Thanks for your comment--there was a lot there that really resonated for me.

KB said...

My horses live in my yard, and they are an integral part of our family. Sitting on my front porch swing, talking to my four-year-old TB is one of my very favorite activities. She'll nicker back every time I call her name, no matter how many times I do it. What could be better than that?

Laura Crum said...

KB--wow-she nickers every single time you call her name? None of mine will do that. They often nicker if I speak to them, or if they want something, or just to greet me, but one response to my voice is about it. I love the image of you sitting in your porch swing, talking to your horse (who talks back).

KB said...

My ten-year-old calls her a horse-human-dog hybrid. She's an unusual girl. The nickering is nice - the picking up our aussie in her mouth isn't so appreciated!

Joy said...

We are working towards having the horse in the yard and then I will be a true horsie hermit.

Today I cleaned my horse's stall and sat in there while he ate his dinner. He stopped every so often to turn his nose to me, as if he was saying, oh, hey you're still here. hi.

Your life sounds like my ideal. I will get there. Not much of a gardener but that's hubby's thing. He makes every place we've been a totaly fairy land. Although I'm in charge of the hummingbird feeders. They're my deal.

So wish I could come to your signings!!

Laura Crum said...

Joy, I love my hummingbirds, too. I don't give them feeders, but I have some much loved hummingbird plants (including the Mexican sage named "Tequila"--how appropriate) that they both feed on and nest in. I wish you could come to my signings, too. I would love to meet you. If anybody does come from blogland, please tell me who you are. I'm often in somewhat of a daze at these events--just point out to me who you are as a blogger and I'll pay attention (!)

Helen said...

Thank you for your writing - you have helped me to get things I've been feeling straight in my head.

My trouble is that horses are all I know and all my life has been about for the last 35 years. I had my horses and my husband and all my dreams revolved around them.

My husband died last year after 28 years together and suddenly my horses were nowhere near enough for me to live for. I have made close friends thick and fast and helped to begin to fill the enormous hole where my heart used to be but I don't have any dreams anymore and I'm still so lonely.

I have 10 beautiful horses and no dreams to dream anymore. I don't want to feel old and past it and I want my horses to feel useful and clever and to have a purpose.

I need a reason. I need to prove myself and do something for the greater good.

I love horses and I love people and all those years with just horses and my husband, then being with him 24/7 while he died has given my enormous understanding and empathy with both but I don't know what to do with it.

I think I'm having a midlife crisis!!!! I feel like a 53 year old teenager trying to learn how to live and agonising over the meaning of it all.

I feel like I have to pack enough into my life for two people and I mustn't waste a second or a single opportunity but I don't know what I want from life anymore.

He was my soulmate and my sounding board. My horses were my best friends and my purpose in life. They're still here but I feel like I lost them too somewhere along the way, or rather that they lost me.

What do we do for dreams if we have no ambitions for ourselves with our horses anymore? What do you do Laura, if you don't mind me asking?

I used to love writing too but I'm losing my way there as well. I wrote about training my horses and inspired people to try new things and kinder methods, and made people laugh and cry and dream along with me.

What do I do now? How do I fill the hole where my heart and my dreams used to be?

Laura Crum said...

Helen--you are asking some hard questions. All I can give you is what my own truths have been. First off I have never been through losing my soulmate to death, though I have close friends who have been through this. I did lose my first husband--he fell in love with someone else and left. In some ways this was similar, because I was devastated. I had the feelings you describe. I still had my horses and my friends, but it didn't seem to matter. I could barely drag myself down the hill to feed the horses, let alone get any comfort or pleasure out of them. I felt completely lost, and as if my life had no purpose. I couldn't even imagine what purpose I wanted it to have. I couldn't write, I couldn't even read. I was lost.

The truth is I was depressed--clinically depressed, which grief can do to you. I did try anti-depressants--lots of em--they didn't work at all. For me, I just had to get through this period, one day at a time. I did find another partner, and then I had a child, and this helped immesnsely, so I am not able to say what I might have been like had this not happened. All I can tell you is that in retropsect, this time of depression, though very painful, has seemed a true gift. I was forced to learn some truths that I never would have seen otherwise. One of them, for me, was that I wanted a more quiet, contemplative life withmy horses, that I was done wanting to compete. But everyone is going to learn different things. I can't imagine what life wants to show you, but I know that there is usually something that is waiting to be seen. Sometimes you just have to sit still and be with the feelings that are there now and wait to be shown what you're supposed to see. That sounds so darn simple written down, but it is not simple, I know.

My thoughts are with you. I wrote my sixth book, Breakaway, about a character going through a similar transition. But losing one's soulmate to death is a very heavy burden to bear. I have a friend who lost her 11 year old son to a freak accident a year and a half ago, and her emotions today are very much what you describe. She told me that the experts say two years is offten the window for feeling better and the second year is harder than the first.

If I were in your shoes, I would just keep asking the universe to bring you the thing you're meant to see and do--ask every day. Ask to be shown, ask to become the thing you're meant to be. And try to trust that it can happen.

As for the horses, a lot of what kept me going, even though I did not get any pleasure out of them when I was depressed, was my determination not to let them down. Even if I only fed them and made sure they had adequate care, I wasn't going to fail them--sell them, or disappear myself. I was going to continue to love them as best as I could--which at that time just meant the most basic care. But they are all fine and still with me today, and after a couple of years had passed, I could find joy in them once more.

Hang in there. You can email me any time.

Vaquerogirl said...

Hi, I just popped over from the Horseshoing Housewifes blog! I am a writer also- working on several novels, a few actually have horses in them.
But what I wanted to tell you was about your post- horse hermit.
I have had horses my whole life. I was buying and selling them before I was 12 and have trained my own to varying degrees. About 8 years ago my favorite mare was getting older, she had uvitius and wasn't rideable. I just completely shut down. I stopped wanting to ride. Oh, I still gave lessons and took care of my other horses and a lot of other peoples horses, but the joy had kinda gone out of it for me.
I was a little worried, I'll tell ya! But slowly, like spring returning to a snowy valley, the urge to ride came back. I rescued a yearling Appy and began the training process again. I had to put my favorite mare down at this point, and I wept and wept, but the filly kept me going, and before long I was wanting to do what I had done before. I wanted to ride and when I did- I remembered the JOY! So I sold that Appy mare and bought another yearling and began again. Now I am showing and happy as ever.
The short take away from this loonngg story is JUST HANG IN THERE!

Joy said...

Oh wow Helen. My heart totally goes out to you. I know I'm just a faceless stranger reading your comment on a blog, but I want to tell you something. You are now included in my morning litany of gratitude from here on out (think morning prayers).

I will thank the universe, God, goddess and everyone else for bringing you comfort. And for bringing you peace. And for showing you what it is you have to learn from such a hard thing. For me gratitude is the road that I walk this life on. I hope that my prayers will help you. My best friend lost her soulmate, and it's been a long haul for her. Again, my heart just goes out to you. White light all around you and hugs.

Laura Crum said...

Joy, thank you. The only real prayers I know are "thank you" and "I love you".

Pattie said...

Oh I am jealous. One of my favorite activities when I used to work with horses was to take them to the field and watch them eat.

Riding is such a small part of horses. I could go my whole life without riding again, but I don't think I could go without being around them, feeding, grooming, talking, petting. It is so much more.

Please enjoy for me.