Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Room With Two Views

Yesterday was a big day at my stables, marking the inauguration of the horses’ new living quarters. After taking Kwintus and Gazelle for a short, relaxed plod to the village and back, Stephanie and I untacked them, and then led them up to their freshly constructed stable block.

It was an emotional, somewhat surreal moment for Stephanie. As a child, she’d drawn a picture of her dream stables, and now, decades later, was leading her horse “into” that very picture. I had goose-bumps and a lump in my throat as I followed her up, leading Kwintus and clicking photos, knowing how much stress and hard work had been involved in the process. Kwint and Gazelle immediately settled into their new stalls, clearly delighted by the added bonus of two windows with radically different
views. On one side the horses look out over the U-shaped stable yard where a regular procession of people and dogs provides them with constant entertainment, whereas their far window offers fabulous, relaxing views over fields, forests and mountains.
As an added bonus, and until sliding doors are installed, Kwintus can also enjoy peeking around the corner to ogle the feed bins, apple crates and goodie bags!

Once Kwintus and Gazelle were comfortable, Steph and I went to collect her two other horses from the field, one of which is retired, and the other slowly recovering from a tendon injury. Both horses have been turned out since late spring/early summer, but now, with nighttime temperatures suddenly plummeting, they’re happy to come back in before it gets dark. Then, at five o’clock, a new pensioner arrived, a handsome,
almond-eyed chestnut Lusitano called Talisman, who was assigned the stall beside Kwintus. Within minutes both horses were whispering nose to nose through the railings; apparently, the Portuguese/Dutch language barrier wasn’t much of a problem!

When Steph and I finally sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and a couple of the celebratory apple and cinnamon muffins I’d baked that morning, I offered her my congratulations, telling her how proud she should be of everything she’s achieved all on her own.

Steph sat back, munching her muffin, mulling things over. Finally, she smiled. “As of today Le Grand Clos is no longer an ‘écurie de blonde.’ It’s finally turned into
a professional stable.” (nb: the literal translation of an “écurie de blonde” is a ‘blonde stable’).

Upon which I became all choked up and tearful again. Come to think of it, we both did.

Frankly, I’ve never considered Le Grand Clos to be an ‘écurie de blonde’, nor do I think that anybody else possibly could. Every day, when I click the button to open the front gates and roll through in my car, I look around and think “wow, what a place!”. It really is breathtaking.

Steph’s project is far from finished. Administrative imbroglios have delayed the construction of the indoor arena until early 2011, but as of next week we’ll enjoy indoor facilities anyway thanks to the heated “bubble” she’s having installed over the recently finished smaller arena located right behind the new stables.

Not that I’m going to be doing much riding in the next few weeks as Kwint is having dental surgery on Saturday morning. I’m hauling him to a clinic in the Valais tomorrow afternoon, returning to collect him sometime Sunday. I’m not looking forward to the next few days; although I’m sure the operation will go well (a well-known equine dentist is flying in from Munich especially), I’m nervous nevertheless and will feel a whole lot better when my poor old horse is safely back in his room with two views.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, can I ask you to send him lots of healing vibes and the best of luck?

Thank you!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Smoky's Story

by Laura Crum

This last week has been a real roller coaster ride for me, horsewise. Those of you who read this blog may recall that a month ago I wrote that Smoky, my boarder’s good six year old blue roan gelding, a horse that I rode quite frequently, blew up unexpectedly when saddled, got hung up in the trailer safety chains and threw himself down, ending up half under the rig with his leg caught in the chains. I wasn’t there at the time, but apparently Wally, my friend and boarder, and others were able to free Smoky and he walked off sound, though with a nasty cut on his pastern.

So, OK, Wally and I were dismayed that the previously very sensible and reliable Smoky had done such a thing and were agonizing a bit over how we would go on with him from here, and, of course, we were doctoring his leg as instructed, with wrapping and antibiotics and so on. Smoky seemed to be healing fine. And then, a week ago, he got suddenly worse. Obviously lame at the walk.

Wally took him to the equine center—they X-rayed him and said there was no damage to the joint, and they thought it might be proudflesh adhesions. They cleaned out the wound, gave us new medication to wrap the horse with, more antibiotics, and sent Smoky home.

But Smoky got worse, not better. In a couple of days he hardly wanted to put weight on his leg. A week ago, last Weds, I called Wally up and said that we had to do something. The worst of it was that Wally was leaving the next day for four days of team roping finals, on his good rope horse, Twister. Wally would be gone, and so would the horse trailer. (Wally and I share one horse trailer between us.) And I was worried that Smoky might be becoming an emergency.

So Wally hauled Smoky down to the equine center and then took off for the roping. And the next day the vet called me (who was left as the contact person) and said that he thought Smoky had a “septic joint” (in essence, the joint capsule had been injured and infection had gotten inside the joint) and that if we did not proceed with several thousand dollars worth of surgery and follow up, the horse would have to be put down. And if we did go forward, the horse had about a 75% chance of being sound and would always be vulnerable to arthritic changes in the injured joint (since it was the pastern joint, this translates as ringbone).

As you can imagine, this was pretty terrible news. Neither Wally nor I are rich people. And Wally owned Smoky as a potential rope horse. Even if the horse could be saved, the likliehood that he could stay sound as a competitive rope horse seemed very faint. When I finally managed to reach Wally on his cell phone, his first reaction was “put him down”.

Well, I spent a sleepless night agonizing over this, and, as it turned out, Wally did the same. We are both very fond of Smoky. He was never my horse, but I did ride him a lot, and I once thought he might some day become my horse, as Wally’s horses will be mine when Wally can no longer ride. So, I am attached to Smoky, too. And he is a sweet little horse, very endearing. In the morning, on the phone, neither of us could stomach the idea of not giving Smoky a chance. Wally asked me, “Can you find him a good home as a riding horse?”

So, last Friday morning I called many people and eventually found a taker—an ideal home. A lovely woman named Kerrin, who already has another of our horses, Lester, who did not work out as a rope horse. (Lester was/is perfectly sound—just didn’t have the right mind for such an intense event.) Kerrin loved Lester and thought he was a great riding horse, and when I explained that Smoky was an equally nice horse (with the exception of his unexplained blow up and now his injury), she was willing to take a chance on him. Kerrin has a great facility, lots of help, and was in a much better position to do the necessary rehab and only needed Smoky to be trail horse sound, not performance horse sound. So this was great.

But who was going to shell out the initial two thousand? Kerrin did not want to pay this for a horse who might never be sound. I would have to borrow the money from the bank, and though I was willing if it was needed, it was a real hardship for me to pay that amount of money for a horse that I did not even own. Wally, tough old cowboy that he is, thought it was “idiotic” for him to pay a couple of thousand in order to give the horse away. But….Wally’s heart is pretty big. In the end, he agreed that he would pay to save Smoky’s life if Kerrin would assume all responsibility after the initial procedure was done. Kerrin visited Smoky, loved him, and agreed.

So far so good. The prodedures were done as prescribed and went well. By Monday morning Smoky was better, but not out of the woods, and Kerrin agreed to take over responsibility. Kerrin is a vet herself, so is totally competent to make good decisions, and she gives all her horses the best of care, so both Wally and I had perfect faith she would do right by Smoky. The question was whether the vets at the equine center would be able to clear up the infection so Smoky had a chance. And, at this point no one knows for sure if that will happen.

As for me, I’m exhausted. I have gone through tears of grief over thinking the horse would have to be put down, through a flurry of busyness, trying to arrange a new home for him, through sadness over having to let go of my dreams that he would some day be my little trail horse, through relief over the fact that I was not going to have to continue to manage a horse that I really did not have room for and who might be permanently crippled. A whole gamut of emotions. A real roller coaster. And among them was downright exasperation and disgust over the constant fuss and bother that owning horses entails. My husband put it this way—he calls it his five horse rule. “If you have more than four horses, something is always wrong with one of them, so something is wrong 100% of the time.” My husband is not a horseman, but that’s a pretty damn accurate statement.

I guess I’m not ready to give up horses yet, and I try to look at the big picture. Smoky may have been a real disaster for us—Wally and I put in three years of time and a huge investment of emotional energy as well as many thousands of Wally’s dollars on training Smoky, and now we will not have the use of the horse. But overall, our horse program remains great fun—Wally and I and my son ride often and have a blast on the other four horses that I keep here. So, horses in general are still being a wonderful thing for us.

And, if we can save Smoky’s life (still unknown) and he has a good home with Kerrin, surely that is a happy ending of sorts? I am aware that we were really maxed out having the horse here; my property is set up for four horses, and Smoky was always one too many. Wally and I were just barely able to do what needed doing, and we kept after it simply because Smoky was such a good, reliable, perfectly sound, healthy young horse. So, in a way, there is some relief, too, because I did know I had too many horses and I will be able to do better for the ones I have left. But it is still sad. I will miss little Smoky.

Anyway, that’s my horse story for this week. Have some of you been through something like this? Did you, like me, briefly wish that you had no horses at all? I feel sort of guilty for saying that, but the emotion definitely went through my mind. And, please, wish Smoky luck; he will surely need it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cowboy Country

When I was a little girl, I loved to watch westerns, mostly because of the horses. I remember asking my mother one day why we couldn't live out west. Much to my surprise, my mother answered, "Honey, we do live out west. In fact about as far west as you can get." I was puzzled by that because I didn't think "my" west looked like the west you see in the movies.

Looking back, I have to laugh at my ignorance. I grew up in rural Eastern Washington in a small town far away from anything. You had to drive 140 miles to find a town bigger than 3000 people. My great- grandparents homesteaded in this area. In fact, I still have the original homestead certificate.

I'd like to share some childhood pictures with you of where I used to ride.

My friends and I getting ready for a trail ride.
My summers were filled with riding the hills above the valley I lived in, all open range land complete with cattle, old ghost towns, abandoned gold mines, and crystal clear lakes. I had no idea how lucky I was. Now I do. I didn't have a horse until my senior year, but I had a best friend whose family owned upwards of 50 horses. They lived at the base of the foothills and rangeland between Oroville and Tonasket, Washington. We'd saddle up, ride about a mile on a paved road then we'd be on a dirt road or take off on trails through sagebrush and cactus. Once in a while we'd encounter rattlesnakes, which to this day still don't thrill me much.

An old homestead near a lake
Sometimes we'd ride to an old homestead. The log cabin was still standing, testament to a simpler time. Even though life was tough back then, but were they really missing anything. A time devoid of cell phones, computers, the Internet, and all those things we take for granted. I often wonder if we haven't lost something important in our high-tech world.

My fiend, Connie, opening a gate next to a cattle guard.
 Often we'd ride up to Golden, an old ghost town, and a reminder of my hometown's history of gold mining. At the time several buildings were still standing, weathered and gray.

The ghost town of Golden, WA  The road in the distance is the same one in the picture above this one.

Two or three mine shafts were cut into the rocks in the surrounding hills. Being kids, we did explore a few of these. But ever wary of rattlesnakes, we never went too deep into the mines. The rattlesnakes were everywhere in those hills.

Exploring an old mine near Golden, Washington.

If we planned to be out all day, we'd take lunch in our saddlebags, put halters on over the bridles, and tie the leadrope to the saddle horn. We never concerned ourselves with helmets. I have no clue where we'd buy any if we were so inclined to wear a helmet. We wore boots, jeans, t-shirts. Our horses wore various western saddles and bridles with simple curb bits. I never laid eyes on an English saddle until I went to college.

Stopping for lunch near a small stream

Once in a while, we'd chase cattle we found grazing on the rangeland. Something which I'm sure the local ranchers weren't too thrilled about. All the cattle were Herefords, maybe a few Angus. Other times, we'd take the horses swimming in Blue Lake, known for its healing qualities because of the minerals in the lake. It'd be so hot that by the time we got back to the barn, everything would be dry.

A few years ago I went back home for my class reunion. My husband and I drove up the old dirt road you see in these pictures. The road hasn't changed much, but everything else has. The out-of-staters and  "city people" from Western Washington have found my little paradise. They've subdivided the land, put up fences, and posted "No Trespassing" signs. There are several houses in those hills, where once there were none. You can't get to Golden anymore. In fact, even Blue Lake is fenced off with warnings not to trespass.
Blue Lake

I was sad to see a little piece of my childhood barricaded from the public. I look back on those years fondly and regret that today's kids won't get to ride to the old ghost town or the homestead cabin. They won't get to imagine what it was like one hundred years ago when the first settlers came to the area. I was one of the fortunate ones, and I know it. Boy, do I know it.

I loved growing up "out west."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't You Miss It?

by Laura Crum

The other day a friend was visiting and I pointed out a silk tree in my garden. “I grew that tree from a seed that was taken from a tree at the Oakdale Rodeo Grounds,” I said. “Back when I used to rope there a lot.”

The friend, who rides but does not rope, looked at me. “Don’t you miss it?” she said.

“Miss what?”

“Oh, the roping, the competition, hanging out with the cowboys, the whole thing. Don’t you miss it?”

My immediate impulse was to say no, but instead I gave the question some thought. Because no, I don’t miss it, in the sense of wanting to do it again. But I do think of that period of my life (my thirties) fondly, and I certainly am glad that I had that experience.

I’ve written before on this blog of the distaste I eventually acquired for competition, and the love I re-acquired for quietly cruising down the trail. At the present moment no horse event draws me as much as gentle, non-competitive trail riding, either solo, or with my son, or with a friend. But certainly there were many years when I just lived to go team roping—I practiced several days a week and competed every weekend. I was never more than a just-competent low level roper, but I hung out with some good ropers. I was actually better at training horses to be rope horses than I was at winning ropings. But it was all great fun.

I think back to some of the big ropings I went to, with hundreds of competitors and their talented (and not) horses milling about. In those days I was thrilled just to be there, to be part of the whole thing. I always tried to do my best and I was tickled if I placed, but I think the greatest thrill for me came from simply participating in this grand western scene.

And now? Well, I won’t belabor the various negative aspects of competition that eventually drove me away. I’ve talked about this before on the blog. I will say that though I don’t wish to compete, I still retain a fondness for the grand western scene, and I’ve chosen to take my young son up to our local practice roping arena twice a week ever since he was six months old. At first I just watched, with my baby in a backpack, when he was two till five I rode around with him in front of me in the saddle, five to seven he rode his pony, first on the leadline, then independently, and seven to ten he’s been riding his retired rope horse, Henry, gathering cattle and bringing them up the alley, occasionally chasing a slow steer down the arena.
“Are you trying to raise him up to be a team roper?” the same friend asks.

Well, no. But I am trying to give him the part of the experience that I loved and still enjoy—that being together with a group of “cowboys”, all mounted on their shiny cowhorses, ready to go do a job of work. And yes, I’ve worked on commercial cattle ranches with real ranch cowboys and know the difference between them and team ropers, but it’s the best way I can think of to convey what, to me, is really a poetic image. Its an image that always resonated for me, and I want to give it to my son.

So, no, I don’t “miss” being a roper, and no, I don’t so much want my son to become one. I do want him to feel the thrill of the group gathered to work cattle on all their pretty horses—the comraderie and the love of horses and the western spirit that underlies it all. Are these two things in conflict? I’m not sure.

Have any of you ever experienced this sort of paradox? Loving some elements of a horse activity and not others, and not sure how to reconcile them? Any solutions that have worked for you?

PS-I wrote this piece a week ago, and my son and I watched the cutting class at the County Fair yesterday—the same class that I won twenty-one years ago on Gunner. It was a little odd for me to sit there watching it, explaining the rules of cutting for my kid. I was able to accurately pick the horse which scored the highest, so I haven’t totally lost my feel for it.

At the end of the class my son said he’d like to try cutting and could Henry do it? I explained that Henry was a rope horse, not a cutter, and we would have to teach him how to hold a cow.

“Gunner is a cutter,” my son said. “Maybe I could use him.”

“Gunner is thirty years old,” I said. “He’s really too old and stiff to go back to work.”

And I reflected that I had neither the time nor the skill any more to train a cutter, and I certainly didn’t have the money to buy one, or a place to put another horse.

So, another potential dilemma. If my son retains his interest in cutting, shall I try to find a way to plunge back into it? I’m sure I could borrow a horse if I combed the ground thoroughly enough. But just the thought of the hauling, the endless cattle needed for practice, the entry fees, the constant politicking among the trainers and just interacting with all those trainers and their oh-so-wealthy non-pros again makes me cringe. I do not relish the thought of dealing with that world.

At the same time, watching people lope their horses around the warm up pen and walk into the herd brought back a rush of memories. I could almost see myself out there in that same pen on Gunner, all those years ago, and the buckle we won is still in my closet. If my son really wants to do this, surely I should support him?

I’ve got to admit, I really hope my son stays happy with trail riding. But perhaps I’ve sowed the seeds of my own demise by introducing him to these other (competitive) aspects of horsemanship—roping and cutting—all in the interests of sharing the “grand western scene” with him—that world I loved so well and pursued so long. How should I handle his new interest? Any thoughts?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Summer has been a Blur!

By Terri Rocovich

First of all let me apologize profusely for my long absence from the blob this summer. I have tried to catch up with everyone, and welcome, welcome, to our new bloggers, but this summer has gone by in a blur of tons of horse shows, countless teenagers and other students, more Pony Club preps and tests than I can count and a barn full of horses to train and keep show ready.

I am not complaining mind you, if someone had told me at the beginning of the year that in this economy, 2010 would be the busiest year yet for my boarding and training business I would asked them what they were drinking. It has been that crazy, with at one time 18 horses on the property and, although I feel VERY fortunate, I am also exhausted and on the verge of burn out. On top of it all I have been trying to stay dedicated to finishing my book which always seems to take a back seat to the more readily available training income. I have never been very good at juggling and at 51 I don’t seem to be getting any better. Any suggestions on how to deal with burn out? I have been finding myself dreaming on vacations websites of Hawaii and other remote places fantasizing about a getaway that I have no idea when I will have room in my schedule for.

Update on my 4-legged family.

Hank, who I blogged about several months ago, is recovering slowing from his leg injury. He was originally diagnosed with a suspensory strain but it was later decided that the ligament strain was secondary to a fracture in his side bone. Some of you may recall that Hank was a rescue that was purchased at auction from Mexican Charros. He came to me 4 years ago with numerous scares and scabs from old and present injuries not to mention many demons haunting his brain. One of the old injuries was a prominent side bone on his front left pastern. Don’t let your vet tell you that sidebone is more of a blemish than lameness. That has not been the case with Hank. After sending all of his scans and radiographs off to a specialists, it was determined that he had fractured a wing of his sidebone which must have been bothering my stoic little boy for a while which in turn caused the strain in the suspensory.

I think both Hank and I are frustrated with the slow recovery process. Me because I miss riding him and Hank because he does not understand why he only gets handwalked each day and why he is now living on a strict diet since he has gained weight with the reduced activity. Anyone dealt with a similar injury? Any words of wisdom on treatment options I may not have heard of? My only real concern right now it that Hank has become very spooky and unsure of himself again. My guess is because he is not being ridden and stimulated and does not understand why??

Peter, my 21 year old dressage schoolmaster, has had a wonderful summer teaching my students the correct way to ride him, what soft, elastic contact means, how to perform 2nd, 3rd and 4th level movements. He has also given a few pony clubbers a run for their money at times. Whenever Pete feels he is not being ridden correctly (especially if someone hangs on him) he has been known to voice his opinion by leaving the ground in various, less that productive ways or simply try to trot people off his back. Sometimes Pete forgets the second digit in his age and thinks he is 2 not 21.

(Tahoe is the brown/white paint.)
Tahoe or Tahoe the Wonder Pony as he is known in Pony Club, spent much of the summer lame due an abscess. This really scared me because he is 27 years old and you just never know with horses that age. But he has now bounced back with a vengeance and is gleefully teaching a new little girl that canter is not always scary and that jumping (little jumps of course) can be fun.

Winding down from summer.

Now that most of my students are back in school and we only have 2 more months of our show season, I am hoping to find more time to just be. Shorter days for me mean less work outside and more time to write, which I really look forward to. Have you all had an equally busy summer and feel that the world has been stuck on fast forward. Do Share!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer's End

The end of summer in Virginia finally means RIDING. Relish and I have had lazy rides through drought-crunchy pastures and woods. The bugs are doable with spray, and the mornings are cool. The sun is brutal during the day, though, and we haven't had a drop of rain in weeks. Our pastures are burning up. I don't know whether other horse owners agonize over their pastures as I do. Healthy pastures mean less hay and happy horses. Dry pastures mean the ground is hard to ride on and too many spots are grazed to dirt while the others get high and weedy, despite mowing. Rain is out of my control, however, so I need to stop worrying, break open a bale and enjoy the days.
The end of summer also means the end of the vegetable garden. Between too little rain, too much heat and a proliferation of bugs, the vegetables this year were pitiful. The flowers have been wonderful--as long as I water--and now I am enjoying the insects that aren't intent on eating the tomatoes and squash. My red sedum attracts too many to identify from bees to butterflies. Garden spiders have spun their webs around every corner, and I've spotted several preying mantis.
The end of this summer also means a project checklist, which I am going to leave for another blog since it is overwhelming. There's also the next book project that is just a premise right now waiting to be fleshed out. Only with a daughter still in college, it can't wait too long--bills need to be paid. For today at least, I'll enjoy the gardens while they last--the first frost is still a month away--and keep the horses happy with fresh hay and a cool fan in the barn.
Photos are from my talented daughter, Beth!

Friday, September 17, 2010

GUEST BLOGGER: What I did This Summer Vacation

I'd like to welcome guest blogger Shannon Kennedy. Shannon writes western romances as Josie Malone. She also writes magazine articles as Shannon Kennedy for horse magazines, including Equus, Western Horseman, and Horse & Rider.

What I did This Summer Vacation
As always this summer, I went to horse camp – for the 40th year in a row at our family riding stable in the Cascade foothills. Okay, so it was horse day camp and I taught kids from 5 to 14 all about horses. These were kids who hadn’t seen horses before except on television. Now, we expected them to groom, saddle and ride by themselves. They had to lead their own horses from the stall to the various arenas, mount up, start, stop and turn on their own.

A new session of camp started each Monday and wound up with the horse show on Friday. During the week, the campers had lessons, trail rides and games on horseback. The kids learned to control their own horses and ride in games at a walk and sometimes a trot. And I rode with them a great deal of the time.

Often, I felt like the little girl in the commercial on TV, who wears a different color each day. I had a different horse for each task. My old Quarterhorse mare, Lucky Lady is my favorite – we’ve been together for 21 years and she can do it all. She could probably teach horse camp without me. She stepped on a nail in June, so she recuperated all summer after it abscessed under the frog.

Whenever I had a break from teaching camp, I soaked Lady’s right rear hoof in a mixture of iodine and Epsom salts. Then I poulticed it. Iodine wetted down the Epsom salts in a white mans’ sock – she wears extra-large ones from Walmart. Once I had on the sock, I went over it with vet-wrap and finished it off with duck tape. The next day, it started all over again, bring her out, cut off the day-old bandage, soak her foot, put on a new poultice. The shoer visited her every week and the regular vet consulted on the phone.

With Lady unable to work most of the summer, I rode Luckenbach – yes, she’s named after the town in the song. A Belgian/Quarterhorse cross, Luke felt like a tank, and often forgot that she can neck-rein and open gates. She’s big, broad and brave, unless a rabbit hops out of a brush pile. For fun, I occasionally managed to get an hour on SummerTime – he’s an Arab/Quarterhorse cross and the youngest of my trio. A retired show-horse, he can make even a novice look awesome and the biggest challenge I have is getting the teen students off him so I can ride him too.

August became a blur when my revisions arrived for my first book in 20 years. I did day-camp all day long and at 6 PM when the teens left, I headed for the computer. On September 1st, I finally finished the last correction. I said goodbye to Trace Burdette, my heroine who knew that 1887 Washington Territory was A Man’s World so she passed as one. She packs the guns to prove it and forks her own broncs and then she runs headlong into Zeb Prescott.

It was a fun book to write and I did model a few of the horses after ones that I’ve known, loved and lost – like my vet says, “We choose to love those who have a shorter life span than we do,” and that’s the hardest life lesson I’ve ever had to learn. But, those horses live on in my memories and now they shine in my book.

A Man’s World is a mainstream western romance and will be an e-book release from Siren/Bookstrand on Tuesday, September 21st. The link is
I usually write at night after a long day on the ranch. Some days are longer and harder than others, so I’m happy when I manage five days of writing in a week. As a substitute school teacher, I love the summer break but I’m just as busy, since that’s when we do horse day-camp.

Often, I feel like the little girl in the commercial on TV, who wears a different color each day. I have a different horse for each task. My old Quarterhorse mare, Lucky Lady is my favorite – we’ve been together for 21 years and she can do it all. She could probably teach horse camp without me. She hurt her foot in June, so she’s recuperated all summer and I’ve been riding Luckenbach – yes, she’s named after the town in the song. A Belgian/Quarterhorse cross, Luke feels like a tank, and often forgets that she knows how to neck-rein. She’s big, broad and brave, unless a rabbit hops out of a brush pile. For fun, I ride SummerTime – he’s an Arab/Quarterhorse cross and the youngest of my trio. A retired show-horse, he can make even a novice look awesome and the biggest challenge I have is getting the students off him so I can ride him too.

Shannon Kennedy w/a Josie Malone

I live on the family farm, a riding stable in the Cascade foothills. I organize most of the riding programs, teach horsemanship around my day-job, nurse sick horses, hold for the shoer, train whoever needs it and write books in my spare time.

My mainstream western romance, A Man’s World will be a September 2010 e-book release from SirenBookStrand. It comes out in trade paperback next March. I just accepted SirenBook Strand’s offer on The Daddy Spell, a contemporary mainstream western romance. It will be out in January 2011 as an e-book and in trade paperback next June.

Equus, Canadian Horse, Country Extra, Horse & Rider and Western Horseman published my articles. Willowisp Press published two of my young adult novels 20 years ago. Each sold 50,000 copies and the rights have since reverted to me, but these two books are available online at I have B.A. degrees in English and History, and my Master in Teaching degree. I am a substitute school teacher for four local school districts. Being around teens all day provides plenty of inspiration for my young adult stories.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding a Horse

by Laura Crum

Or perhaps the title should be, “Helping a Beginner to Find a Horse”. I’ve written on this blog before about how to find a bombproof horse, and I’ve written quite a bit about the two bombproof geldings (Henry and Sunny) I found for myself and my son to trail ride. Nonetheless, it is not that easy to find such a horse—one that is sound and has some years of use left in him. When, back in June, a woman I know through our homeschool group asked for my help in finding such a horse for her family, I tried to be helpful, but in truth, I don’t think I did her much good.

Of course, had I known of a horse like Henry or Sunny that was for sale, I would have recommended said horse at once. But I didn’t. I knew of a gray horse that was said to be that gentle, but I didn’t personally know the horse, other than seeing him once at a practice roping. Nonetheless I told “Nancy” about this horse, and put her in touch with the owner, reminding Nancy that I didn’t really know the horse.

Nancy drove an hour to try the horse, along with her teenage daughter, who is a fairly competent rider and the main reason the family is in the market for a horse. Nancy herself is very timid and fearful with horses and has no desire to go faster than the walk on a very gentle horse. Apparently on the day they tried the gray horse, the wind was blowing and the horse was jiggy and even the normally fearless daughter was uncomfortable riding him. Not at all suitable said the mom.

I apologized for leading them astray, said again that I just didn’t have time to accompany them on horse hunting expeditions, and (with conditions) recommended a young guy I’ve blogged about before (I call him “Bill”) as a helper. Bill is a struggling young horse trainer. Always short of money, always trying to make a dime. You probably know the breed. Young and charming, basically well-intentioned, a pretty good hand with a horse. Nonetheless, always trying to make that dime. You have to watch him. That said, Bill’s niche is finding gentle horses for beginners and he is good at it. My Sunny horse originally came from Bill, and Bill, though he never owned him, was a huge fan of my son’s horse, Henry. Bill knows how to pick them.

I told Nancy about Bill, and told her just how I saw him. “He is really competent at finding the sort of horse you want, but I would at least vet any horse he recommends, especially if he’s selling it to you or getting a commission on it. I would definitely ask Bill for help (and I did) if I was looking for a family horse.”

So Nancy meets Bill and really likes him. She also likes the older gelding named Walt that Bill wants to sell her. I watched her try the horse—nervous Nancy looked and felt pretty safe on old Walt. The teenage daughter rode him competently. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Walt was sound. No bob, but an odd shuffle behind. Bill concurred that Walt definitely had something going on high up in the rear end. Bill didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the horse. Walt was in his late teens. The price was fairly high, all things considered. I told Nancy that Walt might be the right sort for her, but I would vet him and try to find out what was wrong with him before I bought a lame horse. If his problem deteriorated, he migt become unridable or worse. It just depended on what the problem was. I also said that if it were me, I might use Bill as a consultant, paying him his fee for this, rather than buying a horse from him. That way Bill’s best interests would be Nancy’s best interests.

I’m not sure how all this affected Nancy. Perhaps it offended her. Perhaps she saw what I consider business as usual in the horse world as consorting with a bunch of double dealing crooks. Who knows? I left on my month long trip shortly thereafter. When I returned, I saw Bill, and he said he had never heard back from Nancy. Nancy has never called me back, either. I have considered calling her several times and I just can’t make myself do it. Call me selfish, but it’s a thankless task trying to help non-horse people find a horse.

No matter how good my intentions are, and how much experience I have, if I don’t really know the horse Nancy is considering, my opinion on him won’t be worth much. Its just an educated guess. And if that horse doesn’t work out for Nancy, or it goes lame, or worse yet, hurts her or her daughter, she’s likely to blame me, or at the very least, think I’m an idiot. Its not easy to find the right horse, even if you have a lot of experience. Thus my reluctance to call Nancy back.

And there’s another aspect to this. Maybe I’m over reacting, but I feel responsible for the horse when I am the one who has placed it in a home with someone who is not a horseman. About a year ago I wrote on this blog about placing a retired team roping horse named Harley (retired because of a suspensory tear) with a woman who wanted to “get into” horses, but, though a good, responsible animal owner, was certainly not a horseman. Lots of people wrote in and said I should give it a try—how else do any of us become horsemen without starting out as beginners? Fair enough. I placed Harley in this home, and they have done a fantastic job with him, rehabbing him and riding him lightly. All seemed well.

However, it was the woman’s twenty something son who was doing most of the work with the horse and now that son is leaving home. I was made aware over the course of the year that this woman who wanted to “get back into horses” was actually quite timid, and was never brave enough to ride Harley, though she let her son lead her around on him. She even seemed a bit afraid to handle him on the ground. And, as I said on the blog, Harley is not really a beginner’s horse. He’s a very well broke horse but he has a fair amount of life.

So now I find out through the grapevine that the woman is trying to decide whether to give Harley back or not. She isn’t sure if she can cope with the horse without her son. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if she can cope with Harley, either. I don’t know what I hope—that she keeps him (she is giving him a loving home and he looks great) or gives him back (because I’m afraid she may get hurt or at the very least frightened and the horse may get hurt or badly spoiled). However, I really, really do not want to try to find another home for this horse as we tilt into fall, when all knowledgable horse folk are thinking of paring down their herd, not adding to it. So I guess I hope she keeps him. But aaargh! I feel all too responsible for the whole situation, since it was me that arranged for this horse to come to these people. I am thinking that I just don’t want to be involved with hooking up any more non-horse people with a horse. Is that totally selfish of me?

So that’s my question for today. Have any of you been in the position of helping a beginner to find a horse? How did it work out for you? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Teeth Trouble

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but, over here in Switzerland, the importance of equine dentistry tends to be grossly underestimated. Proper equine dentists are few and far between, and the ones worth their somewhat stiff fees are almost impossible to get hold of unless you have “contacts”.

Of course, if you’re lucky, your horse can go through life with the dental bare necessities. A good vet can generally take care of tooth basics, and chances are you won’t need the services of a fully fledged equine dentist, because your horse won’t develop major problems.

Fingers crossed.

Crossing my fingers hasn’t been enough to keep Kwintus’ pearly whites (!) in mint condition. The day before I took my daughter to university in the UK, we found out that our poor horse needs dental surgery. Pretty major dental surgery as it turns out.

I’ve known Kwintus had a potential major dental problem for about two years now, because the last time the “super dentist” came to visit him he discovered Kwint had a broken tooth very far behind, high up on the left hand side. Back then, the dentist told me there was no point worrying about it too much because it wasn’t infected, and that it was perfectly possible for it to remain that way forever. “But,” he said, “if one day you notice nasal discharge, or that the horse develops dodgy breath, it’s probably because the tooth has suffered further damage and become infected.”

My stomach took a nosedive into the worry zone. “What if that happens?” I wanted to know.

The dentist pulled a face. “The tooth will have to come out, entailing a complicated operation,” he replied. “The tooth is so far back and so badly broken they’ll have to put your horse under full anesthesia, and extract the tooth by breaking through the outside of his jaw. All I can say is that I hope it doesn’t happen. Good luck.”

Well, guess what happened?

Kwintus had suddenly become unhappy with his mouth about a week before I was scheduled to go to England with my daughter. He started drawing circles on the walls of his stable with his front teeth. Steph had never seen anything like it, and neither had I. But there was no nasal discharge and his breath didn’t seem particularly smelly, although maybe I was gradually getting used to a slight stinky whiff. Anyway, we tried over and over to get hold of the “super dentist” who’d treated him two years ago at my previous stables. No answer. No returned calls. Finally, I asked my trainer, Marie-Valentine, whether she knew someone else who might be able to help. Instead, she dialed the “super dentist”’s number, left him a message, and hey presto, ten minutes later she was talking to him. Did I mention contacts help?!

Of course, super dentists have super busy schedules, and it took another four days for the dentist to come and see Kwint, at which point his stable walls were becoming reminiscent of the Lascaux caves in the south of France. The poor horse didn’t know what to do with his mouth anymore. But the dentist arrived with his two Swiss German assistants, got Kwint to open wide, moved in close and nearly keeled over. “Stinken”, he said, briskly shaking his wrist. I didn’t need an English translation.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the broken tooth that was making Kwint draw circles on the walls. His front teeth had just become too long and uncomfortable and needed filing down. But the broken tooth right at the back was a mess; there was gunk all around it, as well as clumps of semi-chewed food that had become lodged in the cavities. Kwint’s tongue was also irritated, with little white spots all over it. When they washed out his mouth with warm water the smell was pretty tenacious.
“It’s not good,” said the dentist, turning to me and shaking his head. “This tooth needs to come out. We’re looking at an operation.”

My poor daughter burst into tears. I held her tight, told her it would be okay, that we’d do what it takes to fix the problem.

“The good news is,” he continued, “that in the past two years there have been major improvements in this particular operation.” He told us there was a dental surgeon in Munich who could extract the tooth without putting the horse out completely, using a far less invasive technique, and who could perform the operation in any good equine clinic in Switzerland. First, however, we’d need to do x-rays to determine the extent of the damage.

To cut a long story short, Stephanie was kind enough to take Kwintus to an equine clinic a week later, while I was settling my daughter into her new life in England. The x-rays revealed that the tooth needs to come out as soon as possible; if it’s not removed it could infect Kwint’s sinuses. Steph phoned the “super dentist” on the way back from the clinic, but he hasn’t got back to her yet. I returned from England on Friday evening and have contacted him too, asking for further details on how to proceed, as well as for a financial inkling of where this dental debacle might be headed. No news so far. My trainer, Marie-Valentine, is currently in Germany, sourcing horses for a client. She gets back tomorrow evening, so hopefully might be able to speak to the dentist on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Kwintus doesn’t seem bothered by his broken tooth, and as the dentist told me to work him as usual, that’s what I’m doing. Of course, as you can imagine, I’m being particularly careful with his mouth.

The thing is, apart from worrying about whether Kwint might be in more pain that he’s letting on, I’m desperate to know what happens next. When will we be able to have Kwintus operated on? What will the recovery time be? And…how much might something like this cost? I get chills just thinking about it.

Have you been through a similar experience, or heard of this sort of problem? I'd be grateful for some feedback.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


by Laura Crum

The topic of this post is one that has been on my mind for a couple of months or more. I pondered it in odd moments throughout my vacation, without coming to any conclusion. Now that I’m home I still don’t have a clue what is best to do, or not do. So I thought I’d put it out there and see what insights folks could offer.

As most of you know, I own a horse named Gunner. I bought Gunner as a three year old with thirty days on him, trained him to be a cowhorse, showed him at the Snaffle Bit Futurity, and then went on to show him as a cutting horse until he was eight, and campaign him as a team roping horse from nine through thirteen. I did every bit of training on Gunner myself, and you can imagine what a willing, talented horse this son of Mr Gunsmoke was and is, when you consider that I taught Gunner these three events while I was just learning them myself. Despite this I have several buckles and headstalls that Gunner and I won together. He truly was/is a great horse.

When I created my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, I gave her Gunner for a mount, faithfully describing my much loved bay gelding in the stories. So those of you who have read my books know Gunner pretty well.

I retired Gunner from competition when he was fourteen, due to various arthritic complaints, and used him for light riding for a few years before I retired him to the pasture. For many years he spent the grass season in my sixty acre pasture in the Sierra foothills and spent the dry season here in my largest corral, with his companion, Danny. This worked well until Gunner was in his late twenties, when it began to be hard to keep weight on him.

So, a couple of years ago I put my too-thin old horse in a five acre field ten minutes from my house and put Danny in with the small herd of retired/crippled/rescued horses that live in the twenty acre field next door. The owner of this setup is a friend and I have been keeping horses there for many years. I put Gunner into the same field where my previous old horse, Burt, had lived into his late thirties.

Now that he was by himself Gunner could eat just the diet he needed (including lots of equine senior delight) and he quickly started to bloom again. Today he is fat and glossy and bucks and plays (a bit creakily, but with gusto) when I show up to feed him. He grazes his pasture well and his teeth are fine. He looks very good for a horse that turned thirty this year.

The problem? When its not feeding time and my little boy and I drive out to visit with our favorite old horse, it seems to both of us that Gunner looks sad. Sad, lonely, bored? I don’t know. He doesn’t seem much interested in us or being with us, which isn’t like him. He can see the other horses and visit with them over the fence and he doesn’t seem to be pining for them. Often he is out in the middle of his field, all alone. Sometimes grazing, sometimes not. I can’t tell if I am projecting my feelings onto him or not when I say he looks morose.

I have thought and thought about this. I can’t really put another horse in with him. He needs to be fed a specific diet or he won’t thrive. I could bring him home and put him in a corral (if I had a corral to spare), and he might get a little more attention, but he wouldn’t be able to wander about grazing as he does now. And realistically, I don’t have much more time to give him than I give him already.

When I add it up, I am giving this horse the best life I can think of for an old horse. He is getting a diet that keeps him slick and in good flesh. He is servicably sound (for an old horse) and trots stiffly but with no bob. He isn’t hurting. He can visit with companions. He can graze whenever he wants and has lots of room to move around. If he were my only horse I could give him more attention, but he isn’t. I have my son’s and my riding horses, Henry and Sunny, and my just retired from team roping horse, Plumber, who take a great deal of my time and attention. I wish I could spend an hour a day fussing with Gunner, but the truth is that I haven’t got that time.

Does this mean I have too many horses? Maybe. After a lifetime with horses I have a few retirees. But if I want to keep them and also still ride, then I need to have more horses than one. So, I’m juggling all these balls, trying to do right by all of them. And it still bugs me that Gunner seems sad.

I don’t know if its just the way old age is feeling to him or what? My horse, Burt, who lived to his late thirties, remained bright-eyed and perky, living in the same field under the same conditions. Gunner, however, is quite perky at feeding time, but seems to have lost his bright-eyed, curious demeanor otherwise. He doesn’t have any obvious problems—just watch him lope in, bucking in a geriatric way, at feeding time, and its clear enough that his health is good. He is slick, shiny, not a rib shows. I can’t figure out why I’m getting this feeling from him.

I have no idea what the solution to this problem, if it is a problem, might be. Maybe I need to let go of the idea that the horse needs to look the way I think he ought to look. Maybe its just my ego that wants him to seem interested in me. But I thought it was worth putting the story out there and asking for your thoughts. Many of you have been through this with older horses and probably have some good ideas and insights. I’d welcome hearing them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Donkeys in the Barnyard

Would it seem wrong in a blog such as this to admit that I love donkeys more than horses? Okay, I won't go that far, but let's just say that I love them both and for different qualities. And after owning and raising both donkeys and horses for quite a number of years, lets just say that I love Donkeys enough to devote an entire post to extolling their virtues, and their worth around the barnyard. So here goes:

1. Donkeys are funny. Their oversized ears, their comical bray, and their crazy antics around the barnyard will bring a smile to your face. And who doesn't need a little humor in their life?

2. They are downright adorable. Ever seen a donkey baby, with the fuzzy forehead that they keep for the first two years of their life? Trust me, there is nothing cuter.

3. They are calm. Donkeys don't let very much upset them, which makes them an ideal companion for horses. While your horse might go winging around the paddock in an all out flight response, the donkey will be walking behind slowly, as if saying "hey, buddy, what's the problem here?" For this reason, they are wonderful to turn in with young or highstrung horses, or any horse that doesn't like to be left by itself. They are great partners for a horse that is low on the totem pole and not getting enough to eat, because almost any horse will lord it over a donkey, and become top dog again. And with time, after the initial newness wears off, they can even become best buddies.

4. Donkeys are easy to keep. They seem to have more of an innate sense of self-preservation than horses do, and rarely hurt themselves. They get the same shots, the same hoof trimming, and they do best on plain grass hay without anything rich in their diet.

5. Donkeys are smart. (And I dare say smarter than horses, if you all won't hate me for it.) If you show them something once, they generally learn it. And they won't forget it, unlike a horse which normally needs constant repetition to learn. They are a bit different in their learning process (which is a whole nother blog post) and require lots of love and patience, but what human doesn't need to become more kind and patient? At any rate, having a donkey around causes no guilt, because (unlike a horse) you don't feel like you need to constantly ride it and train it.

So there you have five reasons for keeping a donkey around the barnyard. They do really fit in quite well with horses, and if you ever own one, you'll quite possibly be hooked for life.

Have you owned a donkey? Ever kept one as a companion to horses? What was your experience?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My No-Labor Day Weekend

I'm spending the weekend on Puget Sound, Gig Harbor, specifically, without horses. Once in a while, my husband and I go out on a friend's boat for the weekend. So this is our weekend away from everything.

Horses and boats have a lot of similarities. They both make you forget your worries and just "be." All week, I run around like a crazy person, multi-tasking to the max, and fitting everything in my tight schedule, so I can work, ride, write, and spend quality time with hubby and friends. On top of all that, we have a small farm we work hard to maintain. Since I don't keep horses at home right now, I have blackberry vines taking over my horse pasture, weeds growing in my horse arena, and a barn I seldom go into. So when I'm home, I'm working on the place. Being away, gives me an opportunity to do nothing.

If you've never had the opportunity to be on Puget Sound in a boat, you don't know what you're missing. Puget Sound is one of the most unique waterways in the world. Its protected waters and countless coves, inlets, passages, islands, and harbors are a boater's dream. Even if you're not a boater, you'd enjoy a day on the water almost as much as you'd enjoy a day on the back of a horse.

It's hard to say what's more expensive: boats or horses? I've had both, and I can say they're equal in cost and enjoyment. For me, I'd take horses over boats anyday, even though I enjoy the weekends out on a boat. There's still something about a horse, and having a bond with an animal which has no equal.

I hope you enjoy my pictures of Gig Harbor and Puget Sound. Next post, I want to report on safety vest for riders that have air bags which deploy.

Have a great Labor Day weekend. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer Riding (or not)

I have enjoyed vicariously trail riding through Laura because here in Virginia, in the summer of 90+ temperatures, the nonhackers (me) stopped riding. The real riders in Virginia kept up their schedule of horse shows and competing no matter how miserable the heat, but my Quarter Horse cross Relish (as in Relish the Thought, not as in hotdog) and I cried "uncle" and gave up.

First, the heat was relentless. In June and July the pastures were so parched, we had to move our three horses to the neighbor's big field when ours were reduced to dust. Fortunately, it was so dry the flies disappeared. DISAPPEARED. It was magical--only crunching through bone dry woods in a complete sweat was not fun either, even if Relish and I weren't battling the bugs. Since the word 'drought' was mentioned often, I bought hay early from the same neighbor, worried that our grass would stay brown and the area's hay crop might be scarce.

Then in August the rain and humidity returned. Rain brought the grass so we were able to move the horses back home. It also brought the flies, and my once a week swipe with fly spray was ineffective, so it was back to fly masks, spraying constantly and religiously bringing the horses into the barn during the hottest time of the day where two huge fans keep them somewhat cool and keep off the flies.

Last week we had several chilly mornings. I quickly dragged out my gear and saddled up. Relish seemed eager to get away from his two bossy pasture mates (mares, of course) and we had a few easy (warming up those muscles) rides. Then heat hit again, the flies returned for their last hurrah, and the helmet and boots went back in the closet.

Weather definitely affects my riding, but the care of the horses never falters. I long for fall, but part of me remembers the past winter, which I don't want to hurry up. We had two feet of snow and three foot drifts that lasted forever, and my snowshoes and ice cleats replaced bug spray and fly masks in order to ensure my horses were fed and safe.

How does weather affect your riding?