Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Praise of Henry

By Laura Crum

Its sunny and we’re riding again. The horses have had two weeks off due to bad weather. Monday we saddled up and rode in my riding ring—walk trot only because the ground is not perfect yet. The trails will be too wet for some time to come. Both Sunny and Henry felt pretty good—who can blame them. And yet both little guys were well behaved for a fairly sedate session of walk trot work. I am so grateful for them.

So yesterday, as I was thinking about writing a post, I decided I just want to sing Henry’s praises and through him, extol the virtues of buying your child an old, solid horse. So often people opt in favor of the younger, less solid horse, and I know the reasons for this. But the absolutely wonderful, 100% positive experience my son has had with Henry is a good reason to consider that older horse when you’re shopping. And for those who are not the boldest older “re-riders”, this applies to you and me, too. Don’t overlook the “Henry’s” of this world. Let me show you why.

Here is Henry. Henry is a registered QH gelding, of mostly running bloodlines. He is 14.3 hands. I’ve known Henry since he was a young horse. He belonged to a friend of ours, Harold Warkentin, who team roped on Henry until Harold was 80. The photo above shows Henry as a six-year-old at Harold’s place.

Henry was always reliable for Harold and when Harold gave up roping in his 80’s my uncle bought Henry. Henry was 15 at the time. My uncle used him as a practice rope horse and to mount his grandkids on. I watched Henry be perfectly sound and well behaved for an assortment of people for four years. His only vice was being a touch lazy, and I consider that a virtue in a kid’s horse. Henry had smooth gaits and was absolutely reliable, in the pen and outside. When my son’s pony died three and a half years ago (my child had just turned seven years old at the time), I asked if my uncle would sell Henry. Sure he would. For the same five thousand dollars he’d paid for him four years ago.

My friends told me I was nuts. I shouldn’t have to pay five thousand for a nineteen year old horse. And I was perfectly aware that my uncle was cutting a fat hog at my expense. (He’d done this before.) But I knew Henry was the horse I wanted for my son. And he’s been worth every penny.

Since I bought Henry, my son and I have been on hundreds and hundreds of rides together (I kept track the first year—we went on 120 trail/beach rides that year, not counting arena riding). Not once has my kid been hurt or even scared. We have seen many lovely things that will be with us forever. My son has learned to be a confident and effective rider. What price could I put on that?

The photos below show my son riding Henry. They’re not the best pictures, since I took them while riding my own horse, Sunny. But if you look you will see the relaxed, confident demeanor in both horse and child. They are enjoying the world together. And look at what they get to see. I could not have taken my little boy all these places without a horse as solid as Henry.

Henry in riding ring.

Henry on the trail.

Henry at the beach.

Henry is twenty three this spring and still perfectly sound. He colicked when he was twenty and I paid for colic surgery to save his life, but that happens to horses both young and old. The odds are that he doesn’t have ten more years left as a riding horse, as a younger horse might have, but certainly many younger horses have more soundness issues than Henry—who currently has none. He is completely sound and goes barefoot. And if I lost him tomorrow, those last three and a half years are a gift I will value forever.

Henry—twenty three years old.

My son rode Henry yesterday—another pleasant walk/trot session in our riding ring, which still has some muddy spots. Nothing special. Took about twenty minutes. Just what you see in the riding ring photo, which was actually taken last fall. But I cannot think of one single thing that I consider a greater gift than this regular, pleasant, confidence-building interaction my son has with this great old horse. When my son was done he gave his horse a cookie (which we have taught Henry to take politely) and we turned him loose to graze in the ring (which has plenty of grass right now) for an hour. We were all content.

So thank you, Henry, for all you’ve given and are giving us, I will take care of you and love you until the end of your days. And to all of you who are looking for a horse and are offered a chance at a rock solid oldster—do not discount the pure joy available in the reliable ride, free of fear and struggle. Does this look like happiness or what?

Henry and kid—loping in the springtime (last year at this time).

Anybody else have an older riding horse you just love?


Linda said...

Cheers to Henry! I bought one like that for my daughter--Old Red. We bought him when he was about 20 (not cheap either) and now he's 30 and still teaching every kid around here to ride. I've always told people Red earned his price in the first month we owned him. Best thing we EVER did.

Laura Crum said...

Linda-- Your comment made me smile. Aren't they a blessing? I will be even more tickled and grateful than I am now if Henry can still teach kids to ride at 30. And yes, that is another thing I do with him. Teach my son's little friends to ride. He is such a great horse.

Anonymous said...

Henry is a real star - horses like that are worth their weight in gold. He even looks a bit like my Pie in the photo of him when he was younger - same sturdy build and apparently the same good mind.

I rode my Noble up until his mid-20s and he too was always completely sound until his death last year at 30. He was a sweet and willing horse - not the steady-eddy that your Henry is - Noble was more nervous and high-strung, but always willing and would do anything I asked. Old horses can be wonderful, and good ones are a real blessing for kids.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I had the same thought when I put the photo of 6 yr old Henry up. He looks a bit like Pie. What nice horses.

Mrs. Mom said...

I was holding out for a Henry type horse for the Locust Brothers. Never thought we'd find one... and *we* didnt- he found us.

Henry. Rocks! And he sure is a nice looking seasoned citizen too Laura! May he last until he is 40 like my old Appy did!

horsegenes said...

What a great mom you are. Not many parents are willing to spend the bucks to give their kids what they truely need. They are to worried about the "deal" and what they are going to get and how long it is going to last. I had a friend call me the other day and ask if I knew this lady that was selling a 4 year old. My friend wanted to buy it for her 6 year old kid. It went something like this. "No I don't know so n so. Have you bumped your head? You are nuts to buy a 4 year old for your son. I don't care how fricking broke the lady says he is, he isn't broke enough for a child. Pull your head out and find an old broke - been there done that - horse for your kid - you dork." I think we are still friends. :)

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--I am so glad Lutan (I am not spelling it right, am I?) found you. He looks like an absolutely wonderful pony and I hope you and your kids have just as much joy in him as we have had in Henry.

kel--Tell your friend to read my blog post. Maybe the photos will sink in. I added them because I think they tell a deeper story than my words could ever do. Look at how happy my kid is loping his steady horse. Look at the places we've gone and how relaxed both horse and kid are. I do not care what four year old you are talking about, you could not have done this (with the same results) with a four year old. Kate bought a great four year old (Pie) and I am sure she will be happy to say that he is not what Henry is. Perfect for her--not for a child or a less experienced rider.

Terri Rocovich said...

OK so I am not sure who is more handsome and adorable - Henry or your son! And your trails are spectacular, now I really want to come ride at your end of the State. I think that horses like Henry are too special for words and your son's memories and the confidence that Henry gives him will allow Henry to live forever. I have a pony named Tahoe (now 27) who is cut from the same cloth that Henry is. We are both blessed.

Laura Crum said...

Terri--I have seen pictures of Tahoe and he is adorable. Its funny, when I posted the photos, I wondered if professional horse people would not take me to task for my son's less than PC gear and not so horseshow perfect form. It tickles me that you merely say he is "adorable". Neither my kid or Henry would win blue ribbons at a show. But they are relaxed, confident and having fun, and that means the most to me.

The trail in the photo is an old logging road that goes through the redwood forest near my uncle's place. Its a lovely ride mid-summer--but its dark, dank, and muddy right now.

SunnySD said...

What a sweetie - Henry's type of horse is priceless.

A friend whose whole family rides, and youngest is now 5 described it this way: "I can put [my daughter] on any of our horses and trust they won't intentionally buck her off. But I can't trust all of them to ignore her when necessary."

He's talking about Beauty. Both his daughters learned to ride on the nondescript, not-terribly tall, grade bay mare he got as a gift (as in take this horse, please!) 20+ years ago. She's an ex-4-h, ex-drill team, ex-barrel horse. She's been roped off, pushed cattle and done the parade thing. She's packed. She'll ride up to your ability level - or down, and she's honest about it. It doesn't take her long to decide which type of rider she has on board.

He was recently offered $4000 for her. He turned it down.

Laura Crum said...

Sunny SD--What a great story. Beauty sounds like a treasure. I think your friend was smart to turn the money down. Horses like that are not that easy to find.

Dreaming said...

Hooray for the Henry's of the world. They are worth their weight in gold. Thanks for such a nice story and for reminding me of my 'Henry'.
My Henry was actually named Ed. I called him Steady Eddy, because that's what he was. I leased him when my first child was 2. I could put Chris in front of me and head out on the trail and Ed would plod along, very carefully. Nothing would upset him. However, when I went out by myself, Ed liked to give me a good ride. He'd be a little bit more animated, but nothing I couldn't handle. He read the situation and played the right part.
You are so smart and fortunate to have Henry.

joycemocha said...

Not me, but two of G's students. I saw this little POA come in when G was assessing him for the purchase (kids' grandfather bought them two POA ponies--an older, white-from-age guy who still had a few spots and a younger chestnut with tons of Doc O'Lena bloodlines who looks like a younger, spotted version of Mocha. I've told Grandpa I'm interested if he ever needs help/wants to sell. She's big enough/I'm small enough to ride her and have pony fun. Young horse, needs more time).

Anyway, this older guy was a real Sad Sack when he came to the barn. Depressed, mopey, underweight. Scabs on his legs. Barn girls made much over him but he had that detached attitude of a horse that's been betrayed by circumstances before (I've seen that kind of mopeyness in another schooling barn, when I rode at Grand Cypress in Florida--perfectly lovely Connemara whose owners left him in a divorce situation, and he missed his kids greatly. Great little pony).

I saw the same old guy last week. Two years later. I could have sworn he'd grown up a couple of inches. At full weight, maybe a little heavy. Bright-eyed, a little naughty on the ground, typical pony...but when his little girl was up on his back, he was steady and straight. Limped a little, probably arthritis, but his ears were forward, he was a wee bit goofy with spring fever, but he was also total babysitter. The girls' mom told me several stories about how happy he is and what the girls do with him in the pasture. Happy, much-loved pony. And he pals around with the ram of their sheep herd.

Ponies/horses like that are worth their weight in gold. I hope that Connemara found himself some more little girls to love him and care for him, and I'm happy to see this old boy so happy with his girls. And make no mistake about it--they're *his* girls to babysit. Talk about a proud little pony!

joycemocha said...

Oh, and another of that ilk at the barn...old Shekina, a Morab. She got G and his wife together many years ago (she wouldn't stop, and he trained her to stop). Shekina has started countless youngsters and was still packing lightweight kids until a year and a half ago, when she had most of her teeth pulled. My own son started on Shekina.

Thing is, when G used Shekina in his college classes, she'd be quiet and still for the timid riders, but put a better rider on her? You'd better be ready to *ride,* because she'd dial it up appropriately. Never missed her leads, rolled back reliably....

She's around 36, 37 years old. Of all the horses in the barn, she has the privilege of a stall guard and gets to supervise everything. Retired and loved, living on mush. We think she might be going blind, and every winter now we wonder if this will be her last one. But she still is going strong!

Tansy said...

Two years ago I was the nervous re-rider. I found Harry, a 15yo TB gelding. When I started looking I was thinking Clyde X or standardbred even... but no, Harry found me. He's evented, jumped to 1.20, trekked... and he is the calmest, quietest, most reliable, lovable horse I have ever met. He thinks he's a western pleasure horse and cruises about with his long striding walk with his head low and his ears forward wherever I point him. The first time I took him to a show he was so chilled out I gave my mum a ride around the show grounds.
Even after 6 months off (two injuries in a row- unknown paddock accident and an altercation with a fence) I got back on and took him out and he was just as broke as ever. We're both getting fit again now and going out for longer. The difference is, this time I'm heading out just as confident and relaxed as he is.
I wasn't looking for a TB, but I know Harry is the right horse for me.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: as you know, we bought Kwintus as a 15 year old schoolmaster mainly for my daughter, but also to help me get my confidence back after a bad riding accident. Many people raised eyebrows, questioning the reasoning behind investing so much money in such an old horse. Although Kwint had to be retired before his 19th birthday, I have never regretted this decision, and like you with Henry, will look after him for as long as he lives. He brought my daughter and I so much pleasure, and, as far as I'm concerned, taught us how dressage "should feel". Kwintus was a gift from above, a truly special horse.

I wish you and your son many more wonderful years of riding together on your lovely horses.

Laura Crum said...

Dreaming, joycemocha, Tansy and Francesca--Thank you for the wonderful stories. It is so great to hear about these beloved older horses and how much they can give. We are all very fortunate.

Anonymous said...

Laura - you're right, Pie's no Henry - yet!

Kel - you were right to give your friend a piece of your mind. No 4yo, even Pie, is kid-broke. Pie's pretty steady, but he's done some spectacular sit/spins with me when startled - no inexperienced rider should be riding a horse that young. Hope you saved your friend from a bad mistake.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--After I made that comment about you and Pie, I went to your blog and had to smile at the story of his quite spectacular sounding spook by the wash rack. Good riding on your part. But for sure my kid or most inexperienced riders would have either come off or been badly scared at the least. Not to mention not having the skills to settle the horse right away, as you did. And I really do think Pie is a great young horse--from what I've seen and heard. But such "incidences" are par for the course with even the best young horses--as I have experienced many times.

Gayle Carline said...

Sorry I'm so late to comment, but I found I had too many words to talk about my old horse. I had never talked about him before, I guess. So I borrowed a post from my gelding's blog and wrote about him there.

Anonymous said...

When I was looking for a horse for my kids to ride, ages 15, 11 and 6, the only thing I was for sure I wanted was older!!! Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and even the t-shirts are old and faded!!

I found an 18 year old QH mare named Lady and she really has been there, and her knees show it!! They are lumpy with arthritis but they never seem to bother her. She has never taken a miss step with my kids on her and like Henry she is a little lazy which is okay by me. Even my 6 year old prefers to ride her instead of the 11hh pony!! That is only because she knows that Lady will be safe!!

Someone once said your very first horse should be old and slightly lame. I don't know about the lame part but finding Lady has been a huge blessing for our family.

Laura Crum said...

Gayle--I read your blog post about Uno--what a great story. And what a lovely horse. I totally admire the choices you made there.

Lynn--Lady sounds like a find. Good for you for seeing what she was.

Both the above stories involve slightly gimpy older horses, and I think I have a blog post on this subject coming soon.