Sunday, September 29, 2013


                                                            by Laura Crum

            If you’ve owned horses for any length of time, you have dealt with lameness. It’s just a fact of life with horses. They go lame from time to time. If you’re lucky, it’s not permanent. If you’ve never had a lame horse, you just haven’t owned enough horses, or owned any horse a long time.
            So I’ve been really lucky when it comes to lameness. I can pat myself on the back and say it’s because I have great horse keeping/riding practices and I know how to pick the sort of horse that stays sound, and maybe this has something to do with it. But really, maybe I’ve just been lucky.
            As of last year at this time, I had five completely sound horses on my place, including my retired 32 year old horse, my retired 23 year old horse, my riding horse, my son’s riding horse and my friend’s horse that I board here. Today? Well, the boarder is still sound.
            I know, it sounds bad. But it is part of life with horses.
            I retired Gunner, my now 33 year old horse, when he was 18 because he had enough arthritic changes that I felt he would be more comfortable if I didn’t work him. I retired Plumber (now 24) at 19 for the same reason. Both horses became much more free moving after some time off, and would long trot freely and completely sound as retired barefoot pasture pets. And this made me happy.
            Last winter Gunner got cast and was down (I think) most of the night. I found him there at morning feeding. He was stuck in a hollow by the fence and we had a very hard time getting him up (took a couple of hours). He was in pretty rough shape when he finally stood up, and I thought it was the end. But my vet convinced me that the horse could pull through, and this turned out to be true. It took a couple of weeks, but eventually Gunner was trotting sound again. However, he was never as free moving as he had been before being cast. Still, he was sound, he ate well, his weight was good, he would buck and play—I thought his quality of life was good enough. Here you see Gunner this summer.

            Several months after being cast, Gunner fell while running around screaming for his buddy (who I had taken out of the corral). Gunner got up from that fall limping, and since then developed some very obvious arthritic changes in his left knee. And he was lame. When it became clear that this wasn’t going to resolve on its own, I had the vet out.
            To cut to the chase—yep, he had bad arthritis in his knee, and we put him on Previcox—a pain killer which works well for long term use in arthritic horses. Gunner got better. But he never got really completely sound. And now, as it gets colder, he’s a little more off on that left front, despite the drug.
            He still bucks and plays a little, he eats well, his weight is pretty good. But he’s definitely lame. Here he is a week or two ago—getting fuzzy for winter.

            Gunner will be 34 next spring if he makes it that long. Right now I think his quality of life is good enough. But if he keeps getting lamer, I will have a hard choice to make. I have buted older horses to keep them comfortable, and I could do this with Gunner, but I am not sure I want to push this 33 year old horse to make it through another cold rainy muddy winter (and he hates being confined so locking him up in a stall won’t work). The end result is the same. Eventually the bute won’t mask the pain, as the Previcox is currently starting to fail to do. Do I just want to prolong this so Gunner can stand in the rain? I’m not sure.
            And then, just for icing on the cake, three weeks ago I went down to feed and 24 year old Plumber was lame in the right front. Plumber has been sound and comfortable, so my first thought was an abscess or a bruise. It just so happened the farrier was coming that day, so we trimmed Pulmber and used the hoof testers and could find nothing. No bruise, no tenderness. Also no swelling, no heat, no sign of injury anywhere on the leg or foot. But lame in the right front. OK then.
            I did not call the vet because I have been down this road before. We had done most of what a vet could do. The next step was X-rays. I decided to wait and see if Plumber got worse or better. If he got worse it was probably an abscess and would become much easier to diagnose. If he got better, well, as we expert horsemen say, he just tweaked himself. Or, more accurately, he probably aggravated an existing low level arthritic condition (such as ringbone, sidebone or navicular).
            Every day I checked Plumber out. First he got better. Then he got lamer. Then better. Then lamer. And then consistently a little better every day. Right now you can’t tell he is off unless you jog him in a circle on hard ground. Trotting in a straight line in his corral, he looks sound. And that’s sound enough for his pasture pet life. We’ll see what the future brings.
            Here you see my son giving Plumber a little love.

            Ok, retired horses having soundness problems is par for the course. At least my riding horses were sound. We’ve been riding two or three days a week all summer and having lots of fun. I’ve particularly been enjoying riding in the redwood forest on Sunny.

            My son and Henry have enjoyed chasing cattle.

            My son started his junior high homeschool program three weeks ago, and we have been really busy getting up to speed with that. We took a brief break from riding just due to how busy we’ve been. But last week things seemed to smooth out and we decided to go for a ride. We saddled up and my son started to warm Henry up. Henry is 25 and though he is still sound, his hocks are getting stiff. He needs lots of walking before he is asked to do more.
            I led Sunny out on the driveway to climb on and dang, he looked lame. I jogged him. He WAS lame. Lame in the left front. I picked his foot carefully. No obvious problems in the foot. Also no injuries, swelling or heat in foot or leg. I jogged him again. Still lame.
            This was a big surprise because Sunny gallops around in his corral every day at feeding time and trots up and down the fence, and I had seen no sign of lameness. But he was definitely lame in the left front now—too lame to ride. I unsaddled him, let him graze a little, and turned him back out.
            I bought both Sunny and Henry roughly six years ago. They have both been completely sound virtually the whole time I have owned them, and taken us on hundreds and hundreds of rides. In the nearby hills, on the beach, gathering cattle—we even hauled them to the Sierras. They have been barefoot almost the entire time. As Henry has gotten older, we’ve quit loping a lot of circles on him, but that has been the only real change. These two horses have been sound, solid riding horses for six years and given us an amazing amount of use. Henry is 25—Sunny is possibly as old as 20. So I wasn’t entirely shocked to find that Sunny was having a soundness problem. To be frank, I knew this would happen eventually. And eventually just happens to be now.
            My horses are all older. This is what happens when you don’t get rid of your beloved friends once they get past their best working years. To put it simply: you have older horses with soundness problems. I accept this. That doesn’t mean it makes me happy. But I accept it.
            I am going to give Sunny some time off and see if his lameness will resolve (unless he gets worse, in which case I will have the vet out ASAP). But if he still gallops up the hill at feeding time and trots without a head bob in his corral (as he did this morning), I think his quality of life is OK. I’m not sure about mine. I am pretty addicted to going for a ride any time I feel like it.
            Anyway, it’s early days to make predictions. Sunny may be sound next week. Or I may have the vet out and we’ll put Sunny on the Previcox, if that seems like the right choice. Or maybe it’s an abscess. If so, it will show itself and I’ll deal with it. For the moment, I’m going to take a deep breath and be grateful for all the happy rides I’ve had on my good little yellow mule. I’ll turn him out to graze, and give him lots of attention and accept the fact that owning and loving horses means dealing with lameness. It’s not all about happy rides in the sunshine. Sunny has given me plenty of wonderful rides and taken really good care of me—now it’s my turn to take care of him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A New Writing Project

                                                by Laura Crum

             After giving myself a couple of years of breathing space since turning out twelve mystery novels in my series featuring an equine vet, I’ve finally settled in to my new writing project. I felt pretty sure I was done with writing mysteries. I knew I wanted to write a memoir, but I wasn’t sure what the point would be. I didn’t want to waffle on about my memories, I wanted to target some unique aspect of life that I was fitted to convey. Uhmm, it took awhile to work this out.
            In the meantime I wrote a brief memoir in a series of blog posts here on Equestrian Ink, about my life with horses. This piece of work ties into my mystery series and essentially gives the background from whence the books sprang—forty years of owning, training, competing and just sharing my life with horses. It was lots of fun to write and it will be up on Kindle shortly (as soon as I get the cover worked out) as a 99 cent special.
            Since then, I read a book (The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman) that clarified for me the subjects that I really want to write about now. And that would be life, death, magic, old spirits and God. Not that I have the skill to write about these things. But I have the desire. I am quite sure that my memoir will fall far short of Neil Gaiman’s wonderful book, but that’s OK.
            So I’ve begun, and I am really enjoying writing the book I want to write, constrained by no one’s concepts but my own. To tell the truth, I have grown quite tired of concocting a crime and then a plot that contains just enough excitement…etc. I am interested in writing the truth as I see it, whether or not it pleases anyone else.
            One of my friends asked if I would try to sell this upcoming book. I laughed. Because one of the things I am done with is trying to sell a publisher on my work, and I’m also pretty sure that this book will not appeal to a publisher. It doesn’t fit any popular niche. But…
            Because of Amazon and Kindle, I can put my memoir up myself, and because my backlist has a steadily growing readership, there are probably readers who will buy my new work. So yes, in a sense, I will sell my book.
            I have heard of authors who deplore this new system, and I have to ask: What is it you don’t like? What is bad about getting a 70% royalty on every book sold? What is not to like about getting a check every month that pays for the groceries? I have never been anything other than a mid-list author, and I am still a mid-list author, but for the first time in my writing career, my books are bringing in a steady, useful income. What is bad about that?
           In a past post I've discussed the fact that authors whose work was chosen for publication by traditional publishing, as my books were, tend to feel a bit chagrined when self published authors want to claim the same bragging rights. It is sort of as if you went through the years of vet school and finally hung out your shingle, only to find a self-proclaimed vet next door, one who had never gone to vet school at all. However the discussion that resulted from that post clarified for me the basic fact that yes, anyone can publish a book on Kindle and call themselves an author. But in the end what counts is whether one can sell books on Kindle. Self published or traditionally published isn’t the bottom line. Does anyone want to buy/read your books is the bottom line. In my example of the self proclaimed vet, what really counts in the end is whether or not he/she is a good and effective vet. And if the years show that she is, well then, the traditionally schooled vet, if she isn’t too defensive, will just have to admit that her self-proclaimed comrade in medicine is all right. Which is exactly how I feel about all the self-published authors out there. Hey, if you are good to read, more power to you. And if you are not, well, I think the sales record will make this clear in time.  As for me, I am very grateful that sales of my books on Kindle have steadily continued to bring in useful money, and very happy to have a system that actually rewards authors for their work.
            So yes, my memoir will eventually be for sale on Kindle, and I hope that some of the fans of my mystery series will buy this book. And if many of you wish I would return to writing mysteries, rather than memoirs, well, I understand. I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed my mysteries, and those of you who have reviewed them on Amazon have my deepest gratitude. Because these same fans have rated most of my backlist between four and five stars, and been a big help in increasing my grocery money every month.
So today I’d like to say thank you to every reader who has reviewed my books on Amazon. I really appreciate you. If, just by chance, you have enjoyed my mysteries and haven’t yet posted a review, all I can say is that these reviews on Amazon are terribly important to authors nowadays. Every single positive review is appreciated…and I think that this is true for every author out there. If you can find time in your busy day to post a review (and I know it’s a pesky sort of chore), you have my gratitude.
I know many of you who read this blog are authors yourselves, and I would be interested to hear if any of you, like me, have reached a point where you are determined to write the book you want to write, rather than fitting your writing into a niche. Though I do understand that fitting a niche is, by and large, how you can bring in the grocery money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Any thoughts?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Horse and writer

By Gayle Carline
Author and Horse Mom

Today is a multi-tasking post because my day to write this falls on a day when I'll be busy talking about writing instead.

So let's talk about the writing first.

This entire weekend (Sept. 20-22) I will be at the Southern California Writer's Conference in Newport Beach, California. This group holds two conferences a year, one over President's Day weekend in San Diego and one at the end of September in the L.A. environs. I'm teaching a couple of workshops, one on how to pace your novel and one on what do you do after you write "The End."

As a writer, I cannot recommend these conferences enough. They are working conferences, where you get to learn new stuff, to meet new people, and to share your work. Most important, in my opinion, is that the directors/organizers of the event, Michael Stephen Gregory and Wes Albers believe that you should get your money's worth. They constantly keep the conference fresh and on or ahead of the curve of that brave new publishing world we're seeing.

If you want more reasons on why you should go to this or any other conference, read Jennifer Silva Redmond's blog. She edited my book From the Horse's Mouth, and she loves horses. I suppose she might own one if she didn't live on a boat. Maybe she can get a seahorse.

Now let's talk about horses.

I'd love to hear from you about when you first realized that horses weren't just something you did in your spare time. When did you figure out they would always be a part of your life?

For me, I knew I wanted to continue being around horses during my first lesson, when I realized how relaxing the prep work was. No checking how much air was in my scuba cylinder while I was 35 feet underwater. No clomping through snow to buy a lift ticket and schlepping skis over my shoulder. Just a curry and a brush and a horse. And me.

When I bought Frostie, my first horse, and suddenly the writing I had wanted to do began to pour from fingertips to page, I recognized her as my muse, even if I didn't understand it. At that point, there was no going back to the horse-free life.

And here's where horse and writer meet.

I began with journalistic articles for Riding Magazine. Then I got bold and queried my local newspaper for a humor column. Then I needed more. I needed to write novels. I've always loved mysteries, so that's where I started. I've now got three full-length mysteries and a short story.

The Peri Minneopa Mysteries feature a 50-year old woman who gave up a successful housecleaning business to become a licensed private investigator. She wants to do background checks and surveillance, but of course she gets dragged into intrigue and danger. I'd describe my mysteries as light romps with a little humor, and nothing explicit.

I've also got two books of my humor columns, and of course, the Snoopy memoir.

I recently completed the rough draft of a mystery set at a horse show (AQHA, naturally), that I've tentatively titled Murder on the Hoof. I can't wait to share it with you all.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thoughts About Horse Training

                                                by Laura Crum

            After doing a series of posts which began by bringing up the idea that certain horse behaviors which are issues for some horseman are not issues for others—and ranging through different methods of training, ending up with a discussion on whether or not it is appropriate to use force of some kind to discipline or reprimand a horse, I learned a few things. And the biggest thing I learned is that people sometimes have very strong feelings along the lines that their own method/belief when it comes to horse training is the right one—and they don’t like hearing that others don’t agree.
            Well, this isn’t exactly surprising, is it? Half the problems in the world are caused by people thinking that their own belief system is the right one—and everybody else should agree with them. I don’t think I’ll take on the subject of religious tolerance right now, thank you very much, but I may just take on the topic of horse training tolerance. So here goes.
            There are many different schools of thought when it comes to training horses, and its my belief that most of them can work, given that the person using them is reasonably skilled at reading a horse, a reasonably competent rider, and the person’s goals for the horse are appropriate for the method. The person has to be willing to put in the hours and the wet saddle blankets that it takes to train any horse, if they have a young horse and they want it to become a useful riding horse. But, in general, if the person is happy and the horse is happy, I think its all good. And this would include people (and I have known a few of these) that don’t actually ride and have never ridden much. But if they get along fine with their pasture pet horses and can accomplish the needed hoof care, vet work, feeding/cleaning chores without much trouble, I applaud them. There are many good and workable ways to own and handle horses—ways that work for both human and horse.
            That said, there are some situations that I will stand up against. This would start with people who, out of ignorance, pathology, misguided training techniques, or any other reason, starve horses or mistreat them. There are very many ways in which people are abusive to horses and overly harsh training methods are among those ways.
            I have seen overly harsh training methods employed by ignorant people who simply whipped and spurred and jerked a horse in pointless ways because they did not know any way to work with a green horse other than trying to force it do what they wanted by intimidating it. This does not work. The confused, frightened horses merely developed terrible habits and were usually ruined as riding horses. This is abuse.
            I have also seen overly harsh training methods employed by very skillful horsemen who wanted to win at a high level. These people also whipped and spurred and jerked, but they knew exactly when to do it to produce the desired result. I have seen horses tied all night in their stalls with their heads high in the air so that they would keep those heads down the next day in the show ring. I have seen the horse loving spectators ooh and aah over a performance in the show ring that was created through extremely cruel methods. But hey, the horse performed wonderfully well and won the class. I think that is abuse, too. I quit competing at any horse events because I didn’t even want to be around that kind of abuse…not that I ever did anything like that. But I didn’t want to support such cruelty with my presence or my entry money.
            There is another kind of abuse. There are well-intentioned people who buy a horse and whether through their own ignorance or because they have been taught by a so-called expert of some sort, they think that the way to get along with the horse is to be “nice” to it at all times. They want to bond with the horse or (insert new age word of choice here) whatever with the horse. They don’t accept the notion that the human must, essentially, be in charge. In the end, even the best of horses will start to take advantage of such an owner, and most horses will quickly figure out that the human is not in charge and start doing exactly as they please. This does not work out. It is, in fact, a dangerous situation, and the human almost inevitably becomes afraid of the horse. The usual progression is afraid to ride the horse alone, then afraid to get on at all, then afraid to handle the horse on the ground. Quite often the owner gets hurt by the horse, or it is very clear that this result is inevitable. At this point the horse has some extremely bad habits and unless a skillful horseman who is willing to reprimand the horse and work with it in appropriately firm ways gets involved, these horses frequently end up at the killers.
            The owner meant to be kind to the horse by being nice and bonding, rather than by being in charge and reprimanding as needed, but this has resulted in the poor horse being hauled and killed in the most abusive conditions possible. Overly “nice” owners are responsible for fully as much abuse as overly harsh owners, from what I have seen.
            I am against any kind of abuse of horses, from the overly harsh to the overly nice that results in spoiled, dangerous horses. I appreciate and admire all horsemen who are happy with their horses and treat them well. This would include horsemen who use vastly different methods than I do. I don’t need other horsemen to do the things the way I do them. I talk about what works for me. Other people talk about what works for them. We don’t always agree on what methods work best. But if they are happy with their horses and its plain that their horses are thriving, I am totally comfortable with it. I’m all for horse training tolerance.
            There are places where I will stand up for what I think is realistic—I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. I’ll give a specific example to make my point clear. There are a great many horse owners that I know, both in real life and on the internet, that are, quite frankly, scared to go on a solo trail ride with their horse. The horse has misbehaved in the past, or they’ve come off, or the person is just anxious or whatever. Now, I have no criticism of this. We are all on our own journey and we do not need to judge ourselves by others. If you want to stay in the riding ring, or ride only as far as your horse’s “comfort zone,” or not ride at all, I think all of this can be just fine. But I am somewhat amused by those who cannot climb on their own horse and go off on a trail ride insisting that their training methods are superior to mine, or others who CAN do this.
            I can phrase this kindly by saying that some training methods are suitable for some goals and not for others, and I think my methods, which result in horses that can be ridden out on the trail whenever I choose (and I have always been able to take any of my own horses for a ride any time I wanted) may work better to achieve the result I want. I am not asking anyone to use my methods instead of his/her own. In general, I’m glad to hear how other competent horse people who love their horses and are happy with them do things—including when it’s different from how I do things. As long as it doesn’t result in abuse to a horse, including the abuse caused by being overly “nice,” I think its all good. This doesn’t mean I will drop the methods and tools that have proven workable for me, any more than I expect others to drop the methods that work for them.
            People who want to compete at various equestrian events are, by and large, going to need slightly different training methods than those who wish only to have pleasant, relaxing rides on their horse, down the trail or in the ring. I have been both these types of rider in my life, and I can attest to the different approach that is needed. But in both cases I have needed to remain firmly in charge of the horses I rode and handled. This doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to my horse. I do. I will frequently choose to honor my horse’s wishes. In the case of my current riding horse, Sunny—a very competent trail horse with a solid mind—I respect his dislike of arena work and do little of it; I let him choose when he needs a breather on a hill climb…etc. But I remain in charge. When he decides a turkey vulture landing on the beach is a threat, I let him know that it isn’t, and that we will pass said creature. And we do. Sunny and I have a partnership. We get along. But I am the one in charge.
            I think most horsemen can agree to this notion, though some may prefer to call themselves a “leader” rather than the boss. In my view it matters little what you call it, as long as the horse understands two things. 1) He is not free to defy you. 2) You can be trusted to take care of him. I really think that if you accomplish this, whatever training method you use is quite workable.
            But seriously, if you’ve obviously never owned a horse and you think that any use of firmness in horse training is abuse (as an anonymous commenter asserted on one of my posts), you might stop and think before you call me a jerk for my methods, which include appropriate reprimands for a horse who is “testing the boundaries.” It’s not that I can’t take a little abuse from commenters (I can), but if you have never trained a horse from the time he was three years old and covered many miles with him, and had him be there for you every step of the way, and faithfully cared for him into his thirties, you really aren’t in a position to say my horse training methods are not appropriate. You just haven’t walked the walk.
             (And yes, many competent/good horsemen may never have trained a young horse by themselves and/or been lucky enough to have a horse live into his thirties. Many good horsemen are too young to have owned a horse that long. I do understand this, and am not meaning to put anybody down, except that one ignorant anonymous commenter. The fact remains that I have trained three horses that were with me from their first rides through old age. I trained them myself and they all three were good horses who both won awards in the show ring and packed me on literally hundreds of miles through the hills. One died at 35, one is still with me at 33, and the last one is retired and still with me at 24. And I have had several other good horses besides these three, two of which are still with me. My horses are happy, healthy, overall long-lived, and I do believe that they like their lives and also feel more secure knowing that I am in charge. So yeah, if you want to call me --or anyone else-- an abusive horse owner, make very sure that you can equal my track record when it comes to caring for happy, healthy horses right up until their end. I think that’s reasonable.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Once a Farm Girl . . .

by Linda Benson

My husband and I moved to a smaller place earlier this year. I believe it's called "downsizing." After almost half a century owning horses (and donkeys) I now had no equines, and we talked about travel and free time and sitting on the deck sipping mixed drinks. Ha!

After a lovely Spring spent admiring wildflowers and envisioning landscaping our small acreage with more native plants (a satisfying work-in-progress,) I started yammering for more animals. "I want some ducks," I pleaded. "For our canal." Since a lovely meandering irrigation ditch wanders through our place, it would only be more perfect with waterfowl, right?

After many years of marriage, my poor spouse knows that to resist is futile, so in short order we had ducks!

And more ducks!

And of course, after a duck pen, that meant we needed a duck house. And once the duck house was built, it was quite simple to put up a few roosts inside, just in case we might get some chickens.

So, of course, within one more day I found some hens!

Aren't they sweet?

I love all kinds of animals. I could sit outside all day watching the way they interact. A couple of days ago, we acquired one more Rhode Island Red hen, and just like horses (but even more immediately) they established their "pecking order."  The little Buff Orpington hen immediately ran up to the older Red hen and bowed her head, saying "Peck Me, I'm younger and subservient." After two or three pecks, it was over.  The grey hen (a Silver Gray Dorking) ran up and acted like a rooster, dragging her wing on the ground. In no uncertain terms, she established that "she" was the Boss Chicken of this outfit and no one better mess with her. The funny looking young hen in this picture (a Salmon Faverolles) is a bit clueless, and the Red Hen still pecks her from time to time, to get her out of the way at feeding time. But all-in-all, once the pecking order was quickly established, everyone became friends. I wish that humans could get along this well.

Anyway, so much for relaxation and shopping and travel. If you think horses are a lot of work, these chickens and ducks are ridiculous! They have to be let out first thing in the morning. And fed. And watered, because ducks (bless their little hearts) make a mess of their water dishes. And then the ducks have to be let out to go swimming in the canal. And checked on several times a day. And of course one must collect the eggs. And check food and water again.

And then picture me (with a rake in my outstretched arm) gently guiding my ducks up from the canal back to their predator proof pen each evening. "Go to bed, duckies! Time to go to bed!" Then of course they have to be tucked in each evening, with electric wire around them so no foxes, weasels, raccoons, owls, or coyotes will get them.

But I am supremely happy. After a lifetime spent around the demanding schedule of taking care of horses and other animals, I am programmed for this. Because that's what farm girls do. Right? And once a farm girl . . . well, always a farm girl.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Better Homes and Gardens -- NOT

I am at that age when sleeping at night is sometimes challenging. When I do wake up at 3:00 am, I reach for a magazine. A good book with a fast plot will keep me awake, but a magazine tends to help me fall asleep. A friend of mine gets lots of free subscriptions due to airline points so she passes them on: Country Living, Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping.  I must admit, I love the gorgeous photos of indoor decor and outdoor gardens, and I know the photos are staged, but still, Better Homes and Gardens, I am definitely NOT.

My tomatoes
Better Homes and Gardens Tomatoes
 I have no clue how gardeners grow disease and pest free flowers and vegetables. My zucchini succumbed to squash beetles, and my tomatoes had fungus and stink bugs. My roses have been snacked on by beetles, and the peaches had so many bugs and blights and the squirrels ran off with so many that we ended up harvesting about a fifty edible ones, although the tree had been filled with thousands.

Then there's the inside of the house. The photo on the right tells all. Not that my whole house would be a Hoarders' TV show. But my office qualifies. I tell people it's because I have a business and no warehouse to put inventory. Which is true. I managed to find shelves for anything that's selling on Ebay after I lost an item that had sold because it was in the bottom of one of the piles.  But too many treasures come in while not enough go out, so the stacks keep growing. I don't want to keep this stuff, but sometimes when there is a good deal, I just can't help myself. Finding that unique treasure for a steal is an addiction.   My friends who are also 'dealers' and I laugh about needing Antiques Anonymous. We really do love the stuff. But as anyone knows who has a house, car or horse to sell, it's much easier to buy than sell, especially in this tough economy.  I do yard sales, have three booths, and sell on Ebay, yet my 'inventory' (okay, junk) is overflowing my life.

My kids just hope I don't die and leave it for them to get rid of.  Is your home and garden a "Better Homes and Gardens"?  Anyone else have an out-of-control collection? Please share with a failed gardener and addict!  At least I will know that I am not alone.
My Office --don't you love that wire rack?
Better Homes and Gardens Office

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sadness, Old Horses, and a Free Book

                                    by Laura Crum

            My good friend lost her 33 year old horse last week. He had been having problems getting up and finally one day, he was just unable to get up, and she knew it was time. This doesn’t make it easy. Even when we know it is the right time, it is so hard to lose a horse that has been part of your life for many years.
            I, too, have a 33 year old horse. I bought him when he was three years old and had thirty days riding. I trained him myself and competed on him at several different events. The bridle my son uses on his horse, Henry, features a headstall that Gunner won in a cutting contest many years ago. The trophy buckles Gunner and I won together are in the drawer next to my bed.
            Gunner and I covered a lot of miles. Thirty years of him being my horse. Today he is a bit peggy, but pretty sound. Will trot and lope and even buck and spin a little. Here he is in a picture taken just a few days ago –33 years old. He is growing his winter coat, so looks fuzzy, but I think you can see that his weight is still pretty good.

            I know that Gunner probably doesn’t have many years left.      I bought him when I was 25. He’s been with me the whole time since then. He really is part of my family. I treasure every day with him. But there is an underlying sadness. I know our time is limited.

            My other retired horse, Plumber, has had an off again on again slight lameness in his right front for awhile. Every time I get ready to have the vet out, he seems fine. His feet were trimmed recently and we could find no sign of a bruise or any tenderness using the hoof testers. There is no swelling or heat. No sign of an injury. So I’m just keeping an eye on him.
            Here you see my son giving Plumber (a very friendly horse) a little love.

            Winter is coming. Much as I like fall, I can’t help thinking about the rain (and mud) to come. Horse keeping is so much harder in the winter, especially with old horses. I’m kind of dreading it. So I’m a little sad right now. And then again, its Sept 11th, a day which seems plenty sad enough.
            But, there is much that is good. Sunny enjoys mowing the grass outside the veggie garden…and his bright gold self always makes me smile.

            We go swimming in the ocean on pretty days.

            And we visit the fields where my husband grows begonias—which are in full bloom right now. How pretty is that?

            And there is always riding in the woods.

            Ok, last cheerful thought. My second novel, Hoofprints, will be free as a Kindle edition for the next three days. Starting today, Weds the 11th, and going through Friday the 13th (how fortuitous, right?). Hoofprints has always been one of the most popular books in the series, so if you’d like to check out my mystery novels featuring an equine veterinarian as a protagonist, here’s your chance. Click on the title to find the free Kindle edition. Cutter, the first book in the series, is only 99 cents. Again, click on the title to find the Kindle edition.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Using "Force" in Horse Training

                                    by Laura Crum

            My last few posts have generated some interesting comments, so today I would like to take up what seems to be the bottom line when it comes to the difference between NH and traditional horse training. And this appears to be the use of “force.”
            First off, force is going to be a bit tough to define. But for the purpose of this discussion I am going to define force as using firm physical methods to insist that a horse do something he doesn’t want to do, or not do something he does want to do. In other words, to “force” the horse to behave as the handler wishes him to behave.
            Force would include everything from the extreme of beating a horse about the face with a lariat rope until you put out his eye (which I have seen) and just whacking a horse in the shoulder with the end of a leadrope when he tries to push through you on the ground. It would include all kinds of bitting up where the horse is forced to give his head, and swatting a horse with a crop when he balks and won’t go forward. It would also include beating a horse in the face and neck with a shovel, such that he has scars (this happened to Wally’s horse, Twister, before we got him).
            I’m sure you can see from my examples that I believe that force can be used appropriately or in very cruel and inappropriate ways. However, I do believe that force is necessary in effective horse training. The horse must at times be forced to do what he doesn’t want to do, and forced NOT to do what he does want to do, or the horse will never accept the human as leader/boss…whatever word you want to use. In my opinion, this is basic to having a reasonably obedient horse that is safe to ride and handle.
            Now we could go on and on about when force is needed and when it is cruel, and what methods are Ok, and what are cruel, but I don’t think much productive discussion would result. Different methods and degrees of force are needed for every horse. I am absolutely opposed to any sort of force that harms a horse. There are very many sensitive horses that NEVER need any more force than the lightest tap of crop or a bump with the leadrope to get their attention, or even just a sharp/loud word. I have several of these in my barn. And there are those horses that need a firmer approach. I have one of these, too.
            The thing I am interested in here is the basic concept. If I have understood it right, NH methods assume that a horse never needs to be forced to do something against his will. (Please tell me if I am wrong about this.) I can’t see how this could ever work.
            In every horse discipline I know of, including trail riding for pleasure, a horse must sometimes do what he doesn’t want to do. If he is only to do what he can be coaxed to “want” to do, any trail ride will be aborted when a horse has had enough. Let alone all the more demanding things we do with horses.
            I mentioned in the comments on my last post that I once practiced with and showed my cutting horse against Tom Dorrance’s wife, Margaret. Margaret had a lovely mare who enjoyed working cattle, as many horses do. But this mare was only competitive at the intermediate level, in my opinion because she was never pushed past what she freely offered to do. Never spurred to be a little quicker and sharper, or try a little harder. In my current, not-interested-in-competition state, I think that is a very nice way to train a cutting horse. But back in the day when I competed, the hole in that system was quite obvious to me. 
            The thing is, like almost everything else, it’s all about finding the middle ground. There were cutters who spurred and jerked their horses unmercifully, in order to make them try harder. Depending on the skill level of the trainer, this could totally backfire with the result that the horse was so blown up he could not be shown successfully, or, in certain very skillful hands, it could create a world champion. Even in my days of competing, I was never willing to subject my much loved horse to this sort of intense training in order to win. Yes, I spurred him to make him a little sharper. But I refused to take it to the degree where I felt I was taking the fun out of the event for him. It’s a fine line, for sure.
            Today I don’t compete. I trail ride for fun. I don’t ever wear spurs. But I will whack my stubborn little yellow trail horse in the shoulder with the leadrope when he purposely tries to step on my foot, or nips at me, or pushes into my space. I will whack him on the butt if he turns his butt to me when I go out to catch him, or balks on a trail ride. The thing is, because I have been consistently firm with this horse (who has needed more force than my more sensitive, reactive horses), he almost never tries these stunts any more. He is confident in me as his boss/leader, and he trusts me. We get along great. I am quite sure that no one who was unwilling to use any sort of force could ever have had a happy partnership with this particular horse.
            So today I would love to hear from those who do believe that force of some sort is needed in horse training, and from those who don’t believe force should be used. And if you don’t believe force should be used, will you please explain to me how you cope with it when your horse decides that he has had enough and he is turning around and going home now. Or he doesn’t want you on his back and decides to dump you. Or he wants to come out his corral gate and eat grass and you are an obstacle in the way of what he wants. Surely you must use force of some kind to let him know that you are in charge and he must yield to your wishes?
            For those who will insist that force is never needed, I would like to hear how you manage to remain in charge/the leader or whatever you would like to call it. I think we can all agree that the human must be in charge/the leader rather than the horse, if the human is to interact safely with this 1000 pound animal. This is not to say that a wise horseman will not sometimes/often let the horse’s choices stand—I do this myself when it seems appropriate. But it is my decision.
            I also want to say that not all horse training issues can be solved through the use of force. Far from it. If a horse is fearful, usually force is the wrong approach. Though even a fearful horse must learn (usually through some kind of force) that he must still respect your space/obey your cues. If you can’t get this done, you are in very real danger when you interact with such a horse. If a horse doesn’t understand what you want, force is almost always the wrong approach. The use of force must be carefully judged. Usually the time for force is when a horse is “testing the boundaries.” There are types of force, like tying, and some kinds of bitting up, where the horse is essentially struggling against himself, and these can be very effective in teaching a horse patience, calm and acceptance, without the human having to conflict with the horse. But the horse is still being forced to do something he doesn’t wish to do.
            Anyway, I’m interested to hear others’ ideas about the use of force in horse training.
            (It is also possible that we could redefine the concept of “force.”)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What is NH?

                                                 by Laura Crum

            Kerrin made some interesting comments on my last post (How to “Train” a Solid Trail Horse) on the subject of NH or “natural horsemanship.” Like many traditional horseman, I have never had much use for this form of training, pioneered by Pat Parelli. I watched Pat Parelli show a bridleless mule at the Snaffle Bit Futurity maybe thirty years ago, and I thought he looked like a real hand. But I have not been impressed with the money making machine he created in NH and its games and tools and clinics, nor by what I have seen of NH horses and NH practices in general.
            But…the truth is I really know very little about NH. By the time it was fashionable, I had already paid my dues in the traditional horse training world, and the only horse training I did any more was for myself and friends. I wasn’t interested in interacting with trainers of any sort—I’d just had enough of that world. I knew enough to train and get along with my own horses successfully, and that worked for me. So my actual experience with NH was/is limited to the times I’ve run into practitioners (in real life and on the internet) and what my friends (almost all traditional horsemen) have told me.
            The consensus has always been that NH horses are pushy and not respectful, that the NH people get to call themselves trainers without ever learning to ride, that the answer for every problem is working the horse from the ground, and that no NH horse was ever effectively trained such that it could compete at a high level at anything. I’ve seen a little to support this view, but I honestly just haven’t seen enough to know. And my most recent interaction with a NH practitioner has been entirely positive.
            Several years ago my friend Wally and I were looking for a home for a flunked out rope horse that we had trained. Wally and I bought Lester as a two-year-old because he was by a three quarter brother to my horse, Gunner, and we both thought Gunner was a great horse. The breeder gave us a really good price on the colt and seemed quite anxious to be rid of him, despite the fact that he was obviously the most athletic horse in the group and appeared kind and cooperative. I asked where his mother was, so I could see her, and was told, “We got rid of that crazy bitch last year.” I ignored this. And that was our first mistake.
            Lester turned out to be kind, smart and easy to train as a riding horse. He was very athletic and could really run. Wally and I trained him together and we thought he would make a great rope horse. We were wrong.
            Lester had a crazy streak. I now think it was inherited. He simply could not take any sort of intensity or pressure or stress. Over and over again he would show his ability to execute and then blow up. He would make five great roping runs and then rear straight up in the box. He would travel down the trail nicely behind another horse and then be a basket case if asked to go out by himself or put in the lead in a “scary” place. Lester was willing to get truly violent when his buttons got “pushed,” though he never meant to hurt anyone. I always felt that he was just as likely to hurt himself as his rider. He wasn’t defiant; his circuits just plain shorted out under stress.
            Of course, we tried to work with him. But nothing we knew how to do really improved him. He’d go well for awhile and then blow up again. We had several other people who were competent riders/ropers work with him, but they all got the same result. I tried all the training tricks I knew, but nothing helped. In reference to my previous post about tying, I tried this technique with Lester fairly early in the piece. But Lester did not respond the way the other colts I’d worked with responded. If tied by himself Lester just got worse and worse; his violent behavior continued to escalate. I feared he would hurt or kill himself and gave up the tying. And yet Lester remained a kind, cooperative horse most of the time. If not stressed, he was great. Anyone could ride him at a walk, trot, lope around the arena, or follow another horse on a trail ride. He would take either lead, spin a little, stop and back readily…for anyone, including a beginner. He was reliably pleasant and calm for this sort of work. We certainly succeeded in his training to this degree, anyway.
            After several years of persisting, we gave up the idea that Lester could be a rope horse. He was immensely talented—we’d been offered ten thousand dollars by someone who saw him make three great runs one day. We turned it down—we knew well enough how that would end up. An unhappy roper and a horse that was sent down the road. Lester might not be rope horse material, but we were fond of him. We didn’t want him to come to a bad end.
 My friend wanted a riding horse for her teenage daughter and Lester had proven that he would pack beginners reliably in an arena and on a trail ride in a group. So we loaned Lester to Sue to be a kid’s horse.
            This worked surprisingly well (except when Sue’s daughter wanted to try barrel racing, which Lester—predictably--showed a lot of talent at, but—equally predictably-- he always blew up when under pressure) and Lester stayed there until Sue’s daughter outgrew her horse phase. He then went to Sue’s niece. But eventually she lost interest, too. And Lester needed a home. Lester was a teenage horse by now and I really wanted to find him a forever home, as I just had too many horses.
            Wally and I resolved to find him a place where he could babysit beginners—which is what he was good at. And my friend Kerrin decided to give him a try. She and her partner have a ranch where they teach kids to ride and educate people on horsemanship. Kerrin is a NH practitioner, and I also knew her to be a kind, competent horseman who took great care of her animals. Whatever prejudices I had and have about NH, I didn’t let them get in my way. It’s my belief that there are good horsemen and poor horsemen in every discipline and method.
            Lester has thrived with Kerrin and her crew. He fits their uses and they love him. I’m not sure if NH practices improved Lester’s quirks or not—perhaps Kerrin could tell us. Its possible, too, that age has mellowed him—he’s in his 20’s now. But I do know that Lester has had a good life at Kerrin’s ranch, as do all the horses that live there. So I have to say that I am really grateful to this particular NH practitioner.
            In the comments on my last post Kerrin asked why all the bashing of NH, and it got me thinking. I don’t really know why non-NH folks have such a low opinion of this training method. I stated earlier in the post what my perceptions have been, and the perceptions of others that I know. But are these perceptions correct? I thought I’d open the door to letting people tell me what NH is and whether or not it is a training method that can make a good horse. Maybe I just need a little education on the subject?
            I would particularly like to raise the point Kate made at the very end of the comments on my last post. It seems that most of the poor horse behavior attributed to NH could just as easily be attributed to middle-aged women who have never owned/trained/ridden horses before and acquire a horse thinking the main goal is to be “nice” to the horse and that being nice will result in the horse loving them and behaving well. This is just not true, as any experienced horseman can tell you. The goal is to have a good partnership with a horse and this can only come about if you are willing to be firm/a leader/set boundaries/reprimand appropriately….or however you would like to phrase this key aspect of horsemanship which involves teaching the horse to respect you. Kerrin also referenced this aspect of the situation in one of her comments. For whatever reason, this sort of novice horse owner really seems to gravitate to NH.
            I would also add that a person new to horses who wants to ride must spend a lot of hours riding a steady eddie horse in order to learn to ride effectively. It is not possible to work with a horse other than a steady eddie if you can’t ride competently, or rather, its possible, but nothing good will come of it. It’s my perception that many NH people have not learned to ride well enough to deal with a horse who is anything other than a schoolmaster. But they buy an unsuitable mount…and then can’t deal with it. It appears to me that the NH program encourages them to work with this horse, using games from the ground, and believe they are training it to be a riding horse. I do not think this is a workable concept, and would venture that this sort of pattern is one reason the NH horses have a poor reputation in the world outside NH. But maybe I am wrong in my perception?
            So, please, chime in and give me your explanations. It is quite true that I don’t really know much about this subject.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From Racehorse to Ranch Horse

by Natalie Keller Reinert

There are very nice people in the world who refer to me as a "horse expert." Of course, I'm not a horse expert in my eyes, I'm a person who has spent most of my life learning as much as I possibly can about horses, and that makes me an active enthusiast at best. Yes I can saddle-break a baby and inseminate a mare and remove eyelid stitches and jump a preliminary cross-country course and perform reasonable tempi changes on a well-trained horse and yes, teach a young racehorse to break from the gate.

An expert to most folks, maybe. But to the most of the readers of this blog I'm probably just... maybe a slightly above-average horsewoman? (You can tell me in the comments, if you promise to be nice.)

I got an email a few weeks ago from a reader at my site, Retired Racehorse, asking me to write about Gate to Great and Off-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) who are being retrained as Western horses.

It went something to the effect of: You write a lot about OTTBs competing in English disciplines, what about Western ones? They excel at everything.

At Gate to Great, they know Western OTTBs are totally a thing. Photo: Gate to Great/

And while Thoroughbreds do, obviously, excel at everything, because sheer athleticism, curiosity, drive, and intelligence are traits wanted in every discipline, I really had nothing to write about. Because I just don't know much about Western riding.

I've been in a Western saddle maybe four or five times in my life, and that probably includes pony rides as a small child. The last time I was in a Western saddle, on an Appaloosa mare, she reared up and flipped over on me. Accustomed to the relative ease of dismounting from a flat saddle (I was an exercise rider at the time, riding about ten two-year-old Thoroughbreds every morning on the racetrack) I floundered in the Western saddle's high horn and cantle, got whacked in the forehead with her solid-rock poll, and eventually found myself on the ground, out cold.

A good craftsman never blames her tools, to be sure, but in this case this wasn't my tool, it was the owner's tool, and I owed her money, so I got on her damn horse and... I guess I am a little angsty about that saddle.

I also knew a Thoroughbred who was a very successful barrel racer. His name was, fittingly, Rocket. And my first OTTB, Amarillo, learned about the Real World outside the racetrack by moving cattle from pasture to pasture in rural Florida. (One of my very few Western rides was my test ride on Amarillo. He was so awesome, despite my complete discomfort in the saddle, that I just galloped him around the arena and then told my mom he was the one. He was.)

So I looked up Gate to Great finally, because their name is starting to crop up everywhere, and I was starting to feel distinctly inexpert about the whole situation, which isn't great for a person who runs a blog called Retired Racehorse and ostensibly knows a whole lot about retired racehorses.

And you know what? It's kind of amazing. I'm starting to feel very left out of the whole Western Thoroughbred Revolution.

In this fantastic video, you get an introduction to Thoroughbreds working with cattle, and the one word that springs to my mind is fun. These horses are having so much fun. I want to be one of these horses and have as much fun as they're having. It's ridiculous.

The Gate to Great folks are even sending horses to the Retired Racehorse Training Project's Thoroughbred Makeover in October, and you won't believe what they have planned:

The event, named “Who Let the Cows Out?”, will pair celebrity jockeys with retired Thoroughbred racehorses from the Gate to Great training program of Newell, South Dakota to compete on the Pimlico track in a “team sorting” event.  Each team of two horses and riders will have a maximum of two minutes to sort a small herd of numbered cattle into a corral in numeric order.  The team with the fastest time and correct sorting order wins the competition. The event requires cow sense, teamwork and fast thinking on the part of both the horses and riders.    - Press Release from Retired Racehorse Training Project
I can't even believe that this is an actual thing. I also can't believe I'm not going to be there. The event, held on October 5-6 at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland, is going to be amazing. I just have other plans I can't change! Oh the humanity!

So there you have it. From racehorse to ranch horse, and apparently having a blast doing it. I apologize to my original reader for having to send that letter and get my attention out of the English world and into the Western one. What can I say? For a "horse expert," I reckon I have a lot to learn.

What about you? Do you consider yourself a well-rounded equestrian, or are there elements of riding and training out there that have simply escaped you over the years? I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of  -- we all know the saying "Jack of all trades, master of none," right? But then again, I'm starting to think there are some horses out there who might laugh at that phrase. It's looking like some horses can literally do everything, and do it well!

Visit Gate to Great and see their wonderful videos and training stories at

Sunday, September 1, 2013

How to "Train" a Solid Trail Horse

                                    by Laura Crum

            In the comments on my last post, Val mentioned that a friend had tried to “desensitize” a horse that was frightened of the farrier. And I replied that the word “desensitize” just made my hackles rise. I’ve never seen it used by anyone who was a competent horseman.
            So I got to thinking about this and realized that it may, of course, be a completely unreasonable prejudice on my part. I don’t like the word, or what I’ve seen done in its name, but then again, I don’t really understand the concept. I only know what I’ve seen.
            Today I am going to describe what I’ve actually seen done under the heading of desensitizing, which was mostly aimed at creating a horse that wasn’t so spooky out on the trail. In my view, it was a dismal failure. And then I am going to talk about something that will actually help a horse to be a solid horse outside (and in the ring, for that matter). After you read this, you can all tell me where I’m wrong about this desensitizing issue, if you want.
            Maybe twenty years ago my friend and I had permission to access some trails behind a local training barn. We parked our rig in the barnyard and rode our young horses (three and four year old QH rope horses in training) out the back gate and through the hills. Our goal was to teach our young horses to be calm and reliable on the trail and to this end, well, we rode them on the trail…a lot.
            On our way to the trails we passed the various rings and arenas where the trainer and her assistant worked with the horses they had in training. These people were, as it happens, NH type trainers. I always looked curiously at what they were doing, because it never looked anything like what I did when training a horse…or for that matter what any horseman/trainer that I knew did. One young woman was schooling a rather flighty looking bay mare with a big blue tarp one day. The mare was walked over the tarp and then she walked under it (they had one part of it draped over a pole to make a tunnel). The mare seemed fine with this.
            I smiled at the young woman assistant trainer as we went by, and asked idly what she was doing. “Desensitizing,” she said rather brusquely, as if I should have known.
            I shrugged, and we went off to ride several miles through the hills. Here we climbed and descended steep trail and met various obstacles. We were patient with our young horses, but persistent, as they learned to cope with what the wild woods had to show us.
            One day, on the way home, we met the young woman assistant trainer on the same bay mare. She was less than a mile from the barn and her mare was pitching a fit over passing a small tarped stack of hay. The tarp was brown rather than blue, a cube shape, and flapped briskly in the breeze. The mare quite clearly was having no part of going by this odd obstacle, despite all the “desensitizing” with the big blue tarp in the ring.
            Our two young horses cocked their ears at the tarped hay, but went on by, ignoring the nervous mare. They had, of course, been by this obstacle before, they were tired, and they knew we were on the way home. We stopped and offered to give the mare a lead past the tarp monster, if the gal wanted.
            We got what I can only call a venomous look in reply and a curt “No need.”
            Well. (In my view, she would have been wise to take the offered lead. Would have built her mare’s confidence with no conflict needed. But instead, she dismounted and began some sort of training from the ground…and quite truthfully I felt that dismounting was exactly the wrong thing to do. Merely reinforced the idea the haystack was a problem and taught the mare that pitching a fit causes rider to dismount.)
            Since then I have seen (and heard) of many things like this. Rub the plastic bag all over the horse at home and its all good. Meet a different plastic bag blowing along the trail and the horse goes bat shit crazy.
            My answer to this is simple. You don’t desensitize a horse to specific stuff (I don’t believe this works). You teach a horse to be confident out on the trail and able to handle the various unpredictable stuff that comes along without losing his mind. It’s two completely different approaches to the same problem.
            Training a horse to be a calm, confident trail horse is in some ways simple. Uhmm, you put a lot of miles on the horse on the trail—preferably when he is a green horse in training. I realize this is oversimplified, but it is the root of the answer. The best way to do this is, at least initially, is following an older steady horse down the trail. If no such horse exists to help you, then a companion of any sort, including a calm confident human on foot (a husband who hikes, for instance) will work.
            Second point, again obvious. If you want a calm, confident trail horse, choose a horse with a calm personality. A sensitive reactive spooky horse can be a good trail horse within his limits, but he’ll always spook. This can be OK, if you don’t mind the spook.
            My horse Gunner was and is a hugely spooky, very sensitive, reactive horse. I got him broke to death—I rode him on hundreds of trail rides and gathers. He spooked on every single outing, at least once or twice, if not twenty or thirty times. And I mean really spooked—instant relocation twenty feet to the left. I was used to it; I rode with one hand on the horn; Gunner never dumped me. He also never bolted or became in any way out of control. He spooked, he jigged when scared, but he stayed in my hand and went where I told him. In my youth I found this to be fine. And this is the best you will get out of the truly sensitive, reactive horse. Trust me on this one.
            As for horses like my Sunny and my son’s Henry, who march intrepidly past just about everything, they first of all are very calm sensible horses by nature. Secondly they have been exposed to a lot—many miles outside, hauled everywhere…etc. And there is a third thing. The big secret—worth far more in my book than any amount of desensitizing. And it is this. These horses have been tied up for long periods. They’ve learned how to be calm and patient.
            Tying does a lot of things for a horse. It is the single most under-rated training tool there is. Ranch horses are caught and saddled and tied—every working day. If they are young horses they may only be ridden for a short ride in the company of an older horse than can give them a lead, or not ridden at all, if the work of the day is too tough for their skills. They are watered at lunch time. They learn to be patient and calm through this tying—without any other “training.”
            And now I am going to tell you something I just learned last week about tying. It really opened my eyes. I’m still sort of pondering it.
            My Sunny horse came from Mexico. He is the single most calm, confident trail horse I’ve ever ridden. He goes just as well alone as he does in a group. He can be first or last or in the middle. He has no problem leaving the others. He is a calm, intelligent horse by nature, but even so, his complete lack of herdbound behavior and his self-confidence continue to amaze me. I’ve often wondered how he got this way. Well, now I think I know.
            I’ve known maybe half a dozen of these horses that came from Mexico in my life—and they were all like this. Nothing bothered them. They all tie perfectly. My friend Mark has a little gray horse from this same place right now, and he is just as bombproof as Sunny. I asked Mark, “How do they get this way?”
            He laughed. “They tie them up every night to trees—each horse where he can’t see another horse. That’s what I was told.”
            I thought about this. My first impulse was to think—wow, that’s rough. I could never do that to a horse. But then I thought a little deeper.
            I believe in the tying method as we used it on the ranches. But here was something more intense. The horse must cope with a lot of fear to begin with, certainly. I imagine the first few weeks are pretty rough. But then the horse learns that nothing bad happens. The humans come in the morning and bring him hay and take him to get a drink, so he is happy to see the humans. They saddle him and ride him and he gets plenty of exercise doing ranch work. In the end he accepts that there is nothing to do but wait patiently by his tree alone all night. Being alone will not hurt him, fretting will not help him. And thus is a horse like Sunny trained to be such a calm confident trail horse, with zero herdbound traits.
            Those who will cry “How cruel!” need to take a moment and think. Yes, I think this training method would be hard for a horse, especially to begin with. I’m sure some horses are injured or colic due to stress. I’m not sure I could ever bring myself to do it, to be frank. But…
            Half of the folks I know (both on the internet and in real life) who would protest such “cruelty” to a horse cannot climb on their horses and go for a trail ride. They are literally scared to do this with their horse. Their horse is too spooky and nervous, too herdbound to ride alone outside an arena. This is not a problem if it’s not a problem for the owner, of course.
            But in many cases it IS a problem for the owner. The owner finds the horse frustrating, or the owner gets hurt on the horse and realizes the horse is truly dangerous. The owner WANTS to love the horse, but the owner also wants (very much) to enjoy riding in a relaxed way down the trail. And eventually the frustration and anxiety and sometimes true (and realistic) fear is just too much for the well-intentioned owner and the horse is sold. Very frequently such horses do not come to a good end—we all know this.
            Contrast this to a horse such as Sunny, who is a real pleasure to ride down the trail. Anybody who can ride can ride a horse like Sunny on trail rides and enjoy him. I enjoy Sunny’s ability to go solo or in a group and his complete lack of herdbound behavior makes him a joy in so many ways. If Sunny did not have these traits I would not have bought him (I was looking for a solid trail horse) and/or not have kept him. These traits (acquired through the “cruel” method of tying) have earned Sunny a forever home. And to top it off, they have given him a calm, relaxed, non-fearful attitude towards anything life sends him. If Sunny (or any horse) had the sort of brain that allowed him to ponder and choose, don’t you think he would have chosen the stress of his initial “tying” in order to get the happy life that has resulted?
            Contrast this to the nervous, unhappy horse whose owner dares not ride him down the trail. Consider the potential conflicts, the frustration on the part of both owner and horse, the likelihood of the horse being sold and ending up at the killers. Which life would you rather have if you were a horse?
            Something to think about, for sure.