by Laura Crum
Detaching 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.
I 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).
The 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.
About 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.
I 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 ride.”
I gave the guy a look, and he said with a shrug, “He’s a real nice colt.”
Yeah, 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.
I 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.
“Is this really his third ride?” I asked the trainer.
“Yep,” he said. “And you’re hired.”
This is how I met Peppy.
My 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.
Most of the very well bred cutting horses in this barn were a pleasure to ride. But none of them were quite like Peppy.
I 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.
And 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.
But 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.
It 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.
Eventually 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.
It 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.
It 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.
It 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.
So 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.
Anybody else feel like this? What is your solution?