Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Issues...or Not?

                                                by Laura Crum

            The other day I had an interesting conversation with my horse trainer friend. He, like me, has ridden cutting horses, reined cowhorses and rope horses, and though it may seem to those who have not ridden such horses that they are all much alike, the truth is that they are very, very different. About the only thing these horses have in common is that they all wear western tack and work cattle.
            My horse trainer friend is going back to showing reined cowhorses after several years in which he only competed at team roping. He just bought a little cowhorse to show and has been riding him along with a local trainer who competes a lot in cowhorse events. “My God,” my friend said, as rode around the roping arena together, “now my rope horse feels like riding some old plow horse. I never noticed it for years, but now that I’m riding this cowhorse with a real rein on him…I feel like Red barely steers.”
            I laughed. “I know exactly what you mean,” I said.
            I rode cowhorses for several years, and my Gunner horse, trained to be a cowhorse, was broke to death. Would slide, spin...etc. When I first started roping, I was quite smug about how much better broke my horse was than the other rope horses.
            Come to find out, however, it wasn’t an advantage when it came to heading a steer. The stiffer rope horses with their somewhat rigid necks had a much easier time making a correct set and “picking up” the steer. I’ve watched many people try to rope on reined cowhorses over the years, and, especially when it comes to heading, the horses are at a disadvantage—because of the soft, flexible way that they yield.
And yet, in an overall sense, reined cowhorses are much better “broke” than rope horses. Unless, of course, you want to tie a horse solid for a few hours and then go out and round up some cattle in rough country. For this program you might want that not-so-well broke rope horse or ranch horse, because some (not all) of those reined cowhorses are rather touchy show ring prima donnas, who will not stand tied quietly and are too flighty to get much done out in the big, wide world outside the show ring.
            My horse trainer friend and I talked about this, and about how people sometimes buy flunked out cowhorses and re-train them to be rope horses and how this can work pretty well, depending on the horse and his overall personality and background. And another guy, who has never done anything but team rope, rode up to us and said he knew where you could buy some ex- cutting horses really cheap—and would they make rope horses.
            My trainer friend and I looked at each other and at the same time we both said, “Probably not.”
            The roper looked puzzled, so I explained. “I worked for cowhorse guys and for cutters, and in general the horses are trained really differently. Reined cowhorses are broke to death, and cutters aren’t broke at all, in the way we understand broke. Cutters know how to do one thing—cut a cow, and other than that, well, some of the best of them barely steer and don’t know how to pick up a lead.”
            The roper looked disbelieving, and my horse trainer friend laughed. “She’s right,” he said.
            “It depends on the cutter, of course,” I told him, “but the guys with the old school Texas type background will let a horse do pretty much anything he likes, if he does his job—cutting that cow—really well. I was loping a solid cutter for a guy when I started working for cutting horse trainers instead of reined cowhorse trainers, and I asked the cutting horse trainer if he wanted me to collect this very strung out horse. His response was along the lines of God forbid. You let him lope any way he wants to—including on the wrong lead and whatever.” I laughed. “And then I went out to gather the cattle with a gal who was riding a horse who won the open cutting division on the west coast. That mare became so unglued by trying to get the cattle out of a twenty acre field that the gal got off and led the mare back to the barn—couldn’t even ride her. You literally could not open and close a gate on horseback from the champion cutting horse. My horse was one thousand times better broke than this mare in any sort of working ranch cowhorse sense”
            The roper shook his head. Virtually all rope horses will allow you to open and close a gate on horseback. They will virtually all stand tied up solid to a fence or horse trailer as long as you want to leave them there. None that I know, once they are past being green broke, need any kind of lunging or round penning before you step up on them. Rope horses are not well broke in some ways, but they are real broke in others.
            It’s not an issue for the average roper that his horse won’t take the right lead (many rope horses are like this) or can’t be ridden without a tie down (many rope horses qualify here, too). Whereas these would be a huge issues for a reined cowhorse guy. What are issues in one horse-chases-cow sport are not issues in the other.
            My horse trainer friend and I have both only a slight acquaintance with endurance, but we both commented how endurance riders (in general) seem to tolerate what (to us) are incredibly pushy ground manners out of a horse. My friend had crewed a ride just once for a well known endurance guy (Jeremy something) and said at one point the horse was pushing right over him on the ground and he asked tentatively, “Is it all right if I get this horse off the top of me?”
            By which he meant what both he and I would do to any rope horse that had the bad manners to get in our space at any time—which is wallop the heck out of said horse with the end of the leadrope and let them know that behavior was completely not acceptable.
            He was met with the same aghast response that I got when I offered to collect the cutting horse. “Hell no. Leave him alone—he’s got fifty more miles to go.”
            My friend laughed. “As long as these endurances horses are raring to trot another fifty miles down the road, these guys don’t care how pushy they are on the ground.”
            This got us talking about stuff that is an issue in one equestrian discipline and not in another.
            Hunter/jumpers mostly can’t be ridden outside on the trail at all, according to our friend who trains them. Just too flight/spooky. They also cannot be tied solid and left there (in general). These would be huge and completely unnacceptable issues for any of us who ride rope horses, but this behavior is taken for granted in hunter/jumper world.
            I’ve noticed that endurance riders and those who mainly trail ride often have no idea how to get their horse to lope a decent circle or take the correct lead. They just have no need for this skill. And then there’s the manners thing. Again and again I read a description of a horse’s behavior and think, really? You put up with that? But the horse is doing well in endurance and the rider is happy…and that’s what counts.
            Barrel racers accept a degree of fairly psychotic behavior as their horses get ready to start their run; it looks absolutely ridiculous to me. Rope horses have to run just as hard but because they must “score” (start from a dead standstill) no such crazy behavior is tolerated. But barrel racers take this running sideways crazy stuff for granted; it’s not a problem from their point of view, as long as the horse runs a good pattern and “clocks.”
            I think it’s interesting that things that are “issues” in one equestrian discipline are taken for granted as normal in another discipline. Does anybody else have examples of this?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


by Linda Benson

Recently, on a quick trip to the Oregon Coast, my husband and I decided to rent horses and ride on the beach. I hadn't ridden for awhile, and it was a beautiful stretch of coastline. The price was only $40, which seemed quite reasonable, so we drove over the night before to check out the horses. They were all fat and shiny and seemed well taken care of, and the tack looked to be comfortable and in good condition. So it was a go!

I rode a big grey horse named Caesar, and my husband got a stout palomino called Texas. Both were big-boned quarter horses that we felt totally comfortable on, and all the horses on the ride, big and small, seemed plumb gentle. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and I loved it. If you're ever on the stretch of the Oregon Coast near Bandon, go check them out: Bandon Beach Riding Stables.

We rode with seven other people plus a guide, and I was there just for the scenery and something fun to do on our short vacation. I've previously ridden on the beach lots of times, and it's fun when you're on your own and with your own horse. But what I enjoyed more than anything this time around was helping a brand new rider get over her fear. There was a young girl who was mounted on a gorgeous little pinto mare, only about 13 hands, but the mare was slow. I could tell she was kind of bored and lagged behind the others, while the young rider began to panic as she couldn't make the little mare do anything. And I related - not to the fear of being horseback - but to the fear of having a moving thing underneath me that I didn't know how to control. (I'm scared of machinery. It's a long-standing joke in my family that I need a glass of wine before attempting the riding lawnmower.)

So I spent much of the time riding beside this young gal, jollying her along, giving her a few pointers, but mostly just staying with her so she wouldn't feel panicked about being in the very back. Because I know how important it is for new riders to have a good time on horseback. (How many people have you talked to in your lifetime who have ridden once, or twice, and never again because they had a scary experience?)

When I see the huge glut of unwanted horses on the marketplace with nowhere to go but the auction (ah, but that is another post entirely) I realize that it's up to us - the horse lovers of the world - to pass on our fascination and love and passion that we have to a new generation. So I found that while I enjoyed the scenery and riding my sweet grey horse, what I most enjoyed was helping a novice horseperson become comfortable in the saddle. Which she did. At the end, I could see the tension leaving her body and I even joked with her that she was developing a relaxed, cowgirl slouch.

I don't get many chances to actually mentor kids on horseback these days. As a writer, I do most of my mentoring through inspiring young readers. In fact, The Girl Who Remembered Horses
was just named Runner-Up as Best Children's Book at the 2013 eFestival of Words Virtual Book Fair.

And The Horse Jar, one of my first books,

is an inspiring story of a girl working hard to get her first horse, who then must make a difficult choice just when her dreams are within reach.

The Girl Who Remembered Horses is available everywhere as an eBook, and The Horse Jar is published by Mondo Publishing, an educational publisher which sells primarily to schools. But I do have some print copies of each available (including a Spanish edition of The Horse Jar) if you'd rather read paper, so email me: linda (at) if you'd like a print version.

Anyway, the tile of this post is Mentoring, and I'd like to ask all of you - what have you done lately to spread the love of horses down the next generation? Tell us!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Showing for fun

By Gayle Carline
Author and Horse Owner

Before I tell you about our recent horse show, I'm having a special - FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: ONE LUCKY MEMOIR is only 99 cents this weekend only! Such a deal!

Snoopy and I went to our last show of the season last weekend. It was the Pink Show held in Burbank, California at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. The Pink Show honors competitors who have survived cancer and remembers those who did not. Much fundraising is done for the City of Hope.

How was the show? First of all, it was hot. As in, dress rehearsal for Hell. It might have only been in the high 90s, but I felt like a hamster in a microwave. When you added long sleeves, suede chaps on top of jeans, and a felt hat, standing out in an uncovered arena in full sun turned us all into sweat puddles.

Black horse + Hot sun = Misery!

Snoopy was, well, Snoopy. He was happy to be at the show. Perhaps a little too happy. His body was too hot to be perky, but his brain was on Red Bull. Everything was something new to look at. Every horse was someone to whinny to.

For my part, I rode well, by following two rules:
1. I rode every obstacle (instead of defaulting to autopilot and letting Snoopy decide what to do).
2. I never took my eyes off my horse at the gate (the special Gayle rule, after Snoopy has grabbed too many gate ropes in his mouth).

Even riding well, on the first day, I managed to look away just long enough for Snoopy to shift his hip left and kick a pole. And on the second day, he got a fly on his back leg, which tormented him to the point of slamming us both into the gate. The rest of both courses were fabulous, though.

After we had both finished our classes (there were two of us from our barn showing), we packed up all the racks we had set up in the tack room, plus our saddles and clothes and stuff, then drove back to the ranch and unloaded everything.

On Monday, I collapsed.

When people asked me how the horse show was, I said, "Fun!" I spent four days in unrelenting heat, doing manual labor, riding an uber-excited horse and didn't win anything.

How can that be my idea of fun?

First of all, I love being in the middle of the show grounds. I like the sight of other people with their horses, talking to them and bonding with them. I like going out on the trail course to see if Snoopy and I can do the pattern. And I don't care about winning. I care about fun.

When Snoopy was rehabbing from his injury, I just wanted a horse that could be kept comfortable. When he was able to be ridden again, I still just wanted him to be comfortable. Now that we're showing, I'm not in it for the blue ribbons. I do it to test myself and my horse in a fun environment. And when his leg and hip are too tired, we don't do it.

My goal is to keep him as sound and healthy as he can be for as long as possible.

Do you show? What kind of goals have you set for yourself and your horse?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fear...Or Good Sense

                                               by Laura Crum

            I read a blog post the other day about fear of riding after an accident. The author talked about how some people are motivated to overcome this very natural fear and ride again and others are not. Neither choice is wrong. But the thing I noticed, reading the comments, is that the fear seemed to center on loping (or cantering). And this was very interesting to me. People who were comfortable at the trot were afraid to lope for fear the horse might fall. And the thing is, these people are more or less right. Every horse I’ve ever seen fall did so out of the lope or gallop.
            I have loped circles on innumerable horses in my life. It has been as automatic as breathing. But the horse I ride now hates loping circles. I’ve owned him five years, and in the beginning, I made him lope a lot of circles in the arena, cause hey, that’s what I always did with a horse, you know? But neither of us enjoyed it.
            Sunny resisted the loping of circles in various ways, and he is not very smooth at the lope. I am getting older and stiffer and loping circles on him made my back hurt. I still have enough skill left that I can collect this clunky little yellow horse and make him lope a decent circle. But it’s no fun.
 Sunny loves trail riding and will willingly lope up a hill out on the trail. I bought him to use him as a trail horse and he is great to ride outside. Strong, cooperative, sensible. Loping up a gentle hill he was/is much smoother and gradually I began trail riding more and more and mostly loping Sunny out on the trail, always on a gentle uphill slope. It worked for both of us.
            As time passed, I noticed that I kicked Sunny up to the lope in an arena only long enough to lope a couple of circles…and that was enough. Sometimes I didn’t lope at all in the arena, just waited until I was out on the trail again. I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t a premeditated decision—just how I was inclined to behave. The horse and I both seemed to be of one mind about the whole thing.
            Sunny is not a graceful mover in the arena. He feels strong and solid marching down the trail; he feels like riding a small draft horse in the arena. And he stumbles in the arena—almost never trips on the trail. I have seen Sunny fall down loping around in his corral—at least half a dozen times. So when I do lope Sunny in the arena, I am always ready to “catch” him if he stumbles, because I damn sure don’t want him to fall while I’m riding him. Between that and how rough he is, it’s not very relaxing.
            Lately when I ride in the arena, we mostly trot. Works for me. Works for Sunny. And then one of my friends rode up to me yesterday at the roping arena and asked if I ever loped this horse any more.
            I started in to the explanation… “hurts my back, rough gaited, clumsy, likes to lope on the trail, hates loping circles” and noticed I felt very defensive. As if my friend was accusing me of being afraid to lope my horse and I had to defend myself. So I stopped and took a good look at that emotion. And the blog post I read about fear came to mind.
            And I said, “Well, yes, I am afraid that this horse might fall with me loping him in the arena.” As soon as I said it I realized it was absolutely true.
            The thing is, it’s not a “fear issue.” It’s just common sense. The only horse that ever fell with me was a good solid rope horse named Billy, who fell (and somersaulted) while I was loping him on a loose rein in this very same roping arena. And to this day, as I lope circles, I’m careful not to lope on a thrown away rein.
            Most everyone I know who has had a horse fall with them, the horse has fallen out of the lope. And Sunny is the only horse I ever owned that I have seen fall when he was loping around his own pen. So hey, guess what? I believe it makes sense to be thoughtful.
            Anyway, after the conversation with the friend yesterday, I took Sunny out of the arena and rode him up the hill through the forest and let him lope a good long way. We both enjoyed it. I have no fear of him falling there (though of course he could fall—I know this to be true). He feels solid and comfortable to me loping outside like this.

I see no sense in doing something neither of us enjoys and that does worry me a little. We had a black horse last year (belonged to my friend Wally) who was a pretty mover and had a lovely, smooth lope. I rode him half a dozen times and really enjoyed loping circles on him in the arena. Thing was, this horse hated trail riding and was the worst horse to ride downhill I’ve been on in a long time. He stumbled and tossed his head and felt like he was lame—though he wasn’t. He just didn’t like being “outside,” especially walking downhill. But he loped lovely circles in a groomed arena and really seemed to enjoy this activity.
In a perfect world I’d have a horse that was both a delight to ride in an arena and one that was good to ride outside. But in my own world I’ve got a really good trail horse who is not much of an arena horse. And that’s OK with me.
So, I’m curious. Does anybody else have a horse that they don’t entirely trust to stay up at the lope in certain situations? And how do you handle it?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lemons to Lemonade

Life chucked a chunk of lemon at me in Ibiza last week while I was enjoying a vacation with my family. There we were, all having a great time, being absolute blobs by the pool, when I felt a nagging need to use the bathroom. “Hmm, shall I go to my room, or shall I just go to the bathrooms close to the pool?”, I wondered. I don’t know why, but instinct was telling me to go to my room, whereas common sense was rolling it’s eyes, arguing, “for goodness sake, woman, just go to the bathrooms close by then get back to your deck chair presto to maximize your tan.” My instinct caved, off I went, and on the way back my right ankle gave way on one of the stone steps leading back to the pool area. I heard a horrible tearing sound, and down I went. I sent an ocular SOS to the chic Spanish lady tanning in the deck chair at the bottom of the steps , but she only raised a skinny eyebrow, said “todo bien?” and returned to the arduous task of tan maximization. I sat on the step, rubbing my ankle, cursing common sense, knowing full well that nothing was “bien” at all. I also wondered why on earth this stupid woman wasn’t jumping up to help me. I mean, seriously, if you saw someone fall and hurt themself, wouldn’t you launch into Samaritan mode?

So I sent her ugly, sunburny thoughts and waved SOS signals towards my husband and daughter who hadn’t seen what had happened and just thought I was taking a quick rest on the stone steps, admiring the view. As the headed towards me with quizzical looks, I managed to hobble over to the pool, sat down and dunked my legs in the coolish water, hoping for a miracle. But we were in Ibiza, not Lourdes, and the only miracle I was granted was to not be stung by any of the wasps buzzing around me. My daughter and husband hauled me to my deckchair, fetched iced from the bar, and swathed my ankle in a freezing napkin.  Minutes later, I was semi-carried down to my room where I lay down on the bed. I couldn’t put my foot down, my ankle was throbbing and my mood darkening. The hotel called a doctor who arrived within an hour and confirmed my thoughts: a torn ligament. Crapalucci.

My right ankle is my weak point. I broke my right leg in two places sledging about twelve years ago, had titanium rods inserted, which were removed when the bones had set. A few years later I managed to miss the two bottom steps of the staircase in my house while carrying the laundry basket, went flying, tore the ligaments in the same ankle, and was on crutches for quite a while. I’ve had trouble with this ankle ever since, and walk like a little old lady whenever I’m on uneven ground.

What bothers me about this injury is that I was being careful on those pretty old stone steps. Of course, what bothers me even more is that I can’t ride for a couple of weeks. I can’t drive, either, which brings me to the lemonade-ish, silver lining-ish side of this mundane tale.

My horse, Qrac, has been stabled over 60 kms from my house for close to two years now. It may not be jaw-droppingly, forehead slappingly far by American terms, but by diminutory Swiss terms it may as well be New York to San Francisco. Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but it’s a very long way; the commute taking close to two hours, round trip. I could have been putting those hours to better use, but it was what it was; I’ve really enjoyed riding there, and have met some wonderful people.

However, I always knew it couldn’t go on forever, and have been on the lookout for a place closer to home for Qrac since day one. There have been plans to improve the stables in my village for years, but the high-end project had been on stand-by for age. I’d put myself on the waiting list yonks ago but it seemed nothing was moving. And then just before we went to Ibiza, my daughter and I drove by and noticed some building, so we pulled in and went to inquire. The new installations were due to be finished by December! There would be a huge indoor school, a walker, a gallop track, huge boxes with terraces, and much, much more! “Can I please have one?” I begged the owner. The response was positive but slightly vague; she told me she’d give me a call in the next few weeks. I fantasized about falling out of bed, rolling over, and climbing onto Qrac. That’s how close this place is. Well, almost.

When I was wheelchaired out of the plane returning from Ibiza my mind was filled with what-to-do about Qrac scenarios. My daughter is here on holiday from university; she’s a lovely rider but hasn’t ridden in three years since we retired her schoolmaster, Kwintus. I can’t afford to have my trainer ride him four or five times a week, and don’t want multiple people riding him. I didn’t know how long I’d be unable to drive or ride, and didn’t want to burden my daughter with the long shlep up to the stables multiple times a week. I considered sending Qrac back to the south of France for training for two months where I spent eleven incredible days in July (see my previous blog, “Massa Magic”), but the idea of not being able to see him for that long bothered me. Besides, what if I felt well enough to ride again in a week or two? My mind whirled, wondering what to do for the best. Maybe it would be best to send him to the south of France for training after all…

And then on Thursday morning, right after my first physio session, I got a text message from the owner of the stables in my village, confirming I had a place for Qrac in my village in December. “I’ll call you at 1.30 to discuss the details,” she said. Yay, I thought! At 1.30, when she called me, we talked about all kinds of things (I’ve known her for ages), including my current ligament problem, and during the conversation I randomly asked whether she might have a space for Qrac before December. And she did. She had one immediately. I told her to give me a day or two to think about it (I was actually waiting to hear whether Massa could take him or not), only to call her back just a couple of hours later to tell her I’d be delighted to bring Qrac to her place the following afternoon if it was ok with her. “Great! See you then”, she replied.

Of course I spent the rest of the day freaking out, second guessing myself, and I didn’t get much sleep that night. Would it have been better to send him down to Massa for training? On one level it would; I know he’d have progressed beyond what I could possibly have accomplished with him had I not been injured. But I wouldn’t see him for weeks…which sounds soppy, but I guess I’m a soppy lady. Also, maybe I really will be able to ride again sooner than I think. And he’d be just around the corner. And the decision had been made, and arrangements made, so best to just breathe into it and go with the flow.

So the following day my daughter, her boyfriend and I drove up to the faraway stables, loaded up the car and the trailer with all my stuff (so much stuff!!), loaded Qrac and drove him to his new home. He didn’t seem at all stressed out by the move, and the following morning was totally zen when he was put out in one of the paddocks alongside other horses to graze.  He was also very sweet with my daughter when she rode him in the arena yesterday afternoon and only spooked once when a huge bus rumbled by. Amazing, considering the tricks he’s pulled on me in arenas he’s not familiar with. Maybe he knows I live close-by!

The next few months will be a little more rustic than what my horse and I have been used to in the past few years, but by mid-November, early December the new indoor should be up, and new stables assembled, and we’ll be living in the lap of equestrian luxury again. But the biggest luxury for me is to know that instead of planning my day around my horse, I’ll be able to be far more spontaneous, with time to do other things I’ve wanted to do for ages but have had to sacrifice because of the time it took me to commute. So even though I can’t ride right now, injuring myself has changed a big part of my life for the better.

What sort of life-changing lemons have been thrown at you, equestrianly (hey, new word!) speaking? And did your lemons turn into lemonade?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Wreck in the Making

                                                by Laura Crum

            I ride several times a week with a group of horsemen at my uncle’s roping arena. Some of these folks rope; some, like me, are there just to gather and move cattle and ride and generally help out. There are four or five older (70’s and 80’s) ropers who have roped all their lives and some younger folks. My son is twelve and there is another teenage boy. Some of these people are pretty good horsemen, others not so much.
            I bring my son there because I want him to grow up knowing the camaraderie of cowboys on horseback working cattle, something that was very important and inspirational to me in my own childhood. And this has definitely happened and it’s been a good thing.
Getting ready to gather the cattle on Henry (you can see the herd if you look past Henry’s ears).

            Bringing the cattle up the alley.

            Herding a recalcitrant steer into the stripping chute with the gang.

            We have experienced a lot of very positive fun here. As I did when I was a child and a young woman, riding (and later roping) with this same group. But…there is a dark side. Sometimes people give advice—pretty forcefully. And sometimes this advice is not so good. In fact, sometimes it is downright detrimental. I suffered, due to this cause, as a young person, and I have pretty darn effectively prevented this crap from being visited on my son. But it’s still happening around us.
            Advice is a tricky thing. Lately I have bitten my tongue, both in real life and on the internet, on some advice I would like to give. I think the advice might save a kid’s life. But I also think perhaps the parent of said kid doesn’t want my advice. The other day at the arena, I did break down and shout some much needed advice. And that got me thinking about other situations, about advice in general, and the dilemma of whether to speak or not. So here’s my story.
            There is one individual at our local roping arena who often poses as a trainer and gives advice. Not just on horses, but on life in general. I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when this happens, because this individual’s track record with both horses and life events is not one that most of us would want to emulate. And yet the sage advice (in a rather self-congratulatory tone) just keeps on coming. It’s hard to resist the comment “Don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back.”
            This person really likes to advise the one teenage boy who is learning to rope. The advice (and not particularly good advice, to be frank) comes thick and fast. It’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut, because I like this kid a lot, and the “trainer’s” advice is messing the kid’s horse up big time.
            The thing is, I am (to put it bluntly) as good or better at reading a horse and getting along with a horse than this “trainer.” My track record when it comes to having happy, healthy horses that worked well for me and lived on into a contented old age is MUCH better than this trainer individual’s particular history. I at one time allowed this person to dictate to me, and believe me, it didn’t work out to my advantage. Nowadays I no longer pay much attention to what this individual advises or thinks, and guess what? I pretty much have no problems with any of my horses.
            “Been there, done that” is what goes through my mind when the “trainer” begins to pontificate. And “You’re not going to mess me or my horse up ever again.”  But the teenage kid doesn’t have this background. He listens to the “trainer” and tries to do what the trainer tells him. And it is totally not working.
            I usually don’t give unsolicited advice. The exception is when I see someone headed for a wreck—I’ll try to help. I figure that if it saves their life it’s worth the fact that they might resent me. I don’t pose as an expert—ever. I’m just a sedate, middle-aged rider on a gentle horse, riding along with my kid on his gentle horse. I have spent most of my life with horses, and done a fair bit of training and competing, so I do know more than you might guess to look at me. But it’s fine with me if most horse people I meet just look right past me (in my Ugg boots and cargo pants, with my horse in his mechanical hackamore). I don’t look very impressive.
            Still, the other day I saved this teenage kid from what might have been a serious wreck. I only did what any experienced horseman could do—the thing was that I stepped up and did it. Essentially I shouted some much needed advice at the right moment.
            This teenage boy does need help. He’s learning to rope on a not very suitable horse—too hot and not very cooperative, willing to bolt and scatter. And though the boy is a good kid, he doesn’t really have a good intuitive understanding of his horse—he is apt to think the horse is rebelling or defiant when the horse is just upset and confused. I was the same way myself at his age. It is the commonest problem in the horse world. Rider gives cues that are confusing to the horse, horse doesn’t do what rider wants and rider punishes horse, convinced that horse is defiant. This makes the problem worse—horse is now MORE confused (not sure exactly what the punishment was for) and upset, and being confused and upset makes the horse almost unable to attend to even clear cues—which rider (also upset) is completely unable to give. A recipe for disaster.
            Anyway, the advice from the trainer person is actually making the kid and his horse more confused and upset than ever. Then “trainer” starts yelling at the kid, because things are getting worse. Everything is going backwards. It’s very frustrating to watch.
            So this teenager is giving his horse confusing cues in the box, due to bad advice. Rope horses find the box very stressful, anyway. It takes a good horseman to get along with a horse in the box. Despite the fact that the young boy is trying hard, what I can easily see is that he is more confusing his horse than helping him. So the horse either starts too soon or too late—because he doesn’t understand what is wanted. And then the horse is upset, and doesn’t check easily when the kid pulls on him, just basically runs through the bridle. The kid gets angry and begins jerking on the horse. The horse gets more upset—and everything just gets worse and worse, while the trainer keeps giving advice that isn’t helping. I can hardly stand it.
            Anyway, for about the tenth time the horse gets out late, runs hell for leather to catch the steer, and won’t rate off when the boy pulls on him. The boy starts jerking on the horse and backing him up to punish him. Relentlessly. The horse starts scrambling backward, with the boy still jerking. And all of a sudden I feel the wreck coming. Nobody is saying anything to the kid. Trainer guy is muttering to himself about the boy screwing up, but nobody says a word to the kid.
            I see the horse go down to his hocks, still scrambling backward—and I yell as loud as I can “Stop pulling on him!”
            The kid hears me (as he told me later) and gives the horse some slack. The horse staggers backward another stride, catches his balance and stops, still standing up. I am 100% sure if the kid had kept on pulling the horse would have gone over backward. The horse’s hocks were scraped up and bloody from being buried in the sand.
            Everybody looks at me—because I don’t usually yell at people. I shrug. “I didn’t want him to get hurt.”
            Inwardly I’m thinking, what the hell is wrong with these people? I know they’re mostly tough old cowboys, but why wait for the kid’s horse to go over backward? They give a lot of advice when it isn’t helpful and then just sit here watching as a wreck is about to happen?
            Anyway, the wreck was avoided, and the kid is fine—though still struggling with his horse, I’m afraid. For those who wonder why a thoughtful adult isn’t helping with this situation, it is because the kid’s dad is unequal to the task, and the person who poses as a trainer (with the less than helpful advice) is dominating everything to such a degree that the rest of us are mostly keeping our mouths shut because we don’t want to get into a shouting match with the “trainer.”. And no, it’s not a good situation. But I’ve sure seen it before.
            This got me thinking about other wrecks in the making that I’ve seen with other people’s kids and kept my mouth shut about (because I thought my advice wasn’t wanted), and I thought I’d put said advice here in this post. Ignore it if you aren’t interested. Maybe it will save someone’s life.

            1) Children under five years old should not be leading horses around without an adult right by their side, ready to take over if needed. Even saintly horses can spook, get stung…etc. A small child is very vulnerable to being knocked down or stepped on. And even saintly horses will learn to take advantage. It’s just not a smart thing to do.

            2) It is safer to put small children in the saddle in front of you while riding a gentle horse than it is to put them up on the horse and lead them around. I learned this many years ago with my young niece. The horse only has to spook a tiny bit, or stumble, or shake, and these little kids will come right off. Contrary to what some say, riding in the saddle in front of a competent rider on a gentle horse is the safest for the very young child.
            If you are not a competent rider or don’t have a gentle, reliable horse that will carry you and a child, the safest thing for the young child is to let him/her ride on a reliable small horse or pony and be led by one adult while another adult walks beside the horse ready to grab the kid (this won’t work with a big horse). Overkill, you say? I have personally known three very small children who tumbled off gentle horses while being led around. One horse spooked (a tiny little one step spook) and the other two shook themselves. The horses meant no harm. All three of these very young (less than 5 years) children were pretty traumatized by hitting the ground. (And yes, one of these three times it was my mistake—I was in my 20’s—leading my 3 year old niece around on a very sweet horse. I never made that mistake again.)
            If you don’t have a truly reliable horse of any kind, do NOT put a kid up on your horse (in any way shape or form)—no matter how hard the kid begs. It’s not worth the risk.

            3) Even competent teenagers need a LOT of supervision with horses. Trust me on this one. If you value your horses and your kids, keep an eye on them. Make sure things are done right. I have known SO many kids and horses that were hurt due to the teenager’s errors in judgment (my own teenage errors are large in my mind). It’s just not worth it. It sounds so wonderful to turn the horse and kid loose together, but it is not worth a dead kid or horse. And yes, I have known this to happen—more than once.

My cousin and I crippled one of the nicest horses I ever knew when we were about fourteen—catching him one day without adult supervision. We left the corral gate open when we went to get the horse and he ran from us, tried to make the hard turn to get out that open gate at a dead run, and hit his hip on the gatepost. He never really recovered from the resulting knocked down hip. Any horseman worth his salt would have seen that the horse meant to evade capture and made sure to shut the damn gate. But we were young and dumb and didn’t think of it.

            4) Its great to teach a kid to saddle and bridle and tie up his horse. But don’t assume he’s done it right. Check. Because the horse that gets away and out on the road because he wasn’t tied correctly, and the saddle that slips under the horse’s belly, and the sore back or sore mouth from the incorrectly adjusted tack are just too much of a downside.

            5) Don’t allow another person, trainer or not, advise/teach your kid unless you believe (with good reason) the trainer to be truly capable and kind and has your child’s best interests at heart. If you are not a horseman yourself, get an opinion from a knowledgeable horseman you trust on any given “trainer.” Try to remember that ANYONE, absolutely anyone, can call themselves a horse trainer. Many of them do not have much to offer. This goes for people who call themselves horse trainers on the internet, too. And for folks who give clinics. Including folks with a “big name.” It is really important to make a thoughtful judgment on whether any given “trainer” has knowledge and/or a teaching style that would benefit you/your child.  So much harm can be done by a poor trainer whose motivation is not the best. Horse trainers are motivated by ego and the desire for ego gratification just as often as they are motivated by the desire to do some real good. Many so-called horse trainers have never really had much success training horses. Others have found very cruel ways to become “successful.” This is sad, but absolutely true. Oftentimes a knowledgeable horseman who does not pose as a “trainer” will be far more helpful and far less motivated by ego when it comes to giving needed advice. See my post above.

If you have no knowledgeable horseman that you trust to help you choose a trainer--and sometimes we all need help from a trainer--here are some simple guidelines.

Do you feel comfortable talking to the trainer? Does he/she treat you like an equal? Or do you feel patronized and/or manipulated? Trust me, this is key. It will not work out in the end if the trainer has no respect for you as a person.

Are the trainer's own horses happy, healthy, mostly sound, mostly working well into old age? Does the trainer find good forever homes for or keep his retired horses? If you can't answer yes to all of this, avoid the trainer.

Does the trainer have clients who have been with him/her for years and who are happy and relaxed around the trainer and will give their good opinion of him/her readily? Again, if the answer is not yes, avoid the trainer.

Finally, does the trainer have clients like you? If you just want your child to learn to ride well in a supportive atmosphere and every other client is someone who competes avidly at reined cowhorse, say (insert other disciplines here), it is unlikely in the extreme that the trainer is a good match.

            6) Just because someone calls themselves a trainer or has a riding school or gives lessons doesn’t mean they have any real ability with horses. Nor does it mean they are trustworthy or have good judgment. Nor does it mean that their horses are reliably good kid’s horses. Do not allow anyone to put your child on any horse that you do not absolutely know is a reliable horse unless you have a good reason to trust this person (as in you actually know them, not because they have some sort of “trainer” title). The number of kids who I have known to be seriously injured (and yes once, killed) on “school riding horses” is significant. It is a very real danger.

            7) And finally, do NOT buy into the notion that helmets keep you safe. They don’t. Helmets protect your head in the case of a fall (sometimes). There are great many other ways besides a traumatic head injury to get injured or dead when you fall off a horse. Helmets are a good thing—don’t get me wrong. My kid wears one. So do I. But by far the most important thing you can do to keep a child safe while riding is to be sure he is mounted on a reliable horse and that the person supervising uses good judgment.

            The biggest problem I have seen lately concerns a local riding school where the ill broke horses have bucked off and injured numerous kids. But the parents still send their kids there to ride, thinking the kids are “safe” because they are wearing helmets. It really upsets me. (See my above point.) 

            I could think of lots more, but these are the ones I’ve seen lately—and kept my mouth shut in the interests of not offending. So I’m putting my advice out there in this post in the hope that it might help somebody. Everybody is welcome to ignore said advice. Please add your own thoughts/advice in the comments.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Right or Wrong?

                                                by Laura Crum

            OK, this isn’t a horse question—but I guess it could be. It’s an animal question. Something happened the other day that really upset me. I’m not sure if I’m right to be upset. Maybe I’m totally wrong. You tell me.
            Before I begin, I want to warn you that this isn’t a very pleasant post. Owners of expensive purebred dogs would do best to click on the “X” now. Because though I like many of you personally, I am in general opposed to the concept of paying a lot of money for a purebred dog when many sweet, intelligent dogs are euthanised for lack of a home. So don’t read this if that stance offends you, because I’m not intending to pick on anyone, except perhaps the acquaintance I talk about here. I am, however, going to state my point of view and express some of my feelings.
            I have a friend/acquaintance that, for various reasons, I see from time to time. We both have kids, we both have animals. She has rescued a couple of stray cats; she has a horse. I think she takes good care of her animals. We have things in common, obviously. But she recently did something that, quite truthfully, left me aghast.
            My sort of friend has had a small dog the whole time I have known her. Small and furry dog named Maxi. Good with the kids and cats, getting older. Sometimes the friend would complain that Maxi was getting incontinent and deaf. I have an older dog who is getting incontinent and deaf, so I sympathized. We would both remark about how our old dogs still seemed to enjoy life. And Maxi clearly was a happy little dog.
            And then, a few months ago this friend started talking about getting a puppy. I had acquired a puppy—a little rescue mutt—a couple of years ago, and I immediately waxed lyrical about what a great addition she was and how she has perked my older dog up…etc. But it soon became evident that my friend had something else in mind.
            She asked my opinion about Labs—because she wanted to buy a purebred Lab puppy. I have to admit, I took a deep breath. Amongst my friends/acquaintances, I can think of roughly ten people who have bought a purebred Lab puppy in the last couple of years. With all the sweet, wonderful dogs in this world that are being euthanised for lack of a home, these folks had to spend a thousand dollars or more on a purebred Labrador retriever—the trendy dog of the moment. This particular woman couldn’t decide on whether she wanted yellow or chocolate (rather like deciding on a piece of furniture), and what did I think of Labs?
            I told her the truth. (She asked me, remember? I didn’t hand out my unsolicited opinion.) I said I had grown up with a Lab and it was a sweet dog, very enthusiastic and high energy, and pretty stupid, by my lights. Almost every other Lab I have ever met could be described in these words. The smartest one I know is described by her owner as not too bright. (He used to have cowdogs, so he knows the difference.) Another Lab owner that I like said that she preferred dogs that weren’t too smart. Good for her. She knows what she’s signed up for.
            I told my friend that I found Labs boring, but if that’s the sort of dog you wanted, fine. Me, I like smart dogs. My Queensland heelers could outthink plenty of people, and the two terrier crosses I have now are both plenty bright. I made a brief plea for the friend to consider a rescue dog (which was shrugged off), and then I asked if she thought Maxi would mind a new puppy. The friend made no answer to this. I got the impression that I hadn’t produced the feedback she wanted (as in Labs are wonderful, I like the chocolate ones --or yellow ones--best), and she was done talking to me about it. Oh well.
            So last month I ran into my friend and her new Lab puppy (chocolate, in case you were curious). The puppy was cute, of course, but in my opinion not one/tenth as cute as my little terrier cross mutt. But to each his own. I petted the puppy and looked around. No Maxi.
            “Where’s Maxi?” I asked.
The friend glanced pointedly at her young children, shook her head, and said nothing.
It took me a minute, but I got it. And I have to admit, it upset me. I said my goodbyes as quickly as I could and I got out of there. Because I didn’t want to contemplate the fact that my friend had obviously put her old dog down so she could get a new puppy. Old dog was inconvenient, so let’s get rid of her.
I was and am afraid to ask the friend directly, and its none of my business, but the last we talked Maxi was doing fine, just like my old dog. Yes, my old dog is a nuisance in some ways, but she’s been my dog for fifteen years. She’s been my little boy’s companion, as Maxi was my friend’s children’s companion. She’s a sweet dog who still trots happily down to the barnyard to feed the horses with me. I cannot understand the mindset that would put an old friend down because she is inconvenient. Because you want a new, trendy, purebred dog and you don’t want to cope with the old dog any more. I can’t stop thinking about it.
So here’s my question. Am I wrong to be aghast here? I have said nothing to my “friend,” though I am avoiding her. I don’t plan on inflicting my thoughts upon her. I’m not even sitting in judgment on her. How could I? I don’t really know the exact circumstances; I’m not in charge of the morals of others. But I do have a right to my feelings and my feelings are appalled.
Any thoughts?

PS--Here's a photo of my two not purebred or trendy, but very sweet (and were both free) dogs. They are wonderful family dogs. The little black dog (Star) is as smart as any dog I've ever owned. And you've got to admit, they are entertaining just to look at (!)


Friday, August 9, 2013

Taming the Wild Part Two by Alison Hart

Last time I posted I discussed the 'wild' in my yard and pasture, which did not refer to my fat, lazy horses who have never reared.  Bucked a few times, yup, but nothing too strenuous. It mostly referred to nature taking over our acreage at every chance. This post I am continuing the discussion of "taming the wild," which refers to getting life--aka summer, busyness, deadlines, getting ready to go to the beach and chores--under control.

Chores are never-ending in the summer. I don't have to mention it to anyone who has animals and gardens. I can't imagine I am the only one who feels as if chores are as out-of-control as a rearing horse. Would I have as much to do if I lived in an apartment? Would I still make as long a 'to-do' list if I had a quarter acre and one cat?  No. And obviously for some dysfunctional reason, I prefer this 'out-of'control' environment or I wouldn't live where I do. But chores seem to especially  'rear' their ugly heads when I know I am leaving for a week even though we are taking the dogs with us and the girl we have caring for everything else is competent. So quit worrying, right?

Deadlines are also on my mind since I have a book due. Yes, the beach equals writing time. I am taking my laptop and notes and getting away from antiques and booths, which are so distracting, so I can get down to business. I won't say this is a working vacation because I love to write so it's not work, but here at home the animals, treasure hunting and gardens call to me louder.

But the worst 'wild' thing in my life is my office aka inventory/storage area for my booths. It is a disaster and I am embarrassed to say that my plans to get it under control this summer failed miserably. Partly because every time I tagged a boxful of items to go in a booth, I brought home a boxful from a yard sale. Does anyone else have this horrible blight surrounding them? Any suggestion on how to tame such wildness before it threatens to crush me?  Yeah, a storage shed has been suggested, but I am afraid it will encourage me to fill it up as well.  All ideas are welcome!

In the meantime, I hope all your summer plans to tame your own wild have been more successful than mine!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Colic Surgery

                                                           by Laura Crum

            I have had a few friends lately (both on the internet and in real life) who have either lost a horse to colic or had a serious colic, and the subject of colic surgery has come up. Since I have actually gone through colic surgery with a loved horse I thought I’d write a post on what I learned, in the hope that it might help someone else make a decision.
            First off, I have always been someone who said I wouldn’t do colic surgery. Too much risk, too hard on the horse, too expensive, the rehab is long and hard, many horses are never 100 percent…etc. I knew people who had done colic surgery, with varying results, and I felt pretty sure this was not a path I wanted to take.
            But…five years ago, when my son’s horse, Henry, colicked, I did, in the end, choose colic surgery. I had some pretty specific reasons for this. 1) My son had lost his beloved pony to cancer a year previously, and I was desperate not to lose Henry at this point, 2) Henry was sound and strong and in perfect health otherwise, 3) ultrasound showed a mass in his intestine that the surgeon thought was a pile of sand or small stones that needed to be removed and they felt this was a relatively straight forward surgery, and 4) Henry was in excellent shape for surgery…all his vital signs were very good. The vets at the equine center convinced me that surgery was Henry’s best chance.
            I was told the surgery would probably cost $7500, and though I had to put it on my credit card (I do not have that kind of extra money lying around), it was not an impossible amount for us as a family, and my husband was in agreement that we should try it. I would not have done the surgery if it would have been a serious financial problem for our family. (By the way, when all was said and done, with rechecks, post op problems…etc, it was more like $10,000, and people have told me that it is $12,000 today at that same equine center.)
            I was also told that Henry had a very good chance of going back to full work, which for him was walk, trot, lope trail horse. I forget the actual statistics now, but they were pretty good. The down side was that Henry had just turned twenty, and one in five rehabs had some sort of problems. Anyway, I made the choice to try the surgery.
            Those who have read this blog know that it did work out and Henry has been 100% fine for five years post surgery. Given the exact same set of circumstances, I would make the same choice. I do know the surgery was needed—I have the cantalope-sized stone they took out of Henry’s intestine on my living room shelf. However, if another one of my horses colicked tomorrow and I was faced with surgery, I think I probably would not choose this option (though again, it might depend on circumstances).
            Why? Well, having been through it, I really understand what it entails, which I certainly did not before. So let me see if I can describe the process well enough that others can understand my thinking.
            First of all, I would only consider colic surgery if the horse was, as Henry was at the time, vital and pretty much irreplaceable and completely sound and in full use. The horse would have to have an excellent prognosis going in, as Henry did. A horse that was already in distress with poor vital signs is just not a good bet. And finally (though I didn’t think much about this at the time) the horse would need to be the sort to be a good patient.
            Because the rehab was just as difficult as I had feared. First off, the horse has to be confined in a 15 by 15 stall for the first month and, guess what? They would prefer he didn’t roll. (You can easily see why.) I have no box stalls, so I built a 15 by 15 stall out of panels, under a pasture shed roof. Oh, and this just happened to be in February—it rained pretty much non-stop during the first part of Henry’s rehab. The stall had to be kept immaculate, because it was vital to keep the incision clean. So I bedded this stall VERY lightly, so Henry wouldn’t want to roll, and I cleaned it three times a day.
            The horse must be hand walked three times a day as well, and hand grazed on green grass three times a day. The horse must be fed four small meals of hay a day. Then there’s antibiotics and pain meds as needed. Taking care of Henry was almost a full time job. Fortunately, I had the time to do this.
            Henry had to go back to the equine center once a week for rechecks during the first month (and the equine center was an hour away). During these rechecks they changed his bandage (which was a huge thing that wrapped around his barrel and supported the incision). But after the first month, they had me buy a “hernia belt” (very expensive) and from then on I changed Henry’s wound dressing every two or three days myself. I learned to do it competently, but it would have been a dangerous business with a flighty horse inclined to spooking or kicking.
            Henry ended up with a couple of (very common) post surgical problems. First he got an infection (he was on antibiotics for a couple of months) and then he developed a hernia. Neither of these problems was a big deal in the grand scheme of things (though, of course I didn’t know that at the time), but they caused me a lot of worry and some expense and certainly many extra rechecks with the equine center.
            After six weeks of confinement in a stall, even the docile Henry was very full of himself and a pain to handle—I cannot imagine what this would be like with any sort of hot horse. I was worn down with worry and the constant care giving. I had been told that we could go back to riding Henry in three months, but it wasn’t until the end of four full months of rehab that we got cleared to actually ride the horse. And it wasn’t until we were six months out from surgery that we were taking him on trail rides and picking up the lope. It was a long haul.
            Six months is not a long time if you simply turn a horse out in pasture and let him heal. But this was four months of constant, every day, three and four times a day, hand walking…etc. It was a lot of work. I worried constantly that Henry would get adhesions, or a serious hernia that would require more surgery, or mean the end of him. In retrospect, since I know the horse is fine, this worry was pointless. And, of course, since I did my very best to take good care of Henry, and this was all that I COULD do, the worry was pointless in any case. But I couldn’t help worrying. It was very stressful.
Eventually rehab progressed to the point where my son could ride Henry—bareback at the walk. And this was the one and only point in all the time we’ve owned him when (the now feeling way too full of it) Henry ever dumped my kid. (My son wasn’t hurt, but it wasn’t our best moment, that’s for sure.) And then came two months of slow, careful under saddle exercise, while the horse lived in a small (20 by 20) pen. Lots of stall cleaning and pen cleaning involved, too. Again, a lot of work.
            Yes, it was worth it to me. Under the circumstances in which I made that choice, I would do it again. But I probably would not choose it today for any horse on my property. None of them have the disposition to be the excellent patient that Henry has/had, and Henry himself is 25 years old. All of my horses are in their late teens or older. Bearing in mind that we all must die sometime, I don’t think I would put myself or any of my horses through that ordeal just to extend their lives. The one exception might be Sunny—but I am not sure how he would deal with the rehab. He hates taking meds and will kick if he feels the need. I think it might be an unworkable combination.
            So yes, even though I had a successful result with colic surgery and I am very grateful that I spent the money and the time and the blood, sweat and tears to keep Henry with us, this hasn’t made me feel that I would want to do colic surgery in the future. I can’t, of course, make any recommendation on what others might want to do, because every situation is different, but I hope my story may help someone else to at least have a little more understanding than I had going into the process.
            And please, if anyone else has insights to offer, feel free to give them in the comments.