Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Three

                                   by Laura Crum

            I was about twenty five years old when I went to work for a well known reined cowhorse trainer as his assistant. In that barn I rode and saw a much different caliber of horse than what I had known previously. These were the cream of the reined cowhorse world, many of them had won major national events, and the colts in training were being aimed at winning major events—especially the Snaffle Bit Futurity.
            Not only were the horses different, the training was different. No relaxed dinking around with a horse went on here. This cowhorse trainer knew every trick in the book. He had won the prestigious Snaffle Bit Futurity several years ago and he had a quiverful of young horses he was training for this year’s event. And he was REAL serious about winning.
            Of course, this just makes sense. The trainer was earning his living. Winning big events was the difference between being relatively rich and relatively poor. And he was willing to do whatever it took to be successful.
            I saw many things in this barn that I had never seen before in my life. I saw horses so talented they took my breath away, and I saw training methods so cruel they reduced me to speechless outrage. I was young, and I had never before been around a high level training barn, and I really wasn’t sure if I understood what abuse was. Was it abuse if it looked cruel, but taught the horse skills that allowed it to win? To this day I will say that that CAN be a truly difficult question to answer. Especially if you are interested in winning.
            So I worked for this trainer for a year and I learned a lot of useful horse training techniques. I also became increasingly upset at the degree of suffering I saw and revolted at the callous attitude toward that suffering. And in the end I quit. But not before I bought a horse—a very expensive horse, at least by my standards.
            When I first went to work for the trainer I was given a string of horses to ride each day. They were all three year olds. These were horses the trainer was not much interested in and didn’t want to ride himself. There was Rosie, an unbroken roan mare who was a full sister to a mare that the trainer had trained and shown at the Snaffle Bit the previous year. Rosie’s full sister had bombed out—and the trainer was not interested in investing time and effort into Rosie. But, of course, he did not tell Rosie’s rich owner this. He took the mare in training with a smile…and he never rode her. He just assigned me to ride her.
            So I broke Rosie, and I trained a sweet Appie mare the trainer didn’t care for (and she later won the high scoring Appie award at the Snaffle Bit—I was proud), and I rode Lucy, who bucked…etc. And then there was Gunner.
            Gunner was a horse the trainer would actually have liked to be riding himself. But no one was paying to have Gunner trained. A wealthy owner was liquidating his horse herd and he had placed the colt in my boss’s barn “to sell.” This wasn’t a deal that just anyone could make, but Gunner’s owner was well known in the business and Gunner had a fancy pedigree…and he was a hugely talented colt. The trainer was willing to keep the horse there and hope that one of his own wealthy clients would buy the colt…and put Gunner officially “in training.” However, in the interim, no one was paying the trainer to ride the horse, so Gunner was put in my string. He was by far the best horse I had.
            It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Gunner. The colt was just turned three years old and had had thirty days of riding when he was two. He was very green. And VERY spooky. But kind and willing and athletic and super trainable and he could move with a cow like you wouldn’t believe. Everyone who saw him agreed that he was a fine prospect for the Snaffle Bit Futurity. And I lived in fear that someone would buy him.
            My life working for this trainer was not a happy one. I drove over an hour to get to the job and then I worked for eight hours riding a string of mostly uncooperative horses (remember, the trainer gave me the ones he didn’t like), while my boss screamed at me (this was his preferred method of instruction, and yes, he was not unusual in this respect, based on my experience). The weather was usually cold and foggy (in the winter) or hot as hell (in the summer). Most days I drove the ten minutes to town to eat my brief lunch at the local Taco Bell, just so that I could be alone and cry. I hated the job in many ways; I was not at all fond of my boss, and I was aghast at what I perceived as the cruelty of many of his methods and tricks. I did not love being screamed at. But I wanted to learn, and tough/cruel, whatever you called him, the trainer knew an immense amount about horses. So I persisted. And Gunner was the bright spot in my life during that time.
            Various people came to look at Gunner, but he was priced at $6500, which was (in those days) a fairly high price for a green broke colt, even one that WAS a good cowhorse prospect. So for a few months no one bought him and I kept riding him and falling more and more in love with him. But eventually the day came.
            A wealthy man was coming to look at Gunner. The man was known to be looking for a Snaffle Bit prospect and Gunner was just the sort of horse he liked. My boss was gleefully contemplating the fat commission he would make and I gave Gunner a bath with tears streaming down my face.
            In the end I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t let the horse go. I told the trainer that I would give him the full price in cash (and I was quite aware that the trainer would tell the owner that he had sold the horse for $5000 and that my boss would keep both his commission and the extra $1500—I was no longer naïve about how the business worked). Well, the trainer liked the sound of this, and to be fair, he also really liked the horse. He told me that if I bought Gunner, he would let me keep the colt in his barn and help me train him for free. And if I would pay his entry fees, he would also show the horse in the Snaffle Bit Futurity—and not charge me a penny. By which you can see that the trainer thought a lot of Gunner’s talent.
            So I said it was a deal, and the trainer told the wealthy non-pro that the horse was sold and tried to interest him in another colt. And I went home and took out a loan to buy Gunner. Here we are the day after I bought him. Do I look proud and happy or what? But it was not all smooth sailing from then on, sadly enough.

(to be continued—the first two installments in this story are here and here)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Those things in the woods . . .

by Linda Benson

We recently moved from southern Washington back to southern Oregon, where the weather is milder and more conducive to riding, hiking, gardening, and being outside in general. I am LOVING it. But I'd forgotten that there are two things that also like this more agreeable weather: poison oak and ticks. And if you are in the woods at all, you're likely to run into one or both of these.

Poison Oak doesn't bother me too much. If I just brush against it casually I'm probably okay, but I wouldn't make a point of rolling in it!

Ticks, however, are another thing. *shudders* How I hate the little critters!

In Washington, I rode and hiked in the woods a lot, and can only remember once finding a tick on my dog. And never on me or any of my horses. Here in Oregon though - different story. Ticks seem to be everywhere!

I found one embedded in the back of my head last week. *cue major freak-out music* A couple of days later, out to dinner with my husband at a restaurant, I felt something crawling on my neck, slid into the booth next to him and said "OMG, is this a tick???"

Yes, it was. *shudders even more* At least I got it before it decided to have ME for dinner.

Last night, sitting with our old cat on my lap, I found two of the disgusting little things attached to her neck and ran for the tweezers.

Now I am squirming under my clothes, running my fingers through my hair constantly, and humming Brad Paisley's catchy tune "Ticks." But I did learn one new thing recently (in my mad google search to identify ticks in Oregon, chances of getting Lyme Disease, etc. etc.) I discovered that I have been using the wrong method to remove ticks all these years.

My mother taught me, many years ago, to twist them out, slowly and counter-clockwise, making sure to get the head out. While this advice is mostly right, after researching many articles online, they all agree that while you should pull out slowly, with tweezers, you don't twist! (Sorry, Mom.) Just get a firm grip on the disgusting little things with your tweezers and pull slowly and surely, straight out, until they let go with their mouthpieces. This is the method I tried last night on our old cat, and sure enough, the nasty tick let go and came out, where I quickly killed it, and put alcohol on the spot where it was embedded in old Lucy's neck. (Of course, training  your cat/dog/horse/child to hold STILL for this entire procedure would take another blog post entirely. Let's just say I was glad to have help.)

Do you have poison oak and/or ticks where you live?
Are they a problem while riding/hiking in the woods?
Have you had experience removing ticks from your horses (or other animals)?
Let us know . . .

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Guest Post from Author Julian Ross

                                                by Laura Crum

            We here at Equestrian Ink are always excited when one of our regular readers/commenters comes out with a book of his/her own, and today I have a fascinating post from Julian Ross about his Riding Holiday Centre Manual. Julian writes the equally fascinating blog, White Horse Pilgrim (listed on the sidebar), which I have been reading for several years now. I have always loved this blog, as Julian writes of his (to me) exotic and romantic life running a holiday riding center in Translyvania and his current (equally romantic—to me) life riding his mare, Brena, through the chalk hills of England. Whether he is describing the Carpathian Mountains that Bram Stoker made famous in Dracula, or the ground that Tolkien traversed and used as the inspiration for his novels (think Tom Bombadil’s barrow downs), Julian’s always lyrical descriptions and lovely photographs make me feel that I am right there with him.
            But Julian has a practical side as well, as anyone who has guided rides for a living must have. So his knowledge of tack and gear and saddle fit and hoof care and horse training…etc is deep and extensive. His Riding Holiday Centre Manual is aimed at helping others who want to start a holiday riding center to benefit from his experience, as his post will tell.
            I really enjoy Julian’s writing, and I think you will, too. To give you an idea what a colorful life he has led, here are a few photos from his time in Transylvania.

            And a shot of him in England on his current mount, Brena.

            Here is Julian’s story of how he came to write the Riding Holiday Centre Manual.

The Riding Holiday Centre Manual
On a summer morning fourteen years ago I arrived in Transylvania with insufficient money, an unsuitable horse and a rebellious wife. I was there to start a riding holiday centre. Why not? People around me may not have understood what drove me. My family certainly didn’t. However I enjoyed riding, I loved the outdoors and I needed a spot of adventure. I was moving to a lovely scenic area where there were lots of horses. One of the major equestrian holiday agents had expressed an interest. What could go wrong?

Actually many things could go wrong, and a number did. I knew how to ride – tolerably well at least - however I had never run a business before. I chose a scenic mountain location only to realise too late just how inaccessible it really was for international travellers. I was hostage to a nation where civil society was in its infancy. Beautiful as the Romanian countryside is, the country enjoyed a dreadful reputation abroad thanks to all those orphanages. And I thought that I’d stay healthy forever.

It wasn't entirely my fault that I knew so little. I didn’t know much about politics or history, and I didn’t know much about romantic attachments either. I'd worked in an office, never at an equestrian facility, so I'd done well to pick up as much as I did about horses. Besides, other than the old cavalry manuals, there wasn't a single book that set out how to take horses 'out on campaign'. 
Over time I learned a great many lessons, some of them thanks to mistakes. Before it was too late I realised the vital need to focus on customers rather than simply the logistics of running each trail. I adjusted the trails to be more interesting both scenically and culturally, and made them bit faster too. My marketing improved, including a website with lovely photos. And I began to understand the financial element of running a business, even if mine always was a bit too 'hand to mouth' for comfort. 
I loved riding those trails. The scenery was fantastic, mountains and forest as far as the eye could see. Clear streams tumbled, and meadows were strewn with wild flowers. In the course of a week-long ride we crossed just one highway. Working horses outnumbered motor vehicles. My neighbours were simple farmers, hospitable and ever willing to share tales over a glass of brandy. Back before extensive mobile phone coverage we really were heading off into ‘dark territory’, out of touch with home and office for days on end. I was a pioneer: a real wilderness guide. Resourcefulness, skill and fortitude were foundations to my trade.

I got divorced too. As someone else in the tourist business bluntly put it, I could never prosper with a partner whose attitude was so very negative. Ruthlessly I chose my dream over a woman temperamentally incapable of understanding me. My business continued another four years, during which time I made some memorable rides, made some great friends, and met the woman who is now my wife. 
The decision to end a venture is always difficult. Eight years of riding professionally left me with a worn, painful lower back. There was no chiropractor accessible out there, indeed no treatment for for back pain – just strong medication to temporarily mask the symptoms. And the economy was getting worse in the face of global recession. Costs were rising faster than revenue, taxes were hiked, and oversupply existed in the riding holiday market. I'd made the mistake of helping newcomers to establish riding businesses, a facet of my sometimes naively helpful attitude.

Perhaps I'm still unquestioningly helpful? After leaving the riding holiday market I started to write a textbook setting out how to set up and run a riding holiday centre properly. To help me I recruited as co-author Wendy Hofstee, a veterinarian and owner of an excellent equestrian travel agency called Unicorn Trails. 
It's been said that "those who can't do, teach". That’s an unfair quip. Working in a difficult environment I'd stayed in business for eight years and survived a number of mistakes. More than that - and this is something I'm proud of - some of my original horses were still hard at work eight years later. 
What about the mistakes? Well I bought six nice mares as a group from a stud, only to discover that each one was in foal. At least the foals all grew into good working horses. Our accounts were in disorder for the first four years thanks to my first wife (an accountant by profession!) which led to unpleasantness with the authorities. I didn't engage with local politicians and civic leaders nearly as much as I might - but there again I was learning the Romanian language pretty much from scratch without a teacher. And I hadn’t looked after my health.

I got some things right. My horses remained fit and healthy, and they had well maintained tack that fitted nicely. I loved those horses. I even trained and employed a farrier to keep my horses well shod. We learned a lot about hoof care, and about making shoes last. I became deft at applying borium. We ran some delightfully scenic trails and introduced hundreds of guests from forty nations to a fascinating part of the world. We had an enviable safety record too largely because, coming from an engineering background, I sought to eliminate risk at source.

I compiled The Riding Holiday Centre Handbook to bring together all the information that a manager, actual or prospective, might need. It doesn't replicate, say, a veterinary or farriery manual. But it does assemble the specialist skills of the equine tourism professional. These are varied: businessperson, publicist, guide, barn manager, wrangler and linguist to start with. Reading the book anyone who seeks to follow the path that I trod may do so informed. 
The Riding Holiday Centre Handbook isn’t a mass-market book. It won’t sell sufficient copies to make a tidy profit for a commercial publisher. However the book wasn’t written for financial gain. The aim is to pass on information to aspiring owners of riding holiday centres, and those already in the business too. Therefore it’s a pleasure to make it available as a free resource. You can find out more on the book’s blog: I can supply a PDF copy of The Riding Holiday Centre Handbook - please leave a comment on the blog. It is also possible to buy a paper copy at: 
I hope that The Riding Holiday Centre Handbook inspires and educates. But do remember one piece of advice that isn’t contained in the book: before starting a career as a riding holiday centre owner, or even as a guide, think about what you’ll do when that career comes to an end. I’m fortunate: as a professional engineer I had a rewarding career to return to. Riding professionally is a nice dream. But dreams tend to be finite. 


Thursday, May 23, 2013


Some weeks ago I was approached by the owner my stables asking me whether I’d be okay with Qrac taking part in a fashion photo-shoot with Fémina, a Swiss magazine. The magazine had called him the previous day to talk about the project; the photo-shoot would have an equestrian theme, and they needed to a couple of nice horses for their model to pose with. 

I love fashion magazines, so was excited and agreed immediately.

So, a few weeks later the photographic crew arrived. They were incredibly lucky with the weather as they got one of the few sunny days we’ve had since, well, I don’t know when. The weather has been atrocious since last October over here in Switzerland. It’s almost June, yet the forecast for this coming weekend is snow down to 700 metres, with rain and wind and shivery temperatures for everyone below. Yippedy skippedy. And I have a show on Saturday. But that will be another exciting tale to tell!

Anyway, the crew settled into the saddle/coffee room of the stables and spent the first three hours or so doing the model’s makeup and hair. Then they went outside and took some photos of her looking all pouty and seductive while leaning against the barn door, a saddle by her side. Again, this took forever; I’d already had time to ride Qrac, clean my tack, and down umpteen cups of coffee before they were even close to ready to move on to photographing the model with my horse.

But eventually it was Qrac’s turn to face the camera. I was a little concerned he might be worried about the giant light reflectors and other photographic paraphernalia the crew was lugging around; I’ve mentioned before that he’s not the bravest horse on the planet, but the only eyelids batting were the model’s. Qrac seemed to enjoy posing with this pretty young blonde, and I was very proud of him.

The editorial finally came out the weekend before last, and I got a real kick out of opening the magazine and seeing my horse looking absolutely fabulous!

Don’t you think he looks handsome?! Have your horses ever been photographed for a magazine or an advertisement for something?


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part 2

                                               by Laura Crum

            As I said in my last post (My Life With Horses), I bought a bay horse named Burt when I was about twenty-one because he looked like the horse I had idealized in my childhood-- Mr Softime. I had just sold a horse named Hobby and I actually meant to take a break from owning horses, but I went to look at some Queensland Heeler puppies with a friend who wanted a pup, and the first thing I saw when we drove up to the ranch house was this bright bay gelding who looked just like Mr Softime charging up and down in the pen next to the barn. And I left my friend to go look at the pups by himself and went to lean on the rail and look at the horse.

            I soon found out that Burt didn’t belong to the ranch owner. Burt belonged to the owner’s friend—an eighty year old man who had spent his life raising Quarter Horses. Burt was the last of the old man’s line and the only horse the old man owned now.
            “Does he want to sell him?” I asked idly. I really liked the look of Burt.
            “I dunno,” the rancher said. “The old guy sold his ranch, so he doesn’t have a place to put the horse. I’m keeping him here as a favor. Nobody rides him.”
            “Is he broke?” I asked doubtfully.
            “He’s five years old and a good ranch cowboy put 90 days on him when he was three. Nobody’s ridden him since. But the old man says he doesn’t buck.”
            Well, I thought, it could be worse. And I took down the old man’s phone number and called him that night.
            The old man said he didn’t want to sell the horse particularly, but if I wanted him I could have him for $2500—which was a pretty steep price for a green broke five year old of ranch horse type breeding in those days.
            I said I would give $1000 for the horse. And the old man said he might possibly take $2250. I said I would give $1200 and not a penny more. The old man laughed. And I shrugged and told him to take down my phone number in case he changed his mind.
            A month went by and I pretty much forgot about the bay horse. But one night the phone rang and it was the old man and he said he would take $2000 for the horse. This time I laughed. And I offered him $1250. In the end, I bought Burt for $1500, which was a fair enough price and about half of what I had sold Hobby for. So I felt like a smart horse trader. Except I didn’t really know what I had bought. I had never ridden Burt or seen him ridden. I hadn’t vetted him. I bought him on his looks alone.
            Fortunately, Burt did turn out to be pretty sweet for a green broke five year old. I hauled him to a nearby boarding stable and saddled him up and rode him, and though green, he did not buck, and went just as if he had been ridden yesterday instead of two years ago. Burt was always an honest horse.
            I spent my last couple of years at college riding Burt through the hills and trying to get him broke along the lines of a reined cowhorse. As with most (all) horses, Burt had his good points and his bad points. He was consistently kind and willing and pretty bold. He wasn’t afraid of much. There was no quit in him. He was also what English riders call “forward.” He was always trying to go faster. His lope wanted to escalate to a gallop. His walk wanted to be a trot. And thus his most aggravating fault was the fact that he jigged. Relentlessly.
            Every trail ride eventually turned into a struggle. Because Burt insisted on jigging/prancing/trying to trot the whole way home. And nothing I knew how to do deterred him from this. He was completely under control at all times and his jig/prance was very smooth. I guess some folks might have liked it—he looked just like a parade horse with his neck bowed up, prancing along. But I found his jigging very frustrating.
            Still, there was much to like about Burt. He was, essentially, a safe horse, and he was a cowy horse and he was a sound horse. And I just liked him. When I left college I took a job on a commercial cattle ranch and I brought Burt along to ride as my ranch horse—and other than the jigging, which he still did and I hated—Burt really excelled at this job.
            I gathered and parted cattle on him in wild wide open mountain terrain, in the dark and cold and at five AM on winter mornings, in the deep mud, in the snow, in high winds and in driving rain. I crossed creeks and scrambled up and down steep mountain slopes and pushed cattle through a big culvert under the highway and through many different ranch alleys and corrals. Burt stayed honest, never gave me any grief (besides the jigging) and always did his job. He would face off a charging mother cow without a flinch. He absolutely never quit me—and had plenty of go left at the end of a twelve hour day. All the ranchers and cowboys admired him and tried to buy him. He could do a pretty sliding stop and a fancy spin, he would watch a cow really well (well enough to place at a low level cutting), you could corral rope a steer off of him, and he would pack anybody that could deal with his “forward” quality. He was a truly gentle and reliable horse. My stock with the cowboys always went up when they found out I’d trained him myself. I could easily have sold him for $5000 (I was offered this more than once), but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to sell Burt.
            However, I did leave the ranching job after a couple of years and went to work for a cowhorse trainer as his assistant. I rode some pretty fancy horses in that barn and my aspirations began to be a bit higher than a mere ranch horse. And thus came Gunner.

(to be continued)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Revising . . . and More Revising

A few posts back, Laura brought up the touchy subject of self-publishing. She noted pros and cons, and mentioned that she had read some stinkers that were self-published as well as some great books.  My experiences have been about the same. I was recently at a book signing where the person next to me had self-published a children's book that was so horrific it was embarrassing to the publishing world. I have also read some interesting ones where talent shown through. The biggest difference I perceive between self-publishing and working through a publishing company (whether large or small, print or electronic) is at the editing and revision stages. These stages are crucial and time-consuming, and even though I have written over sixty books and too-many-to-count articles/stories, my first and second manuscripts still go through many rewrites based on input from many voices. So in my opinion all authors, no matter how polished and accomplished, must get feedback from other professionals (ie: not your mother or your kids) in order to make sure the finished product is the most exciting, the cleanest and the best it can be.

My Toughest Critic 
Revising and editing are two different things, and both must be on target to make a book shine. My American Girl books are strictly checked by professionals in the field (a dive instructor for a dive book, a veterinarian for a mare/foal book, a dog sledding trainer for Bound for Snow, etc) as well as my editor and the team of editors she works with. Multiple eyes first check plot lines at the outline stage and then again at the first draft along with timing, word-choices, descriptions, plausibility, facts --well, you name it, it's checked. After this exhaustive stage, the same team checks spelling, commas, grammar and all the  little things that make for a polished manuscript.

The Peachtree books are historical so facts are checked and verified. Dialect is considered. How much? How little? Story vs reality is carefully tweaked. My editor has been in the business forever and does the first read-through. After I make revisions based on her comments, the manuscript is then sent to a professional editor who checks EVERY fact.  And I mean "every."
I tried to download a sample page from a first draft that was Christmas tree bright with cross-outs and comments, but blogger did not like it. So you'll have to take my word for it -- the revising stage is work.

The art is also carefully scrutinized. This is the second cover attempt by the exceptional artist Michael Montgomery for the book I have just finished revising. The first cover was too static and Darling too small. This version we all liked except Darling was slightly changed for a final version after I mentioned that all I saw was the dog's "teeth." I also comment on the American Girl art. In the upcoming book Change of Pace, I caught incorrectly held reins and kayak paddles. Both would have been big 'oops' if they hadn't been caught by someone.

I have been publishing since 1984 (wow, am I ever old) and have been lucky and honored to work with incredible editors through a long career. Many of them I am still working with! So in my experience, it doesn't matter if a book is self-published or published by a big house; what does matter is if the book is the best it can be. And in my case, that takes a team of professionals working together to create a top-notch product.

How do you handle revising? What have been your own experiences?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ridiculous Road Trip

I should have had a hunch that things weren’t going to according to plan when my navigation system couldn’t find Bern.  I mean, seriously, what the heck; Bern is the capital of Switzerland!

“Bern”, I repeated, rolling my eyes at my friend Joelle. I said some rude French words as my car’s computer listed six destinations that had nothing to do with Bern. I mean, these places didn’t even sound anything like “Bern”.

“Bern!” I repeated again, with a slightly different intonation. Maybe my GPS knew Bern pronounced the Swiss-German way. Nope. I tried the English way. Nah. I tried it once again à la française. Clearly, the car wanted to go anywhere but to Bern. Irritated, I told it to go to Yverdon, a town on the way to Bern. It knew Yverdon, so off we went.

You see, Qrac and I were scheduled to ride two programs the following morning at a dressage competition specifically for “baroque horses” in Bern.

We made it to the capital despite my navigation system’s reticence. My friend Joelle had been there before with her horse, so she knew the way. However, once we reached the place where the show was being held, my eyebrows shot up, my nose and mouth hitched sideways, and my stomach dropped. It was bedlam! It was a massive horse fair, but not a well-organized, sophisticated horse fair likes some I’ve been to in, say, Geneva, or Lyon, or London. No. This was a more like…a beer festival in a fairground. Not that I’ve ever been to a beer festival in a fairground, but I’m hoping you might be able to imagine something like it. It was Friday evening in Bern, and hoards of people had headed over to the fair to get clobbered on beer, enjoy a nice fat sausage, take a ride on the ferris wheel  (I kid you not!!!) and shoot a teddy bear at the teddy bear shooting booth.

“I’m supposed to ride in there?” I said, glancing at Joelle, feeling nauseous.

“Oh, I doubt it,” she replied. “I’m sure the dressage competition is being held in a specific place outside the fairground area.”

We drove around, trying to find where we were supposed to go, asking security guards and policemen for directions. Nobody knew where to send us. Actually, that’s not entirely true: one charming chap told us we had to park in a big field on the outskirts of the fair, then lead my horse across the main road and over the bridge across the motorway (swarming with people, including kids with fistfuls of balloons) into the fairground area, underneath the ferris wheel, through the sausage and beer fest, and that somewhere in there we’d find a stable.  Err, what about all the equipment that goes along with taking a horse somewhere overnight? What about the hay, and the food, and the tack, and the blankets, and rest of the-you-name-it- I’ve-got-it-with-me? Charming chap shrugged. “Das ist simple; you must carry it”, was his curt answer.


“That can’t be right,” I said to him with a perplexed expression, to which he snarkily replied that he had horses at home, and that’s how he always did it, and that if I didn’t like it I could just go home.

At that point I was on the brink of doing just that, but we’d come all this way, and surely this couldn’t be “it”, could it?

We drove on, asked another security guard who, after some head-scratching, got onto his talkie-walkie. Eventually, he pushed the barriers aside and instructed me to drive into the fairground. He motioned to a fellow security guard and told him to escort us to where we were supposed to go.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever driven a horse trailer through throngs of obnoxious people too drunk to step out of your way. Well, it’s not a pleasant experience. We slunk through the crowds, some morons even “olé-ing” us with their haunches as we inched past. Overhead, the ferris wheel whisked sausage-wielding happy people high into the sky.  Beside us, someone fired a pistol and won a giant teddy bear.

Ooh, Qrac was going to love this!

But, come on; surely the security guard was escorting us somewhere else, taking us via a short cut to the peaceful, genteel dressage-haven that Joelle and I (and every dressage rider I know) are accustomed to? This was all too bonkers to be true.  Yes, here we go, he’s taking us up a little path to the right, far from the madding crowd…
“This is the stable for your horse,” he said, pointing to a semi-collapsed blue and yellow plastic tent floundering in the mud.


I jumped out of the car and went to take a quick look. Inside, a couple of resigned looking horses nickered at me, knee-deep in gloop. A group of beer-sloshed festival-goers hovering nearby waved their mustard-slathered sausages at me, grinning. I got back in the car, glanced at Joelle. “There’s no way in hell I’m leaving my horse here! There’s no way in hell we’re staying here.  This is mental. We’re going home.” 

We kept the hysterical giggles for once we’d manoeuvered ourselves out of this narrow, muddy, dead-end. The only way to turn around was to drive into the big tent adjacent to the plastic stables from hell (which was apparently where the competition was supposed to take place the next morning). I suck at manoeuovering my trailer at the best of times and thoroughly frazzled, immediately got us totally stuck. Hyper-ventilating, I begged Joelle to take over. The poor thing was pretty frazzled too but she did a great job, and under the bovine gaze of the security guard, we headed back through the crowds and somehow found our way out of this nightmarish maze.

Once we got onto the main road, I pressed a button on my steering wheel, activating my GPS, instructing my car to take us back to Qrac’s house.  “And don’t you dare tell me you don’t know where he lives,” I said sternly to my car’s computer. My shoulders ached, and I wished we didn’t have to face the onslaught of Bern’s Friday night traffic.

About two hours later, having spent a total of five pointless hours in the trailer, Qrac was back in his cosy stable, enjoying his dinner.  Joelle and I unloaded all his equipment, put everything away, and went back to her house where we uncorked a bottle of champagne and let the bubbles dissipate our disbelief over what we’d just experienced. I spent the night at her place, and following a hefty breakfast of banana pancakes, we drove back to the stables and took our horses out for a nice quiet trail ride, miles away from the madness of those brave souls riding dressage tests in a tent next to a shooting booth beneath a ferris wheel. I hope whoever won took home a teddy bear as well as a ribbon!

Have you ever been to a show in crazy conditions? I’d love to hear your stories!

My Life With Horses

                                                by Laura Crum

            My first memory is of riding a horse at the family ranch. I believe I was about three. I am sitting in front of my uncle Todd on a dark horse, I remember the black mane. We are loping alongside a dirt road that led from the main ranch to the lower barn. My parents are driving in their two tone gold and white sedan (this would have been 1960) along the bumpy road. From my seat on the horse they appear small, far beneath my lordly height. They wave to me.
            I remember the wind and the flying dark mane and the rhythm of the lope, the sense of power and speed and freedom. I remember feeling both literally and symbolically above my parents in the car. We were going FASTER than the car. I was on a horse. I do not know if I was obsessed with horses before this moment, but I certainly was afterwards. I can chronicle my life through horses from this point forward.
            I don’t have a photo of that early ride; I do have a photo of a moment that I don’t remember. My uncle was selling a pony named Tarbaby, and apparently I was placed on the pony to show how gentle he was. The notation below the photo indicates that I was two years, three months. I certainly look happy. The back of the photo reads, “Pony For Sale.”

            After this my horse memories become random. I remember once being at the lower barn with my father (who was no horseman). Again, I would have been three or four. My uncle had a sorrel horse tied to a hitching rail. I must have begged to sit on the horse, though I don’t remember this. I do remember my father asking my uncle if he could put me on the horse. And all these many years later, I remember the hesitant tone in my uncle’s voice as he said, “Sure.” And I remember him quickly stepping up to untie the horse (good move). I sat happily on that horse for a few moments and then was put down again. End of story. But I wonder if that horse was all that gentle.

            My uncle only occasionally made time to put me up on his horses. But I helped him feed, if I was allowed to, and I just plain followed him around whenever I could. By the time I was six or seven, I knew all his “regular” horses by name. Since my uncle was something of a horse trader, there were horses that came and went. But Lad, the gentle brown gelding with the blaze face, was a good rope horse and a permanent resident. I was sometimes allowed to ride Lad, when my uncle had time to supervise. There was Dutch, who had to be put down due to a broken leg. And when I was about eight years old, my uncle bought a wonderful horse named Mr Softime.
            I don’t have any photos of Mr Softime, but I remember him perfectly. A bright bay with no white and a big kind eye. Softime was an ex-racehorse, an appendix bred QH, which means half TB and bred to run. In short, he was a hot horse, and only four years old. I was not allowed to ride him—for many years. But I hung around his corral and fed him grass all day, if nobody ran me off. Many years later I bought Burt, pictured below, because he reminded me of Softime.

            As I got older, I learned to ride—because I insisted on it. My parents had no interest in horses, but I pestered my uncle, and I begged my parents for riding lessons, which they somewhat grudgingly agreed to. I rode English at a local riding school and learned to jump. But my heart was always with the cowboys.
            Once I could ride tolerably well (at about eleven or twelve), my uncle let me ride his rope horses and his trading horses. And thus I grew up riding a wide selection of horses, some of whom were quite willing to buck and bolt and rear, let alone spook and be what you English riders call “very forward.” I rode them all. But Lad, with his big white blaze, and a sorrel horse named Tovy were the two steady Eddies who stayed until they died and carried me on many of my childhood horseback adventures.
            And I had my share of adventures. We used to slide the horses down the fifty foot sawdust piles at the old ranch and jump them over handmade jumps created out of pallets and crates, and when I was fourteen I regularly rode Lad solo through the hills and down the suburban streets—usually bareback. At fifteen I was allowed to buy my own horse (with my hard earned money) and for $175 (cheap even then) I bought a recalcitrant bay gelding named Jackson.
            Jackson had many faults and few virtues. The virtues were that he was sound and cheap and an OK trail horse. The faults were that he was ill broke and stubborn, willing to kick and rear and not particularly cooperative about anything. But I was fifteen and I thought I was tough and I rode this critter solo through the hills and down busy roads and often swam him across the San Lorenzo River (again solo—I have no idea what my parents were thinking or if perhaps they secretly wished to be rid of me). Once when I was saddling Jackson by myself at the small shack of a barn behind our neighbor’s house where I kept him, he kicked me in the head and knocked me out. When I came to, I finished saddling him and went riding. I never told my parents.
            Eventually I figured out that Jackson was not much of a deal and I sold him to the local riding school. I was all of nineteen and I had an even BETTER idea than buying another ill-broke backyard horse. I would buy an unbroken colt and train it myself(!)
            Never mind that I had never actually trained a horse myself. I had ridden plenty of green horses and I had survived Jackson—what could go wrong?
            So did I buy a gentle colt, carefully chosen for me by my experienced uncle? Well, no. I bought a completely untouched four-year-old mare with very hot bloodlines, and this choice was Ok’d by my experienced uncle. In retrospect I’m pretty sure he must have wanted to be rid of me, too.
            Honey, the mare, was a handful. She was also a very “marish” mare. Pretty much put me off mares for life. And really, she would have been a difficult project for an experienced horseman. She barely knew how to lead when I got her and she was in the fall of her four-year-old year and as full of herself as a horse can get.
            I got her broke. I didn’t die. But by the time she was five and was reasonably safe to ride, I had learned that she did not love me and I did not love her. So I sold her and bought a very cute 5 year old green broke gelding who was for sale cheap. I was in college by then and I took this horse, Hobby, off to school with me.
            Hobby was cute, but stubborn. I found out very soon why I had been able to afford this horse. He bolted whenever he felt like it, and nothing, including pulling his nose around and dallying the rein to the saddle horn, would stop him. He just ran until he fell down.
            A year of this and I had him cured of most of his bad habits, but once again, I was sick of him. I sold him to a woman who kept him the rest of his life and taught her kids to ride on him (and they won a bunch on him in the show ring), so I guess I did an OK job with his training. But I wanted a forever horse. One that I really liked. And then came Burt.

            (to be continued)

PS--I want to add that I am not terribly proud of the way I grew up with horses. I took many chances I probably shouldn't have taken, I never wore a helmet...etc. My son has grown up with horses in a very different way than I did. I wish I had thought more about the consequences of my choices when I was young, particularly when it came to buying and selling horses. My only excuse is that I did not have a lot of help. My uncle was a horse trader and treated horses more or less as commodities. I had to learn as an adult what true horsemanship and love for horses really means. It was a path I found on my own, as future posts on this subject will tell.