Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Swiss Home

Having seen photographs of Laura and Jami’s romantic equestrian properties recently, I’ve been feeling a little envious. I love the higgledy-piggledy, happy-go-lucky, natural look of Laura’s home. I also love her corner of the world from having lived in the area for a while back in the Eighties. As for Jami’s farmhouse in the woods, from my European perspective it appears so charming and Apple-Pie-ishly American, evoking rocking chairs on the porch, hikes through chlorophyll-fresh greenery, cozy evenings by log fires. Both are the kind of houses I always drool over in “Country Living” magazine.

Located in a small village twenty minutes outside Geneva, my house doesn’t have any of Laura’s house’s quirky charm, or the romance of Jami’s place. Architecturally speaking, my house by no means fits my ideal. Built in the Seventies, it’s kind of ordinary and boring looking, really, especially from the outside. In fact, when we were looking for a place to buy nine years ago, I initially dismissed it. My husband, however, saw its potential and convinced me to go back for a second look. Conveniently placed closed to the children’s school, with a big plot of land (by Swiss standards!), he managed to get me to see beyond the horrendous swirly gold and cream wallpaper, the avocado green and Easyjet orange kitchen, the revolting bathrooms. Nevertheless, when we visited it with the children, my son (who was seven at the time), was absolutely horrified and burst into tears once we got back into the car. “I’m not going to live in a horrible place like that,” he wailed as we drove away. We laugh about it now as he’s none of us has ever regretted moving here. We knocked out a couple of walls, changed the windows, updated the kitchen and the bathrooms, put our stamp on it. We added a deck around almost two sides of the house, which is wonderful even in the weakest of winter sun. But best of all is the garden which, eight years after we moved in, is really starting to fill in.

I love having a pretty garden, love seeing plants evolve through the seasons, love being able to wander down to my vegetable garden and pick something for lunch or dinner. I love being able to potter around, picking flowers for myself or for a
friend. Year after year, I’m inclined to add more and more plants, even new flowerbeds, but gardening is pretty labor intensive, and plants are expensive, so I don’t always give into temptation, although I do my flowerpots two or three times a year. Early in May there was a major flower show at the Chateau close to my house, a real floral Garden of Eden, yet I managed to make it to the exit with only two wheelbarrows laden with yummy stuff. My favorite purchase from that particular is a tantalizingly scented pale pink rose called “Rose des Cornouailles” (Cornwall rose).
It truly smells the way roses should!

Ideally I’d have gone for a much older house with more character. I’d have really enjoyed renovating an old farmhouse (such as the one at my stables), creating a more bohemian, “Country Living” atmosphere, but in this part of the world properties like that are hard to come by, and cost many many millions to buy, and then many many more millions to renovate. So I’m happily counting my chickens in my lovely big comfortable house.

The thirty minute commute to the stables is a bit of a drag, especially at this time of the year when it would be far more pleasant to ride early in the morning, or later in the evening because of the flies, but bumper to bumper traffic puts a damper on that. There’s a big fancy yard under construction in my village which should be ready by next year, so if there’s space, and if my trainer is allowed to come and give me lessons there I may consider moving Qrac. It would make more sense, saving both time and petrol. I don’t think I’d move Kwintus though, as I doubt he’d ever find a better environment for his retirement.

Where do you live? What’s your environment like? Do you enjoy gardening, and if you do, are there any particular plants you might recommend? Do you have a horse at home, or do you commute to a stable? Nosy, aren’t I?!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Little Mystery and Goodbye for Awhile

by Laura Crum

Yes, I do write mysteries and I recently finished book number twelve in my series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, but this is not one of my “made-up” mysteries, this is a real mystery involving a real veterinarian.

I've written before about my little trail horse, Sunny. Sunny has been a real champ for me, allowing me to lead my son on hundreds of trail rides in the last three years (with my son riding equally bombproof Henry) without one scary moment. In my personal book, that is priceless. I read of others’ accidents and fear issues and my heart really goes out to them. It is so sad to have a lifelong dream of a happy life with horses turn into a nightmare of emotional and physical distress due to injuries and/or fear. I myself have so far dodged this bullet—knocking on wood (literally). I haven’t been hurt yet and I am not fearful when I handle/climb aboard my horse. Not because I am such a good hand. Because I have a reliable, steady horse to ride. I know I have proffered this advice before, but I’m gonna do it one more time in the hopes that it will help somebody. If your primary goal is to enjoy horses without struggling with fear issues or getting hurt, buy a reliable horse in the double digits. A horse with plenty of years of experience in the event you wish to pursue. Not a horse you have to train, or worse yet, retrain. A horse that has been a steady babysitter for his previous rider(s).

I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say, “I don’t need a babysitter.” Very often this person has had far less experience riding/training young horses than I have. I always want to tell them, “I may not need a babysitter, but I WANT one.” I want to have fun on my horses now—I do not want to feel nervous. If you’re not afraid of getting hurt, and don’t mind the normal antics of a young horse or the recalcitrant behavior of a horse with some sizable holes in his training, more power to you. This advice is not meant for you. But if you, like me, are currently more concerned with being safe and worry free while you enjoy riding and handling horses, think long and hard when you choose a horse to work with. A reliable horse in the double digits is a far greater aid to staying safe and anxiety free while riding than any helmet in the world (not that there is anything wrong with wearing a helmet—and, in fact, despite my long and safe helmetless horseback career, I am now planning to go out and buy one, and its mostly thanks to what I have learned from other bloggers. Any suggestions on what brand/sort I should choose?).

(A small aside here—I recently read on another blog the statement that “if you think you own a pair of bombproof horses that will never hurt you, think again. Any horse can hurt you at any time.” This is, of course, true. But its like saying “anything can hurt you at any time. The asteroid could strike the planet at any time.” True, but not very helpful. The woman who made the statement had been hurt handling what she considered to be a gentle horse. From her description, my assessment would be that she wasn’t being careful enough, as the horse hurt her due to a habit that she already knew he had. So here’s the next part of staying safe—always be thoughtful in the way you handle horses. I wince when I read about people playing “games” with horses at liberty, or strolling along beside, or worse yet, behind a loose horse. This is, quite frankly, asking for trouble, no matter how gentle the horse is. When I handle my gentle horses they are caught and haltered and I remain alert. I am careful about the way I catch them and lead them and turn them loose. I groom them and fuss with them when they are under my control and in a safe place, not “at liberty” or God forbid, out in the pasture with other horses. And I am equally thoughtful when I ride them. And these are two very “bombproof” horses. Yes, any horse can hurt you at any time, but if you are careful in how you handle them and use safe practices, and the horse is reliable, it is not very likely. Most of the horsewrecks that I’ve known of involved green horses or horses with a problem habit, or a moment of carelessness on the part of the rider/handler, or following a practice that is just not safe. I understand how people get started doing these things—they are taught these practices by some horse guru or other and they are looking for that elusive “connection” with the horse. But I can tell you for a fact that many of these practices are quite dangerous, and there is a big potential for the horse to hurt you.

Of course, lets face it, people get hurt climbing out of the bathtub or stepping off a curb. Virtually anything can hurt you; life can and will hurt you. As we all know, no one gets out of this alive. However, I will stand by my statement that riding/handling solid horses in the double digits and using careful practices while remaining alert will do the most possible good towards keeping us safe and not fearful when we work with our horses. All right—I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

Anyway, Sunny, my reliable little horse that I just love, has given me hundreds of happy, relaxed trail rides. And here’s the problem. There is a downside to reliable horses in the double digits—and I’m now facing it. The soundness issue.

I’ve mentioned before that Sunny has been off and on slightly gimpy this spring. Well, after last week when we did several trail rides, I went down to feed him one morning and he was lame. Lame in the right front—the foot he’d been slightly off on from time to time. I called the vet.

The vet concurred that it was the right front; the vet agreed with me that there was no sign of a soft tissue injury—no swelling anywhere on the leg. Hoof testers showed some soreness on the sole. No sign of heat or laminitic issues. The left front was fine. The vet wanted to block the foot to see if the lameness was there. I did not want to block the foot.

I have an irrational hatred of nerve blocks because I knew a horse who was put down because he broke his leg trotting with a blocked foot in a vet exam. I know this is a very unlikely thing, but I can’t help it—it bugs me. Also, I’ve been around horses my whole life and I knew Sunny was lame in the foot—just by the way he moved. The hoof tester results confirmed this. (90% of front leg lameness is in the foot, anyway.) So I told the vet I wanted to shoot X-rays of the foot. I thought we might discover some sort of arthritic issue.

But the X-rays were clean. No ringbone, sidebones very clean, no navicular changes, coffin bone looked fine. The vet suggested the horse might be bruised. But we had pared the foot out carefully, and there was no sign of bruising. However we agreed I’d try front shoes and pads and see if it fixed the problem. The pads would be somewhat diagnostic. If the horse went immediately sound, he had sore soles/bruising type issues.

I have been running Sunny barefoot for three and a half years and up until this spring the horse has been quite sound. He has good, big, open feet—he doesn’t chip to speak of. I liked having him barefoot, but I went ahead and put front shoes and pads on him—just to see if it would help him.

It helped some—but it was not an instant cure. He was less lame, but still a little lame. I still felt it was in the foot. I called the vet back and told him to look at the X-rays again. He did. He consulted with another vet. And then he called me back and said he thought, he wasn’t sure, that he could see a tiny little hairline fracture at the very edge of the navicular bone. We discussed my options, IF this was the case. I thought the diagnosis fit the symptoms the horse had shown, so was inclined to believe it. It made sense that the trail riding made him worse. It made sense that the pads would make it better but not fix it. The vet thought leave pads on him, give him a month off, and then reevaluate.

The bright side to all this is that I will be gone for the month of July, so giving Sunny a month off is no problem. The dark side is that I may now be coping with soundness issues in my good little trail horse—for possibly a long time. But I have to say, even if this is so, I would not trade Sunny for any other horse. He has given me a huge gift and if I have to manage his soundness issues in the future, even if I have to retire him, those years of so many lovely rides in which I was never scared, let alone hurt, are totally worth the price of dealing with a sore foot.

Anyway, that’s my little mystery—has anyone else had this particular problem? I’d love to hear about it if so. I have no idea how Sunny injured himself—if this is the answer to his gimpyness. I have never had a horse with this problem. The edges of the navicular bone were very clean, so this is not “navicular disease”. I’m still a bit puzzled about the whole thing and am not sure if we’ve solved the mystery lameness or not. After several days with pads Sunny IS markedly better and trots almost sound in a straight line on level ground. Any thoughts?

And, I will be gone in July—gone from the computer, too, no email or blogs—and back to posting (and riding, I hope) in August. I’ll be participating in the summer book giveaway then—which Jami just announced. Hope you all enjoy it in the meantime.

Happy summer. Cheers--Laura

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Annoucing the Equestrian Ink Great Summer Giveaway

The writers at Equestrian Ink would like to thank our readers for their continued support over the past few years.

This summer we're offering the Great Summer Giveaway at Equestrian Ink. Each Saturday one of the EI regular authors will post a book cover and blurb. If you'd like to be entered for a chance to win that book, follow the instructions posted to enter. The winner will be annouced each week on the following Friday.
Some authors may be able to provide a print or digital version of the book depending on the winner's preference.

We hope you'll join us for the opportunity to win some great books.

Boys Will Be Boys

Several of you have been asking about my new donkeys, Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Big, so I thought I'd send some pictures.

These are two of the sweetest donkeys I have owned (and I raised donkeys for a number of years, so I've had lots.) They are very gentle with people, and even our new pup, Penny (below.) Notice that they haven't shed out yet?

In the Northwest, donkeys usually don't shed all their hair until July, and then start hairing up again in August. This year, they are slower than usual to shed out, because we've had a very cool Spring and Summer, and in fact, it's still cloudy and cool in late June.

But when "the boys" start playing together, wow, do they play rough. They bite and rear and act like they're trying out for a nature show - "Wild Donkeys of the Cascades."

I have mostly owned jennies, so having two donkey geldings together is a new experience for me. Mr. Chocolate was a jack when I got him, but I had him gelded back in February, and I thought by now we should be done with this kind of behaviour.

They play rough, too, and I doctor them almost daily for bites on their neck. They also play tug-a-war with the ball in the background, and chase each other around and around. And around and around.

I have even thought of separating the two of them, but they've been together as best friends for about five years, so I have finally decided that . . .

boys will be boys. *Sigh*

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cedrona Farm--My Little Piece of Puget Sound Paradise

Living in the Pacific Northwest requires a special breed of person to appreciate the beauty and tolerate the crappy weather 8-10 months of the year. Not that it’s cold or snowy, but it’s nine to ten months of gray to the point where you believe you’ll never see sun again in your lifetime. This past weather has proven especially trying, even for those of us who are native northwesterners like me. Despite the rain and perennial gray, I’d never want to live anywhere else.

The short bridle path through the woods on my property which opens into the horse arena
 Laura’s post about her beautiful little piece of heaven got me thinking about my own little paradise. About 18 years ago, my first husband and I decided to move back to where he grew up, a little town off of Highway 101 heading up the Olympic Peninsula. We started looking for property and found a three-acre plot in a newly developed area. All of the lots on this hill were at least 2 acres, and the property hadn’t been clearcut, so the trees were still standing. We purchased a lot that was partially on the hill but had a flat spot at the top in case I ever wanted to build a horse arena. When we had the land cleared, we also had it leveled and cleared for a future horse arena. The property borders commercial timberland so you can ride all day on the logging roads and trails around here.

My horse arena and horse barn
A few years later, we built our dream house. A year after that, we designed and had built a small horse barn on the property. The barn was a compromise because my former husband wanted a place to store his ski boat out of the rain, and I wanted a horse barn. Two-thirds of our barn was for horses and one-third had an area large enough for a ski boat. My horse barn and pasture even have views of a saltwater inlet and the Olympic Mountains.
My overgrown horse pasture

Over the years, I’ve kept one to two horses on the property, but after my divorce I started boarding my mare for the social aspect as well as being near my trainer.

For the past five years, my barn has been nothing more than a storage area. My small pasture has become overgrown and one of my stalls and paddocks has become a dog kennel. Over the 16-plus years I’ve lived here, the woods have started to move back in and take over. I’ve been battling it back, but at times I feel as if I’m fighting a losing battle. This summer my goal is to reclaim my overgrown pasture and repair perimeter fencing. I’m going to post some before pictures. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, you’ll get to see some after pictures.
The backside of our house

I love this property and feel especially fortune I was able to hang onto it after my divorce. My new husband loves the place as much as I do. He’s been primarily responsible for the flowers you seen in the pictures, as I don’t have a green thumb at all. Someday soon, I’ll have horses here again, and I’m looking forward to the day. It’s a great horse property and a shame that no horses live here.

But they will someday soon. Hopefully sooner. Then I'll have an entirely new set of challenges and joys to blog about. :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Just Want To Say Thank You

by Laura Crum

I’ve had a few fun things happen horsewise, which is something I’m grateful for, as we had some long months of bad weather/very little riding. Finally my son and I are back out on the trails. Its been sunny and seventy degrees and we’re having fun again. The photos below show us riding to the Lookout yesterday, where we can see the whole Monterey Bay. My husband was able to hike with us and take a few photos. The trail was pretty overgrown in places, as you can see, but we managed to ride our favorite loop, which takes just under two hours. The mud had dried out and some kind person had cleared the big downed trees; the worst we had to do was push through some brushy stuff.

Here we are riding down the trail through the forest on Sunny and Henry.

My son and I at the Lookout—looking north towards Pleasure Point and Santa Cruz.

Headed home through the green jungle.

And hey, I learned something. Feel free to call me slow, but I’ve been riding this one little singletrack trail for over three years and I still hadn’t figured out how NOT to get my knees bumped occasionally on the tight corners where the skinny path winds along a steep sidehill between oak trees whose trunks lean inward. There is NO extra space here, one is forced to pass inches from the trunks. I would try to get Sunny to arc his body away from my leg, I’d steer wide..etc, but I still managed to bang myself from time to time. Sunny was trying to obey my cue—it just wasn’t the right cue. Now I know all you seasoned trail riders already know the answer, but I didn’t, so I’m going to provide it for those of you who also ride narrow little trails that wind between solid trees and haven’t figured this out. You send the horse straight as you go into the problematic turn, using your energy more than a physical cue, looking straight ahead and sending him that way, and then you LET him turn, again more by relaxing your energy that by an overt signal, as soon as your leg is past the possibly hurtful trunk. It worked like a charm. Don’t know why I never figured it out before. But somehow I had this little epiphany yesterday, and I quit doing the same old things that hadn’t been working and tried something different, and voila.

One thing I’ve learned in the past—when ducking under very low, solid branches, which this cute little trail also has plenty of, the big trick is to go slow. Check the horse before the limb so you can carefully calculate your dip. The only time I have scraped my neck or back is when I hurried. But going slow does not work for the tight corners mentioned in the above paragraph—those you need to flow through. If you slow down you often get stuck with your leg wedged up against the tree trunk. Trail ride fun and games.

Another fun thing I’ve been doing is riding a new horse. My friend/boarder, Wally, bought a coal black gelding named (of course) “Coal”, and I’ve been riding him up at the roping arena the last two or three practice sessions, checking him out. Coal is ten years old, completely sound, about 15.2, and has very smooth gaits. (I could lope this horse all day—which is a nice change from Sunny, who has a not-so-good-for-your-back type lope.) Coal is said by his former owner to be reliably bombproof, and so far this seems to be true. He’s a more elegant looking horse than my two little trail horses—looks more TB than QH, carries his neck slightly arched, moves very “up” in front. I don’t have any photos of Coal yet, but I’ll try to take some soon.

I’ve been enjoying riding Coal—its been awhile since I’ve ridden anything besides Sunny. As some of you may remember, it was almost a year ago that we lost the use of Smoky, Wally’s six-year-old blue roan gelding, who was badly injured when he pulled back while tied to the horse trailer and ended up upside down under the tongue, with his leg caught in the safety chains. It took twenty minutes to get him out and his pastern was cut very deeply. At first he seemed to heal OK, but then the joint became infected. The vets at the equine hospital did not think Smoky would ever be truly sound again, and Wally was about to put him down. But in a twist of fortune, a friend of ours named Kerrin agreed to take Smoky and rehab him in the hope he could be walk/trot sound for little kids.

Six months of intense rehab (and many expensive treatments) later, here is Smoky, being, as Kerrin puts it “a real gentleman for the little ladies.”

To say I am happy and grateful is putting it mildly. Smoky is such a nice horse, and yes, he does have ringbone, as predicted, and would not be sound for hard use. But he jogs without a bob in the soft arena, and his easy going (OK, lazy) temperament has proven just right for being a leadline horse. Kerrin and her group of helpers just love him, so Yay! Smoky gets a life after all.

Anyway, I just wanted to express my gratitude and appreciation for all these happy things. I realize that this is not perhaps as interesting as bringing up controversial subjects or talking about disasters, but I somehow couldn’t help but write one more “feel good” post about the delights of life with horses. We all get enough sad things—perhaps its wise to pay attention to the joy when it comes our way.

Happy in the green world.

Here’s hoping that all of you are having many happy moments with your horses. Here’s to summer. Cheers--Laura

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sharing the Passion

This has to a relatively short post since I am flying to Houston (don't even ask what the weather is going to be like) to teach a Pony Club clinic. Now few sane people would willingly fly to Houston in June to teach outside in 95 degree temps with predicted showers as well. Why do you ask am I this insane. The kids, I love teaching the kids and many pony clubs across the country need to fly in upper level instructors for camps and preps for the upper level ratings.

So after reading Laura and Francesca's wonderful posts about Laura's precious gift to her son (I do think that Laura lives in paradise) and Francesca's love for her new man Qrac, I was thinking about how important it is to share our passion for these amazing animals with everyone who will care to listen. It does seem to me (and I realize this is going to make me sound old) that so many of this generation of teenagers lack a single minded passion for anything; except for the girls and boys I know who are involved in horses or other sports. I think that in this world of instant gratification, endless TV and video games, and mindless hours on the internet; that there are more young people preoccupied with brainless posts on facebook and twitter then they are with anything else. I have a niece who just turned 18 who spends more time posting on facebook or texting her friends than she spends committed to anything else. It seems that these kids lack goals and a passion for anything and are so self absorbed with themselves, gossip and soap opera-like trivial postings that they can't see past the end of their own noses.

I think that the greatest gift that Laura has shared with her son and that Francesca has shared with her daughter is more than just a passion for nature and horses. It is a passion for someting or anything other than themselves. The time that Laura shares with her son will be a beacon in his heart forever. I know that after nearly 2o years after my father's passing, my heart still smiles when I think of the times we spent together around the horses.

So that brings me back to why I am crazy enough to go to Houston in June, I get to share my passion with kids ranging in age from 10 to 25 and hopefully teach them a little something along the way. I stress education even for those who plan to be professional trainers because 1) nothing trumps education and 2) it is very hard to be a trainer and a back-up plan is never a bad idea. But most importantly I stress the importance of being responsible guardians and simply treasuring their relationship with their horses. Competition and Pony Club ratings are great for some but certainly not an imperative and not necessary to be a good horse person.

What Laura has with her son and her horses, long trail rides in beautiful country is better than all the blue ribbons in the world. So I challenge all of you to share your passion with a young person. I take my role as a mentor very seriously and believe in the adage of "it takes a village to raise a child." Everyone who participates in this blog are amazingly passionate about horses, writing and other things so share.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Some Kind of Wonderful

I knew I liked him a lot the minute I saw him. Was it love at first sight? Now that I think about it, it was probably more akin to lust. After all, he was a big beautiful black Lusitano stallion. With his thick, long black mane, his smoky dark almond shaped eyes, his cute rounded bottom and very long legs, he was very much the heartthrob.

But heartthrobs tend to be a little intimidating. The low, husky fire-breathing and occasional prancy mannerisms he displayed when I first brought him home made me wonder whether he might be a little too much horse for me. Transitioning from my trustworthy Dutch schoolmaster, Kwintus, was a challenge in itself, and to find myself in unfamiliar surroundings (I switched stables for a couple of weeks to make use of their indoor) with a rather green, very forward-going, seven-year-old Iberian stallion was a bit daunting.

As is often the case, it turns out I should have had a little more faith in myself and not worried so much. The “tumbleweeding” (running) I described in one of my earlier blogs (“Semi-Floppy”) is now almost completely resolved. The rhythm of the trot is getting better, more regular. The canter has metamorphosed in the past ten days. Initially I barely dared go into canter because it felt unbalanced and wonky and all over the place, so I only braved it in the small enclosed arena behind the stable block. And even when I did I tended to favor the left lead canter as the right lead felt particularly bizarre, with Qrac refusing to bend to the right, and instead leaning onto his inside shoulder and constantly changing to the left lead). Gradually however I got braver, he and I became more connected, more trusting of each other and things started to come together. We practiced. We practiced again. I tried cantering him on the gallop loop around the field; the left lead went fine, while yet again the right lead was pretty hairy, particularly when he decided to switch to the left lead and see how fast he could go (pretty fast!)! But he didn’t argue too much with me when I asked him to slow. He’s a good boy.

Next, I started taking him down to the big wide open arena. I worked hard, thinking things over, experimenting, and when my trainer, Marie-Valentine, came to give me a lesson I paid particular attention to all the little details she’s been telling me for years: keep my left hand more upright, sit tall, tall, taller, keep my chin up, keep my ultra-suppleness in check, watch that my lower leg doesn’t slide backwards (Qrac is so short-backed that if my leg slides out of place it’s practically behind him!). I worked extra hard, trying to think about all the little things that are so hard to think about when you’re already doing a trillion other things with every part of your body.

And one day, lo and behold, when I asked him to canter on the right lead, he curled
himself around my inside leg and struck off beautifully. We’ve capitalized on that moment, and although it still doesn’t feel as easy as the left lead, he’s definitely improving. We’re improving. And it’s so rewarding!I'm no longer only in lust, I'm in love!

My confidence and trust in him have improved so much that I regularly take him out on the trails around the property. We go alone, trotting and cantering through the fields with no problems whatsoever. The only thing that makes him antsy and mega fidgety is insects. Qrac HATES insects. He’s virtually impossible to keep calm and steady on days when the insects are bad, and, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of hot, humid weather recently. He stomps around all bad-tempered, lifting his hind legs so high he regularly kicks my feet in the stirrups. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve spent a small fortune on an array of insect-repellents, all of which promise instant insectual eradication, but nothing seems to dissuade the horse-flies
and the mini-flies and the horrid giant buzzy things that swarm around us, taunting him into a mad, frantic high-stepping piaffy thing. I shoo them off, try to coerce him into ignoring them, but it’s beyond him. So I push him into trot, urging him into his work routine to keep his mind busy as best I can, keeping our sessions short but intense. Incidentally, Qrac is a seriously sweaty guy who easily gets foamy bum syndrome! So sweaty is he that I need to wash my saddle blankets (? In French it’s called a “chabraque” – the thing we put under the saddle) after every session! Maybe it’s a macho thing.

Speaking of macho things, Qrac is no longer quite so macho. Well, he is, for the time being, but he had his first “anti-macho” shot ten days ago, and will have the other one in about three weeks. It’s a chemical castration and is completely reversible. It works (if I’ve understood correctly) by inhibiting the production of testosterone, the effects of which last (again, if I remember correctly) about a year. He should start feeling less, well, horny, within two weeks of having had the first shot. So far I haven’t seen any dramatic changes, with my horse still under the impression he’s bringing sexy back to his little French village. Secondary reactions to the shot? He was tired the following day, and, as the vet had predicted, ran a slight fever 48 hours later. I stood him in cold water for twenty minutes and gave him some aspirin.

Seventy-hours later he was fine again and raring to go. Steph, who owns my stables, saddled up one of her horses, I got Qrac ready and we set off for our first proper trail ride up the mountain. He was perfectly behaved, apart from a short and stroppy show of manliness when we passed a field full of stout blonde beauties (semi-heavy Comptois horses, used mainly for driving). I got him past them by raising my voice, closing my legs and acting braver than I felt. How I hate that fizzy adrenaline feeling!

Why did I choose a chemical castration as opposed to the full chop-chop? Because it’s summer, because the flies are horrendous, making the healing process less straightforward. Also, this way I’ll be able to gage how losing his manhood might affect his character and the oomph in his work. As for how long it will be before he is capable of walking by the field full of stout blondes without getting all worked up, I have no idea, but just going on that ride will be a good judge of his sex-drive. I don’t plan on renewing the chemical castration (my vet says it can be done up to five times, but doesn’t recommend it beyond two or three), but will instead have him gelded once the flies are gone, probably sometime in November or December. Some people tell me it’s a pity to geld such a beautiful stallion, especially since he’s approved by the Lusitano stud book, but I’ve decided it’s the right thing to do. As cuddly and adorable as he is (he loves to have his cheeks scratched, so much that he closes his eyes and leans his nose in my free hand!), he’ll probably be easier to handle in sticky situations.

My daughter rode him the other day for the first time since she came back from
University. As you can see, he looked amazing (well, I think so), but was a bit of handful since it was noon and the flies were ridiculous, turning him into a total drama queen. Does anyone know of a highly effective fly repellent? I’m going to try adding garlic granules to add to his feed. Although they didn’t seem to make a scrap of difference to Kwintus, their effect apparently varies from one horse to another. What about cider vinegar in their feed? Has anyone tried it? I bought some, but Steph is reluctant to use it as she’s worried it’s too acidic.

Please tell me your anti-insect secrets; Qrac and I are under siege!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Gift

by Laura Crum

I grew up with a passion for horses and the natural world. From ever since I can remember, I’ve loved animals and plants. I loved our family ranch, but we didn’t live there. We lived in a suburban neighborhood around a golf course. I was allowed to visit the family ranch—once a week at best, sometimes once a month.

No one else in my family seemed to have the same ideas I did. I longed to live where I could have horses and chickens and old barns covered in rambling roses, orchards of fruit trees, and barn cats….and live myself in a small, humble cottage. I wanted to gather cattle with the cowboys, and ride my horse through the woods on a quiet, lonely trail. I did not like our big suburban house or the sterile, paved neighborhood complete with speed bumps. Both horses and chickens were forbidden there. The big deal in that place was a swimming pool. I wanted a dirt road and a pasture.

As an adult, I worked hard to make my dream a reality. And I do have horses and chickens and cattle and barn cats, buildings covered in rambling roses, a few fruit trees, and a very small house. All my adult life I have owned horses, and I have spent many years riding with various cow folk, and taken my good horses through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the coastal hills and beaches, both by myself and with companions. I have a pasture and my driveway is not paved. It makes me happy.

When my son was born, I thought of all this as a gift I could give him—the life I had always wanted. Unlike me, who fought to have any pets at all as a child, my little boy grew up with dogs and cats sleeping on the bed. He rode horses (with me) from when he was six months old. At five years old, I got him a pony. At seven he got his horse, Henry. Now that he is ten, he has been on hundreds and hundreds of trail rides and gathered cattle many, many times with our cowboy friends. The rambling roses bloom outside his window every spring/summer. He runs freely about our property, visiting with the horses, watching the chickens, swinging on his swing in the barnyard. And all this seems to make him happy.

Nevertheless, my son is not me. Though he enjoys these things we have, I don’t think horses will ever be his passion, as they are mine. He often talks about wanting to live in the city, on a busy street. Perhaps we all want what we haven’t got. In any case, I know he must seek his own dream. I have given him the gift that I could give. And I hope that these lovely things will always be a part of him. When I think of his smiling face as he rides his horse or runs down to his swing in the big oak tree, I know that the gift is not so much one that I have given as one I have received. I am so grateful.

Here are some bits of my “gift” that I wanted to share.

The roses have been exuberant this spring. This is Treasure Trove draping the porch.

Rose Dublin Bay on our tool shop/dog shed. Please ignore the mess in the shop.

My son visiting with Sunny.

Headed out on a trail ride with our friend/boarder Wally.

Bringing up the roping cattle with our friend Mark.

Henry grazing in front of the house.

Hope you all are enjoying the gift of horses and spring turning to summer, too, and may all your dreams come true.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My First Horseback Riding Memory

My obsession with horses goes back a very long time. I don't remember a time when I wasn't crazy about these magnificent creatures.

My very first memory of riding took place when I was around 4 or 5 years old in Conconully, Washington. There used to be a horse rental place in that small town. One day my mother, sister, cousin, and I took off on the hour-long trip from my childhood home in Oroville, Washington, for the express purposes of going horseback riding. The fact that I remember it so well tells you what kind of impression it made on me.

A grizzled old cowboy met us at the ranch and was our guide for the hour-long ride. The horses, as I recall, were saddled and waiting for their next customers, which just happened to be me, my sister, and our cousin. My mother didn't ride and had no interest in horses. It was, as it often is in the summer in Eastern Washington, most likely pushing 80 to 90 degrees, but that wouldn't have deterred me.

I distinctly remember the gelding I rode, an old chestnut Quarter Horse, named Jughead. How he came about the name of Jughead, I have no idea. To me he was a Pegasus, a four-footed wonder, and the horse of my dreams. Of course, any horse would have been the horse of my dreams.

Jughead wore his halter over his bridle. The attached leadrope was tied to the guide's saddlehorn, not that the old horse needed to be tethered. He'd have followed just fine without the rope. Once we started out, Jughead did what any bombproof kid's horse would do. He fell into line with the other horses and plodded along, ignoring my attempts to urge him at a faster walk, or anything faster for that matter. He did his job and did it well. He wasn't in this dude string to be a star. He was there to provide novices (greeenhorns) with a taste of horseback riding on a safe animal.

We rode out across the open rangeland dotted with sagebrush and scrub pine trees, down some ravines, crossed a small stream and circled back. I held onto the saddle horn and revelled in the feeling of the horse's movement underneath me, all that power and grace (not that Jughead was graceful). From my vantage point in the saddle, I saw the world from the different perspective. I knew this was where I wanted to be.

I tried to find the pictures of this outing to post here, but they were missing from the photo album which held the pictures for years. What I recall is a very little girl mounted on a full-sized horse with her feet barely reaching halfway down the horse's barrel. Of course, none of us wore helmets. Such a thing was unheard back then.

Jughead took care of me that day, bringing me safely back to the barn. He further cemented my lifelong love of horses. That old horse was my very first horseback riding experience, and I'll always remember him fondly.

I'd love to hear about your first ride on a horse. Please share with us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

From Cornwall with Love

I’ve just come back from a little holiday, so this week, instead of rattling on relentlessly about how Qrac did this, and how Qrac did that, I thought I’d tell you a little about where I was and what I did, and spice it up a bit with some photos. I hope that’s ok!

I went to Falmouth, Cornwall, in the south-west of England, where my daughter Olivia is at university. She’s just concluded her Foundation Year in Art and I was looking forward to seeing her end of year exhibition. My parents came too, and my husband would have loved to come, but had too much going on at the office. Besides, our son Greg is currently sitting some pretty big exams, so it was good that my husband stayed with him.

So my parents and I flew out to Bristol last Monday, where we rented a car and embarked on the three and a half hour drive down to Falmouth.

Cornwall is beautiful, and I really love it there. The only bummer is that it’s such a pain to get to. I suppose it doesn’t sound particularly remote by American standards, but for little Swiss people it really is far and away. What bothers me most is that Olivia can’t come home for the weekend, but I go and visit her once in a while, and we always have a lovely time.

You might have heard that England has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to food, but I can assure you that food is one of things I particularly look forward to whenever I go to Cornwall!. We’ve discovered some fantastic restaurants in the Falmouth area, and although I’ve never been particularly big on fish, when I’m there I can’t seem to eat enough of it. I especially love mussels! Oh, and treacle tart for dessert! With Cornish clotted cream! Aie aie aie!

The drive from Bristol was easy, despite the not-so-great weather. The scenery is gorgeous, especially once you leave the motorway for the dual-carriageway. It’s all rolling and green and quintessentially English, with higgledy-piggledy patchworks of hedgerows. My parents enjoyed the ride, particularly my mother who hadn’t been to Cornwall since she was eighteen and was really looking forward to seeing the area again. As we drove down, she told me that she’d passed her driving license, and, the very next day, had driven down to Cornwall from the north of England with her mother and her best friend! I guess there was much less traffic back then, but still!

As if on cue, the sun came out just as we arrived at our hotel. Olivia blew in minutes later, all wild-haired and fresh-faced. I’d booked a double room so that she and I could enjoy chatting and giggling and reading fashion magazines side by side in bed. I unpacked my suitcase, and then we all went for an amazing meal at the hotel’s restaurant. What did I have? Muscles! Unfortunately, there was no treacle tart, so I had go with a big gooey chocolaty mousy thing instead. Poor me!

The following morning Olivia took us to see her exhibition, where we all spent ages admiring all the talent on display. Of course, I loved Olivia’s photographs, and there was plenty of other interesting work to see, including loads of beautiful paintings, incredibly detailed illustrations, some funky fashion, and a couple of short films. There was some pretty weird stuff too, including a painting of a group of people puking their guts out! Hmmm…

Having been plagued by chilly grey skies for months, Olivia had begged me to bring some sunshine with me, and somehow I managed to grant her wish. The sun shone most of the time we were there, which was nice for all of us, but particularly for my parents who got to see the area at its best. My mother couldn’t get enough of Trebah
Gardens, a 26 acre sub-tropical coastal delight that tumbles down a steep valley right down to the beach. Records of the garden date right back to 1085! It truly is spectacular, and you’re ever in the area Trebah is well worth a visit. I’ve been many times now yet so far have never managed to be there to witness the thousands of rhododendrons in full bloom. Maybe next year.

My mother also wanted to go to St.Ives, the sea-side town on the northern coast, which she remembered it as a sleepy little fishing village. Artists from all over the world have been attracted to St. Ives, not only because of its beauty, but also because of its very special light. St. Ives always reminds me of naïf paintings, with its bright colors and strong, flat light. Of course, St. Ives has changed
dramatically since my mother was eighteen. She couldn’t get over how it now sprawled right up the hillside, nor could she believe the amount of pay-and-display car parks, packed with thousands of cars and dozens of tour buses from all over Europe. It was half-term, the sun was out, and the place really was heaving. It took a while, but I eventually managed to find a parking space in the humongous car park right at the top of the town. Since my father has problems with his hips and legs, we avoided the long walk into town and hoped onto the regular bus service to and from the parking. English tourist points are so well organized!

We had a nice little stroll through St.Ives, stopping for drinks at a beach café,
tutting at all the semi-naked people roasting themselves fuchsia pink behind multicolored wind-breakers, smiling at kids running around with buckets and spades, and admiring surfers braving the chilly waves. While my father pensively sipped his Coke, my mother wrote a postcard to the friend who had accompanied her here fifty-odd years ago, parsimoniously choosing her words to best express how much things had changed. It was such a nice moment.

The following day we drove out to The Lizard, which is England’s most southerly point. It’s majestic and rugged and wild, with evil jagged rocks eager to spear unsuspecting boats in rough weather. Of course, there is also a big car cark, spotless facilities, two little cafés and a souvenir shop! Nevertheless, it really
is a stunning spot, and we walked down to the old tumbledown lifeboat station and read the plaque about all the shipwrecks. It was there that my father had quite a long conversation with a giant seagull perched on the cliff wall! For some reason, whenever he whistled at it, the bird would hesitate for a moment, as if mulling over what to reply, and then chatter something back. This went on for at least five minutes, and so entertained a couple of Japanese tourists that they even took a photograph of my father. He’s become big in Japan!

Once the man and bird conversation was over, we heaved ourselves up the hillside again, stopped at the souvenir shop where my mother bought more postcards, and then sat down for a nice cup of coffee at one of the cafés before hopping back in the car and heading back to Falmouth.

We only had three full days in Cornwall, as travelling there takes up a whole day in itself, but we did so many things and had such a nice time that when I got back I felt as though I’d been away for ages. It’s great to have a change of rhythm and scenery once in a while, don’t you think?

But it’s also nice to be home again, to be with my son, my husband and my dogs. And it was great to head out to the stables and go for a nice long ride in the sunshine on my lovely Qrac.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Test and a Question

by Laura Crum

Sometimes when I talk to others or read blogs, I get a bit overwhelmed by all I’m NOT doing with my horses. Because currently all I am doing is short trail rides, light riding in the arena and gathering cattle from a small pasture. Not very exciting or challenging, though I enjoy it. So the other day I saddled Sunny up and decided to see what I can actually get done with him.

(An aside here—I saddled Sunny up on the one day in the last week that it was neither raining nor very muddy as a result of rain—in June! If I sound a bit bitter here, its because I am. But I digress.)

Here’s my list of what we can do. Walk, trot, lope on cue (within one stride), though I have to work at it to get the right hand lead. Sustain each of these gaits for several circles as asked in a calm, collected frame. Halt within a stride from any gait in a balanced frame. Back reasonably freely for several strides. Extend, or at least speed up, all three gaits without getting excited or breaking gait or losing the good frame. Walk calmly over small obstacles as I direct. Open and close a gate, involving whatever sidepassing is needed. All of this with a minimum of resistance—though sometimes there is a little resistance. But no head tossing, tail swishing, attempts to push through the bridle, or anything like that. All cues were given with my soft (ugg) boots, no spurs or crop. I have to be pretty strong with my legs sometimes, and in order to keep Sunny collected and correctly bent into the circle at the trot and lope, I must be on top of my game and using my hands effectively as well as my legs, sometimes using two hands rather than one. But he will maintain a correct frame if I do this, and on very light contact. He does not lean on my hands and most of the time there is a tiny bit of slack in the reins.

I didn’t try any more exercises, such as serpentines…etc, because both he and I were pretty much done with this formal stuff after the above work, and went on to amble around the property for a short ride, which is what we both enjoy most. But it made me feel good to realize we could execute at least a version of “work”—though I’m not sure it would impress anyone else.

So, I’m curious. How would you guys evaluate my baseline “test”? Does this sound like a reasonably broke horse to you (considering we are just going out on the trails, not doing reining patterns or dressage), or do you think I need to work on other exercises? I do realize that its simply a matter of what each individual rider finds acceptable in a riding horse, and that the only thing that really counts is if I’m happy. Still, I wonder what level of “broke” others like to have before they feel a horse is well trained. And Terri, if you read this, I have no aspirations toward a fourth level dressage horse, and, in fact, am not sure I could execute a flying change any more (!)

Sunny remained calm and confident throughout the twenty minutes or so I devoted to our test, though I could feel in his body (at times) his usual resistance/resentment at this sort of work. His former owner tried to use him for dressage and he came to me with the comment, “He likes the trails; he doesn’t like arena work,” which I have found to be true. Nonetheless, he does what I ask.

Considering that I, too, like the trails and don’t like arena work, I have just let the arena work slide, to tell you the truth. I did the “test” because I was wondering if we actually COULD execute simple arena work exercises any more. And now I’d love to get some feedback. Given the circumstances, what do you think? Should I try to do more? Or continue to be a slacker?

And here’s another question for you. I was looking through my files trying to find an author photo for my upcoming book, and I stumbled upon this one. Does it look like my little yellow mule is a horse with an opinion or what? And can you tell he only tolerates being “snuggled?” He doesn’t actually like it. He does like me to be near him, he just doesn’t like me to fuss with him, which I think the photo shows. What do you think? Good author photo or should I look for another one?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Miracles do Happen

It is sometimes very funny how somethings works out in the end. As many of you know, I have been looking for a new competition horse for a very, very long time. On and off for over 3 years. My beloved equine son Pete is now 22 years old, and though he still has the heart of an upper level dressage horse his body is not quite up to the task. As I am sure Jami and Francesca know, the Internet can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to searching for horses to buy. You have access to hundreds of prospects but searching through ads and looking at videos can be very time consuming (something I never have enough of) not to mention the investment in flying here or there to look and ride the potential new mount.

My biggest problem was that on several occasions, by the time I identified a horse I was interested in and could make the time and arrangements to fly to see the horse, someone else would get there first and swoosh, the horse was gone. I also went to see and rode several horses that were either nothing like their owner's claims or just simply not a good fit for me. You see part of the problem is that I had been very spoiled by Pete. Pete was and still is very light in my hands and very sensitive and responsive to my aids. So I don't like a horse that leans on the contact or that I have to kick or use a whip/spur endlessly to get him forward and/or into a particular movement. Therefore, I was looking into a very narrow window for potential horses.

I have been teased and a bit badgered by several friends and my sister and niece about being too picky (like they claim I am with men- a whole other subject in itself) and that I was looking for a phantom horse that did not exist or at least not in my price range. Well, I have now proved them all wrong (well maybe not about the men thing). I have finally found and purchased a new dressage horse and amazingly enough he was practically in my own back yard, well at least in San Diego county. After finding out that a horse in Florida that I was interested in had been sold, I was on the verge of agreeing with my sister (something that would be a hard pill to swallow) when I decided to take one more look at a couple of the sales websites I frequented and walla, there he was, a horse whose ad had just been posted a few days before and he was only a 45 minute drive away from me. It was a miracle!

After watching his video online I was even more excited and sent an e-mail to the horse's trainer and waited (not so patiently I might add) for a response. The horse was at a stable near Del Mar, CA which is known as Dressage Mecca in my area since it is home to several incredible dressage riders and trainers including Stephen and Shannon Peters. The horse I purchased was in training with David Blake, who also works with the Peters' so I can tell you that I was more than just a little bit intimidated to go ride at this facility. But everyone there could not have been nicer and I rode 2 different horses that David Blake had in his sales barn. They were both incredibly beautiful, talented and well-trained horses but there was just something about the bay gelding that I could not stop thinking about. After a second ride on both horses, I knew the bay was the better fit for me and the rest is history as they say.

His name is Uiver (pronounced Iver) and I brought him home last week and since then I have fallen in love with him even more. Uiver is a 10 year old Dutch Warmblood Gelding who is currently competing at 4th level. The photo of his canter above is with David on him. As you can see in the photo of me on him below, I look a bit tentative because this is my first ride on him and I am thinking, "holy cow this is a huge trot"!

I have a lot of work ahead of me but I hope that Uiver will be my ticket to finally be competitive at FEI and perhaps even make it to Grand Prix. His trot has enormous cadence so my first order is to get stronger in my core so I can sit up taller and still keep up with his trot. His canter is amazing and you could ride it all day, although I need to ask for the flying changes a bit differently then when I was on Pete. None the less, Uiver is going to teach me a lot and hopefully take me to the next level of my journey as an equestrian. Another nice thing is that Uiver's personality at the barn is blossoming. You never really know a horse's personality until you get them home and Uiver is very sweet and affectionate and already looks at me like I am a cookie dispenser. He is very good around the other horses, is calm and level-headed and did not even care when he saw my neighbor's cows. What a bonus!

I am a strong believer in karma and cosmic forces and that is the other interesting part of this story. Twelve years ago when I bought Pete, it was money I inherited from my father (who had passed away several years prior) that financed his purchase. When I found out that his barn name was Pete I considered it a sign from my father whose name was Peter. My dad was a doctor so Pete was shown under the name - Dr. Pete for my father. Now this many years later and after all my trials and tribulations, the purchase of Uiver was finalized on May 31st, my father's birthday. Another sign from above????

Regardless, I am like a kid at Christmas with a new toy and I feel more in sync with Uiver every ride. I am going to continue to train with David Blake and will start going to shows in a few months when Uiver and I have figured each other out. As for my other horse Pete, well he is a bit jealous (a fact that I am very sensitive to) so I am careful not to pay too much attention to Uiver when Pete can see. I am hoping that Pete will come to see Uiver as a part of the family and that Pete will always be #1 in my heart. I am open to any tips as too how best to make Uiver feel loved without upsetting Pete and making him feel usurped.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


(This is a photo of my very shaggy, very non-show horse, Relish.)
One of the reasons I have enjoyed being involved with this blog is discovering the differences within the horse community and between 'us.' Francesca writes from Switzerland where she bought the stallion of her dreams. To me, Qrac and the horse life she is living is a dream. Francesca's level of riding and Qrac's level of training are beyond my imagination.

Terri's horse career is similarily beyond me. She writes of traveling to clinics, training students and riding in three-day events. Horses ARE her life, and her level of professionalism and knowledge is volumes compared to my few pages. Laura writes of her cutting horse past, which is totally a foreign subject to someone who rode English. And now she writes about her incredible trail rides along California beaches and into the California hills--alien to someone from Virginia!

Jami with Gailey, from what I can understand from her blogs, also rode high-level dressage. Now Gailey is being bred to UB40, a stallion that looks like a magazine ad. And Linda-who does have a horse past--has moved on to her two loves--Mr. Big and Mr. Chocolate. Donkeys I have only loved from afar.

Now I have had horses in my life since I was five-years old and hopefully will have them until I am too old to get out to the barn, but I never had the time, money, interest or determination to do more than a few local shows. Competing is just not in my blood. But I enjoy reading about everyone else's adventures, dilemmas and worries--because despite our differences, the Equestrian Ink posters have much in common: a love and caring of horses and animals, an interest in sharing, and the curiosity to question and learn.
I hope we continue and I hope the wonderful folks who comment also keep sharing and questioning as well!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Older and Wiser, Or?

by Laura Crum

The other day we went for a trail ride and had an interesting experience. I thought it was interesting on many levels and wanted to talk about it here and see if anyone had any thoughts. Because at times I think I’m learning to be smarter and other times I think I’m just becoming a huge chicken.

So we’re riding down a trail that we haven’t ridden since the big winter storms-- myself, my son, and our friend Wally, all on our very reliable trail horses. There are muddy places, which we cross no problem, and downed trees, which we are able to get around. We’re doing fine. Neither horses nor people are the least bit worried. It’s a pretty, sunny day—we’re having a blast.

And then we come to another downed tree. This one is big—a redwood tree. I’m in the lead and I approach the tree at its lowest point, where the trunk is about two and a half feet in diameter. On one side of this spot is a steep bank going downhill. On the other side of the trail is an equally steep bank going uphill. We will not be able to detour around this tree. Its climb over it here, or turn back.

I study the tree. Its not undoable. All of our horses could step/scramble over or pop over it like a small jump. I have done such things with Sunny before and he’s fine with it (the only thing Sunny has ever balked at on the trail is small, weird looking bridges). He doesn’t mind popping over downed trees. But the times I’ve done this in the past, the trunk was smooth and it was clear horses went over it regularly. This trunk is not smooth. There are several short, sticking up branches right where we must cross. Its unclear to me if any horse has ever been over this. I see no hoofprints, just hiker’s bootprints.

Sunny stares at the tree trunk calmly; I’m pretty sure he’ll try it if I ask him to. But I’m not sure if I should ask. I don’t like the look of the short, sharp, upward thrusting branch stubs, which seem pretty solid. I ask Wally to come have a look and say what he thinks.

I get out of the way and Wally rides up and surveys the tree. We can get over it, he tells me. Twister is brave; he’ll do it.

I still feel doubtful, but I tell Wally to go ahead and try it if he wants.

Twister is looking at the tree calmly, just like Sunny did. Wally clucks to him and asks him to go forward. Twister continues to be calm; he looks more closely at the tree, but he does not go forward. Wally asks again, same result.

Wally looks at me. “He doesn’t want to,” he says in a surprised tone.

I know why Wally is surprised. Twister IS a brave horse. If ever Sunny balks, like at the small, weird bridges, Twister will unhesitatingly give a lead. Both Sunny and Twister will cross mud, deep water, breaking surf, busy roads, steep spots…etc without a flinch. They are both willing to jump over things. They are not drama queens. They are smart, steady, reliable trail horses.

I have the sense that Twister will go over the tree if its demanded of him. But he doesn’t want to.

I look back at Wally. “Maybe we ought to let his decision stand,” I say. “It wouldn’t be worth it if any of us got hurt.”

And to my surprise, Wally agrees. “You’re right,” he says. And turns Twister back from the tree.

We retrace our steps, take another trail, and have a pleasant ride, though shorter than the one we intended. And I wonder if we have become wiser in our old age, or just more chicken hearted.

Before I took a ten year break to have and raise a child, I was a pretty intrepid rider. I would have sent my horse right over that tree. Wally has been all his life one of the boldest riders I know. He never turned back from anything. I insist on leading on trail rides because I have so often had the experience of Wally leading me into some steep, tricky spot where I don’t at all want to be as he calls back to me happily, “Come on, its fine.”

And yet neither one of us were willing to try the tree.

Perhaps we are just realistic. Wally is 77 years old. The last two times he came off he got pretty badly hurt. I am stout and middle-aged, not the good rider I used to be. My son is confident, with a good seat, but he is a gentle, sensitive kid, and not an aggressive rider. He could easily be intimidated for life if he had a bad wreck. Our little horses are steady and reliable but they are all middle aged or older. We value them highly and would be very sad if we had to lay them up due to injury. It truly isn’t worth it to us as a group to take unnecessary risks.

And is part of the equation the fact that we have learned to trust our horses more? As I said, they are not drama queens. They are good horses. Neither Twister nor Sunny danced around or made a fuss about the downed tree. They did not back away from it. They just quietly indicated that they didn’t want to try to clamber over it. In my youth I would have been sure I knew more than the horse. I would have insisted that he listen to me and do what I told him. Now I am more willing to respect my solid horse’s judgment. I am willing to listen to him.

And yet…I look at Francesca on her prancing black stallion, and I read the accounts of more ambitious/adventurous others in the comments and on your blogs, and I sometimes wonder at myself. I used to be a pretty good rider and trainer. And here I am, meandering down the trail on my gentle horse, afraid to pop over a downed tree.

I’m having fun, I love my horses and my life with them, I don’t feel the need to do more. I really, really don’t want to get hurt or get my kid hurt. Or get any of our horses hurt. But in a way I’m kind of embarrassed.

And then I read a blog post by someone who has been badly hurt and/or scared in a horsewreck, and I see how deeply this impacts their whole life and how it takes away the joy, not only in horses, but everywhere—because they are in both physical and emotional pain. Not only can they not ride—they sometimes are having a hard time walking and doing the basic stuff of everyday life. And when I read this I not only feel deeply sad for the person, I feel incredibly grateful that I am not in their shoes. And I tell myself I’m making the right choices. And that my number one priority is not to get any of us hurt or scared—horses or people.

Do others of you struggle with this conundrum? I do my best not to get sucked into guilt or envy, as I’ve written about before, but there are moments when I question my own choice to have become such a sedate rider—as I said, I’m having fun meandering down the trail on my gentle horse. And that about covers it. Sometimes I think I’m really getting older and wiser, and sometimes I think I’ve just become a big chicken. Any insights on this?

PS—I wrote this post last week. Over the weekend we took another trail ride. Its been raining a lot here and the ground is much wetter than it usually is this time of year. The trail we chose has a steep climb halfway along and when we got there it was much muddier than I expected—and very slippery. We started up the lower slope and all three horses were slipping and sliding. I pulled Sunny up and said, “I don’t want to do this.”

This time Wally pushed a little to keep going, but I held firm. “Its not worth it if one of them slips and goes down.” And, in fact, Twister had already scrambled enough to have stepped on a front shoe and bent it.

So we went back, and once again had a shorter ride, and I got teased about being overly cautious.

And then yesterday it was raining again, and I was sitting at my desk supposedly working on my copy-edited manuscript, but in reality taking plenty of breaks to read horse blogs. And I stumbled upon two photos—a woman more or less my age and a little girl more or less my son’s age—both had been very recently killed in horse wrecks. The photos were beautiful—two happy smiling faces, posing with their obviously much loved horses. The two stories were completely unrelated, and there was little information, but both seemed to have been competent horse people who simply had misfortune. The woman was riding a new horse, the little girl was on her way from the barn to the arena at a rodeo when her horse slipped and fell with her, landing on her in just the wrong way.

I thought of those people and the people who loved them and my heart just ached. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about them. I thanked God I had been scared to ride up the slick hill. I thought of how my husband, who doesn’t care much for horses, would feel if my son or I were badly hurt or killed in a horse wreck. I thought how I would feel if something happened to my son. Am I just being selfish, pursuing this obviously very dangerous activity with my kid?

So there you have the flip side of the coin. One moment I think I’m not doing enough and I’ve become a big chicken, the next moment I’m wondering if we ought to ride at all. These horse blogs make feel connected to so many people, and their triumphs and tragedies, for better or worse.

It’s a tangle. Any thoughts?