Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Success Story

                                               by Laura Crum

            When my son was seven years old and still reeling from the recent death of his pony, I bought an older rope horse that I knew well to be my boy’s new mount, hoping to both alleviate the pain of the loss and to make sure that my child could continue riding, which he was enjoying very much. And so, six years ago this October, Henry came into our lives.
            I paid five thousand dollars for Henry, which was considered a lot for a nineteen year old retired rope horse. But I knew Henry was sound and a reliable kid’s horse. One year after I bought him, Henry colicked, and I had to send him to colic surgery to save his life. So there went another ten thousand. At this point, I had a fifteen thousand dollar kid’s horse.
            Now I am not a rich woman. My husband is not interested in horses. Neither one of us really expected that horses would become my son’s passion—my kid liked to ride in a mild way, mostly because he grew up with/on horses, and hey, riding is fun. Still, my son was in no way driven to ride and compete on horses, the way many young people are—the way I was when I was young. So there really wasn’t any obvious justification for spending fifteen thousand dollars on a horse for him.
            But I did it. And my husband approved it wholeheartedly. And it was one of the best choices I ever made.
            My son grew up riding Henry. For six straight years we rode together two or three times a week. Mostly on the trails near our home, in our riding ring, and at my uncle’s roping arena. But also on the beach and in the redwood forest and up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My little boy crossed busy roads (hundreds of times), rode steep, technical trails on multi hour loops through the hills, waded in the surf and crossed creeks, loped endless circles and galloped after recalcitrant cattle. Almost all of my riding time during these last six years has been spent escorting my son on his various horseback adventures.
            Many people assume that I did all this because I wanted my son to become a horse person like me. But this isn’t true. I wouldn’t have minded if horses had become his passion, but I didn’t expect this to happen. I didn’t even exactly WANT it. I just believe that growing up on a horse is a healthy way to learn to feel kind, empowered, and connected in a real way to the natural world. Riding horses is the number one therapy for impaired children. So how much good can riding do for any child? Also I wanted to share the joy I have always had in horses with my little boy.
            The downside of this equation is that horses are inherently dangerous. Since the era of the internet, I am able to hear about horseback disasters all over the world. It scares the shit out of me, to be honest. So many people, not always doing anything wrong, are injured and/or killed in a wreck with their horse. I tried to make good decisions, my son always wore a helmet, Henry was and is a VERY reliable horse. But I’m not dumb. Any horse can fall, there is no predicting the day you will meet an erratic driver when crossing the road, wasps can cause even the best horse to flip out, helmets do not protect you against every kind of bodily damage, including head trauma…etc. The risk is real, even when you are doing everything “right.” And I was taking this risk with my beloved only son.
            Still, I persevered. Somewhere in my heart there was trust that I was doing the right thing. And there was trust in Henry, and trust in my son. We rode together for six years straight. We did not have one wreck. We did not even come close to a wreck, in all the miles we covered during those six years. We had a LOT of fun. We saw some beautiful things.

            And now my son is a teenager. He is more interested in riding his bike and surfing on his boogie board and (sigh) video games than he is in riding. He’s also much more busy with schoolwork now that he is in a junior high homeschool program. He is still willing to ride with me, and we ride once a week or so, mostly fairly sedate (walk/trot) short rides.
            Because Henry is twenty-five this year, this reduced program seems to fit him, too. He doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for loping circles any more. But he is still sound, and is always eager to be caught, meeting us at the gate every time. I have no idea how much longer he’ll be able to be a riding horse, but we will keep riding him lightly as long as it seems to suit him, and as long as my son is willing to climb aboard his horse. And when Henry doesn’t want to be ridden any more, his home with us is secure for the rest of his life.
            Even if my son never rides much in his adult life, I consider this to be an incredibly successful horse story. We have shared so much joy together, and my son’s experiences of horses, and the lovely places we have ridden, have been virtually entirely positive. What price could you ever put on that?
            My take home message is this: Buy that older solid horse for your child, or for yourself, if you are a beginner. There is no way you can over-value the peace of mind that comes with riding a steady trooper. And the price of that horse is a good deal less than the bill for emergency medical treatment is likely to be. Let alone the emotional trauma. Horses like Henry are worth their weight in gold.
            Henry and my thirteen-year-old son last weekend—a real success story.

            Does anybody else have a “Henry?” If so, I’ll bet you can attest to how valuable these solid equine citizens truly are. And please, please, from the bottom of my heart-- when these great older horses are past their useful working life, don’t just pass them on, hoping they’ll get a good home. Take care of them, and give back to them for all the good things they’ve given you. I honestly think it is truly evil to sell/rehome a good older not-quite-sound horse, never knowing what becomes of him. Because they so often end up in terrible situations. (I do agree that finding a suitable home can be OK—if you keep track of the horse and are willing to take him back if the home doesn’t work out.) If any horses are deserving of a peaceful, happy retirement, it is the “Henries” of this world. My gratitude to our own Henry is boundless, and it is my pleasure to give him a happy home until he is ready to let go of life.


hammerhorses said...

I don't own a Henry - but I just encouraged one of my families to purchase a Henry just this past month. He's an older-teens Arabian gelding that I taught lessons on for 2 years. His teenager outgrew him and he was bored. My students wanted a horse that the kids could feel safe on and that was also a fun ride. He has a mild lameness in a front leg but it only presents itself with HARD work or when flexed for his PPE.

They're currently getting him back into shape and adoring him to bits and pieces. I'm just as happy for the horse who has found a family who will adore him as I am for them for having the good sense to buy a seasoned, trained to the hilt, amazing brained older horse! (And they were happy to pay the $3500 for him, at his age, because of his steadfastness!)

Laura Crum said...

Stephanie--Of all the traits a horse can have, "steadfastness' (nice choice of word) is the one I'd pay the most for. Of course, when I was young, it was athletic ability and a trainable mind I was looking for. But like your Arab gelding, I've known many older horses besides Henry that gave incredible value to their families--some remained riding horses until they were thirty. I just love to hear these stories.

Val said...

What a wonderful story! Henry is a rare find. Definitely priceless. I love the last picture.

I am hoping that Harley can teach my daughter to ride when she is older. He is fifteen now, so only time will tell.

Laura Crum said...

Val--I hope Harley can be your little girl's first riding horse...that would be so sweet. My son's first ride (at six month's old) was on my wonderful horse, Flanigan, a horse I still miss very much.

Mindy said...

What an awesome story . . . thank you, Laura, for sharing! My horse, Lily, came to me a mere 10 days after losing my beloved Tennessee Walker, Cricket. My first thought when I discovered her age (21) was "no way am I taking a chance on an older horse - I couldn't handle losing another horse anytime soon." My friend talked me into at least taking her on a trial basis - she brought to my attention that I'm no longer a "spring chicken" and an older, safe horse would be better for me. So . . . I went to look at this sad little Appaloosa - she'd worked hard her whole life and it showed. Since they really had no use for her, she'd been turned out for the winter in a big pasture with two other older horses. She was very thin, no winter coat to speak of (she must have been so cold during a Wisconsin winter)and had lots of battle scars from, I'm assuming, her barrel racing days. I took one look at this poor little mare and, of course, fell in love with her. She got lots of good food, grooming and loving and before too long, she was very spunky and full of herself. She doesn't act her age and has ended up being quite a challenge for me. I ended up spending a whopping $500.00 for this awesome mare and her previous owner has often commented that they should have gotten more money for her. I can understand why - she looks fabulous now that she has me for an owner. I've never regretted buying her - she's perfect for me and has now been with me a little over two years.

Anonymous said...

We have 2. One is a 17 yr old pony, the other a 14 yr old QH mare. I'm able to go on trail rides once in a while with my 10 yr old grandson, but he'd rather ride a dirt bike or drive the tractor.

I think you were right to spend the money on Henry's surgery. It would have been awful for your son to lose 2 horses so close together, and the years you've both had riding together are irreplaceable. Who knows, when your son has children of his own he may decide they should have ponies and horses too.

Laura Crum said...

Mindy--I love to hear about you and Lily. What a wonderful success story.

redhorse--Yeah, I'm happy I spent the money to save Henry's life, too, and, in case anybody is interested, I'm really not rich. I had to borrow it and pay it back slowly. But the years of happy riding I've shared with my son ARE irreplaceable, in so very many ways. I think horses will always be part of him, no matter what his life path turns out to be. And Henry, well, Henry really is an equine saint. So happy we were/are able to have him in our lives.

Cassie said...

I still have Max (and will for his life), my now 27 year old Arabian who is still sound. I lease him out to a cute 6 year old girl who is learning the ropes and making a killing in the walk-trot classes at shows still. That pony won hundreds of ribbons for me in every event possible, hunters, jumpers, english pleasure, eventing, barrel racing, pole bending, trail rides, camping, even parades. I turned down huge offers for him because I owe him a great home for life and couldn't guarentee that with someone else. Max is the reason I love horses and will continue to have them all my life. When my quarter horse was an unbroke 2 yr old I ponyed him from Max on trails to teach him the ropes. When my giant 17.1 hand thoroughbred was laid up and too hot to hand walk I ponyed him off Max as well. I see him nearly everyday and part of me hopes he will stick around to be my kids first pony. The realist in me knows he is 27 and I don't have kids yet or any plans to change that, but I'm going to keep hoping anyway. Horses like Max and Henry are truly priceless, we all should be so lucky.

Alison said...

I have two couch potato horses now that I am not riding as much, but since they are worthless to anyone else (and like many of you I rarely trust other's care) they have a home for life. Mindy, I love your story about Lily, and Laura I always enjoy your Henry stories. Thank you!

Laura Crum said...

Cassie--Max sounds absolutely wonderful...and you're right, we are so lucky to have horses like these.

Alison--I'm like you--its very hard for me to trust anyone else with the care of my horses, but I have found a really good home for a couple of Wally's horses, so I know it can happen.