Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Your Horse Wish List

Ha! Bet you thought I wanted your Christmas list for your horse, huh? Actually, I saw this on another blog, and thought I'd try it here. I'm listing the things that are important to me in a horse, and then you can tell us what you like. Sound like fun?

Okay, here's mine:

1) A good set of withers. No matter what I'm riding, I really like a horse with a good set of withers to hold a saddle on. I hate having to cinch a saddle really tight, and I love a horse with the right kind of conformation to kind of naturally hold a saddle in place, like the one below:

2) A big kind eye. Although there are exceptions to every rule, most horse people will tell you that a horse with a big, sweet eye will naturally have a good disposition, and be kind and willing.

3) A nice fast walk. I love a horse that walks out on the trail, similar to the way the one below is walking naturally in the pasture. I love to ride a horse with a big, swinging ground-covering walk.

4) A Good Mind. Of course there is no picture of this trait, but for me, it's the one that trumps all. A horse that always tries to do the right thing, an honest horse that doesn't seem to mind doing his work and that brings you home safely each day - that kind of a horse is the best of all - no matter what their conformation, breed, or looks.
Okay, your turn. What do you look for in a horse? Let us know!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Read before You Ride?

About a weekend ago, I received an email from a reader who’d read an old blog post of mine in which I recommended certain dressage books. I hadn’t listed the authors of the book, and she couldn’t locate them by the titles. The reader mentioned she wanted to read about how to do the movements before she tried to do them. I completely understand what she’s saying.
I’m a reader. I always have been. My collection of dressage books rivals anything you can find on my riding friends’ bookshelves. I know a lot of dressage riders haven’t read even one book on dressage. In fact, I’d say that’s the norm in my barn as opposed to the exception.

From the beginning the cerebral aspects of dressage fascinated me, as did the “mystical” aspects. Over the years, I’ve voraciously read books on both aspects. I credit my dressage reading with giving me a very good basic understanding of the aids and how to properly ride the movements before I put one foot in the stirrup. Now did my body have a clue how to do a shoulder-in or a half-pass from reading it in a book? No, not at all. But I could visualize riding a half-pass and using my body to curve the horse’s body around my leg while moving him sideways.
My instructors over the years haven’t had to spend countless hours explaining to me the aids and riding of the movements because I had that clear picture from hours of pouring over dressage books. In fact, I find American instructors are often remiss in explaining the how and why of riding dressage movements in any way but the most rudimentary ways. I know there are exceptions, and my very first dressage instructor was certainly one of those.
Another huge contributor to my dressage education can be accredited to a long-defunct magazine titled Dressage and CT. If you haven’t had the privilege of reading this magazine, you might attempt to dredge one up. I still have my copies for the years I subscribed and might be willing to part with a few. Email me if you’re interested.

Dressage and CT wasn’t for everyone, only one or two of my friends enjoyed reading it at much as I did. It was the magazine, I’d haunt the mailbox for every month. The articles in D&CT were detailed, insightful, and often thought-provoking. Charles DeKunffy and Dominic Barbier were frequent contributors along with others who chose to tread off the beaten path. Some of the articles would take a movement and diagnose every minute detail. Heavy on theory and willing to debate different methods to the nth degree, D&CT did an incredibly good job educating aspiring dressage riders.

The publisher of D&CT didn’t shy away from controversial subjects. In fact, he encouraged them to the point where I waited each month to see what controversy would be addressed next. In fact, one of my favorite features to read happened to be Letters to the Editor. The magazine’s willingness to tackle controversial issues was most likely its undoing in the end. It’s been a long while, but I believe it was sold to another publisher, renamed and watered down. I think one of the current American dressage magazines is actually its descendant. I’d have to go back through my oldest magazines to unearth that bit of history.
D&CT embraced alternate forms of dressage and became an advocate for the lighter methods (non-Germanic). Regardless of whether or not I agreed with the articles or methods, I did enjoy the exposure to other ways of thinking. D&CT taught me more regarding theory than I ever learned in all the books I read.
The current dressage magazines rarely cause controversy, choosing to walk a politically correct fine line. Perhaps, that’s the only way to survive in the tough magazine market.
In the meantime, here are those dressage books I’ve read over and over again, including their authors:

Guide to Dressage—Louise Mills Wilde
The Beginning Dressage Book--Kathryn Denby-Wrightson and Joan Fry
That Winning Feeling—Jane Savioe
Riding Logic—Wilhelm Museler
The Dressage Formula--Erik Herbermann
Practical Dressage Manual--Bengt Ljunguist
Dressage Questions Answered. --Charles De Kunffy

If you’re a rider and a reader, I highly recommend the books listed above.

Hope you and yours had a memorable Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks

by Laura Crum

The two photos above tell a lot about what I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving. There's my son and I on our most recent trail ride, just a few days ago, mounted on our two good little trail horses, Sunny and Henry, photographed by my faithful husband, who hiked with us (and our dog) through the hills near our home. I am so grateful for all of this. My family, our horses and other animals, our home here in these coastal central California hills and the trails we ride and hike. The ridgeline you see behind us in the first photo is the same ridgeline I can see from my front porch. It takes just over half an hour for my son and I to ride out our front gate to the top of the ridge, where we can see the whole Monterey Bay. And Sunny and Henry can do this without cracking a sweat. The photos were taken late in the afternoon of a beautiful November day, temps in the 70's. I smile every time I look at them. Thank you so much.

And thanks also to all of you who write to me in the comments. I appreciate your insights and I've both learned a lot and been inspired by you. Happy Thanksgiving, fellow horse lovers!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Books and Horses and Other Things I (We?) Love

This fall I have doing lots of riding and reading and tons of promotion (but not much writing). I just came back from the Kentucky Book Fair, where I was surrounded by horse-loving authors--and readers! 210 authors to be exact, and around 4,000 attendees, and too many horse books to count (or buy!) I twice drove down the Old Frankfort Pike, home to some of the grandest horse farms I have ever seen. I also visited two elementary schools were "The World of Horses" was their theme for the year! So for four days, I was in horse-heaven.

Since I have been guest blogging a lot to help publicize my latest books, I have also gotten to know and love many horsey/booky blogs that I never would have discovered if it weren't for my promotion push. I'd love to share them with you because as readers, writers and horse lovers, we need to support others who are as passionate as we are. I will also shamelessly mention that some of these links go to my guest blogs or my book giveaways on these sites. Hey, I did say I was trying to promote!

For a good belly laugh and some tart musings on life, head to Crazy Texas. Crazy Texas Mama is not just funny and smart-mouthed, she's also attending graduate school to become a motivating and motivated reading teacher (which I discovered through our many e-mails) While you are there, enjoy my guest post and enter a giveaway for Whirlwind and Gabriel's Horses.

For more literary fare, go to http://www.greatbooksforhorselovers.com This site has reviews, writing tips and information on The Literary Horse Exhibit.

If you go to Great Books for Horse Lovers Alison, you'll find reviews of Whirlwind and Shadow Horse plus an interview.

For the young reader, writer and rider in your life, the Girls Horse Club  site is terrific with a capital T. Right now the site has a giveaway of many different horse books, CD's etc.

For some of the pithiest reviews of horse books, don't miss Whitebrook Farm. Here I learned that the 2010 National Book Award Winner is a horse book--Lord of Misrule-- from a small press! It's hard to get on Amazon, so I'm ordering early.

Last but not least, don't forget our own Linda Benson's blog where she's hosting a book giveaway. Add your own favorite book/horse blog to comments and share these blogs/sites with other book and horse crazy folk and let's keep the love going.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Twister Speaks--For the First Time

by Laura Crum

Last month I wrote a post about my son’s horse, Henry, asking me for a drink of water. I thought this was pretty cool, and I explain why in the post (“Henry Speaks”—October). But a few days ago I was treated to an even more amazing demonstration of communication from a horse. Or at least it amazed me. Let me know what you think.

I have four horses on my place, one of which is Twister—a fourteen year old gray gelding who belongs to my friend Wally. Twister is Wally’s team roping horse; Wally takes him to practice ropings and competitions several days a week on average. I don’t ride or handle Twister much, but he has lived here with me for seven years, and I feed him every day and help with his care as needed. I encouraged Wally to buy him as a very green six year old horse, and helped him with the training as much as I could (I had a nursing baby at the time). So I know Twister well.

Twister didn’t have a good start. He was raised on a ranch in the Dakotas and was traded to a horse trader as an unbroken four year old as a part of a deal for a horse trailer. This trader sent him to a ranch cowboy to be started and by all accounts the cowboy did not care for this sensitive, hot colt, who is mostly running bred QH. After sixty days with the cowboy, the horse trader sent Twister to a young team roper who trained horses on the side with the instructions to make the horse into a “ninety day wonder”. In other words, turn this extremely green five year old into a team roping horse in three months.

The young roper complied. It wasn’t pretty. Apparently Twister became so frazzled he repeatedly tried to jump out of the round pen. The roper’s solution? He had his help wait on the other side of the fence with a shovel and beat Twister on the head when he tried to jump out. Twister still has scars on his face and neck from this treatment.

When Wally and I first saw Twister, my uncle had bought the horse from the horse trader. Twister was six years old, and you could rope and turn a steer on him. He was honest and tried hard. He was also very flightly and ignorant as hell.

Twister did not know how to give his head (at all) or hold the lope, or take a lead, or pretty much anything. He’d been “cowboyed” into the very intense job of team roping horse and he had no “foundation” whatsoever. He was also pretty darn standoffish and leery of people (understandably).

Wally bought Twister and taught him to be a reasonably well broke horse and a darn good competitive team roping horse, as well as a fine trail horse. I’ve blogged about Twister’s story before, so I won’t go into detail here. But Twister has been treated kindly and fairly all the years he’s been with us and though he still retains some of the mannerisms of a “ranch broke” horse, its apparent that he trusts us and is fond of us. But he never nickered.

I’m not sure why. All the other horses here nicker at me when I come to feed. Twister never did. Just stood by his feeder and pawed the ground. The other horses nicker to me and Wally all the time. Just talking to us. Not Twister. He never spoke.

And then, the other day I got Sunny and Henry out for my son and I to ride. When we were done, I turned them loose to graze, as I usually do. After I caught them and put them away, I turned my retired horse, Plumber, loose to graze for awhile—again, as I usually do. I don’t normally turn Twister out. My property is fenced on three sides, on the fourth side the barrier is just steep brushy hills. No horse has ever attempted to leave that way, but I’m still careful. I turn the horses loose one at a time and I never do it unless I’m here. I check every so often to make sure the loose horse is visible. My three horses are very sedate and have never given me any problems with this system. Twister is a much more flighty individual, and, of course, he is not my horse, so I am wary of taking any chances with him. Wally hand grazes him from time to time but does not turn him loose.

Anyway, I eventually caught Plumber and put him away—and then I spent a few minutes filling the water trough that Plumber and Twister share. Twister approached me from his side of the corral fence…and he nickered. Very softly, but several times.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t even notice…at first. The other horses nicker at me all the time, I was thinking of something else, I paid very little attention.

“What do you want?” I said idly to Twister, and offered to rub his neck. Twister is a horse who likes to be petted, and I guess, if I thought anything, I thought he wanted me to rub on him. But Twister moved off and stood by his corral gate. Then he came back to me and nickered softly.

And I got it. Twister was talking to me. He was, for the first time ever, nickering at a person, and he was trying to convey a very clear message. “You let the other horses out to graze. Now its my turn.”

“You want me to let you out to eat, don’t you?” I said. And I stared at the horse in amazement. Because I wasn’t raised to assume that horses think like this. (See my post, “Henry Speaks.”)

Twister had observed me letting the others out to graze many times, he’d observed the other horses nickering at me and asking for their “turn” (which they do). Somehow he had put all this together and, though he had never nickered at either me or Wally before, he was attempting to tell me he wanted a turn, too.

Well, of course I had to get him out. If nothing else, to show him I understood what he was trying to say. He met me at the gate and I hand grazed him for a good long while. Without Wally’s permission, I wasn’t game to turn him loose. But Twister got his “turn”.

And now I wonder. Do horses think in ways like this all the time and did I never notice? Or do my horses try to talk to me because they’ve learned to trust me? Or do I simply read horses better than I used to? Why did Twister finally “speak”? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life is a Rollercoaster

I quite like Ronan Keating. He’s the lead singer of that recently reformed Irish boy band, “Boyzone”, as well as a solo artist. I’ve seen him live twice; once about a decade ago in Zurich, performing with Boyzone (a somewhat disappointing concert; Ronan was clearly in a foul mood that night), and then again about four years ago when he gave a private solo concert at a chi-chi event my husband and I were invited to (smiles, twinkly eyes, and Irish charm all around!). Do you know Ronan Keating? He’s the guy who sang “When you Say Nothing at all”, the theme song for the romantic comedy “Notting Hill”, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. He has a nice voice, and he’s kind of cute.

At this point, I guess you’re wondering why the heck I’m rattling on about Ronan Keating on Equestrian Ink. Well, simply because I’ve had one of his hit songs, “Life is a Rollercoaster”, stuck in my head for the past week. It’s been pursuing me ever since I hit this wall of sad truth: Kwintus’ dressage career is over. Actually, it’s worse than that. Kwintus won’t be being ridden again.

Yes, life really is a rollercoaster,as maybe you’ll remember that the last time I blogged here, two weeks ago, my equestrian horizon was all blue skies, sunshine, and a happy, healthy, fully recovered horsey. That first ride in over two months was a dream (which is why I so related to Jami’s post on Sunday, although I read it with tears in my eyes, having already made my decision): Kwintus felt so…enthusiastic and youthful and bouncy. But the days that followed brought me back to earth with a bump. No, I didn’t fall off, but the way he started to stumble again brought back memories of close calls with hard surfaces. Falling off a horse is never fun, but having a horse fall away from underneath you is a truly horrible sensation. Also, a few days into his return to work, he started throwing his head in the air and yanking the reins out of my hands, something he’d only ever done when suffering from a pain in his upper neck. He also felt stiff and tired, and…well, just blah. But what really freaked me out was that tackling the slightest incline was clearly unpleasant for him. The way he shuffled down the not-so-steep hill leading from the stable block to the private road, making teeny-tiny steps, catching the tips of his front feet on every other surface irregularity was hard to watch. So, last Friday, with lead in my heart, I took him for a short hack to the next village, feeling terribly unsafe on his back as we inched down the gently sloped trail beneath the trees. He must have stumbled four or five times. Twenty minutes later, I dismounted. For good.

I could call in the top osteopath in the country. I could cart Kwintus right back across Switzerland, have him x-rayed from head to toe, and then infiltrate every creaky nook and cranny. I could. But it would be wrong. He’s going to be nineteen next year. He’s worked hard all his life, giving all his owners (I reckon he’s had about 5) his very best. He gave me back my confidence when I lost it to a rearing, twirling youngster. He taught my daughter and me flying changes, pirouettes, half-pass, piaffe and passage. He won first place for my daughter during their first competition outing together. He’s been an amazing horse. He’s had an amazing career.
But it’s time to lay off and let him take it easy.

And so Kwintus is officially an OAP (old-aged pensioner) as of last weekend. He will spend the rest of his life strolling around the huge pastures surrounding Stephanie’s stables, initially alone as he’s still wearing shoes (I shod him ten days ago, so his feet need to grow a little before we can take his shoes off), and later in the company of Stephanie’s old, retired eventer.

I’ve shed numerous tears this week, and hauled back buckets loads of other. I’ve never enjoyed riding any horse as much as I’ve enjoyed riding Kwintus. Heck, I’ve never loved a horse as much as I love Kwintus! So I’m therefore extremely grateful to Steph for letting him stay on at her place, as the last thing I want to do is send him off to a retirement home for horses hundreds of kilometers away, which would mean no longer being able to see him regularly.

So there it is. In the space of one week I went from ultra high to mega low. Now? I’m coping. Okay, so I’m a little blah. But I’m also at peace with my decision. There’s comfort in knowing that I did everything I could for my horse’s wellbeing, that I can get off this particular rollercoaster, that I’ll no longer keep second guessing myself over whether or not Kwintus had really reached the point where he was dangerous to ride.

My equestrian future? Meh, it’s sort of vague. I’ll give myself some time, get through the winter. Come spring, I’ll hopefully be able to start searching for another horse, hopping on a whole new rollercoaster.

Right now, I’m just hanging with Ronan Keating. Go on, sing it to me, Ro! Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it…

The Little Things

by Laura Crum

We have been having a run of those beautiful November days that everyone who writes for and comments on this blog have mentioned lately. Sunny and seventy degrees—perfect riding weather. Since we have had a lot of rain here previously, both our local trails and the big roping arena where we ride with our friends have been too wet to ride on. The tides weren’t favorable so the beach was out (those who ride on the beach—a favorite winter destination of ours—will know that it is far more pleasant to ride at low tide than high tide). But my small riding ring here at home--which faces south and has sandy ground that drains well-- was just fine. So my son and I decided to exercise our two horses here.

This isn’t my favorite kind of riding, as those who read this blog know. I like to ride outside of a pen, and if I must ride in a ring, I like to have a few cows to chase and at least ride in a big well-groomed arena where we can lope around almost like we’re outside. My own riding area is a one hundred foot round pen, lined with railroad ties, and with a small, round vegetable plot in the middle. Two people can have a hard time staying out of each other’s way on what’s essentially a very small riding track.

My son and I determined to try an exercise where we attempted to stay on opposite sides of the circle. If one walked the other walked, if one trotted the other did so…etc. This gave us something to focus on and kept us out of each other’s way. So we rode like this for almost an hour, interspersed with some walking side by side.

We talked a little—to each other and to our horses. Mostly we were quiet. The sun shone, little breezes blew, the footing was excellent. We walked and trotted, we loped a little. Sometimes I stared off at the opposite ridgeline, where we trail ride so often, glowing in the autumn light. The horses behaved perfectly. We didn’t train on them in any particular way, unless you count making them stay in whatever gait we chose and go where we pointed and stop when we told them. They do this without argument, mostly, and on this day, after several days off, both of them were happy to move out in the sunshine and showed no sign of reluctance, though both can be reluctant about this sort of exercise when they get too much of it. But today they were happy to be out and moving and did not consider it boring.

After we rode, we turned each horse loose to graze for awhile (also my older horse and our boarder—all four got their “turn”). I smiled while I watched them munching in the sunshine, seeing how happy they were, but it is another moment that sticks in my mind.

Trotting around the ring on my sturdy little horse, keeping half an eye on my son to see that we were observing our “positions” and that all was well, the sun and wind in my face, I had the sudden moment of clarity. I bet you all know exactly what I mean. You don’t get it every ride, and it isn’t always about riding. Often its just some little moment with your horse that seems unimportant. Certainly I would not have said that trotting around my ring was anything special to me.

But in that moment it all came rushing in. How happy I felt, how lovely it was, that this is what I have horses for. My horse and I and my son and his horse were all perfectly happy on this pretty day in the sunshine. The rhythm of Sunny’s gait (and no, he’s not particularly smooth gaited, though when he feels good like this he has a lot more natural impulsion, which makes him smoother), and just moving along together through the soft air was such a delight. I almost laughed out loud. We were all having fun.

We kicked up to a very forward lope (for Sunny) and Henry volunteered a lope, too. The horses obviously liked our game—each tried to “catch up” to the other which made these basically lazy little horses a lot more lively than usual. My son and I were both grinning from ear to ear as we loped along, checking as needed and then kicking up, holding our positions.

Such a little thing—our game in the round ring. But that’s what its all about for me. I’ve had these moments many times on trail rides, loping around the roping arena with our friends, watching the horses graze, stroking Sunny’s muzzle…etc. But every time it happens I’m grateful. Its just this complete awareness of how much I love having horses, how much they mean to me, how happy they make me. If I have any goals in my life with horses, its to be aware of those moments and follow the path that leads to them. And they can be just as simple as trotting around the riding ring with my son in the autumn sunshine. Ain’t it amazing?

How about you? Any special moments lately? Its always fun to hear them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Gift to be Cherished

For those of you who weren't around last October, my Hanoverian mare had a bout of cellulitis last October (2009). Her leg swelled up to at least twice its size. She was in extreme pain, and I worried I might lose her. A week later another horse at the barn had the same affliction had to be put down within 24 hours. Gailey survived but not without permanent issues. Her leg is still about 3 to 4 inches in circumference bigger than her other hind leg. I've come to terms with the fact that her leg is never going to get any smaller.

Over a year later, she's off and on sound. She has bouts of stiffness in her big leg and is sometimes off enough, we go back to the stall without doing much work at all.

I haven't been as ambitious about riding as I should be, possibly because I'm coming to terms with the future of my horse and my riding. We're taking things one day at a time. On her good days, she's incredibly fun to ride.

Take yesterday for instance, it was a crisp, cold day in the Northwest. I hadn't ridden her in about a week. The barn help was readying the barn for a freestyle clinic this weekend. The small viewing area at one end of the barn had been cleared of chairs so it could be swept. The chairs were stacked on the track, surely looking like green demons. Now add to that scene a shop vac, a broom, some poles, every one of them not where they were last time she was in the arena.

I both love and dread riding her when she's like this. I love it because she's hotter, in front of my leg, sitting on her butt, mega responsive, and eager to go. I dread it because it's like sitting on a ticking time bomb. Once false move, and it'll blow to pieces. She's never actually blown, such over-exertion is not in her nature. Even in her more energetic moments, she's into efficiency of movement (which is a nice way to say usually somewhat lazy).

On days like yesterday where the stars align just right, the arena looks different, and a lot is going on, she gives the impression she might actually put a little more effort into being naughty. She didn't even want to stand still at the mounting block. Once I settled in the saddle, she strode out at a brisk walk, snorting and blowing and keeping one eye trained on the demons at the far end of the arena. In the meantime, I prayed Mandy wouldn't turn on the shop vac at the exact moment I passed by.

After several minutes of walk, I barely touched her sides with my legs and off we went into a forward, uphill trot. (So this is how it's supposed to feel all the time!) On slight shift of my legs and she softly launches into a lovely canter. I sit up straighter and breathe back to a walk, just like that. Hmmm. A person could get used to this. Oops. Then she bulges out to one side in an attempt to avoid the end demons and attempts to shy, her one bad habit under saddle.

So I keep her at the opposite end of the arena. I know, chicken that I am, but it was less drama, and I wasn't into drama yesterday. I practice my pilates, trying to stay straight in the saddle, equal weight on my seat, and use my weight and breathing to signal down transitions. Everything works like it should because she's tuned in and eager to work. Well, tuned in as long as the demons stay on their end of the arena, and she gets to stay on hers.

Even though a very small part of me is aware of the bomb I'm riding, most of me concentrates on being as light and careful as possible. Considering Gailey's physical limitations, every great ride on her is a gift to be cherished and a reminder as to why I continue to do this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


by Laura Crum

I have a friend who regards herself as a perpetual student of horsemanship. (Uhmm, I guess it might be more accurate to describe her as a friendly acquaintance.) She goes to lots of clinics, takes lessons from various trainers, puts her long suffering horse in training from time to time…you get the picture. I am not going to comment here on whether I think all this “learning” is improving her horsemanship. Its debatable, in my eyes. But that’s not my topic.

This gal used to try to convince me to watch her newest, latest, and greatest video by yet another trendy clinician, or even go to a clinic with her. For the last ten years, since I quit training and competing, I’ve been hugely uninterested in this stuff, and she just doesn’t get it. “Don’t you want to keep learning?” she asks, and I can tell by her tone and expression that she thinks it would be an unfathomable sin for me to say, “no.”

So, I don’t say no. But I am stymied by what to say. Because what I really think she wouldn’t understand, and I don’t seem to have the skill to explain it to her. Thus, I am going to attempt to explain what I feel on this subject here, and perhaps you all can give me some feedback on whether I got my point across.

This “friend” knows me from the days when I used to train and compete, and she can’t understand why I gave it up and am uninterested in it now. She doesn’t see how I can be satisfied by peaceful, uneventful rides through the hills with my son, on our two steady, reliable trail horses. She can’t comprehend that all the cow work I am doing is just gathering the roping cattle and putting them through the chutes, as well as teaching my kid to work a cow (in the most rudimentary and relaxed way) on his retired team roping horse. She thinks I ought to want to do more.

The truth is that I don’t want to do more, but I am learning. I am just not learning things she would understand or value. And I am not learning “techniques” or even concepts from some other clever human, I am learning from my horses and the world around me.

I am learning how not to be in a hurry, how not to have goals that are more complicated than completing the ride we’re currently on. I am learning to watch a horse, or a hawk, and understand what I am seeing. I am learning to pay attention to the little things, and comprehend the language of animals…and plants and clouds. I am learning to be peaceful, and to interact with my horses in a way that’s rewarding for both of us. My horses like to be ridden, now that our rides are not stressful or too demanding. They meet me at the gate when I go to catch them. And I get ready to ride without that old anxious knot in my stomach. That knot was so familiar and constant that I took it for granted. It was part of working with horses, I thought. But guess what? Its gone. Now that I’ve taken the pressure off myself and them.

Am I learning new things? Yes. I am constantly amazed at how much my horses and I connect now, how much they obviously like me, how much information we can share. My horses always seemed fond of me, but there is a whole new dimension to this when the horse trusts that he is not going to be asked to do something he is heartily sick and tired of doing. Suddenly the partnership has a genuinely two-way feel. I am still the boss, but my horses throw in willingly with me because they like and understand our “work”. They would rather be ridden than not.

I am learning the ways of our trails, their moods at all seasons. I am finding the small ponds in the hills, and learning what the frogs have to say, as well as how many days it takes the muddy slope to dry out enough to be ridable after a rain. I am learning what my horses think as they take in the world around them. I discovered that Sunny thinks a coyote pup is interesting, not scary, and that both Sunny and Henry are far more eager to go out on a trail ride than to walk through the gate to the arena.

Are my horses and I learning new tricks? No. We don’t need new tricks. We’re happy observing the woods and weather and loping along with our friends. This is a joy to us all, and we don’t need more.

If my friend enjoys her clinics and her training and her “learning”, that’s great for her. I don’t think her horse is enjoying his life quite as much as my horses are enjoying their lives, but certainly she’s not torturing the poor critter. I’m not putting her down. I’m simply saying there’s more than one way of learning. I spent many many years pursuing the form of learning “horsemanship” that my friend is interested in, and there is definitely merit in it. But there are other ways of learning to be with horses, and it is those ways I’m exploring now. To be fair, I might not have the tools to explore this new way of learning had I not spent many years learning from trainers who were more accomplished horsemen than I was. So formal “learning” had its place in my education. Its just not the place I’m in right now.

I don’t know how to explain this to my “friend” when she hands me yet another clinician’s video. Perhaps I’m getting a little testy. Last time I said, “It ain’t about videos. At least for me.” And I don’t think she got that at all. Any suggestions?

I do understand that many horses enjoy their work and their “training”, particularly if the rider is knowledgable and sensitive to the horse’s feelings. My two little “bombproof” geldings are essentially lazy, intelligent horses who prefer a walk in the woods and a look at different country to repetitive work in the arena (they both used to be team roping horses). That there are horses who have other preferences, I’m well aware. That there are riders who don’t enjoy trail riding and prefer the challenges of more formal arena work, I’m also aware. Certainly for many years (like almost twenty years) I trained and competed fairly relentlessly at cutting and then team roping. So I really get that space. I’m just not in it now.

Again, I’m not trying to “dis” formal learning through lessons and/or videos—I think it has its place. I’m trying to explain that there are other ways of learning and interacting with horses that can be equally positive and rewarding. What’s your opinion on this subject?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jan Scarbrough

I'd like to welcome guest blogger Jan Scarbrough. You can read Jan's bio at the bottom of this post.

NASA Technology Revolutionizes Horse Treatment

I’m no horse expert, just a horse lover. From reading the Black Stallion books in the fourth grade, to hunter/jumper lessons after school, to continuing my weekly riding lessons today—I’ve been horse crazy. My wildest dream came true in 1988 when I bought a pleasure pony from my eleven year old daughter. Mr. Too Little was a bay American Saddlebred, grandson of the famed champion Wing Commander.

In 2001, now on my third horse, a retired Saddlebred show horse nicknamed Harry, I face an owner’s worst nightmare. I was forced to put him down after treating him for lameness for a month. His right front hoof was infected, but it was his left leg that ultimately failed, causing him horrendous pain. My only recourse that terrible Sunday afternoon was to nod my assent to the veterinarian when he told me there was nothing he could do. My last memory of Harry was his retreating silhouette as the vet led him slowly down the aisle between stalls and out into the sunshine.

Therefore, when I attended The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Lexington, Kentucky, I was drawn to a display outside of the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital exhibition. Set up in the early October sun was the Enduro NEST (NASA Equine Support technology). Using the latest NASA technology, Enduro Medical Technology, a company based in Connecticut, has developed a support system for horses which allows them to remain in a standing position without bearing their weight.

You need to see the video to get a better idea. http://www.enduromedical.com/video.html.

As their website claims—“this equine support system fully and safely supports the horse, of any size, with a totally new approach to sling design which requires no more time to apply than a winter blanket. The Enduro equine support system, using patented NASA cable compliant joint technology, is used to precisely lift and safely support the equine patient during induction of anesthesia. As the patient regains consciousness, the system gradually releases until the horse is able to stand without assistance. This technique totally eliminates a horse’s anxiety and instability which exists in the protocols used today.”

The president of Enduro, Kenneth Messier, stood next to his NEST and talked to us about the product. What interested me the most was his claim that the NEST can help with the treatment of laminitis.

Rustin M. Moore, DVM, in an article “Barbaro Injury Highlights Need for Laminitis Research Funding” explains, “Laminitis, sometimes referred to as “founder,” is a severely debilitating, tremendously painful disease of the soft tissues (laminae) that connect the hoof wall (the outer part of the hoof that you see) to the coffin bone (the skeletal bone that exists inside the hoof). Laminitis typically develops in either both front feet (most common), all four feet, or in the foot opposite to a limb with a severe injury or infection.”

Remember Barbaro’s terrible accident in the 2006 Preakness? I watched it on television and like so many others, followed Barbaro’s recovery.

As Dr. Moore puts it, “from the outset of treatment, Barbaro’s doctors emphasized that the colt’s recovery would be dependent upon the successful healing of his bone fractures as well as the prevention of laminitis in his opposite healthy leg. This fear of laminitis was realized seven weeks later, when it was announced that Barbaro had developed the disease in his left hind foot. The silent killer that affects horses around the globe was now a severe complication in Barbaro’s otherwise excellent recovery.”

Barbaro was euthanized on January 29, 2007. Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at the New Bolton Center, said laminitis left Barbaro “with not a good leg to stand on.”

Enduro’s website quotes an anonymous professional, “I believe that if this piece of equipment had been available last year, Barbaro would be alive today.”

No one knows, but I can see the truth in that statement. If my Harry had been placed in this support system, his good left front leg would not have been forced to support all his weight. Perhaps his right hoof would have been given time to heal.

But Messier admitted that the NEST is expensive, out of the reach for regular horse owners. As with other new technologies, it will be cheaper in the future.

Let’s hope so—and we no longer need to fear this horrible disease that has taken the lives of backyard pleasure horses as well as Barbaro and the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

A technical writer by day and a romance writer by night, Jan Scarbrough is the author of several romance novels. She loves nothing better than to fit a horse into the plot. Jan gets her “horse fix” once a week by taking a riding lesson at Premier Stables in Simpsonville, Kentucky.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On the Way to the Barn

by Laura Crum

All of us who keep our horses where we live are familiar with the magic that just the everyday chores can bring. I have written before about sitting in the barn listening to my horses munch hay and watching them graze along the driveway and the myriad of small ways in which living with horses delights me. Even if I could no longer ride, I would still take great pleasure in owning horses.

So today I want to write about another joy that comes of having horses to feed. Its called “What I Saw on the Way to the Barn.” Because I feed fairly early—usually between seven and eight-- every morning, as I step out my door and sniff the fresh air, I’m aware that I might see something special.

I live in a hollow of the brushy California coastal hills—the same hills that I trail ride through so often. My house and barn are surrounded by wild land, where the wild critters live, and I see them all the time. Some mornings it’s a buck with a six point rack, or a spotted fawn (in the spring). Sometimes its Cooper’s hawks mating in the top of a pine tree, sometimes it’s a coyote stalking my chickens. Even if its only a flock of California quail, or Cinders the barn cat climbing down from the liveoak where he spent the night, its always something.

Yesterday morning I saw something so unique and special that I just have to write about it, even though I guess its not directly horse related. But then, some of what I get from my horses is the peripheral stuff. And this was great.

Because when I stepped out the door I saw a bobcat walking up the driveway toward me. I knew this bobcat. She’s been living on my place all summer and I see her often. She is tall, for a bobcat, and more spotted than most of them are. I suspected she’d been raising her kittens out here. She’s certainly taken a good many of my chickens, climbing a tree and diving out of it with a rooster in her jaws (plummeting 20 feet to earth), in her most spectacular kill (that I witnessed). So, yeah, I knew the bobcat.

As she came toward me (adult bobcats don’t tend to be much afraid of you) she meowed several times, which is unusual in my experience. I have heard bobcats growl and snarl, but she was meowing just like a domestic cat—mewing. And then I saw why.

Behind her trotted her two small, grayish kittens, following mama on an expedition. Their paws were a little too big for them and they still waddled a bit, their fur was fuzzy. They toddled after their mother, stopping to sniff things or gambol about from time to time. I froze, wishing I had my camera. I called my son, who came to the porch and stood with me. And together we watched Mama Bobcat lead her children in a procession up the hill and into the brush.

It sounds so simple and unimportant, written down like that. It might sound to some that I should be angry because the bobcat had taken at least a dozen of my chickens. But the truth is it was magic. It makes me feel like I’ve been given a sign or a blessing. Call me silly if you want, but my property has sheltered (among many other things) two young bobcats who are now making their way out into the world. How cool is that?

In the dawn light, with little wisps of fog drifting by the oak trees, the two kittens followed their mama up the hill. And I was there to see it. I like to think she knew I was there and paraded her babies past on purpose. Who knows? Though she certainly saw me standing on my porch.

Anyway, that’s my topic for the day. What delightful things do you see in the course of feeding your horses? For me, that’s one of the greatest joys of horse ownership.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


This morning I rode Kwintus for the first time in two months. Those of you who have read my last few posts know about the series of problems my poor old boy has had recently, not to mention how worried I’ve been about the possibility of his working days being over.

My stomach was not a happy bunny as I drove to the stables. The idea of getting on Kwintus, of riding down to the arena and pushing him into trot only to find him stiff, lame, uncomfortable and totally unsteady on his feet terrified me. Also, I knew that my daughter was sitting in Cornwall, biting her nails, waiting to hear how my ride had gone, and the notion of giving her bad news made me nauseous. I was so worked up that I knocked back some Rescue Remedy!

I’d arranged for my friend Sybille to meet me at the stables, thinking it would be helpful to have someone on the ground to give me visual feedback should things go wrong. I mean, if Kwintus stumbled or fell, she’d be able to describe what she’d seen, whereas I would only “feel” the problem. With wiggly beasties in my tummy, I saddled up my woolly boy (he looks like a Polar Bear and seriously needs clipping!), hopped on, and we headed down to the arena.

Kwint seemed thrilled. “I’m back!” he seemed to say, striding down the hill, flicking his front legs out in front of him, ears pricked. Today has been a beautiful, absurdly hot day for a Swiss November, and it felt wonderful to be back in the saddle in such idyllic conditions. Sybille and I chatted for a few minutes as I walked Kwintus around the arena to warm him up, and she commented on how loose and ample his walk seemed. I had to agree; considering he’s not done any work since late August, apart from six or seven sessions in the Aquapacer (water treadmill) in the past two weeks, he felt pretty amazing. After ten minutes or so I took a deep breath, collecting him slightly before asking him to move into trot. He rewarded me by bouncing into a balanced, rounded trot, engines firing nicely from behind, and no signs of unsteadiness on his front legs. I glanced at Sybille to make sure she was seeing what I was feeling, and she gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

After a few minutes I changed the rein, moving onto the dreaded left side (his neck problems affect his left foreleg), taking a little more contact with my outside rein to help him keep his balance and although he wasn’t as smooth as on the right, there was none of the horrendous “leg giving way beneath him” sensation. He was forwards, light, with a nice swing in his back. The right lead canter was a dream, and my spirits rose further as he let off a little buck of joy! Even the left lead canter went better than expected, and during the last few minutes of our workout, his trot became more connected, balanced and powerful. In fact, looking back, I don’t think I’ve felt him so at ease with his body in quite a long time.

Our ride probably lasted less than fifteen minutes (work-wise), but it was plenty considering everything he’s been through lately. Walking him back up to the stables, I couldn’t stop patting him and smiling and telling him what a clever boy he was. I texted my daughter the good news as I rubbed him down, sending her a photo of our contented, sweaty, four-legged friend. She replied immediately, declaring this to be "the best news ever!”!

My fingers are crossed, and I’m knocking on wood, but after the great feeling he gave me this morning I think my lovely old boy might be able to enjoy light work and gentle countryside rides for a little longer.

I’m really looking forward to another little session tomorrow. And you know what? I think Kwintus is too!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reverse Snobbism

by Laura Crum

OK, I’ll admit it, I am guilty of the above vice. At least, where my horses are concerned. The other day I was treated to an example of exactly the sort of thing that has turned me into a reverse snob, and I thought I’d write about it and see what you all thought.

I don’t usually meet many riders on my local trails, but occasionally there are folks from the nearby boarding stable out riding. We usually stop and greet each other, chat a bit and so on. But when I met the gal on the sorrel mare, I knew she was a little different.

My first clue came when the mare spooked quite handily coming upon my son and I around a blind corner. She was a quick little thing and could move. The middle-aged female rider stayed on—barely. My horses hardly turned a hair, and looked at the snorting sorrel mare with mild curiosity.

The mare was fancy, slick as if she were blanketed, groomed to the nines, and the gal had some very nice tack on her horse. A quick look told me that she was a cowhorse or wanna be cowhorse—the gear and the look of the mare put her in that category. The rider gave me the once over, too, and I didn’t miss her dismissive glance.

Because Sunny and Henry are not fancy. Small, humble, QH type horses (Henry is actually pretty well bred and a discerning eye can see it), my two geldings are fuzzy with their winter coats and they are definitely not groomed to the nines. They don’t have any obvious dirt clumps on them when we go out riding—that about covers it. Their manes and tails have not been combed out with Show Sheen—unlike the sorrel mare. Their tack is a motley collection of odds and ends that are comfortable and practical for trail riding—my old, rebuilt roping saddle, my son’s beat up youth saddle with tapaderos and a shabby neoprene breast collar (tacky looking, but light and useful), oh and let’s not forget the mechanical hackamore I use on Sunny. Trust me, every person who thinks they are a cool “trainer” depises the mechanical hackamore. And it can certainly be a very negative thing. However, all these so-wise folks sometimes don’t notice that it can have good applications, too, like most training devices, and, in fact, my horse Sunny prefers it to having a bit in his mouth, and for my use on this cold blooded little trail horse, it is very appropriate.

Of course, then there’s the fact that I keep the halters on under the bridles—very practical if you need to tie a horse up, but doesn’t look very posh. Makes you look like you’re part of a dude string, in fact. Icing on the “unprofessional” appearance is that I ride in cargo pants and Ugg boots—comfortable and practical for an experienced rider strolling down a trail, but not at all gear that would impress any “fancy” horse person.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that ms cowhorse rider looked at me and my kid dismissively (as soon as she had regained her balance), nodded as coolly as she could manage under the circumstances in answer to my “hi”, and rode on. Or she tried to ride on. Her mare didn’t want to leave our horses and did not like the look of the trail leading down to a ditch (the trail we had just come up with no problem).

The mare balked and spun and resisted. The woman tried to sit quiet and pretty, but guess what? Quiet and pretty wasn’t getting the job done. In the end she resorted to a much needed “over and under” and the mare jumped forward and headed down the hill. When I looked over my shoulder she was dancing in front of the ditch. I grinned and rode on up the ridge on my steady horse.

Because no, our horses are not fancy, nor is our gear. I am not much of a fancy rider any more, either. But we can walk down a hill and cross a ditch with no problem, or stroll through the surf, or wade through mud, or deal with traffic. We can even greet other horses out on the trail with a calm, relaxed demeanor and walk off and go on with our ride without making a fuss. Both my horses will go as quietly bareback and in a halter as they will tacked up. Imagine that.

Neither Henry or Sunny would ever win a ribbon in a cowhorse class, or any horseshow class, for that matter. Sunny even flunked out as a team roping horse because he can’t run. Neither horse would qualify as “well—trained” by most folks standards. But they are broke—broke in the old-fashioned sense. They will go where you point them and do what you tell them. They are sensible and reliable under all circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong. I have “been there and done that”. For many years I trail rode in my show saddle on my well-bred cowhorse gelding, Gunner, who was polished till he sparkled. (And yes, I combed his mane and tail before a trail ride.) Gunner won many a cutting class in his day. And Gunner was every bit as spooky as that sorrel mare and I hung on by the skin of my teeth (and my grip on the horn) many a time on various trail rides. The difference is that I was never so proud of myself that I couldn’t see the value in tough little trail horses in plain tack. To be quite frank, I often looked at such horses in admiration and envy and wished I were on them—especially when Gunner was whirling away from yet another horse eating stump. And I certainly never ignored anyone who greeted me.

As the years have passed and I lost interest in training and showing, I went out and acquired a couple of these bombproof trail horses. And boy do I love them. I love my comfortable saddle and my non-fussy gear. I love that I don’t work hard at grooming my horse and polishing my tack to impress somebody else. I love that I ride in clothes and boots that don’t pinch or bind anywhere. I love that my horses are comfortable and relaxed and so am I. And I have to admit, as I rode away I gave that gal on the sorrel mare every bit as dismissive a glance as she gave me. In our own way, we are both snobs.

And no, I’m not in any way saying I’m superior—if she had stopped to chat we could have swapped cowhorse/trail horse stories and it might have been great fun. She could have been pretty handy with a horse; it was hard to tell from the little I saw. She could have been a less than experienced rider with money for a fancy horse and gear. If she’d been friendly, I might have gotten to know her a bit. But it was more than obvious that she wanted nothing to do with the likes of me and my kid and our plain little mounts. She never said a word in response to my friendly hello.

And its not that everyone on a fancy horse with fancy gear is a snob. I have met some mighty fancy horses tacked up like hunters, whose riders wore immaculate white breeches and shiny black high boots (for a ride through the woods) and yet these people were quite friendly and we exchanged info on what trails were open and how to get from here to there…etc. I may not be exactly admiring of such obviously expensive, restively impatient horses or particularly impressed (any more) by the riders equally obviously expensive tack and clothes. But I can certainly give everyone space to enjoy horses in their own way, and I try to be friendly and cordial to everyone I meet out riding. But as I said, the gal on the sorrel mare was different. She pointedly ignored us.

I do know that folks who appear arrogant are mostly insecure and I guess that if I were a better person I’d feel sorry for the poor things. Unfortunately I’m not so enlightened. That this does not make me the Buddha of horsemanship, I’m well aware.

I’m afraid I’m a little bit prone to this vice in other areas of life as well. When I see a woman in elegant clothes and high heels, wearing a coat of makeup and stepping out of a shiny gold Mercedes, my first thought is that I probably won’t care for her. Is this fair or right minded of me? Probably not. Conversely the sight of some slightly shabby gal climbing out of an old pickup with mud or dust (according to season) on her boots, and no make-up and un-fussed with hair makes me smile and think we could have something in common.

How about you guys? Any of you guilty of reverse snobbism? Or am I the only one who succumbs to this sin?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Zenyatta's Last Race

Yes, I know I have posted about the great race horse Zenyatta here a lot. For those of you who follow her career, you can barely get enough of this great mare. At six years old, she is unbeaten, winning all 19 of her races. She was featured on 60 minutes last Sunday, featured in Oprah magazine, she has won every single race she's ever run, including the Lady's Classic at the Breeders Cup in 2008, and then defeating the males last year in 2009 in the Breeders Cup Classic.

Saturday, November 6th, 2010 will be Zenyatta's last race.

This morning, she flew across the country from Southern California, which is her home base, to Louisville, Kentucky. There she will compete in the 2010 Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Saturday, November 6th - defending her title against the best male horses in the world. After the race she will most likely stay in Kentucky, and be retired to the breeding shed.

The Breeders Cup races are a series of races held over two days meant to showcase the best runners of the season. There are races on the dirt, turf, for juveniles and older horses, for fillies, mares, and colts, and at all distances.

If you'd like to watch - the television schedule is as follows:
Friday Nov. 5th on ESPN2 4:00 PM - 8:00 PM Eastern Time
Saturday Nov. 6th ABC 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM Eastern Time and
Saturday Nov. 6th ESPN 3:30 PM - 7:00 PM Eastern Time

The Breeders Cup Classic (the race featuring Zenyatta) will most likely be the last race in the schedule. Please make note the times above are Eastern Standard Time, and adjust your times accordingly. The horse racing channels of TVG and HRTV also carry coverage and news of these events, including the gallops and works of all the entrants in the week leading up to the big event. Exciting Stuff!

Can Zenyatta make it a perfect 20 for 20 and retire unbeaten? I'll be right there in front of my television, cheering her on. I hope you will be, too.