by Laura Crum
is often recommended—by people of various beliefs. And I can see the point in
this. I often try to use this practice when it comes to petty grievances and
desires. But detaching from animals—not so much. I can’t interact with an
animal to the degree that we feel connected, and then detach from any concern
for that animal’s future. And this is why I quit working for professional horse
trainers, and quit training horses, and eventually quit buying and selling
horses. Because, in the end, I just couldn’t detach.
couldn’t keep them all, either. And though I knew I was doing some good by
doing my part to help them, it just didn’t work for me. The first horse trainer
I worked for, I ended up buying the sweet but expensive colt I was riding for
him, because I couldn’t bear to think of that horse being tortured in order to
win horseshows. I had to take out a loan to do it—this horse was way beyond my
means. (And yes, the trainer was very hard on horses.) This was Gunner, that I
still have today (thirty-one years later).
second horse trainer that I worked for, it began to sink in to me that I wasn’t
built to be a professional horseman. I could ride well enough and I understood
horses pretty well, but I couldn’t detach. To this day I still wonder what
happened to the young stallion that I rode for this cutting horse trainer. Let
me tell you the story.
thirty years ago I drove out to the ranch where a certain young cutting horse
trainer had taken up residence, to ask him for a job as his assistant. I had
been working in this role for a well known reined cowhorse trainer for the past
year, and I had heard that this young cutting horse trainer needed a helper. I
was interested in learning more about cutting. So there I was.
got out of the truck, found the trainer, and stated my case. He smiled, in a
relaxed way that was typical of this guy (I found), and handed me the reins of
the sorrel colt he had been about to climb on. “Sure,” he said. “Why don’t you
ride this two year old stud colt for me and see what you think. It’s his third
gave the guy a look, and he said with a shrug, “He’s a real nice colt.”
right. Third ride on a two-year-old stud? I gave the horse a look and he looked
back at me calmly. A dark sorrel, and a rather plain horse, he had the babyish
demeanor of a two-year-old. He was standing quietly—didn’t seem concerned about
the saddle. I couldn’t tell much more. Well, OK then.
adjusted the stirrups, climbed on, and rode the horse around the arena. He
didn’t know much, but he steered and tried to do what I told him. I was able to
get him to walk, trot, and even lope. He stopped when I asked for the stop. I
was very impressed.
this really his third ride?” I asked the trainer.
he said. “And you’re hired.”
is how I met Peppy.
job in this barn was to warm the horses up before the trainer worked them on
cattle (lots and lots of loping circles). I also rode the colts through the
hills on days when they were not worked. The trainer believed (quite rightly)
that they needed casual trail rides interspersed with training rides. So this
was my job. It was a good job.
of the very well bred cutting horses in this barn were a pleasure to ride. But
none of them were quite like Peppy.
can’t remember Peppy ever doing anything wrong. I’m serious. He was a calm,
slightly lazy horse, but he would do whatever you asked him. He did not spook
or buck or bull into the bridle--ever. He did not resist direction—he just
tried to understand and do what was asked. Despite being a bit lazy, he would
“fire” when working a cow. He was really talented. He never showed any trace of
studdy behavior (of course I rode him when he was 2-3 years old). Everybody
loved him. Me included.
this became a real problem. Because it wasn’t an option for me to buy Peppy. He
was a really well bred horse (by Little Peppy out of a Doc’s Lynx mare—which
was as good as it got for a cutting horse in those days). His wealthy owner did
not want to sell the horse. He wanted to win a major three year old cutting
futurity with him, and THEN sell him for a huge price to be somebody’s
stallion—and the focus of their breeding program. This horse was (literally)
worth ten times (at a minimum) what I had paid for Gunner (which was already
WAY more than I could really afford). I would never own Peppy.
I agonized about it. I knew exactly what it meant for the horse to be owned by
a rich man who never laid a hand on him, and to be destined to be bought by a
“syndicate.” Peppy would always be an “investment” for rich people. He might be
valued for his worth (which would include his sticker price and his potential
for siring winning—and pricey—offspring). But it was highly unlikely that he
would ever be someone’s much-loved horse. It was unlikely that there would ever
be an owner for Peppy who would connect with the horse and ride him and care
about him, and be committed to retiring him when he was no longer useful. It
was possible—but it wasn’t likely.
made me very sad. Because there never was a nicer, kinder, harder-trying young
horse than Peppy. I wanted to own him in the worst way. Not so that I could win
on him, but so that I could enjoy him and take good care of him.
the young cutting horse trainer moved on to a different, far-away ranch, and I
had to get a new job. I heard through the grapevine that Peppy was shown in a
futurity and he did do well and was bought by a syndicate for a lot of money to
be a sire of more cutting horses—or so I was told. I heard he ended up on a
Canadian ranch. And I never heard any more about him.
troubles me sometimes, to this day. I connected with that horse—I felt the bond
that you feel when the horse understands who you are and you understand who he
is. I wanted to take responsibility for him—to make sure that his sweet,
willing nature was rewarded with a good life. And I literally could not do
that. It wasn’t possible. And this is when I began to shy away from the idea of
becoming a horse trainer, or even having much to do with professional horse
training. I could see that it just wasn’t going to work for me. I was going to
fall in love with an endless string of horses that I could not own and/or
safeguard their future, and it was going to make me miserable.
is and was a problem for me—I can’t detach from wanting to be sure that good
horses get a good life. I will admit right now that it really bugs me when I
hear someone talk about a great horse that did so much for them…and I’m
perfectly aware that they sold that horse and have no idea where he is today or
what his end was like. And yes, I’m guilty of this, too. If I had it to do over
again I would have bought and taken care of Ramona, the pinto pony who belonged
to my childhood neighbor, a sweet mare who took such good care of me when I was
young. I remember her so fondly, but my heart just aches when I realize I have
no idea about her old age and ending.
kills me to see a good horse get sold with no concern for his future, no buy
back option, nothing to safeguard him from going to kill in his old age.
Needless to say, this is never going to happen to any horse of mine, but I
can’t protect the good horses that belong to my friends and acquaintances. I
can’t take on any more horses. My space and resources are maxed out. And this
is one reason I tend to avoid other horse people.
yeah, I can’t detach. I can’t feel the goodness of a horse and not want to help
him. And since I can’t help him (yes, you may say that advocating to his owner
to keep him/retire him/find him a good home might help him, but I find this to
be not true, overall—either you step up and take responsibility for him or you
don’t), I avoid the horse biz in general.
else feel like this? What is your solution?