Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Goodbye For Now

by Laura Crum

Just wanted to let you all know that I’ll be taking a break from blog posts—and the internet in general—for the month of July. I’ll miss all your comments and I’ll certainly miss my horses, but my friend and boarder will live here and take care of all critters while I’m gone.

Since my mind is on our upcoming camping trip, I thought I’d ask how you all deal with it when you have to leave your horses for awhile. Even though I enjoy the change and appreciate seeing new country, its very hard for me to leave my animals. Once I’m on the road I have a tendency to look longingly at the other horses I see and wish I could be back with my own. Let alone if I see somebody riding—then I’m really jealous.

My son and I have been fortunate enough to have gone on lots of lovely trail rides this past month, and our two horses, Henry and Sunny, have been real stars, carrying us willingly and reliably through some amazing redwood forests, and up to the top of hills where we can see the ridgeline of the coastal mountains on one side and the whole blue sweep of the Monterey Bay on the other. We live in a wonderful place for trail riding and I’m very grateful. I’m going to miss it—even for a month.

I’m lucky to have a boarder/friend who is a good horseman and as familiar with my horses as I am, and is also willing to live here for a month and take care of everything. Without this support, I’m afraid I’d never manage to leave. I’d worry too much about my beloved animals and garden.

Anyway, this isn’t much of a post—just a short note to let you know I plan to be back to posting on Wednesdays in August—God willing and the creek don’t rise. Wish me good luck on the road. Cheers--Laura

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Even Famous Horses Wear Grazing Muzzles

Some of you will remember the post (click here for the link) about my donkey, Josie, and the contraption she wears out in the pasture to keep her from another bout of laminitis. It's called a grazing muzzle. Well, Josie is in good company. Here's a picture of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide wearing one.

Funny Cide, a 16.2 hand gelding and now ten years old, won the 2003 Kentucky Derby by one and 3/4 lengths, and the Preakness by almost ten lengths. That was something to watch. He came in third in the Belmont that year, and narrowly missed being a Triple Crown winner. After a race career winning over three million dollars, he went on to have a second career as a pony horse for trainers Barclay Tagg and Robin Smullen. Now Funny Cide can be seen at Kentucky Horse Park, where his grazing muzzle will keep him not only from getting laminitis but also getting chubby on all that grass.

Thought you might enjoy this picture. Funny Cide looks about as thrilled with his grazing muzzle as Josie does. Happy Munching, everyone, and no overeating!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why Bad Weather Makes me Ride

The Pacific Northwest is gray and rainy about eight to nine months out of the year. It’s pretty dreary weather, the type that makes you want to hole up inside a warm house in front of a fire and vegetate. This last winter and spring were particularly brutal. Just this week we had our first day over 75 degrees in 277 days. Ugh. It feels like I could count on one hand the sunny days we’re had since last fall.

Most of us just slog onward and deal with it.

Whenever I consider a life free of horses, I often think of two things: the above mentioned weather and my non-horsey friends.

You might wonder what the weather has to do with not owning horses. First of all, if I was a trail rider, this weather might be conducive to saving money by getting out of a hobby I can do only a few months out of the year (assuming I’m a fair weather trail rider). But my particular equine hobby is done in an arena and the weather doesn’t really play into it so why is the weather one of the reasons I keep paying out cash for the privilege of owning a four-legged money pit?

It’s as simple as this: First, dressage requires the horse and rider to be in shape. You really need to ride 4 to 5 times a week to do the sport and your horse justice. Second, when you’re shelling out all this money, you’re more likely to ride the horse, at least I am. So that brings me in a roundabout way to my point: If I didn’t have a dressage horse, I’d never venture outside nine-plus months of the year. I’d become a couch potato, put on even more weight, and live in a controlled inside environment. Even though it can be miserable and nasty, I’d never experience firsthand the changes in the weather, never learn to appreciate the winter, fall, and spring days.

And here’s where I come to the “non-horsey friends” part. I have lots of non-horsey friends. They stay inside during bad weather unless it’s to run from the parking lot to a store. They often don’t leave their couch. They get caught up in American Idol or The Bachelor or some other TV show that I rarely have the time to watch or even case to watch. They don’t get the perks of communing with nature or getting exercise. I actually feel sorry for them. They don’t know what they’re missing. Many of the women I know who ride regularly are in their 40s and 50s, yet not one of them looks that old. I’d like to think horses have a way of keeping us young with a little help from the elements and the physical exercise.

So every time I consider getting out of horses, I consider the obvious, which is I love horses. They’ve been a part of my life in some form since I was three years old. But above and beyond my love for the animals, I consider how sad it would be to rarely get outside, rarely brave the elements while bundled up and ready to ride. When I think of what I’d lose, I get out my checkbook and write another month’s check for board because the alternative would make me old before my time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When to Quit

by Laura Crum

First of all, I want to give an update on Henry, my son’s lazy red horse. Last fall Henry developed the bad habit of refusing to pick up the lope. He would lower his head, brace against the bit and trot faster. This became very frustrating for my son. We worked on this problem all winter/spring. Henry got lots of rest; I determined he was sound and felt good; I rode him several times and reprimanded him for doing this; I put a different bit on him; and, finally, I coached my son through a protocol for addressing the problem. Every time Henry ignored the signal to lope and put his head down and trotted faster, I had my son pull him up (fairly roughly) and ask for the lope again from the walk, using the crop. Once Henry loped well for a few circles, I had my son stop him—before Henry dropped out of the lope on his own.

It worked. My son was able to lope Henry quite successfully at home in our riding ring. But he was still nervous about loping the horse at our local roping arena, where the problem first developed. Henry has a tendency to want to go back to the other horses and stop, and my son was afraid he would attempt to use his bracing vice again. I encouraged my kid to give it a try and the last few times at the arena, Henry has loped many perfect circles—willingly and with very little attempt to revert to his old habit. And when he did, briefly, put his head down, my son was able to correct him instantly. So, for those of you who wrote in and gave me good advice (and thank you—I found it very helpful), there’s my update. So far, its been a real success story. My son has definitely become a better rider because of this. He and Henry remain a good team, both in the arena and on the trail. I think this is a good example of the sort of problem that can be worked through, if the horse and rider are basically well suited.

And now, on to today’s topic.

A fellow horse blogger asked me recently about knowing when it was time to quit—or give up—on a horse, and said she thought it would make a good blog piece. I had to think about this for awhile. I’ve made the decision to quit on quite a few horses in my life—horses that I was training that seemed too unpredictable and resistant (horses that were violent)—I was afraid I’d get hurt. I chose not to ride them any more. And horses I owned that, for whatever reason, didn’t work for me. Some of these horses I sold. In my later years, however, I mostly gave them to good homes who promised to keep them or return them to me.

The reasons I “rehomed” these horses were various. But the bottom line was that they just didn’t work for me. And since I was asked, I thought awhile about what this means. And the truth is—I keep the horses that make me happy when I look at them. I rehome the ones that don’t make me feel happy when I look at them.

What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that I keep the pretty ones. Pretty is fine, as far as it goes, but what makes me feel happy when I look at a horse in my corral is the inner certainty that I enjoy this horse. I like dealing with him. I like having him around. This can be an older horse that I no longer ride (like Gunner) or a horse I ride a lot (like Sunny)—doesn’t matter. I like to be with the horse, I like to handle the horse, I like to ride him (if I’m riding him), I like to look at him and touch him. He makes me feel good. I feel safe with him.

When I was younger I felt safe with a far livelier, more challenging horse than the sort I feel safe with now. But the important thing is that I realize this. I’m aware of how I feel. I like a quieter, calmer horse than I used to prefer. And that’s fine.

Some of my horses, in fact, all of my horses, give me a minor problem from time to time, like Henry did last fall. But I still feel happy to work with them and handle them, even though I may be frustrated with the problem. It’s a subtle thing. But the way I judge it is the fact that looking at that horse in the corral still makes me smile.

What sort of horse makes me not happy? A hard thing to explain. I don’t like having a horse that seems anxious or unhappy living with me. I don’t want a horse that seems in any way dangerous. I don’t want a horse that annoys me. And this is idiosyncratic. One horse annnoys me with his quirks, and another, with similar quirks, amuses me. A horse I find annoying, another horseman loves. Its personal. The main thing is that I’m aware that if a horse does not give me that happy feeling when I see him in my corral, its not a good thing.

I’ll give an example. Awhile ago I had a horse named Lester. Lester was given to me by my friend, who had given up on him as a team roping horse. Lester was, in most ways, a gentle, safe horse that anyone could ride. He was a good trail horse. In a group, anyway. Lester had a few quirks. Speed events blew him up. (Why he didn’t make a rope horse.) He was incurably herdbound—taking him out by himself was a total pain. He fussed with things in the pasture and corral, beating on fences and feeders, breaking gates, scraping the paint off sheds and trailers. Lester annoyed me.

I lent him to a friend for her teenage daughter (explaining exactly what he was), and they loved him. But the daughter outgrew her interest in horses. Once again I had Lester back. The very first morning he was here again, he woke me up by beating on his feeder like it was a drum. I was mad before I even looked at him. Like I said, Lester annoyed me. I did not smile when I saw him; I grimaced in frustration, even though I was fond of him.

I found him a new home with a woman who gave lessons. I explained what he was. She was a Parelli person and said her hobby was working with problem horses…if they weren’t dangerous. I said Lester wasn’t dangerous—at all—if he wasn’t asked to work at speed or be alone. I said he was annoying. She laughed.

To make a long story short, this gal has had Lester for many years and loves him. She lets lots of kids ride him—he does great. To begin with she tried to Parelli him out of his herdbound ways, but from what I’ve heard lately, she just sticks to riding him with other horses. I check on Lester once in awhile. He looks fat and happy. They think he is endearing rather than annoying. I’m thrilled.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m in favor of rehoming the horses that don’t make us feel happy inside. Sometimes it takes awhile to determine this. I usually give a horse six months—if I still like him at that point, I figure we have a chance. If I still like him after two years, I make a commitment to him. That’s my window.

My Sunny horse was on trial for the first six months I owned him. I had the previous owner’s agreement she’d take him back and refund my money if I found him unsuitable. But though I initially was doubtful about Sunny, who seemed cross grained and offered to kick, crowhop…etc, over time we came to a real meeting of the minds. After two and a half years, Sunny is my horse. I feel we make a good team and are each able to provide what the other needs. Sunny seems happy living with me. I smile every time I see him.

But if a horse makes me feel unhappy inside, for whatever reason—and I mean consistently, not just when we have a bad day, or a bad week—then I am going to find that horse a new home. I will be careful to be sure the horse does not end up in a bad place (to the best of my abilities) but life is too short and there are so many sweet horses that it isn’t worthwhile keeping one that doesn’t fit.
That unhappy feeling is varied. Lester made me feel annoyed. If I felt a horse was a danger to me or my kid, I’d feel anxious. I’ve had horses here that constantly paced or seemed restless, or just gave me the impression they were not content, and this, in turn, made me uncomfortable. All of these feelings are variations on “this horse does not make me feel happy when I look at him.”

As I said, this can be a fine line. Sometimes, as with Henry, a horse you genuinely enjoy can frustrate you for awhile. I think the secret of being a good (and happy) horseman is partly the ability to walk this line. To rehome the ones that don’t make us happy and keep the ones that do. And having the wisdom to know the difference.

At the moment, a huge part of what makes me feel happy with a horse is feeling safe. And I have enough wisdom to recognize this. So my answer to the horse blogger who asked me the question (who is an experienced horseperson herself and probably knows what my answer would be)—is that if I don’t feel safe with a horse I’m not gonna be happy with him….and I will find him a new home.

So that’s my take on it. Any other opinions?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Walker

I'd like to welcome guest blogger, Jennifer Walker. Jennifer writes young adult fiction. She's a freelance writer, editor and novelist--that is, when she's not teaching ballroom dance lessons or attempting to do dressage with her Arabian horse. She published her first book, Bubba Goes National (, earlier this year and is working on the sequel.

Thank God I’m a Country Girl, by Jennifer Walker

Having horses and spending a lot of time around them does something to you. It changes you. It teaches you things, makes you do things you never thought you would have to—or be able to—do. I have gone through phases of having horses and not throughout my life, but through it all I’ve been a country girl at heart. From the very first horse I had when I was nine, I learned a lot of things while taking care of horses: compassion, responsibility, and above all, a sense of humor…because horses can and will make a fool out of you at the moments you least expect it. That’s right, I said momentS, because it happens over and over again—and what can you do but laugh about it?

I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and about the important things in life. I’ve learned that getting a little blood on your brand new boots really doesn’t matter when that blood is coming out of your favorite horse’s leg. I’ve learned that after going home several days in a row with at least two kinds of horse excretion somewhere on me along with about a pound of dirt, germs just aren’t that big a deal. Oh sure, I wash my hands after using the bathroom and before I touch food, but not much grosses me out anymore. I just can’t understand why my husband doesn’t want me hauling dirty horse blankets around in the car and washing them in our household washing machine. What’s a little dirt and manure?
I’ve learned that if you tell a buyer that even though you haven’t had much time to work with your horse, he’s a really good boy and never does anything bad, he will choose that moment to decide he’s going to start rearing. In fact, not only will he rear straight up, he’ll paw at the air for extra effect, ears pricked and eyes bright while he shows off his new trick. I learned on that particular day that I can not only stay on when a horse rears straight up and paws at the air, I can maintain my dignity and act like it’s no big deal. Funny, those buyers didn’t buy that horse, but he eventually found the perfect home.
I’ve learned that mud and cars are not the best combination, and in the process of learning that I got plenty of practice learning how to get a car out of the mud. I had the opportunity to show off this knowledge to my husband, when we got the car stuck in muddy grass one rainy night when feeding my horse. Not only was the car stuck in mud, but it was facing the wrong way on a narrow track and had to be turned around in place.
Greg was ready to call a tow truck, but I authoritatively took the wheel. I proceeded to rock the car forward and back, turning a little each time. When I finally had it facing the right way, Greg suggested he get behind the car and push while I eased it out of the mud. Imagine my pride at my accomplishment when pulled out of the mud and onto firmer ground. Imagine my chagrin when Greg opened the passenger-side door to get in, and he was dripping wet and covered in mud and grass from head to toe. Good thing he has the requisite sense of humor for being around horses and horsey girls.

Yes, spending a lot of time around horses has taught me a lot of lessons, and only a few of them have landed me in the hospital. Would I go back in time and change any of it? Not on your life—thank God I’m a country girl!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010


by Laura Crum

Or perhaps the title should read “Be Aware”. I guess that is probably the root of “beware”, anyway. I was reading Kate’s blog not too long ago and came upon a post about her cracked tooth, due to having been kicked in the jaw. If I understand the story correctly, she was picking out a hind foot on her mare, and the mare was able to touch noses with another horse. She squealed and kicked, catching Kate in the jaw. (Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this, Kate.). Kate is a very experienced horseperson and recounts that she knew, even before it happened, that picking her mare’s hind foot in this situation was a bad idea, but she “was in a hurry” and did it, anyway.

Reading this post made me grimace in sympathy and understanding. How many times have I done something with a horse thinking that “this isn’t the smartest thing to do, but I’m in a hurry and hopefully it will work OK”…. The answer to that would be “lots”.

And not just me…people who are way more experienced with horses than me. The most competent horse vet I know was kicked very badly when he was doing a rectal on a mare who was able to touch noses with another horse. As this vet told me later, “It was a really stupid thing. Totally my mistake.” And this guy has tons of experience with horses.

My own story along similar lines happened many years ago when I worked for my uncle, who raised Quarter Horses. I was helping him to halter break a colt that was still by the side of its mom. My job was to handle the broodmare while my uncle “led” the colt alongside her. Since my uncle didn’t handle these colts much, this was a pretty wild event. The broodmare was a snorty old gal, but I was used to her and kept my eye on her. Still, my attention wandered from time to time as I looked back at my uncle and the fractious colt and tried to assess how they were doing. Did I need to stop and let them catch up? Did I need to move on so that the colt would quit balking and follow his mama? I had performed this chore many times and knew the parameters. And perhaps it was just this confidence (or shall we say complacency) that got me in trouble.

In the course of walking our pair around the barn, we passed a row of corrals. And in the nearest corral was a bay gelding who was very interested in greeting the mare I was leading. I was careful to keep “Bucky”, the broodmare, out of nose touching range. But I still allowed my attention to drift to my uncle and the colt he was working with. Thus I missed the exact moment when the gelding stretched his nose over the fence as close as he could get to the mare and made an inquistive “greeting nicker”.

The gelding’s nose was at least two feet from the mare. I was positioned in what I considered to be a safe spot, about a foot ahead and to the left of the mare, and I had her firmly under control. I was facing her, looking back at my uncle and the colt. Half my attention was on her. This mare had been known to bite and kick. I was aware of this. But still, what happened caught me completely by surprise.

Bucky responded to that greeting nicker by squealing and striking with her left front foot (the gelding was on her right). That front foot caught me right in the belly.

As Kate explained in her post, these things happen so quickly that you don’t see it coming. One minute we were standing there and the gelding nickered. The next minute it felt like I’d been hit hard in the stomach with a baseball bat. It took me a minute to realize what had actually happened.

I wasn’t expecting the mare to strike, even though I had/have many times seen horses strike at other horses. But the QH’s I’ve handled rarely strike at humans (I’ve heard that mustangs do this this, but I’ve never handled mustangs). Thus I simply hadn’t thought where I was in relation to the mare striking. I also wouldn’t have guessed she’d strike with the foot away from the gelding.

I was immediately aware that the mare hadn’t been aiming at me, rather she was reacting to the gelding’s greeting. But that still didn’t make it acceptable behavior. Gasping for air, I straightened up and whacked her as hard as I could with the end of the leadrope.

Fortunately the mare’s foot had hit me at the very end of its extension; thus there wasn’t a lot of power behind it. It hurt, it knocked the wind out of me, but I was basically OK (pretty sore the next day, though). I gave the mare a good beating with the end of the leadrope—whatever the circumstances, the horse must respect the handler, and she certainly hadn’t done that. But I also gave myself a hard mental lecture on paying attention.

More than paying attention, actually. I reminded myself to be alert and wary—to beware. It pays to look at what is happening around us when we work with horses and envision what might happen and be prepared. I know, I know, that leads to “what if” and what if can take all the fun out of life (see my previous post in May titled “Reality Check” and the comments that follow). But “what if” can also help keep you in one piece.

One of the wisest old horsemen I ever knew told me repeatedly, “You can’t be too careful.” My fairly bold friend who boards his horses with me constantly pooh poohs this advice. Me, I’m not so sure.

I’ll give you a “for instance.” In my barn I have two corrals where the gate is in the corner. In both these corrals, when one leads the occupant out, said occupant is passing next to the fence where the neighboring horse could be/might be standing. My horses like to get out of their corrals (sometimes they’re let out to graze), and there is often some jealousy when I get one and not another. The not-chosen has been known to lurk by the gate and bite at his neighbor as the neighbor horse exits.

Now, my horses are not snorty broodmares, they are gentle, well-broke geldings. Nonetheless, it does not escape me that if bitten hard in the butt by their neighbor just as I am leading them through a narrow gate, they are capable of jumping forward and knocking me down and possibly even reacting with a bite or a strike that would hit me by accident. This has never happened. But in my “what if” mentality, I have envisioned the possibility, and thus I always regard a lurking neighbor horse with a firm glare and a growl, and I give the same to the horse I’m leading through the gate. “Behave,” I am telling them, in a way that a horse understands. All ears go forward and the possible wreck is averted.

I guess I’m building on Jami’s post “Stacking the Odds”, when I say that another thing that can help keep us out of trouble is being aware. Using that “what if” mentality to help ward off potential problems rather than letting it scare us to no good purpose. Making choices that take into account “what if” isn’t silly or a scaredy-cat way to be, in my opinion. It’s intelligent, if we choose to interact with horses and would like to be hurt as little as possible. (Not to mention protecting our horses from getting hurt—a whole nother risk factor I haven’t even delved into here.)

I’ll give one more example. I will sometimes ride my horses bareback in a halter around my little riding ring. I only ride the really gentle ones this way, and once I’m on, I feel fine. But scrambling up on them, I often feel quite unbalanced (I am middled-aged, getting stiff and stout—not limber like I used to be). I was doing this acouple of weeks ago and almost managed to slide right over Henry (who was standing perfectly still, bless his heart). Looking down, it became painfully obvious that had I not corrected my slide by a hasty grab of the mane or had Henry moved right when I was off balance, I would have landed (head end first) on a small rock wall. What if, I told myself. And from then on, I mounted from a safer spot, or got a leg up. No use landing on my head for no good reason, right? Another helpful tip from “what if”.

So, anybody else have anything good to say about “what if” or being aware of possible dangers? (Or having a “little imagination” as Francesca puts it in the comments on Jami’s post, “Stacking the Odds”.) I, for one, think this is a good thing, not a bad thing. I’d be interested to get your insights.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Zenyatta Makes History

Zenyatta ran into the history books last Sunday, surpassing the records of Triple Crown Winner Citation and two-time Horse of the Year Cigar. With her win in the Vanity Handicap (the third year in a row she has won this race) Zenyatta, unbeaten in any race, extended her winning streak to 17 for 17. Pretty Amazing for a six year old mare, don't you think?

All I can say is that I love to watch this big 17.2 hand horse run. She always comes from dead last to overtake every horse in the race. She takes a lot of time to get her big body rolling, and her jockey, Mike Smith, waits chilly on her until it's time to roll. What a thrill.

If Zenyatta continues to race, and all indications seem to be that she will, tune in to see her. She gives you goosebumps each time. Go Big Z. Count me as one of your biggest fans!

How many of you have watched Zenyatta run?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Bucket List or If I Won the Lottery

My husband and I spent the weekend on our friends' boat. We were anchored in a remote area of Puget Sound which happens to be about 2 miles from our house. It was beautiful weather, sunny and in the 70s, the best weather we've had all year.

Dave, one of the guests on this boat, is an avid buyer of lottery tickets. In fact, he'd just won $1000 on a scratch ticket on Friday. As often happens when we get together with Dave, we start talking about what would you do if you won the Megamillions or another big lottery. My standard response is move to the San Juan Islands, buy a house on acreage with a barn and waterfront.

My thoughts drifted not just to the lottery, but to what I'd like to do while I'm still young enough to do it whether or not I won the lottery. Since this is a horse blog, I wanted to gear it toward equestrian-related items. So I gave it some thought. What kinds of horsie things would be on my bucket list, or the things I want to do before I kick the bucket.
  1. I want to ride a Grand Prix dressage test.
  2. I want to earn my USDF Bronze Medal, and maybe the Silver.
  3. I want to ride a cutting horse. (This has been a life-long dream of mine.)
  4. I want to try cow penning with my 17-1 hand warmblood mare and live to tell about it.
  5. I want to be able to get my horse round and through on a consistent basis.
  6. I want my husband and I to both have some nice trail horses and ride all over the Olympic Peninsula.
So those are the things I want to do with horses in the next decade or two.

What about you? Do you have a "horsie" bucket list?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Chicken and the Superstar

It might have been the moon. Or maybe it was something I ate. Or could it have had something to do with the Cosmo I knocked back a little too quickly on my terrace with a friend? All I know is that at some point last week, in an élan of exuberance coupled with a temporary lapse of judgment, I signed up for a dressage competition.


You see, I’m not the competitive type. The mere thought of riding a program in public generates sleepless nights, unpleasant digestive issues, nausea, palpitations, zit attacks and ludicrous amounts of sweating. And then there’s the fact that I absolutely loathe those adrenaline rushes you get prior to entering the arena. So why the heck did I fill out the online application and press “enter”?

I guess it had something to do with feeling mega comfortable at my new stables, with Kwintus going so well, with feeling encouraged by my friend Stephanie, the owner of the stables, with knowing that my fabulous trainer, Marie-Valentine Gygax (who used to teach in America!), will be there to coach me. There’s also the niggling sentiment that Kwint isn’t getting any younger. He’s eighteen now, and although I know he’s not Methuselah, he’s no spring chicken, either. If I’m going to try to
make a little hay, now’s the time.

The thing is, I’m proud of my horse. I’m proud of how great he looks for his age, of how well he uses his back, of how he swings in trot, of how he brings his hind legs so far underneath him in canter. I love how he almost always corrects himself when halting at X if not completely square. I love how he’s always eager to please, how he always does his best to understand what I’m after. I love his laid back, positive attitude towards life and his sense of humour. Sure, he needs a little motivation to do more than the bare necessities once in a while, but who doesn’t? Call me nuts, but despite my fear of public performance, I want to show the world what a wonderful horse I have.

As for Kwintus, he loves going to shows. All you have to do is plait his mane for him to start preening like a Grand Prix superstar. Last year, at the annual show at my old stables, a friend of mine rode him in one of the more advanced classes (I have yet to sign up to pass what, here in Switzerland, is called a “licence”. I guess I should…but it’s…, well, you know, a test. It has the same effect on my inner-life as a competition). She’d only ridden him a couple of times beforehand, and had no idea he was going to go into show-off mode the moment the bell rang. Imagine her surprise when he decided he knew exactly what he was doing, and that of course the three tempi changes on the diagonal were followed by the two tempi changes on the next diagonal (there were no two tempis at all in that program, but he just loves doing them!)!

No, they didn’t do very well… But the overall effect was ever so cute! And you should have seen the enthusiasm he put into his pirouettes!

Kwintus and I won’t have to do tempi changes for the test on July 10th, which is a pity, really, as they’re definitely his party trick. There’ll be no fancy footwork, no pirouettes, no appuyés, nor even any backing up, come to think of it. The main difficulty will be the series of canter-walk-canter movements performed on a serpentine on the middle line, so we’re practicing those, trying to keep the fluidity in the walk after the transition. I’ve noticed that if I make a conscious effort to breathe into the downward transitions, Kwint executes them far more smoothly. Problem is, as I’m already forgetting to breathe during our practices, chances are I’ll be apoplectic on the day!

But then again, maybe I’ll be fine. Maybe, this time, I’ll be as laid back as my horse. Maybe I’ll sleep like a baby the night before, and wake up to face the day with a head filled with resolve instead of a stomach filled with dread. Maybe I’ll be preening like a Grand Prix diva. Maybe.

I’m hoping that, having given myself plenty of time to prepare the test, I’ll feel far more confident than I’ve felt in the past. I’m hoping I’ll enjoy the moment as much as I know Kwintus will. More than anything, I’m hoping I’ll do him proud, maybe even come home with a ribbon and some decent scores and nice comments on my test sheet.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress, as well as on further developments relating to the state of my nerves. And I’ll definitely let you know how the competition goes...

Meanwhile, I’d love to know how you feel about competing in shows. Do you get nervous? And if you do, why do you still sign up? Any words of wisdom you’d like to share?

Lots of love,


Tuesday, June 8, 2010


by Laura Crum

I’ve owned my little palomino horse, Sunny, for two and a half years. He’s always been a reliable trail horse, but when I got him, he was pretty ornery—would offer to kick, crowhopped at times…just little stuff, but annoying. It took twenty minutes of struggle to give him a paste wormer. And he hated fly spray. Didn’t matter how I tried to apply it, with a rag, on my hand, etc—he hated the smell and threw a hissy fit every time. After a couple of go rounds I just rolled my eyes at him and let him fight the flies.

Over the time I’ve owned Sunny, I’ve dealt with him fairly, but firmly. I’ve written before about his little dominance games and about how I regularly have to smack him around with a leadrope. Slowly the dominance games have lessened—he no longer offers to kick, he’s easy to catch, he virtually never balks or crowhops. He loads in the trailer without his characteristic hesitation, and the “see if you can make me” look. He’s just more cooperative overall. My friend and boarder, who is an experienced old horseman, advised me against buying Sunny—Wally didn’t care for Sunny’s cold-blooded ways and cranky attitude. He calls the horse “Small Nasty”. But even Wally said to me recently, “That horse has changed. He’s cooperative now.”

Well, Sunny is still Sunny. He’s no cuddlebug. I take him for granted and have always enjoyed him, but I didn’t think he’d changed all that much. And then…

Last week, on worming day, Sunny took his paste wormer with zero fuss, just like the rest of our horses. Wally and I looked at each other. “Wow,” we said. “he has changed.” But, of course, I had insisted Sunny take his wormer every time and made it plenty hard on him when he resisted. Sunny is a smart horse. He had learned not to bother with the resistance. In essence, I’d trained him to take the wormer.

But here’s the clincher. Yesterday, when we headed out on a trail ride, I fly sprayed Henry, who suffers terribly from flies. Sunny never seems to mind the flies and hates fly spray, so I just don’t bother with him. But lo and behold, though I was applying the spray right next to him, Sunny didn’t flinch. So I turned and sprayed some on Sunny. He wrinkled his nose but never moved.

Now this was really interesting. Because I have never made any effort to get Sunny over his fly spray phobia. None. I just quit fly spraying him. So, unlike the wormer, I didn’t train this behavior out of him. I could tell by his curled nose that Sunny still didn’t like the smell—he just didn’t choose to fight me.

Wally grinned at this. “That horse is choosing to be cooperative now,” he said. “He really has changed.”

Sunny looks good. He’s slick and shiny and seems to feel good. But more than that, I think he’s happy. Why? I’m not sure exactly. I keep all my horses in a way that’s meant to make them happy—they have lots of space to move around, they can socialize with their neighbors, I try to get them all out regularly and either ride or turn them out to graze, I never ride them so hard that its unpleasant for them, I feed them three times a day on average to keep them from being too bored (better for their health as well). In essence, I try to fulfill their basic instinctive needs as horses even while keeping them in captivity.

Then, there’s the emotional part. I only own gentle horses that I am very confidently in charge of. I never, ever waver on the who’s the boss front—thus I think my horses feel safe. They know I’m the leader. Also, and this is a subtle point—I don’t train on them. All my horses are broke horses. I insist on obedience at all times. But I’m not trying to teach them anything. We both accept that the other knows his job. I occasionally remind them (more often in Sunny’s case) who the boss is. That’s it. I don’t dink around trying to make them walk faster or stop prettier or some such thing. I don’t pick at them.

I guess what I’m thinking is that Sunny is happy with his life. He’s accepted me as the boss (took awhile and he still needs reminding). But he is demonstrating that he can choose to throw in with me. I find this interesting.

Because I did not train Sunny to accept fly spray, his willingness to tolerate it represents something different that what I am accustomed to believe about horses. Like most folks, I guess, I used to believe that we taught our horses to do things by training—sensitizing or desensitizing, or whatever you want to call it. Negative reenforcement or positive reenforcement supporting some behaviors and punishing undesirable behaviors. But what about the idea that we can treat a horse in an appropriate way to establish ourselves as the leader, and then expect that the horse will throw in with our lead? That a horse can simply choose to obey because he trusts us and accepts our leadership?

Since Sunny already had a strong aversion to flyspray, his choosing to tolerate it because I seemed to want him to was a particularly strong statement. It said a lot about a horse’s ability to choose. It made me rethink some of my basic assumptions.

So now I want to ask you all, some of whom are far more accomplished horsemen than I am---Have you noticed this phenomena? Have you seen a horse choose to throw in with you, as opposed to being “trained”? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Riding as a Tonic

by Laura Crum

My last post dealt with the downside of riding—today I want to dwell on the upside. Because riding is one of the things that can turn a bad day into a good day; it can lift my mood more surely than a margarita (well, sometimes).

Here’s my story. I hadn’t had a chance to ride for a week. My husband had knee surgery ten days ago and since then I have been his devoted nurse as well as taking care of all the household chores (and he always did his fair share) and being my child’s chauffer for his many activities. Needless to say, I haven’t had a lot of extra time. And when I did find an hour to spare, the idea of saddling up and riding seemed overwhelming. I simply didn’t have the energy. Those few spare moments I preferred to sit on the porch and have a cup of tea, or just lie down and close my eyes. By the end of the week, between my husband’s pain and lack of sleep and just my general busyness, I was feeling pretty stressed. In fact, lets face it, also pretty depressed.

But yesterday I made the effort to go ride with my friends at the team roping practice. In some ways, this is like a lesson—it happens at a specific time and place. You’re either at the arena at 10:00AM on Tues and Thurs to participate or you miss it. Just like having a commitment to a lesson, having said I’d go and help is a motivator to get there. And having hauled the horses ten miles down the road, I’m not going to back out and say “I just don’t feel like it”, which is so easy to do at home. So I saddled Sunny and Henry, neither of whom had been ridden in a week, and my son and I helped the ropers gather the cattle.

Helping at the roping arena has a nice purposeful quality to it. The horses like it, as horses tend to like any purposeful activity that they can comprehend. We gather the cattle and push them down the crowding alley and into the chutes. We work the chutes from horseback (they are designed for this), which involves quite a bit of opening and closing gates from on one’s horse. We haze, which is running alongside the cattle to make them run straight for the ropers. And when, for one reason or another, a steer is not wanted by the ropers, my son gets to chase that steer down the arena (which he loves).

In between, we lope a few circles and chat with our friends, who are all horseback, too—expept the ones who are recovering from injuries—seems like there’s always at least one of these. There’s usually at least one or two folks training a young horse, or somebody has a new horse that they’re trying. There’s always lots of fun horsey stuff to talk about. We are a mixed group—four tough old cowboys in their seventies (one in his eighties), myself and two of my girlfriends (50ish women), two men in their 50’s, one guy in his 20’s, two kids about ten (one of which is my son). The guy in his 20’s moonlights as a horse trader and trainer and one of my friends and myself no longer rope—we just hang out and ride and help do the chores. Neither of the kids ropes (yet). We all have fun just being together. We know each other’s horses and we’ve all known each other for many years. It’s a great pleasure for me to see my son enjoying this “comradeship of the horse”, as we lope around together in the sunshine on our shiny mounts and chase cattle and swap stories.

So yesterday was just an ordinary day at the roping arena. We rode for a couple of hours. Both our horses were well behaved—Sunny felt good, which makes him fun to ride, he lopes right out. And suddenly, somewhere in the middle of this, looking down at the bright gold curve of Sunny’s neck with his cream white mane springing off the crest, I realized I wasn’t depressed any more. In fact, I felt just fine.

Nothing special had happened. I had just been riding for an hour on my good little horse (and boy do I love my solid little middle aged gelding who acts just fine after lots of time off) and sudenly all was right with my world.

So, I’m here to ask you guys—does this happen for lots of you, too? An ordinary ride turns a bad day into a good day? Nothing much has to happen—its just being on the back of a well behaved horse. It sure works for me. And for my kid. I’d welcome hearing your stories.

And Shanster, I know you had a great trail ride—if you read this, can you tell everybody? I was so tickled to hear how well it turned out. I’m like you—I love my little yellow mule(!) Not that your horse is a mule—that’s just my nickname for Sunny.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ride and Tie

Since we've had some rather serious posts on here lately, I thought I'd share something about a fun equine sport many of you may not be aware of - Ride and Tie!

Now obviously any equine sport can be dangerous, including this one. But having participated in a Ride and Tie (long ago, when I was younger and much more fit) I can tell you that there is a lot of fun involved, you do it with a team of one horse and two humans, and the excitement and camaraderie (not to mention the amount of things that can go wrong) is hard to imagine.

The team of one equine and two people (one riding and one running) negotiate a course of between twenty and forty miles (although you may find shorter and longer rides.) The entire team takes off together, with the horse and rider soon outdistancing the runner. At a predetermined distance, the rider dismounts, ties the horse securely and takes off running. When the runner finds the horse, he mounts and takes off, passes the runner, usually asking how much further the runner wants to go. Then he rides about that far, finds a suitable place to tie the horse and takes off running. The team progresses like this, alternately running or riding in a leap frog fashion, until all three safely cross the finish line.

What's fun about this sport is that if you can run even a little, have a calm horse that is in shape, and maybe have a friend who is a runner and can ride a little bit, you can usually partner up and with some practice, have an absolute blast trying this event. There's a lot of strategy involved, including how far each person can run, where to tie the horse, teaching your horse to relax when it is tied with other horses passing, and then stand still for the rider to mount.

As you can imagine, some mishaps occur, including runners taking off the with the wrong horse (know how many grey arabs there are out there?) horses becoming untied (and the call of 'loose horse' is heard down the trail) and even runners passing their own tied-up horse in their daze of exhaustion. Yup, it's a mental as well as physical game. But it's also a kick-ass, take no prisoners, plain fun sport that honors the old endurance slogan of 'to finish is to win.'" In this case, all three partners, two humans and the horse must all cross the finish line, so whoever gets there first usually waits for the other so the team of three comes in together.

Sound like fun? Here's the official Ride and Tie page:

Has anybody ever competed in this sport? The one I completed, many years ago, is a fond memory of some of the most fun I've ever had out of the trails.

Oh, and for you readers out there, I'm giving away a copy of a great new horse mystery called WHIRLWIND over on my personal blog Just drop by and comment to enter.

Cheers, stay safe on your horses, but don't forget to have fun out there!!