Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Perfect Horse

                                                           by Laura Crum

            Sometimes I hear people (in real life and on the internet) talk about finding the right horse. It’s a great and appropriate topic. The trouble is that these folks often seem to me to be looking for something that is virtually unattainable—some sort of “perfect” horse. A horse that never does anything wrong, is never lame, is talented at the event the person wishes to pursue, is pretty, is young…etc. This horse does not exist. Like people, all horses have strengths and weaknesses; the trick (as in friends and husbands) is to find the one you can live with.
            I have had five “forever” horses in my life. They all were good horses. None of them ever dumped me or hurt me in any way. I truly loved all five of them. Two are dead and they are buried here. Three are still with me. Did/do they have their faults? Yes, of course.
            So today I’m going to describe (briefly) my five good geldings and let you see their faults. I’m hoping that this will help some potential horse owners who are trying to sort out what might be the right horse for their needs.
The first horse I owned who really became “my horse” was Burt, a bright bay QH gelding that I bought as a five-year-old with thirty days on him. Burt was a kind, willing animal, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but also not inclined to bucking or being spooky. Burt did, however, have the constant impulse to jig. I never cured him of it, and many rides were executed in his prancing walk. Burt was my ranch horse and he never quit me, never dumped me, and had tons of heart. He was always completely under control—nonetheless, much as I loved Burt, his jigging drove me nuts, and I vowed I would only own horses in the future who could proceed at the flat-footed walk.
            My next steady mount was Gunner, a well bred cowhorse that I bought as a three-year-old with thirty days on him. Gunner had no inclination to jig. Or to buck. Gunner was a spook. He did not bolt or do more than make one jump, but the jumps were amazing—absolutely sudden, twenty foot sideways leaps with no warning at all. One either grabbed the saddle horn or was left sitting on air. I got good at grabbing the horn. I was in my twenties and early thirties when I rode Gunner, and he never dropped me. He did, however, find something worth spooking at on virtually every ride. His spooking was a pain in the butt, but it didn’t threaten me at that time. I’ll be the first to say that I couldn’t ride a horse like that today. But Gunner was in every other way a good-hearted, reliable horse that I won on at reined cowhorse, cutting, and team roping, as well as a mount that carried me on many gathers, pack trips and trail rides. I was very happy with him.
            When I retired Gunner, I began riding Flanigan. Flanigan was a seven-year-old broke team roping horse when I first got on him. He was neither inclined to prance nor particularly spooky. He inclined toward being lazy. But…Flanigan was cinchy, and if a certain careful protocol was not followed in his saddling and warm-up, he would buck. I owned Flanigan in partnership with my friend and team roping partner, Wally, and Flanigan bucked Wally off numerous times. Being a cautious sort, I was always careful with Flanigan’s warm-up, and though the horse bucked with me occasionally, he never bucked me off. Flanigan was a superficially grouchy, aloof critter, prone to pinning his ears and acting hard to catch. Underneath this unpreposessing surface, however, the horse had a heart of gold. I competed on him successfully for many years at ropings, and crossed the Sierra Nevada Mts on him numerous times on pack trips. I took my baby for his first ride on Flanigan. There never was a better horse.
            When Flanigan died at the age of 21 (and I still miss him), Plumber became my main mount. I had known Plumber since he was a foal; I bought him as an unbroken three year old and broke him and trained him myself. When I started using him as my main riding horse he was about eight years old. I’d trained him to be a decent team roping horse and trail horse, and I enjoyed riding him. Plumber had no huge holes, other than the fact that he wasn’t very athletic. He was also more of a puppy dog than your average horse, nickering whenever he saw me. He was willing to do anything I asked, but he was also a big baby. He didn’t spook like Gunner (he wasn’t athletic enough) or jig constantly like Burt, but he was frequently a little spooky and jiggy. He got anxious easily, and needed a lot of patience and reassurance. Nevertheless he was a reliable horse. For several years I rode everywhere with my toddler in front of me in the saddle and Plumber took very good care of us.
            Plumber is now twenty four years old and retired. He’s still sound, if a little stiff. My mount for the last six years has been Sunny, the little palomino gelding shown in the sidebar. Sunny was a middle-aged horse when I got him and settled in his ways. Of all my horses, he most resembles Flanigan. But there are differences. Sunny is no puppy dog, but he is much more overtly interested in me and my doings than Flanigan ever was. Sunny also has not much inclination to pin his ears. He is not the least bit cinchy. But, like Flanigan, he is more inclined to laziness than other vices. Sunny is neither jiggy nor spooky. He doesn’t buck…a small crowhop is the extent of it. Sunny’s big deal is testing in small ways for dominance. He assays a gesture at a nip or a kick, or tries to crowd my space or balks as if he will refuse to go…etc. I have no trouble straightening him out, and I find this quirk more amusing than annoying, but I quite understand that I will not train it out of him. Sunny will always test me. As long as I remain dominant (and I intend to), Sunny and I will get along fine. On the trails, that is. I bought Sunny because he was a good trail horse, and he is a real delight to ride outside, steady, solid, reliable, tough. You can go anywhere in perfect confidence on this horse. The arena is a different story. You can darn sure walk, trot and lope around, and/or chase or rope a cow, but Sunny is too clunky and lazy to be much fun in the arena, and he is much more resistant there than on the trail. Sunny dislikes arena work and lets that be known.
            So, what do my five main lifetime mounts have in common? Not much. They’re all horses, but they sure are different. I enjoyed and enjoy every single one of them (and I kept or am keeping all five until the end of their days); I would have a hard time picking a favorite. I guess I just don’t run to one type, because I liked each of these horses for their own unique traits. I will say that I’m very happy to be on steady little Sunny these days, as my chief goal is pleasant trail rides, either by myself or with my son.
            In the end, I think my main point here is that you have to be able to tolerate some faults in a horse or you will never truly be happy with your equine partner (same applies to human partners). Anybody else have any thoughts on this?


Anonymous said...

I think where you are in your life has a lot to do with which kind of horse is "perfect" for you. In my teens, I would have loved a jumping pony, capable of 3'6 competitions... well that never happened.
In my mid twenties, the perfect horse would have been a well-schooled all-rounder, on whom I could have done show-jumping, cross-country and maybe hunting. We bought a four year old. Duh. Sold her two years later and bought another four year old. Double Duh.
In my thirties, when I was flat-out being a Mom and running my livery stables, I needed a horse like your Sunny. Leave him in the paddock for weeks, take him out to ride and he'll be the same as he always was, bomb-proof and honest. What did I have? A home-bred youngster. I plead lack of finance...
Finally, in my late forties, I saw sense and bought Flurry. He's another Sunny, brilliant on the trail, except he'll do his best for me in the arena, too. Jumping is a distant memory; we school for dressage. He's not talented but he's perfect FOR ME.
And then I inherited (refused to sell) my daughter's horse as well. Talented, well-schooled and way too much horse for me. But you know what? We do what suits us. Some days we do in-hand stuff, some days we school, some days we trail ride. And he's perfect, too.
Merry Christmas to all at Equestrian Ink, you're one of my favourite blogs. Martine

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Martine. I have picked up from reading your blog that I would very much like Flurry. My kind of horse. I love reading about your life in France and am often quite envious. I very much enjoyed the six weeks I spent in Europe and wish I could go back. Finances...just as you say. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

AareneX said...

I find that when people describe a "perfect horse" they've owned or ridden in the past, that horse is usually *long* dead. Long enough for the folks to forget that the horse was a snark around food, a spaz around lawnmowers, and a snake around mares...or whatever.

As a blogger, I don't have that luxury. I have a written *and widely broadcast* record of the challenges I have with Fiddle. Sixty years from now, I won't be able to fool myself about her virtue, because the record remains and there are too many witnesses.

But, that said: she's approaching perfection. Every day, a little closer. She's nowhere close yet, but getting closer--and it's the challenge of helping her improve that makes me a better rider.

What more could I want?

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--I have been deeply impressed by what you've accomplished with Fiddle. I can say quite frankly that she is not a project I would have taken on, but even from this distance I have witnessed her huge progress and how hard you've worked to help her become a solid citizen. You guys are a wonderful example of how each of us is different when it comes to the "right horse." A horse that works well for one person doesn't always work for another person, and one thing is for sure--they all have their faults. I totally applaud you and Fiddle--I believe you when you say she makes you a better rider, and I would add that she's very, very lucky that you own her and love her. May you have many happy years ahead of you enjoying 50 mile rides together.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

It's a little bit easier when all I want to do is some quiet, sensible trail rides. No jumping required, no remarkable athleticism needed. The riding isn't hard on her feet and joints. A calm horse, sound in body and mind, is sufficient. And this combination is rare enough in Britain. It helps if the horse is sociable with people and other horses. Fortunately I have such a horse. She's not perfect however I can live with her flaws. They aren't dangerous and they don't make riding unpleasant. She tends to stop and stare at things. She likes to snatch at vegetation. I doubt whether she would go far in competition, but I certainly don't want to!

One of the other riders at the barn has a young horse that is quite a handful. Lately he's jumped out of the arena with her on board after getting bored with a lesson. (Wish I'd had my camera out for that!) But she thinks that he's ideal because he has potential to become a responsible and high performing adult.

horsesfortrail said...

Horses are like people, there are no perfect horses. But, just like human relationships, some horses fit your personality and riding style more than others. When you have the right fit, it makes all the difference.