Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Old Woman and Her Horses

                                                by Laura Crum

            That is how I see myself these days. Sort of like a cat lady, only with an over-abundance of horses rather than cats. I know, many of you will protest that mid-fifties isn’t old, and in a way you are right. However, I am old in the way of hours spent in the saddle aboard a horse. I spent twenty-five years (from fifteen until forty) non-stop riding, training and competing on a wide variety of horses, in three different very-demanding events. Not to mention many hours on the trail and horse packing/camping in the mountains. My mystery series was born out of my desire to convey some of the magic and delight I found in all those years spent horseback.
            I took a break in my forties to have a child and raise him (oh, I rode occasionally, but it was always with a kid in the saddle in front of me or ponying my child’s leadline pony). Then, when I turned fifty, I bought two solid, older geldings and for five years my boy and I rode the trails non-stop. We rode at least two or three days every week through all kinds of terrain—our local trails through the coastal hills, the beach, the redwood forest, the mountains. And these years provided the inspiration for the last four books of my horse-themed series.
            And now? Well, the short answer may be that I’m tired. Those of you who have spent thirty years steadily horseback (and for many of those years I rode seven days a week), might understand. Or maybe you are in a different space mentally and are just pushing on to new horseback achievements. Those who are in an “earlier” stage of your horse life (at least in the sense of lifetime hours spent in the saddle) may find my attitude kind of perplexing. Because I still love my horses. I just don’t have a lot of motivation or ambition to ride right now.
            I’ve been through this before, and I’m aware it may be a stage. I’m not fighting my head about it (too much). I’m pretty accepting that this is how I feel at this point in my life. I still ride (maybe once a week), mostly here on my own property. I cruise my little yellow horse around the riding ring for awhile and then let him gallop the quarter mile up the hill from the gate to the house a couple of times. This seems to be enough for both of us at the moment.

            My horses are older, too. Sunny, my riding horse, is in his late teens (I think). Henry, my son’s riding horse, is 25. Both horses are sound, but both are obviously a bit stiffer and slower to warm up and move out freely than they were when I bought them, six years ago. They don’t seem to mind a lighter riding schedule—at all.
            My other two horses, Gunner and Plumber, are retired. A lot of my horse life right now is taking care of 33 year old Gunner. He’s got an arthritic knee that is getting worse and he’s having a harder time keeping weight on than he did a year ago. His appetite is not as good as it was. But he is still bright-eyed and perky and seems to enjoy life. I let him out to graze every day (which he is very eager to do), and I give him pain meds, and I feed him (and all the others) three times a day. Lately I’ve been blanketing Gunner every evening and taking his blanket off every morning, hoping to help him keep weight on. Along with all the regular horse chores (and all the other life chores), it keeps me busy.
But I don’t begrudge the time spent with my retirees. I enjoy it. I look at them and think how lucky I am. I bought both Gunner and Plumber as three year old horses. Gunner had thirty days on him; Plumber had never been ridden. I trained both these horses myself and went on to ride them all their working lives. Both horses won many competitions and carried me for many miles. They are still my horses today and greet me with eager nickers every time they see me. Plumber is twenty-four and I’ve owned him for twenty-one years. Gunner is thirty-three and I’ve owned him for thirty years. How many horse people can say this? If I did nothing but look after these two beloved horses, I would consider myself so lucky.
And then there is life. That sometimes annoying part of life that has nothing to do with horses. The truth is that I have had a difficult and emotionally draining autumn in many ways and I find my desire to be with my horses--watching them graze, or eat their hay, or just brushing them-- is stronger than my desire to hitch up the trailer and go somewhere, or even to head out my front gate and cross the busy road to get to our nearby trails. My son, at thirteen, is more interested in riding his bike than his horse these days, so I have been doing a lot of riding the trails with my husband and son on two wheels rather than four hooves.

Actually, riding a bike rather than a horse is probably a good thing, as I am, if not truly old, definitely getting stout and stiff, and pumping that bike up a hill is a hell of a lot more exercise than letting Sunny carry me up the same hill. So I ride my bike as much as my horse right now.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for me horse-wise, in terms of riding. I may ride a lot more in the new year, and I may not. I’m pretty sure I’ll ride at least occasionally—I can’t imagine my life any other way. One thing I do know, the five horses I have here have a permanent home with me and I will take care of them until their time is done. If this means my entire horse life is taking care of a bunch of retired horses, so be it. These horses have paid their dues and given me years of good times in the saddle, carried me for so many, many miles, taken good care of me in all kinds of “interesting” situations. Every time I feed them, or turn them out to graze, those many happy riding hours are present in the moment, as I run my hand over their shoulder or touch noses with them. Time past as present as time present.
Does anybody else out there share this feeling? I do sometimes feel like the only slacker in an internet horse world that is full of people busy doing lots of very active things with their horses. Not that there is anything wrong with having a busy, active horse life. Not at all. I was that person for many years, and enjoyed it very much. It’s just not where I’m at now. And I’m curious to know if there are others that share my current emotions.


Alison said...

Hi Laura!

It seems right that I am the first to comment since I am REALLY old, sixty-three to your fifties and last year, for some inexplicable reason, after sixty years of riding, I stopped. I still think about riding and wonder if I will get back on Relish, and I still--like you- enjoy my horses. So what gives? i always rode alone, so it wasn't the loss of a partner in trails. Other joys, perhaps? A different stage in my life? It's hard to tell, but the obsession with horses has faded and I am okay with it, sort of. But like you, I am also slightly confused. So we'll have to see what the new year brings for both of us! In the meantime, enjoy that bike riding and um, are you wearing a helmet??? Hmmm?

Laura Crum said...

Alison--Yes, it is kind of confusing, I agree. I have gone through non-riding periods before and always returned to riding regularly, so we'll see what happens this time. Right now I'm riding once a week or so and it seems like enough. And yes, I wear the helmet that I rather recently (a couple of years ago) bought for horseback riding (after forty years of helmetless riding) when I ride the bike. I imagine other cyclists think it looks a bit odd, but I don't care a bit, kooky old horse lady that I am.

jenj said...

Laura, all of your posts about going through phases in riding have really helped me be OK with everything from this year. I really thought I wanted to be competitive again, and that Echo was my ticket to doing that. Then when I really started riding Echo I realized that having fun with my horses, and not feeling pressured into competition, is really where I'm at in my life. Although the route to get here was long and quite sad, I am so glad to have Paddington and be TRULY having fun again. That's such a gift.

Laura Crum said...

jenj--So glad my posts were even a little helpful for you in this year of sad trials that you have had. I am beyond thrilled for you that you have Paddington and I hope you have many years of "just having fun" with him. He sounds perfect. I was a bit like that when I got Sunny, and now, six years of happy trail riding later, maybe I am just taking a deep breath? I think I'm also adjusting to the change in dynamic since my son is not as interested in riding as he was. However my kid said today that he'd like to go on a beach ride soon, so I know we'll still be riding together. I find it is always a bit of a struggle to accept the changes that come along in our lives, even though they may lead us to a good place, the path isn't always, or even usually, easy or pleasant. Thanks for your insights.

Unknown said...

I am so with you. I live in the city so horses are something I can only dream of, but one of my dreams is to move to the country and own some horses.
Enjoy the horses. There is nothing more relaxing then a good horseback ride.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks for the comment, Lady Lilith.

Jan said...

It's funny how the urge to compete, or just ride comes and goes, but the need to be with horses never goes away. Once you are truly bitten by the horse bug, it never really goes away.

I just figured out that I spent approx. 3,780 hrs in the last year taking care of our horses, and I spent about 12 hrs riding. There are many reasons for that including a pasture full of lame horses.

For many years I was on a horse most of the day, every day. Doing everything from moving cattle, to jumping, to galloping racehorses. After retiring from training horses we did some heavy duty trail riding. So I used to spend a lot of time in the saddle.

Then my life changed completely in 2011 when I was involved in a car accident caused by a 16 yo boy texting while driving. It took me almost a year to get back in the saddle and then it was just a walk. I finally worked my way back to easy trail riding once in awhile. I am just happy to be able to be in the barn cleaning stalls, feeding and grooming. All the things I took for granted before. With the help of a motorized scooter and a walker I have adapted my horse keeping and make it work.

So I totally understand the ebb and flow of everyone's horse life. As long as we get enjoyment from our horses we shouldn't beat ourselves up over riding or not riding. Each person walks their own path, at their own pace, and that includes their path with horses.

Maybe we will all spend many happy hours riding in 2014 and maybe we won't ride at all. But we will definitely spend many happy hours as horsewomen, whether we are on top of a horse or not.

AareneX said...

Argh, I wish I could be as zen about not riding as y'all seem to be. I'm not riding much right now because of some increasingly severe osteoarthritic pain (sometimes not-so-much, sometimes kill-me-now) and I am *hating* a life that doesn't have a lot of hours in the saddle.

I don't so much give an overweight rodent patoot about competing (although I love going to endurance rides, it's mostly because I love riding really long days) but even short rides are difficult at the moment.

Cross fingers on my behalf: I have an acupuncture appt tomorrow. Maybe relief is possible?

AareneX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Crum said...

Jan--I hear you. We're on the same page.

Aarene--I know that feeling of deep frustration. I was exactly like you about "not riding" most of my life. I will think very good thoughts that you get relief from pain and can ride as much as you would like. Have you considered the hip surgery? Our 80 year old friend Wally has done one hip and one knee (both of which were making riding too painful to endure) and he is riding pain-free today. So it does work for some.

Francesca Prescott said...

I understand, Laura, even though I'm back in a full-on riding phase. I've been through years when I didn't ride, and didn't even miss riding. I missed horses though, and one of the things I'm really thrilled about with Qrac now living so close to my house is that I can go and see him without riding coming into the equation. I ride most days with a man in his early 70s; before the "new installations" opened last weekend we went on trail rides every day for about three weeks as the outdoor arena was a gloop fest. I love riding with this person, love to see how much he cares for his horse and how well he looks after him. This is a person who has ridden all his life, who competed for years and years (jumping) at a pretty high level, but who now just enjoys going for quiet rides. I'm a pretty sensitive person and there are days where I really pick up on his sense of frustration of not being able to do the things he used to in the saddle, and I find it really moving.

Anyway, whether you start riding more regularly or not doesn't matter. Take it easy; the horses don't mind! I truly admire your dedication and ethics towards your horses, and I always love reading your posts.

Lots of love to you


Laura Crum said...

Thank you Cesca...I love reading your posts, too. I'm actually not frustrated right now, just noticing that the motivation isn't there--after five years of pretty much non-stop trail riding. We'll see what the new year brings.

AareneX said...

Yeah, sigh. Surgery is in my future. But I'm terrified of hospitals and my opinion of most doctors is unprintable, so I don't think I'm a good surgery candidate yet. Heavy sigh.

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--I totally understand. My opinion of doctors and hospitals is exactly the same as yours and I, too, would delay surgery as long as I could find any other options. I just mention Wally's experience because it worked so well for him and he is so happy with the results. However, Wally doesn't have any "baggage" about doctors and hospitals and didn't mind being cut on. And whether connected to this attitude or not, he healed up amazingly quickly and the surgeries were completely successful. My husband, on the other hand, using the same doctor and the same hospital and doing the exact same knee surgery, has had lousy results--so I'm not trying to say surgery would be my choice. I really hope you get some relief and can be riding soon. Maybe it's a small comfort that it's winter and riding is not as fun as in the warmer seasons?

Val said...

As you know, riding is on the back burner right now as a care for my baby and horse. The baby part is by choice, but my horse suffering from allergies is not. It is extremely frustrating to have such limited barn time and then a horse who is not currently up to riding like we used to. I miss it terribly and am not ready to stop riding, although I could care less about competition. If I could ride on the weekends at this point, I would be happy. I used to ride at least the days a week during the school year and four to five during the summer.

Laura Crum said...

Val--I totally know the feeling. For very many years I pretty much lived to ride, and if my horse was sidelined due to lameness or some other problem it was terribly frustrating for me (and this is partly how I ended up with so many horses--I always had to have a backup horse...or two). I hope Harley is 100% very soon and you can at least have some rewarding weekend rides.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

After three hours riding and returning with a sore hip joint I do wonder how much longer this level of riding can continue. There again, the more interesting the ride, the less I notice the discomfort. And it is winter, when joints hurt more. I can't imagine life without riding, and if that means surgery and replaced joints, so be it.

Laura Crum said...

Good for you WHP. I always admire your spirit.