Thursday, May 20, 2010

Too Many Horses

by Laura Crum

I’ve written a few posts with this title, I think, but it just keeps coming back up. I’ve got too many horses. I care for ten horses—I just don’t need that many. Even though I have them arranged such that it works, I sometimes wonder what the heck I was thinking to end up in this position. And then, when I add it up another way, it makes perfect sense.

I’ve been owning horses non-stop since I was sixteen—and I’m about to turn fifty-three. Naturally I have a few old horses (since I didn’t dump them when their working life was done), and a few that got hurt and aren’t ridable. Should I abandon them? Then there are two horses I took on because no one wanted them—one very old, one crippled. Should I jettison them? Then there is my son’s horse and my trail horse—both very much loved, valued and enjoyed—don’t want to get rid of them. And then there are my boarder’s two horses—both very sweet horses that I love to ride myself—and my boarder pays for the feed that makes my horse program possible. Uhmmm, don’t want to get rid of his horses, now, do I? So, I’m back to square one.

Realistically, the only horse I could sell is Sunny, my palomino trail horse, who is sound, useful, not too old (ironically, I just got an offer for Sunny—almost twice what I paid for him). I could ride my boarder’s young horse, Smoky, who I already do ride a lot—simply because Smoky needs riding—he’s six years old and currently lives in my one smaller pen (a fifty foot round pen with a fifteen by fifteen run-in stall). This pen isn’t meant for a permanent resident, its meant for temporary use—a sick or injured horse. When Henry was recovering from colic surgery, I used pipe panels to enclose the stall, and then later, when he could have more space, Henry was kept in the small pen. As soon as he was well, he went back out in a big corral where he could run around. But my place is set up for four saddle horses. When my friend Wally insisted on buying Smoky (over my protests, I assure you) there was no place to put the horse here but in the small pen. So Smoky must be exercised at least three days a week—it isn’t fair to him otherwise. Thus I am riding Smoky rather than Sunny a lot of the time. So, I could, theoretically, sell Sunny.

But I love Sunny. I love riding him. I love looking at him. I get a kick out of interacting with him. Sunny lives in the biggest pen I have and runs around a lot. He is frequently turned loose to graze when I don’t have time to ride him. He seems happy. Should I sell him? Even though I don’t want to? Seems silly. Completely reliable bombproof trail horses are hard to find.

But there are times, like yesterday, when I shake my head at myself. I wanted to ride. But household chores are always there and must be done if life is to be pleasant. And then I had to go out and have a look at my retired, pastured horses. This took another hour or so. I rubbed on thirty year old Gunner, who is fat—I have my fingers crossed he doesn’t founder (he never has—knock on wood), and had a close look at thirty year old ET, who has rebounded once again and is healthy and shiny and a decent weight. I’m pretty sure ET is almost completely blind, but he is once again content seeming, so I’m leaving well enough alone for the moment.

When I came home it was in the low 50’s—chilly, gray and drizzling. I did not want to ride all that much in the drizzle. So I started turning my saddle horses loose to graze (my son was also a wimp and did not want to ride in the drizzle). My boarder had hauled his two horses off to a team roping. I turned my son’ horse (Henry), my old horse (Plumber), and Sunny loose to graze one at a time. This took a few hours. I groomed Henry, who is prone to dandruff in the spring when he sheds out. Then I saddled Sunny. The sun never did come out. It was chilly and gray with a brisk wind that made me shiver, even in a jacket. In the end I had a twenty minute ride, and Sunny was, for him, a butt head. I didn’t really blame him, since he’s had two weeks off, due to lousy weather and me riding Smoky. And Sunny’s version of being a butt head is pretty mild, just some uncooperative balking and a few jiggy moments. Still, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had on a horse. I got off feeling put upon. Even keeping horses in the low maintainance way that I do (see my previous post “Horsekeeping Simplified”), the whole day got eaten up with horse chores. I am just not riding nearly as much as I used to. I have too many horses, I told myself. I don’t need all these horses.

And then I stopped and asked myself, “What part of this day did you not enjoy? What part would you change?”

Well, that was easy. I wanted it to have been sunny and 70 and I went for a two hour ride on the ridge and Sunny was mellow and cooperative. OK. But given it was what it was, what part would I change? And at that I remembered my happy horses grazing on green grass, and the fact that every horse got rubbed on and every saddle horse was out of his pen and given attention, and that I had, in fact, enjoyed most of it. And despite being somewhat annoyed at my less than ideal ride, I understood perfectly why it was what it was, and that it was not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Sunny days will come again. Sunny the horse is a steady trooper—his version of “feeling good” is just not that hard to cope with. I can be grateful that he’s not prone to violent misbehaving. We’ll get back out on those trails together and be back in sync soon enough.
I thought about other horse blogs I’ve read. We all cope with some adversity. Weather, horse keeping conditions, bad backs and other health issues, lameness and health issues in our horses, lack of time and/or enough money, fear issues….the list goes on. Do I expect my life to be the only one that is all sunshine and perfectly behaved horses? When I thought about it that way, the answer seemed obvious. I suddenly felt lucky and blessed.

So, once again, I’m back to working on my mindset. Because maybe I don’t have too many horses. Maybe my life is just fine exactly how it is. I simply have to learn to see it that way. Even on the gray days.

How about you guys? Do any of you struggle with the too many horses dilemma? And do you have any tips to offer on how to keep your perspective when your horse program seems more like work than fun? I could use a pep talk right about now.


yatima said...

Isn't there a trustworthy highschooler around who can ride in exchange for chores? That's how I got most of my riding as a teenager...

wilsonc said...

10 horses huh? Guess I won't complain about my two anymore. Even if we have only one or two horses, and even if we have full board at the stable, life is such that we humans get overbooked and are unable to do everything we would like to do. It takes me the better part of the day just to drive out, get Boo from the pasture, groom him, tack up, ride, untack, groom, put him away, and drive back home. That's not counting the shower I take once I get home. Still, when I'm there with him I lose track of time and all my troubles seem to melt I guess it's worth it! I think if you sold your personal trail horse you'd regret it. What if your boarder decided to do something different with Smoky? Where does that leave you? Yatima's suggestion is a good one. We have a high school freshman riding my husband's horse and it is a major help as he is often to busy to get out to ride consistently.

Anonymous said...

I've certainly been where you are - helping take care of 12 horses, 5 of which were mine. I made some changes - I'm a bit older than you - 2 went to a very fine retirement home (there are a lot of bad ones), I moved one to a full-care facility (with an indoor where I can ride every day!) and my oldest (30) horse and one of my daughter's horses are still with me. It isn't my place, though, and I'm still taking care of 10, including mine in the morning - but I'm giving up that job soon, and my daughter's horse will move to the full-care facility in the fall. I don't think there are any ideal solutions, at least for those of us who keep our old/lame/not rideable horses with us instead of passing them along.

Mrs. Mom said...

I'm not going to lie-- there are many days when I look at Life right now, and think, "Holy crap. ONE horse is too many horses."

And then... then I walk out the door, and see Sonny. I hear his nicker to me. On lucky days, I'll crawl up on his broad red back, and we ride. We play. We learn together.

And I know-- he is cheaper than a therapist. More fun than ice cream, better for me too, and the BEST Mood Booster ever thought of. I wouldn't trade his big goofy red butt for the world right now.

Smooch your Sunny from me too ;) Pass along some special rubs from me, to those seasoned citizens too.

Laura Crum said...

yatima--that is a good suggestion, which I actually have thought about a lot. Such a person has not come my way--but perhaps I need to look harder.

wilsonc--I do truly realize that everybody's horse program has its "stuff"--I guess I just wanted to whine. Thanks for helpful comment.

Kate--I know that you've been working on a similar issue--it helps to see the different paths we all take.

Mrs Mom-there are days when I truly wish I had one horse. But then, as I said in the post, mostly I think my life is great--I just need to appreciate it more--which I think is pretty much your point, too. Horses are great therapy--if we don't let our own baggage overwhelm us (!)

Beth said...

Gee Laura, we seem to always have something in common. lol. I do have too many, 1 standard sized horse, 1 draft horse, 3 mini, and 1 donkey. I was happily able to find a great home for my other donkey.

I don't even have one horse I can ride though, I can drive one mini and I am thinking about what to do with Abby, the percheron. My one standard sized horse was supposed to be my riding horse, but is sadly falling way short of that goal.

I understand the love of just spending time with the horses. Although I really want to ride again.

Shanster said...

Oh I feel I don't ride enough... I just can't seem to get my mojo/drive/determination/schedule in tune yet. (figure it's all cyclical...and will come around eventually)

My mare injured herself and needs rest - a bad muscle pull from slipping in the mud (doesn't help my motivation as discussed above)

I was given the o.k. to ride W/T if I wanted with her... but with kids being born (goats) and work and trying to fit in some other things... time disappears and somehow the riding doesn't get done.

I get on myself about it but your blog often helps me to realize, they are pretty damn happy out there grazing and dozing in the sun. My mare is quiet enough I can leave her be and go crawl up on her when I want... I'm not going anywhere and I'm not on any big time line. Big deep breath and it's all a-ok.

They have a happy home and even tho' things get in the way... I'm pretty happy to give them a home... even if I do feel like I'm cleaning up after them more often than not lately... just call me the poop queen.

Laura Crum said...

Beth and Shanster, it cheered me up no end to read your comments. Its not just me, I tell myself--its part of how it goes with horses. Mostly, like you guys, I am really happy with my horses even when I can't ride much--that post about enjoying them grazing in the garden was absolutely true. But like you both say, I do want to ride--and it sometimes gets pushed aside due to all the other pressures.

Taking a deep breath and realizing there is no time line (as you said, Shanster), I am going to try to relax and ride Sunny as much as I can fit comfortably into my days and let it go at that. Doesn't help that my husband just had knee surgery, but hey, life goes on. Thanks for the insightful comments--I appreciate them.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the lightbulb clicks on: your husband just had knee surgery.

Like everyone here my life is carefully balanced to include my family, horses and all the stuff needed to keep things going (like work). When one piece takes more time, it ruins the balance, and I start reexamining all the parts. And I also have more horses than is best for the balance so they're one of the first things I examine.

I try not to make major adjustments for a temporary imbalance--those I just endure or push through. You'll know the difference, I think.

-stilllearning (blogger doesn't like me anymore)

Laura Crum said...

stillearning--isn't it funny how blogger will take against one for awhile--for no reason that a person can see?

You're right about the knee surgery and the temporary imbalance. I was reminding myself yesterday that the stress and depression I feel are no doubt the result of this and not my currently unridden horses. However, I may manage to ride today, now that my husband is home recovering. And even if I don't, I'm hoping to keep my equilibrium and not start berating myself. Thanks for the helpful insight.

Laura Crum said...

An update for those (if any) who are interested--my son and I did get to ride today--our horses were well behaved, the sun shone (mostly--it did sprinkle once), and we had a lovely ride. It is amazing how much better everything looks. Riding is such a tonic. I spent the next hour cleaning and refilling water troughs and was thoroughly content. Thank you so much to those who wrote in and shared their perspective. It does help to hear how others deal with similar issues.

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