Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back from Vacation

by Laura Crum

Hi, all. I’m back from my road trip, and my month long break from the internet. I have to say, as much as I enjoy this blog, and the email I get, it was very freeing to spend a whole month without once looking at a computer screen (or a screen of any sort). I think we sometimes forget just how much time we give to this activity. That said, I very much enjoyed reading the posts that were put up here while I was gone, though I was saddened to hear that Jami got some bad news about Gailey. But I loved Francesca’s story about showing Kwintus, and had fun reading all the other entries.

As for me, I tried to take the good advice you all gave me, and not worry too much about my horses while I was gone. (Thank you to all who wrote to me—I truly appreciated and paid attention to your input.) And yes, I came back to find that everything was just fine. My friend and boarder, Wally, lived here while I was gone and took great care of all critters and the garden. I am happy to be with my horses again, but, as with the internet, I also have to say that once I got into the rhythm of the trip, I found it very freeing to let go of my routines and my familiar chores and cares and just enjoy seeing new places and having new experiences.

For those who said they wanted to hear about my adventures, I had a great trip. My husband, my son, myself, and our dog, traveled from our home on the California coast to my inlaw’s home in southeastern Michigan in our camper. This is the seventh time we have made this trip in the camper and we have many favorite spots to visit and we always explore a few new places. Some highlights from this trip—visiting thousand year old Indian petrogylphs at sunrise on an isolated ranch in Utah, whitewater rafting on a spectacularly beautiful river in Colorado, camping in a remote alpine meadow at ten thousand feet in the Rockies (again in Colorado), swimming at sunset in Lake Michigan, and returning to the old pack station in the Sierra Nevada Mts of California that was part of the inspiration for my book, Slickrock. We had good luck with our traveling and no setbacks—our most nervewracking experience being camping on the Nevada desert in a big thunderstorm—lightning crashing on the buttes all around us. This was a little scary, but also spectacular. Nothing bad came of it, though the dog was a wreck—she hates thunder.

I thought of many of you as we drove across the country, having corresponded with you on the blog and knowing where you live. And Shanster, I tried to call you from Poudre Canyon, but guess what? Cell phones don’t work there.

Anyway, it was a fun time and I’m also glad to be home. All my horses look good and nickered when they saw me, and I got their feet trimmed and have started riding again, so things are back to normal here.

I have one sad, and at the same time ironic, story to share with you. It certainly made me think.

One of my favorite activities when I’m in Michigan is visiting with my sister-in-law and her husband, who train TB racehorses. By the time I get to their place, I’ve been away from my own horses for a couple of weeks and I find it very comforting to stroll around their farm, being introduced to the new babies, and then sit on the back lawn, drinking ice tea and watching the yearlings graze in their paddocks, while talking “horse” with two very experienced horsemen. This year, however, as we were pursuing this enjoyable activity, my brother-in-law, Larry, announced that they were very shook up. They had been to the track that morning to work their horses and discovered that a fellow trainer, someone they interacted with every day, had been killed the previous evening.

Apparently the man had been turning a horse out in a paddock. No one really knew what had happened, since no one was there at the time, but the man had been found with the leadrope in his hand, having been killed by a blow to the head; it appeared that he’d been kicked. The horse he was turning loose was one he’d owned for several years and my sister and brother in law said that they had never heard of the horse being difficult or dangerous.

We all shook our heads. And I bet you are doing the same as you read this. Because how many times have we all turned a horse loose without pulling the horse’s head around until he faces us and the gate? I do it all the time with my gentle horses. I step through the gate, slip the halter off, and let the horse walk past me into the corral. But any horse, even a gentle horse, is capable of kicking up his heels and running off. I’ve seen it many times. I’m sure you have, too. And it just takes being in the wrong place that one time.

In all probability, the horse that killed the trainer meant no harm. I pictured him being released from a day’s confinement in a stall, perhaps, as most of these racehorse folks keep their horses in boxstalls a lot. Full of pent up energy, he jumped forward and kicked out, striking the trainer purely by accident. I have seen horses make this gesture in a defiant kind of way, as if they were saying “I’m free now, you bossy thing,” but I have never seen one do it out of a calculated desire to do damage. That sort of purposeful kicking I most often see when a horse is tied or when someone appoaches to catch a horse. But that kicking when released, which I have seen a fair amount of, I have never thought was ill intentioned.

In a way, this makes it all the more dangerous. We know the horse isn’t malicious and so we don’t take that extra step of turning him around before we release him. My sister-in-law and I both agreed that we try to remember to do this, but we often let it slide with gentle horses.

At this very moment we looked up from our ice tea to see that the two yearlings, one still a stallion, had managed to untie the gate to the paddock and were loose. My sister-in-law trotted briskly off to shut the front gate so the horses couldn’t get out on the road, and my brother-inlaw and I went to herd them back in the paddock. They went in easily, no problem, and my brother-in-law stepped up directly behind the second colt and slapped him hard on the butt as he went through the gate. “Get in there,” he said cheerfully.

I stared at Larry as he tied the gate shut.

“You know,” I said, and our eyes met.

“I was thinking the same thing,” he said ruefully. And then he grinned. “But that horse wouldn’t hurt me. I know him. I raised him from a baby.” And we both shook our heads.

Because that’s how it happens. The horse you trust, the horse you think won’t hurt you…. And so you do dumb things, because you aren’t thinking of the downside.

The ironic part of the whole deal, for me, was that I had been thinking and writing about this subject quite a bit in the months before my vacation. Some of you may remember some of the posts I did—one called “Reality Check”, describing a similar unexpected wreck that severely hurt a good horseman, and one called “Beware”, on more or less the same subject. Here on the blog we all pondered the good and bad sides of “what if”, that insidious little voice that can either paralyze you with unnecessary fear, or help you to stay alive and intact while dealing with thousand pound animals that can easily hurt and/or kill you by accident. So the whole thing had been much on my mind. But at that moment in Michigan I had forgotten all about it. I wasn’t thinking about how dangerous horses can be, or fear issues, or blog posts or any such thing. When I did think of my horses, many miles away in California, it was in a nostalgic, aren’t-they-sweet sort of way. Thus this story hit me like a bucket of cold water.

The result, for me, is that I am making an effort to remember to turn every horse around so that he faces me and the gate before I turn him loose. Such a little thing to do, just a few extra steps, probably unnecessary, but still…

And I remain a fan of keeping “what if” in mind. I do try to walk the middle road and not give up things I love because they can be dangerous. Horses are dangerous. Though probably no more dangerous than road trips down Interstate 80 (!) I don’t plan to give up my horses or the trail riding that I love. At the same time, I am willing to make an effort to be vigilant and to learn from my mistakes and the stories of others. I am willing to keep “what if” in mind and let that little voice help me.

I feel sad for the man who died, though I never knew him, and if by sharing this story I might help prevent even one such accident in the future, it’s a worthwhile thing to do.

So, how about you guys? What’s your take on it? Do you turn your horses to face you before you turn them loose? Any insights or stories to share?


Anonymous said...

That's a very sad story, but a good reminder of what care we need to take. I was kicked in the underside of the jaw and arm over a year ago by one of my mares - I was in a hurry, did something stupid and got kicked - I don't even think she knew I was there. I was very fortunate not to have broken anything, although I'm still having dental work done to repair the teeth damaged when my jaw snapped shut.

I know to always turn the horse's head towards me before I let the horse go - but do I always do it - mostly but not always. Always would be better. Any horse, even the gentlest and most trusted, can hurt you just by being big and a horse, at any time.

Laura Crum said...

I feel the same way, Kate. So now I am striving to "always" turn the horses around before I turn them loose. Its suprisingly hard to remember, especially with horses I "know" won't hurt me.

And I thought of you when we drove through northern Illinois--I believe that's where you live. Correct me if I'm wrong. We camp in a lovely spot there, and I always enjoy it.

kippen64 said...

I read in a western horsemanship book by Charles E. Ball that the worst accidents happen with the quietest horses. He went on to explain that people don't take the same precautions with those horses, as they do with horses they know to be not so quiet.

I have been ridiculed for the caution that I take with my horses and I tell those people "always remember that a horse is a horse with a horse's instincts". A young lady I used to know liked to wander behind her horse in the kicking zone. When I pointed out the danger of this, she told me that her horse would never kick her because the horse was too well trained. I told her that it didn't matter how well trained her horse was, that all her horse had to do was kick out at a fly and that she would be kicked and injured. I was ignored. Oh well.

Mrs. Mom said...

Welcome Home Laura and Crew! So glad to hear that you had a wonderful break. You sure needed and deserved it!

Turning loose at the gate.. well, I was taught at an early age by the trainer I galloped for to turn the horse, face them to you, and back them, AND put their head down before we unhaltered them and let them play. (He used a method similar to John Lyons teaching the head down cue.)

It's one habit that stuck these 23 odd years later. Every single horse got turned out the same way.

While Sonny was here (I'll email you on that,) he became a champ at dropping his head and backing anywhere I asked him to, and learned to stand nicely for having his halter removed. I hope it helps some other handler, somewhere along the line....

But welcome home again! And please give your crew a rub from our little corner of the world!

Mrs. Mom said...

Kippen64-- that reminded me of something my Great Grandfather (a mounted policeman and horseman all his life,) always told me:
The ONLY thing predictable about horses is the Unpredictability!

Thanks for reminding me of that!

Laura Crum said...

kippen64--that's a really good point. I absolutely am more relaxed about the way I handle my son's horse, Henry, because I know how reliable the horse is. I'm more thoughtful with Sunny, who is inclined to "test". I am trying to retrain myself, but I have to admit, we rode this afternoon, and I once again caught myself turning Henry loose without turning him around. I never (well, almost never) do this with Sunny, because I know the horse does have the potential to kick in him. Anyway, at least I'm thinking about it (!)

And Mrs Mom--yes, the trip was great. Though we did have a bear walk right past our camper while we were camped up in the mountains. I guess that was a bit of an adventure--for us, anyway. And please do email me about Sonny--I have been wondering how that all worked out. I did go to your blog but my computer froze up one post into it, so I couldn't read much.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

I know my mare loves to kick out and buck...she's always been careful of me, but I make her turn to me when I do turn her out. were in my state (MI) and didn't let me know? You could have met Starlette!

Laura Crum said...

Jackie--You know, I did think about contacting all of you who were (more or less) along my route, but I honestly didn't know how I could have fit it all in. We pulled some long driving days to get where we had to go (the longest was 17 hours), and there just wasn't time for much visiting. Not to mention I was with my husband, who considers looking at horses (which I so like to do) to be torture. And my son, who easily grows impatient. I sort of had to keep everybody's best interests in mind. My husband puts up with the horse thing when we visit his sister because she's his sister. But he still rolls his eyes at me.

I did think of you as we drove across Michigan. I would look at the little horses places we could see from the road and wonder if that was where Jackie and Starlette live.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Next time...we have race cars for your hubby to google at LOL!

Isnt' MI green? That's what impressed me when I first saw it!

Where in MI did you go?

Laura Crum said...

Jackie--This was my 10th trip back to visit my in-laws, so Michigan is pretty familiar to me now. And yes, its so much greener and leafier than where I live. I really enjoy it, but at the same time, it almost feels a little claustrophobic to me--hard to explain. I love my vacations there, but don't think I could live there. We spend time by Lake Michigan (New Buffalo) and time where my in-laws live on a small lake near Milford (north and east of Ann Arbor). It was hot and muggy while we were there and rained every day (again, very different from where I live), but we still swam every single day. I really love the contrasts between the various places we travel on that trip--from the dry high desert of Nevada that smells so sweetly of sagebrush, to that ultra verdant Michigan countryside. And all the places in between. Still, I'm quite happy to be back here in Santa Cruz County, CA--works for me.

Anonymous said...

So, are you going to start wearing a helmet when you ride?

Laura Crum said...

Touche, kyrider. I had to grin when I saw your comment. Cause I darn sure sat down and did some hard thinking about that and told myself I ought to go get a helmet and wear it. But I haven't done it yet. I have no excuse other than a lifetime of not wearing one and running with a crowd of team ropers who don't any of them wear one. Neither do they make their kids wear them. My kid is the only one in the arena with a helmet. But peer pressure is not an excuse. Of course, the two wrecks that gave me such wake up calls--one a guy who got dumped when a gentle horse shied (guy broke seven bones and is in bad shape), the other the trainer who got kicked, would neither of them have been alleviated by wearing a helmet, unless the trainer wore it while handling horses on the ground. Anyways, I'm not sure why I can't yet come to grips with wearing a helmet. I'll keep you posted.

joycemocha said...

I tried to post, but blogger doesn't like me. Not going to rewrite it all. Do not like blogger.

joycemocha said...

Okay, I'll try to reconstruct (Blogger does not apparently like Open ID, which is why I absolutely hate it. LiveJournal is much more flexible).

From an early age I've always had it pounded into me to be careful on these small details. I had a psychotic Shetland stud colt who almost got me in the face, that plus the bronc QH mare with a habit of chasing anything that flinched or ran from her meant that I developed some careful horse handling habits. Also, one of my elementary classmates got severely injured by being kicked in the back when she was doing her horse chores (her family bred Appaloosas and she was very skilled even in fifth grade). So I've been careful.

Additionally, I board at a training barn and we have some crazies occasionally come through. I've seen a brain-fried Paint decide she'd had it with being bitted up and blast her way through a six foot high, ten foot wide pole panel. Those things are sturdy, but she blew the clamps like they were nothing.

My little mare is pretty docile, but I always insist that she come to the door or gate when I catch her, and that she turn to face the door or gate when I turn her loose. I insist on the same behavior from other horses in the barn when I'm asked to do something with them, and I'm not afraid to drive a horse away from me if something doesn't feel right. I've also been known to put the gate between me and a sparky horse (especially a young one) if I think they're going to act up when released.

I always am careful. Had it pounded into me by my mother at a young age, and learned my lessons well from a motley crew of sparky, challenging horses and ponies. My trainer also likes to manage his barn in a particular way, which matches the way I like to handle horses. He likes things to be quiet, calm, and consistent. He also insists that we think ahead to consequences of a behavior and that we always try to anticipate what's unsafe. As a result, there's darn few horse-related accidents at this barn.

joycemocha said...

Darn, I'm spamming the comments (grin).

Laura, I strongly urge the purchase of a helmet. I got into it when I was riding hunt seat in lessons, and now I put one on every time. I've only had to replace one due to a fall once (and that was when Mocha knocked me down while spooking when I passed an English rein over her head--obviously, she was very young at the time), and more often either because the harness started falling apart or the thing died from old age.

The Troxel Sierra is a good sturdy helmet.

I wear helmets for every discipline, any more, and it's a habit, whether I'm riding horse, bike, or am on skis. I've banged my head up enough from falling over my own two feet. I don't need to add a fall from horseback to it. Even though I've rarely banged my head in a fall from horseback, I remember one hardcore bellringer as a kid that comes back to me. About the only time I won't wear my helmet is in the Western show ring. So far. We'll see.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--I always enjoy your comments. Feel free to make as many as you please. And I, too, have been both frustrated and confused by blogger. However...

Sounds like you've got the safety thing down pat. I am considered by my friends to very cautious with my horses, but I do, as I have admitted, tend to be relaxed with the gentle ones. This is no doubt a mistake. Not having and wearing a helmet is probably a mistake, too. I'm not arguing. I may yet take the step. Of course, drinking margaritas in the evening and driving across the country on I-80 seven times could be counted as unduly risky as well. But yeah, yeah, I should get a helmet. I will keep repeating this to myself.

joycemocha said...

Oh Laura, I'm not completely a safety freak. Just today I was using a plastic chair to leg up on Mocha with a bareback pad (and sidepull) and thinking, suddenly, that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after two weeks away. Luckily, she has more sense than to pull a rodeo, but Sparkle (my teenage horse)? OMG, she'd have been bucking like a fiend. Or something.

That said, Mocha was sore and achy for some reason, and I wanted to run a butt diagnostic since she was working just fine after twenty minutes on long lines. Sometimes you just need to feel the back under you to get the balance.

There were a couple of minutes that got rather, um, entertaining during the ground driving...that said, we were also doing stuff like loping figure eights with simple lead changes. By then I knew she wasn't up for a highland fling, even though her eyes were pretty bright.

But I did have my helmet on (and the bareback pad is to save my bottom from her bony spine).

Shanster said...

WELCOME HOME! Oh, yeah... cell phones + Poudre Canyon = nada. d'oy! Well I was thinkin' about y'all that week and wishing you well along with fun/safe travels.

Sounds like a really great trip...tho' I would have been cowering with the dog in NV. :)

Very sad to hear about your friends' friend.

Case in point...a couple years ago my ancient gelding was eating his mush and I came up behind him without talking and touched him on the butt - a friendly skritch as I went by.

He came so close to a REAL kick - lightening fast - and HARD that I felt the air swoosh past my body and gave thanks it didn't connect.

I couldn't believe he could BE that fast with all his physical ailments...

He thought I was one of the younger horses pestering him as they often do for his mush... once he realized it was ME ... well, if a horse could look like it wanted to crawl into a hole under the floor, he sure had that look about him!

It was my fault but it sure sunk in that even when you've had them a ga-zillion years, they are older than dirt, well-mannered and very creaky and slow riddled with arthritis...they can still hurt you!

HorsesAndTurbos said... can consider wearing a helmet showing your son support...until you get used to one! It took me a while, and now I feel naked without it.

One unmentioned benefit..when I ride with my friends, and the deerflys are swarming them, I can merrily ride along without going swat-crazy!

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--That story about your old horse (Brandon, right?) is a perfect example. I will try not to forget it while I handle Henry.

Jackie and Joycemocha--yep, there would be a few extra benefits to a helmet. The trail I ride a lot has some very low, solid limbs--I always think that if I miss my duck it is going to seriously hurt. Not to mention the smaller branches that swipe me--my son, with his helmet, just ignores them. So, I'm working on it. I know its no excuse, but in a lifetime of hanging out with some extremely competent horse people (people who had more talent in their little finger than I have in my whole body), I never knew one that ever wore a helmet. Its the cowboy way, you know. I still, other than on this blog, have no horse friends that wear a helmet. This makes it a lot harder to accept the reality that its best to wear one.