Wednesday, July 30, 2014


                                                            by Laura Crum

            I rode last week with a group of ropers I’ve known most of my life. They practice together once a week these days, and my son and I like to go up and gather the cattle and help move them down the alley…etc. It gives us a chance to exercise our horses and I wanted my son to grow up understanding livestock and livestock people. But…
            There’s a reason I don’t rope any more. Roping is great fun, and it is perfectly possible to rope and compete at team roping and put the welfare of your horse above winning. Many people actually do this. And many people say that they do this, but what they really mean is that they don’t compete on their horse when he is dead lame, because, guess what, it wouldn’t work out for them. Horse couldn’t get much done anyway, might ruin his chances of being useful in the future, and other people would point fingers. That, in a nutshell, is what a lot of ropers mean by taking care of their horse.
            The truth is that most ropers that I have known treat their horse like sporting equipment. Oh, they wouldn’t say that this is how they felt, some would even say that they “love” their horses. But here’s how they behave: They take excellent care of their using horse in most ways, they may even act affectionate towards him. The only exception is when an important event is coming up and the horse is NQR. Unless they have a backup horse, they will drug their main horse in order to get through the event because “well, that’s what I have him for.” When this horse gets old and/or has a soundness problem that stops his career as a rope horse, they get rid of him. They sell him, or find him a home, or what have you, but they very rarely bother to check on him or have a buy back clause. They want to off load the problem, thank you very much, and find another horse they can rope on. Because the point is roping—the horse is incidental. He’s like a good piece of sporting equipment. You’re going to take care of it cause its valuable to you and you spent a lot of money on it and it makes sense to care for it, but hey, when it’s broken it’s broken and you just have to get rid of it and get a new one.  And yes, this is EXACTLY how most ropers that I have known deal with their horses.
            I’m not even going to talk about the smaller subset of ropers that are very hard on their horses and pretty much torture them in order to win. Those people exist, but none of my “friends” are in this category. They don’t overuse their horses, or constantly beat them up, or fail to provide adequate care. But they do, in many cases, treat them like sporting equipment. And, in fact, they would defend this approach.
            I don’t know how many times I’ve been told, “They’re not pets,” and “I own them to rope on them,” and “You shouldn’t get attached to them,” and “Yeah, he was a good old horse but he couldn’t go any more so I sold him and got one I could win on.” All said without the slightest trace of shame. And my obvious outrage was treated as completely unreasonable. I have totally had it with this shit.
            So last week at our little practice arena a father and son that I have known for virtually all my life were there. The father has been roping for well over ten years on a good roan horse that has really done right by him. The horse is in his 20s now and starting to have the sorts of arthritic problems that older horses get. He’s been lame off and on this summer and when he isn’t obviously lame he’s very stiff and rough and the guy complains that he can’t rope on him because the horse is so rough. Some of us have said that the horse has given him a good long run and deserves to be retired from roping and cared for for the rest of his life. The guy ignores us, and drugs the horse up to practice on him, but even so, the horse is rough and the guy can’t get much done.
            On top of this the guy, I’ll call him K, who is shopping for a new horse, is trying to sell/place the old rope horse as a “beginner” horse or a trail horse. Never mind the old horse is not a beginner-type horse and his arthritic issues would make it hard for him to be a trail horse in this hilly country. K doesn’t care. He just wants out of the horse, now that the gelding is no longer useful to him as a rope horse. He’s not going to check on the horse to be sure he doesn’t end up at the sale. He doesn’t feel that he owes the horse a thing. He’s happy to discard his horse in the same way you’d discard a once valued but now broken tennis racket. Perfectly standard team roper operating procedure. And it just makes my blood boil.
            I want to stop for a minute and say that I’m not picking on team ropers in particular here. I don’t suppose they’re any worse than any other horse discipline. I certainly saw very similar behavior among the cowhorse and cutting horse people that I knew. I’m betting you can see the same thing in any competitive horse discipline. And that, right there, is the problem. Competition. The need to win. Or at the very least, compete. Get to that event, be part of the scene. For most of the ropers I’ve known, it is going roping that’s important, not the horse. An individual horse is just a way to go roping…he isn’t important for himself.
            And most of these people feel perfectly justified in getting rid of a horse when he is no longer able to go roping. They may say “find him a good home,” but you know what? That phrase means nothing unless you are prepared to keep track of the horse and take him back if/when that home does not work out. Otherwise you might as well say, “Offload him onto someone else and cross your fingers he doesn’t end up at the sale.” Because that’s what it amounts to. And a great many of these offloaded horses do end up at the sale or starving and neglected in some barbed wire fenced pasture. I have seen it many times.
            The thing that really made my blood boil at the practice roping last week was when K decided he’d let his teenage son, S, have a go at roping on the poor old roan horse since he, K, wasn’t able to get much done on him. S ran that horse at several hard running steers and the horse gave all he had. He walked off noticeably lame (despite all the drugs) in the back end after every run. And those so-and-so’s just kept on using him, despite the fact that both my friend and I pointed out the horse was lame.
            I don’t blame the fourteen year old S. His father is guiding him. And everyone says what a great kid S is, and how wonderful that he’s doing junior rodeo and competing and learning about sportsmanship…etc. And I say that’s a load of crap. What S is learning is how to be heartless in the interests of winning. He’s learning that his father doesn’t care about the good roan horse and has no plans to retire him to pay the horse back for his years of service. His father just wants to squeeze the last few miles out of the poor animal. S is learning that that is the way you’re “supposed” to behave. That’s the practical, sensible thing. Treat a horse like a piece of sporting equipment. Don’t get attached to him. Don’t treat him like a pet. When he’s no longer useful you get rid of him. The point is going roping and competing and being part of the group and hopefully winning. What happens to this old roan horse who has worked hard for you all of his life is just not important.
            Mind you, these people would SAY the welfare of their horses was important to them…but I’ve already made my point about how they actually behave.
            Anyway, I got more and more angry watching this go on, and those who know me will know that I did not stand passively by and mutter to myself. When K rode up to me and complained about how he just couldn’t get anything done on the old horse because the horse was so rough, I looked him right in the eye and said, “K that horse is rough because he’s old and he hurts in a lot of places. He’s been a really good horse for you for a lot of years. The only right thing to do now is retire him from roping and let him live out his life in comfort. He’s earned that. And you can afford it. (K has far more money than I do.) Buy another horse to rope on and retire this one the way he deserves to be retired.”
            K just shrugged. And kept on running cattle on the horse.
            I overheard my friend tell K the exact same thing I had just told him. K kept on roping.
            I was having a hard time watching. I told three other friends who are decent horsemen that I thought we should confront K. One said, “It’s his horse.” Another said, “You might as well beat your head against a concrete wall.” Both things were true, but that doesn’t absolve us from trying to do the right thing, boys.
            The third one said, “You’re right in what you say, but I don’t want to make unpleasantness.”
            To that I said, “I like the horse a hell of a lot better than I like the guy. I think unpleasantness is called for.”
Nobody appeared to approve of this sentiment.
By this time I had well and thoroughly had enough. I had said what I could say, and it was certainly true that throwing a fit wasn’t going to help anything. I unsaddled my horses and left. And right now I am considering whether I ever want to go back. Just as I gave up going roping because I didn’t want to support the abuse I’d seen at ropings with my dollars or my presence, I am questioning whether I want to support the abuse I saw at that practice roping with my presence and the tacit assumption that I am “friends” with these guys. Because I 100% disagree with the way K is behaving and I don’t support or condone anyone who behaves like this. I don’t even want to be around it.
For those who will say that I do some good by being there and speaking my truth, I’m afraid I disagree. Those people don’t care what I think. To them my opinion means nothing, because I don’t go roping any more. I’m just a laid back trail rider whose thoughts on horses are sentimental and not the proper roper’s attitude. They think I don’t get the point—which is, of course, to keep on going roping, whatever it takes. In their mind I treat my horses like pets—which ain’t the way it’s supposed to be done.
So yeah, for the record, I don’t care what you say about pets or not pets or what have you. The truth is that when a horse has given his best for so many years to help you achieve your goal of going roping and being competitive, you OWE that horse. It’s your god damn obligation to retire him and pay him back for all he did for you. If you wouldn’t dump your dog, how much more should you not dump your horse, who did far more for you than your dog ever did—unless you run the Iditarod, or some such thing.
There are many, many ways to retire a horse that are ethical and appropriate. You don’t have to keep him at home eating and doing nothing if that bothers you. Many old horses love being light riding horses (our Henry does). It’s fine to give/loan the horse to someone else as long as you keep track of him and take responsibility for him. You can send him to a legitimate retirement farm. And you can euthanise him. What you can’t do is sell/give him away and “hope” it goes well for him, but make no effort to keep track of him.
And you sure as hell shouldn’t drug him to the max and keep trying to get the last bit of possible hard use out of him, knowing that you’re going to dump him on someone else as soon as you find a replacement for him. If there is any justice in eternity, the people who do this to their horses are going to be reincarnated as horses that are owned by people who will treat them in exactly this way.
If you’ve been in the horse biz for over forty years, which both K and I have been, there is something seriously wrong if you don’t have one or two retirees to care for. Oh I know there are times when your old horses may have passed on and your current horses are still using age. Or you may have had some bad luck and lost horses before they got to retirement age. But every single ethical horse person I know who has been in the business for awhile, has or had a retiree or two. Even if those retirees are babysitting a friend’s young child or some such thing. They are cared for and the owner knows where they are and how they’re doing. If you have owned horses for over twenty years and you’ve managed to get rid of all of your horses before you had to retire them, and you don’t really know what became of them or what sort of a death they had, well all I can say is God have mercy on your soul.

OK—I guess I’ve made my point. Rant over. But I meant every word of it.

PS—I do know many team ropers who love their horses and retire them when they are past going roping. This post is not about team ropers in particular. It just so happens that those are the people I’ve been riding with. I have a feeling (I don’t know this) that you will see the same percentage of people who take care of their older/non-competitive horses versus those who don’t in any competitive horse discipline. But feel free to enlighten me.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

So much to share

By Gayle Carline
Author and Horse-a-holic

First, I'm doing a Goodreads Giveaway for MURDER ON THE HOOF. Here is the link if you would like to enter ( It ends on the 28th, so don't dawdle.

I made a book video (did you know the term "book trailer" is copyrighted?) for MURDER ON THE HOOF. I like to make book videos. They challenge me. Like all of mine, this one is short, shaky and homegrown. Hope you like it.

Second, I want to introduce you to a book I read recently. I met Robin Hutton at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento last June. She has written a book about a war horse, SGT. RECKLESS: AMERICA'S WAR HORSE. Reckless was a little red mare, barely 13 hands high, who was used during the Korean War to transport ammo over terrain too rough for vehicles to pass. There is so much about this mare that amazes me, from the fact that she would make these trips unaccompanied, to her official designation as a staff sergeant in the US Marine Corps.

Not only did Robin write a book about her (interviewing as many of her former handlers as were still living), she spearheaded a movement to have a monument erected at Quantico (USMC headquarters) in honor of Sgt. Reckless, and she is getting the funds together to have another monument installed at Camp Pendleton (near San Diego) where Sgt. Reckless spent her final days, and is buried.

As soon as I got a copy of the book, I opened it and never put it down until it was finished. What a fascinating amount of information, both about Reckless and the war! I had read somewhere that mares were actually preferred in battle to stallions, as they are quieter and not as given to fighting each other. Sgt. Reckless' story proves that a mare can be smart, too.

You can probably get your copy anywhere, but here's the link on Amazon ( It's a great read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Himalayan Blackberries - AKA #1 Pest

by Linda Benson

Hey, everyone. It's me! Just peeking up from the trenches of our back forty (okay, our back 1/4 acre) where I am single-womanly determined to eradicate all blackberries forever and ever, using just a pair of gloves and some pruning shears.

Making some progress - still a long way to go

When I was young, I used to love picking blackberries growing alongside the road. I still do. They are yummy. But in my adult life, I have learned to detest this invasive plant. First - as a gardener, because they come up everywhere! And second - well, have you ever had a green horse you were riding bolt sideways, directly into a sharp, inch-thick blackberry cane growing across the trail at head height? If not, I can assure you that blackberries cut through ears rather easily, which bleed profusely, causing said horseback rider to believe they might be dying. But I digress.

According to the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, this blackberry (actually native to Armenia and Northern Iran) "is the most widespread and economically disruptive of all the noxious weeds in western Oregon. It aggressively displaces native plant species, dominates most riparian habitats, and has a significant economic impact on right-of-way maintenance, agriculture, park maintenance and forest production." See, I knew there was a good reason to hate this stuff.

And according to Wikipedia: it was introduced into Europe in 1835, into the United States in 1885 (only 129 years ago) and is now an invasive species in most of the temperate world.

But I am making some headway against this awful plant.

Finding treasures, such as this lovely double alder tree, fallen horizontally, but still alive, with a magnificent native mock orange growing up the right-hand side.
I work in the cool of the morning, or in the evenings, and it may take me years, but I'm determined to get rid of most of the darned blackberries from this piece of ground. (I might leave a small patch to eat. Or maybe not!)
A double pair of intertwined alders that I've uncovered with my pruning shears. Lovely, aren't they?
Are Himalayan Blackberries a pest where you live? Does it get into your gardens or horse pastures? Ever had a horse drag you through the stuff? Let me know - I'll be right there with my gloves and pruning shears!

Sunday, July 20, 2014


                                                by Laura Crum

            Well, after my last post about how the horses were doing well, but I was too lazy to ride, I decided to, you know, actually ride my horse. So we hauled over to the roping arena on Thursday and saddled up, and Sunny felt great. Trotted out freely and eager to go, loped a few laps in the big, freshly groomed arena feeling solid and strong, stopped in a nice, balanced frame. And then, after maybe ten minutes light riding, in which he was 100% sound, he stumbled, trotting down the long side of the arena. And was immediately dead lame in the left front.
            Well, OK then. Suddenly my horse is head bobbing lame at the walk. I tie him up, pick his feet—nothing. I look for damage—nothing other than a tiny, tiny spot where he “might” have stepped on himself. No blood. But he’s really lame. By the time we load up to go home three hours later, he’s still lame. But there is no swelling and no sign of trauma. Weird.
            I unload him at home and he’s still lame, but happy to eat some grass hay that I feed him, along with the other horses. Two hours later he’s still lame—and he’s colicked.
            I’m not kidding. Pawing the ground, won’t graze, looking at his side. I have no idea if the lameness and the colic are related, but I give him a dose of Banamine and call the vet. Twenty minutes later the vet has not called me back, but the Banamine has kicked in and Sunny seems normal. I put him back in his corral and feed him about 1/4 of what he normally gets.
            The vet finally calls back and says to call him again later if the pain comes back. I check Sunny at bedtime and midnight (when the drug is out of his system) and he seems fine. He is fine the next morning—and not noticeably lame, either.
            So…what was that all about? The horse has never colicked before that I know of. He’s not really a big baby, either. Three days later, he still seems absolutely normal, enjoying life like nothing ever happened. I just can’t figure the whole thing out, though I’m grateful he seems fine now. Jeez…

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bad, Bad Horse Owner

                                                by Laura Crum

            I have not been an ambitious horse person lately. Quite frankly, I have been a lazy horse person. I feel a little bit guilty about it. I just haven’t been motivated. And I don’t mean too lazy to train and/or prepare for an event. I mean ride. I haven’t been motivated to ride much.
            I know that sounds sort of sacrilegious, but it’s true. I thought I’d write about it in the sneaking hope that a few others can relate, and might say so, thus making me feel a little less guilty. 
            I’m not sure why I feel this way. Or rather, there are a whole collection of reasons why I feel this way, but I can’t pinpoint the main one. Nothing bad has happened. I haven’t been hurt or scared, there have been no wrecks, the horses are sound and healthy. When I do ride (about once a week these days), I see lots of pretty things.

            Perhaps one reason for less riding is that my son is less motivated to ride with me. He is interested in other things these days more than riding. And certainly my riding life for the last thirteen years has been very much about riding with my kid. His horse, Henry, is 26, and has some arthritis issues in his hocks. Henry doesn’t really like climbing steep hills any more, though he is perfectly sound and quite free on level ground. My son will ride with me occasionally, and enjoys it, but he doesn’t ask to ride any more and often declines the offer of a trail ride. Still, we have had some nice rides this spring/summer. Here he gives Henry a breather/rest (one of many) on a steep bit of trail.

            I have been very absorbed in my garden projects, particularly my little pond/water garden. My inclination on a nice day is to fuss with the water plants and float in the pool rather than saddle up and ride down a dusty trail.  I’m just feeling lazy.

            I rationalize this by saying to myself that I have paid my dues. I spent twenty years training colts, riding virtually every day and competing almost every weekend. I have done stuff…I’m allowed to kick back now that I’m older. Hell… how many people have done this?

            And this?

            But I’m all too aware that plenty of gals my age are doing ambitious stuff—you know, like riding Tevis. I’m mildly jealous of all my internet friends of any age who are doing lots of cool, very ambitious horsey stuff despite the fact that they are, well—in an interesting condition, or as old as me, or have suffered an injury or illness, or are super busy with school or job or being a mom. I’m aware that I could get off my butt and get in shape and do more stuff. But I don’t want to.
            I recently spent a perfectly lovely day-- when I could very well have gone for a ride-- working in the garden, reading a book, floating in my pool, and turning horses out to graze. It worked for me. Worked for the horses, too, as far as I can tell. They seem to like being turned loose on the property as much as they like going for a ride. But there is still this small residual guilty feeling.

            Perhaps I will get into a more ambitious horsey mode again in the future—it has certainly happened before. I took five years off from riding (other than with my child in front of me in the saddle) when I had my baby, and then spent the last six years trail riding several days a week with my son. We covered lots of miles, did hundreds and hundreds of rides together, and saw a lot of lovely things.

            So who knows what the future holds, but that’s my question for today. Any other lazy horse people out there? And do you feel guilty about it?


Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Bountiful Summer

 Raise your hand, paw or hoof if you feel as if summer is rushing past in flurry of hyper-activity. Or am I the only one who knowingly and willingly buries herself under a mountain of activities, work and chores from May through August? And yet part of it isn't my fault--summer is simply a bountiful time of the year.

Take the garden for example.  My cucumbers are growing overnight in record numbers.  We've eaten fried cucumbers, roasted cucumbers, marinated cucumbers, and cucumber dip. My family is cuked out.  For the first time I made pickles, a lengthy job, hoping that we can enjoy cucmbers this winter when we aren't so tired of them.  It takes forever, and I admit I am afraid to try one.  All that work -- what if they're terrible?
Soon the tomatoes will be ripening, and I am hopeful for once the fungus and wilt won't get them so they will be bountiful as well--or do I? Tomato sauce looms on the horizon of chores.

Along with the wonderful harvest of vegetables is the bountiful insects that prey on them. I am Attila the Hun when it comes to squash bugs, pinching them with my fingers and drowning the eggs in soapy water. Still, they hatch like fearsome green sucking spiders.  I am not using any insecticides this year, so fortunately, I've discovered preying mantis's galore.  Together we attack, and I am happy to report, we may be winning. Yet sometimes the shear amount of work it takes to keep the garden bug-free, weeded and watered, and the vegetables picked and canned or frozen seems overwhelming.

 My flowers are also beautiful--and bountiful.  I love keeping cut flowers on the table all summer, and the joy my flower gardens bring  is huge--but again, weeding, watering, dead-heading and catching diseases sometimes makes my head spin.

Horse chores get more intensive this time of the year as well. In winter, when Bell and Relish are at the neighbors in their huge pasture with a stream, I feed and check them once a day.  In summer, when the flies and heat are oppressive that number changes to four or five times a day. Fly masks go on first thing in the morning, then the horses are let into their stalls about 11:00 with the fan on, then they get turned out about 4:00 with fly masks, then stalls are cleaned, and water tub cleaned as well. Finally about 7:00 masks come off.  Missing one step can be a mess--Relish pees in the stall or the flies drive them to distraction. So I am constantly thinking about and scheduling horse chores.

In the meantime--there are bountiful yard sales. I am stocking five booths and selling on Ebay, so the 'antique' business is keeping me busy.  My recent love is vintage lighting. This is a photo of part of my bountiful collection  waiting to get photographed for Ebay. I know, they're just lights, but there's still something about them that propels me back to  the past and Barbara Stanwyck.

I haven't even mentioned my writing. You know that book that's suppose to be finished by summer's end?

So how is your summer going? Over-flowing with chores? Or more fun than a bountiful barrel of monkeys?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Horse Book Review: The Riding Doctor Helps Us Keep Riding!

Aches. Pains. And bad, bad balance.

Sometimes climbing into the saddle feels like a mountain I must conquer. And sometimes it feels like I never quit riding those ten horses a day. Both versions kind of hurt. As a not-so-frequent rider, and one that has taken a pretty significant break from the farm life in order to pursue my desk-based career as a writer, I've found that one ride's form is rarely like another these days.

A little bit of that "Career Gap" equestrian trouble has gone into my current novel-in-progress, Show Barn Blues, which features a jumper trainer trying to keep a barn full of adult amateur riders in the show-ring and out of trouble. Grace has made a living out of supporting the teenage dreams of affluent women like Missy, but her young working student, Anna, can't imagine a day lived without horses.
“You rode as a kid?” Anna started to knot up a slipping hay-net along the trailer’s wall. “Like, you showed?”
“Oh, I did it all.” Missy paused and focused all her effort on getting the slim boot on. She might have to give in and get new ones soon, I thought. Nothing lasts forever, especially not pencil-thin calves. “I showed, I hunted… I wasn’t afraid of a thing back then.”
“And you stopped? What happened?”
“The usual,” Missy laughed, but it sounded rueful as well. “College, love, marriage, work, babies. And my horse died, and I never found another one I was so comfortable with. So I stopped riding, and then eventually I realized how much I missed it, and then, years after that, I finally had a little spare time to start taking lessons again. And then Grace helped me find Maxine, and here we are. But I’m definitely not the brave teenager anymore.”
If you'd said to me as a teenager that I'd totally identify with that passage as I was typing it, I would have laughed. I mean, I even found ways to ride horses for a living in the middle of Manhattan. But then I started writing full-time, and lo, the Career Gap was suddenly Real Life.

Dr. Beth Glosten, author of The Riding Doctor.
So it felt like amazing timing when a new book, The Riding Doctor, arrived in the mail. This large-format paperback, featuring colorful, glossy photos and illustrations, was written from one Career Gap Rider to all the rest of us. The author, Dr. Beth Glosten, MD, is a doctor who understands how our pieces stop working in perfect tandem once we spend a few years (or decades, heaven forbid) out of the irons.

“I wear the label ‘riding doctor’ when I work with riders and evaluate their balance and functional challenges on horseback,” explains Glosten. "My goal is to help all riders, but particularly those in midlife, understand their bodies and improve their function, so they can enjoy effective and harmonious riding, as well as other activities.”

Glosten's equestrian credentials are impressive enough without the "MD" attached to her name: She retired from medical practice in 1997 and pursued her passion for riding dressage full time, while also becoming Pilates Method Alliance certified. She is a USDF gold, silver, and bronze medalist, as well as a USDF 'L' judge training program graduate with distinction. But none of that came easily, as her bio explains:

The Riding Doctor by Dr. Beth Glosten
"After leaving horses behind for many years to pursue her medical career, Glosten decided it was time to ride again, only to discover that as a middle-aged woman, she struggled with tension, awkwardness, and an aching back. Glosten’s own frustration with riding prompted her to apply her clinical research skills to figure out what it would take to not only create the harmonious picture of horse and rider moving together, but also to feel good while doing it."

In a Q & A (provided by the author) Glosten explains what the book is all about, including the exercises, which are based upon Pilates:

"My instructions are designed such that each exercise or movement has relevance to riding skills. ...There are simple movements that show you how to control the position of your pelvis and rib cage; important determinants of posture. ...There are exercises that challenge correct posture in the same way that it is challenged in the saddle – using a single rein aid, a single leg aid, or even just turning. Balance is an important theme, as balance is key to success in the saddle."

Each exercise could benefit anyone, but Glosten's instructions are laced with real-life stories and examples of how they create a better, more effective equestrian. With sections on how our pelvis, spine, and abdominal muscles really work, plus photos of riders working in tandem with their horse and explaining the muscle groups that make it happen, The Riding Doctor makes me think of a more technical, practical Centered Riding: sort of a Centered Riding for the Rest of Us. You know, those of us who can't visualize ourselves into a perfect posture anymore!

Constantly looking for ways to keep myself (somewhat) riding fit, despite my current job as a desk-jockey (which requires very few muscles and a surprising quantity of snacks) I'm working my way through The Riding Doctor. I'm hoping that the next time I mount up, my horse won't think "Ah, the sack of potatoes has arrived for her yearly assault on my spine." Instead, maybe he'll think, "Better behave, this lady means business."

After all, I used to ride for a living.

I swear.

The Riding Doctor is available at Amazon, Trafalgar Square's, and at

Sunday, July 6, 2014


                                                            by Laura Crum

            This is a trendy word nowadays. What I actually want to talk about is the lines that I will not allow my horses to cross behavior-wise. However good they are, however much they do for me, however much I trust them, there are things that I will not allow any of them to do. If they do these things they get reprimanded. The severity of the reprimand depends on the horse. Some only get yelled at. Some get a light swat with the leadrope. Sunny gets a good hard swat with the leadrope.
            I am not talking about a young horse or a green horse here. The rules are different with a horse who is learning what right behavior is. I am talking about a broke horse who understands what is expected of him. Such a horse only crosses these boundaries for certain reasons. 1) The horse does not respect you enough to heed the boundaries. 2) The horse trusts that you and he are partners and that you’ll let him get away with this transgression. 3) The horse needs to test to see if you’re still dominant. 4) The horse is scared enough to forget about the boundaries and 5) The horse is angry/interested in something else enough to ignore the boundaries. In 4 and 5 the horse isn’t thinking enough about you. In 2 and 3 it’s actually part of a healthy relationship. 1 is just no good. But in all cases but one the horse needs a reprimand of some sort (in my opinion). The only exception is 4. Sometimes the horse needs to sort out his fear (if it is genuine) a little before he can obey. It really depends on the circumstances and the horse how you handle 4.
            I am assuming here that the person is a halfway competent horseman who is not pushing a horse to do more than he can reasonably be expected to do, or expecting him to handle something he doesn’t understand and has had no experience with. In either case, even a good horse is liable to rebel.
            A lot of people don’t like these words “reprimand” and “punishment.” They want to use other words. I really don’t care what words are used. What I mean is this: I let the horse know in a way he understands that the behavior is not OK. And I let him know clearly and effectively enough that the horse ceases the behavior—at least for that day.
            Also, I correct every horse as his personality requires. With a good hearted horse like Henry who occasionally forgets himself, I’m firm but kind in reminding him. With a tough-minded horse like Sunny who likes to test, and did, in fact, end up kicking his former owners, I’m considerably more emphatic in my corrections. With gentle, sensitive horses like Plumber, Gunner and Twister, who are aghast at the notion of being reprimanded, I stick to a firm word and a gentle tug as a reminder to pay attention. They don’t need more.
            And finally, I don’t pick on a horse about stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. If you constantly nitpick a horse, you WILL end up with a problem. That said, I also think you need to consistently enforce certain boundaries, or you will end up with problem behavior in your good horse—behavior you don’t need to have.
            For instance, if you have a good, reliable trail horse, like my Sunny, who is also on the lazy side, that horse may offer a balk at the foot of a steep climb that he’s done before and knows is hard work. If I ask Sunny to go on, and he takes a step backward and switches his tail, I immediately over and under him. In other words, I reprimand him in a way that gets his attention and gets him moving forward and obeying my cue. Let’s say I don’t do this. Let’s say I kick him rather ineffectually with my spurless boot, and he takes another step backward and makes an effort to turn around and go back. Let us then say that I stop urging him forward toward the hill, and shrug and say, “Oh well, guess you don’t want to go up that hill today,” and I go another way. What do you think is going to happen the next time I want to ride up that hill? My good, broke and very smart little horse is going to balk once again, and when I urge him forward this time, he is liable to be pretty determined about his resistance and escalate to crowhops and such. I have just created a problem that I didn’t need to have.
            On the other hand, there is no point in punishing a horse for certain things. Let’s take my Sunny again, for an example. Sunny rarely spooks, but when he does, it’s a genuinely startled response. I ignore it. I let him look at the thing until I can tell that he isn’t afraid any more, and then I ask him to go on. If he is still worried and sidles by it, I ignore that, too. On the rare occasions when he is feeling a bit up, and tries to retreat or such, I do reprimand him and make him go forward, because I know Sunny, and I know he is not truly very afraid.
            There is also the situation (rare with Sunny, but it has happened) when a horse refuses to cross something (like a downed tree or a muddy ditch) because he is truly concerned about it. This sort of thing I play by ear. If I feel a little concerned, too, and the horse is an experienced trail horse, I will often let his decision stand. If I feel confident we can get over the obstacle, and I want to do it, I just keep the horse there and keep asking. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes I need to distract the horse from the issue at hand, sometimes I let another horse give us a lead, sometimes I get off and lead my horse, if I feel the horse is truly worried, and even a following a buddy doesn’t help (I’ve done the leading thing twice—both times with reliable horses and bridges that they had never been on before).
            I never punish a horse for jigging. It’s a wretched habit, but punishment will not help. Some horses can’t be cured of it. I prefer not to ride those horses. Most horses can be out-figured. There are many methods. With Sunny, I found that he only jigged (just a little, at the very end) when I did the same route too often. He was bored of it and eager to get done. Once I sorted this out I mixed up the routes and he hasn’t jigged with me going home in years. But I never reprimanded him for it—simply because it doesn’t work. Same for a horse that is high as a kite in the team roping box, or the start of a race/ride. Or fretting because the other horses have left him. This is anxiety and excitement and you will do no good with a reprimand under those circumstances (with most horses—there are always exceptions).
            That said, there are certain behaviors where reprimands work incredibly well--again, with most horses. I am assuming that we all have behaviors we find completely unacceptable. The horse that tries to kick or bite you, or pushes through you on the ground…etc. If you don’t find this sort of thing unacceptable and deserving of correction, than we are way too far apart in our thinking to have much of a conversation. The thing is, I think that you need to stop/prevent that behavior before it ever gets to a dangerous point—because that behavior can get you hurt or even killed. Thus my boundaries.
            So here are my boundaries for broke horses.
            1) The horse may never make a nipping gesture at me. None of my horses would actually dare to bite me, but that fake nipping gesture is absolutely not allowed. Many horses will assay  this gesture when being cinched. They always get a sharp punch in the nose for it. I ignore ear pinning or the slight shake of the head. That’s just expressing an opinion. But the nipping gesture is a form of aggression toward me, and it’s not acceptable. And what do you know—none of my horses have EVER nipped me.
            2) No horse may make a kicking gesture in my direction—under ANY circumstances whatsoever. This includes if they are really kicking at another horse, or it’s feeding time, or I’m doctoring a painful cut on their leg, or whatever. This is non-negotiable, because it’s too dangerous. My horses must be aware of me and careful not to kick in my general direction at all times, under all circumstances. If any kicking gesture is made when I am behind or near a horse, that horse gets a severe reprimand. And, yes, none of my horses have ever kicked me.
            3) No horse may crowd my space when I am leading them or when I am in their corrals. I am very strict about this. As in the above example, including when the horse is just not thinking. I require them to be aware of me and careful about my space at all times. No matter what is going on or how distracted they are by other things or how scared. It’s too easy to be knocked down and severely inured by a horse that doesn’t respect your space.
            4) No horse may step toward my foot—accidentally or otherwise. Same principle as the above. Sunny will try the oh-so-casual purposeful step toward my foot sometimes when I’m saddling, and I always kick him in the ankle, hard enough to hurt. He usually doesn’t try it again for awhile. And he has never actually stepped on my foot. None of my horses have. Of course, I stay aware of where my feet are and their feet are at all times—which is a necessity, because I often handle them in sandals. So far, not one smashed toe (!)
            5) No horse may move off while I get on—ever. This is particularly important to me because I am short and getting older and very vulnerable to losing my balance when I mount. All my horses stand perfectly still for me to climb on. If they don’t, they get corrected. Every single time.
            6) I will tolerate a horse letting me know he wants to stop and take a break on a ride, or have a good look at something, but the horse must move on when I say so. I try to be thoughtful. If my horse is truly tired, I allow a good long breather; if my horse is truly worried, I allow plenty of time to look and relax. But when I say step forward, I make that happen. See my example above about balking, and where it leads.
            7) No horse is allowed to eat under saddle or to jerk his head down to graze without permission when being led. I’m very strict about this. I understand that endurance folks WANT a horse to graze under saddle, and this makes sense. But I am here to say that for those of us who don’t do endurance, there are few more annoying things than to ride a horse who firmly jerks his head down to eat when he feels like it, or grabs at the tall grass as you ride through it. Someone let our good horse Henry do this in the past, and it is a habit that remains, despite many corrections. It’s perhaps the one true fault in this very good horse—and it is always an effort for my son to ride Henry across a meadow, due to this vice. None of my other horses have this objectionable trait, and unless you are an endurance rider, I can see no reason to let this habit occur. The same for allowing a horse to tug his head down to graze while you are leading him. I do hand graze my horses from time to time, but I give a very clear signal that permits them to graze, and they are reprimanded if they try to graze without permission, or tug me towards a patch of grass. It makes them much more pleasant to lead and handle and ride.
            8) I tolerate spooks and feel-good crowhops without a reprimand as long as the spook or crowhop is just a one shot thing. Spooking and then spinning or bolting is absolutely not allowed (if it’s genuinely fear-caused it’s treated very differently than if it’s an evasion—one has to know the difference). Bucking that’s due to cinchiness is treated differently than bucking used as an evasion. A horse that bucks because he is cinchy is like a ticklish person. They just can’t help it. My much-loved Flanigan was a cinchy horse and I was always very careful with his saddling and warm-up protocol. As far as I was concerned, it was my fault if he bucked with me.


            Anyway, there are a few boundaries that I think are important to set. Perhaps you can suggest some others. Or let me know why you disagree with mine.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sometimes I'm Tempted...

                                               by Laura Crum

            I don’t need another horse. In fact, not only do I not need one, I can’t have one. I have five corrals and there are five horses here. No room for another horse-- period. But a couple of weeks ago I saw one that tempted me.
            Sometimes people ask me how I found my steady, reliable geldings. The answer is that I knew these horses to be reliable and bought them when they came up for sale, or I made a good offer on them. But what if you don’t have that luxury? How do you sort out whether to buy a horse that you don’t know? So I thought I’d tell you about this horse that I very much wanted to buy—and explain why I would have been willing to take a chance on her.
            Yes, I said her. Those who know me know that I am a gelding person—I don’t want to own a mare. And that was the single biggest stopper about this horse in my eyes. She was a she. But had I needed a horse, I still would have bought her.  Here’s why.
            My friend Mark, who buys and sells horses, and trains horses, and hauls horses, and holds horses for our local horse vet, and also team ropes with us, brought a little bay mare up to the roping arena a couple of weeks ago. It is not at all unusual for Mark to show up with a new trading horse—it happens all the time. And I always ask about them, particularly if I like the look of them. Even though I know I can’t buy a horse right now, I’m always interested.
            Mark tied this mare to the arena fence, on the outside. I immediately guessed that she probably didn’t have any experience with roping—horses that don’t are liable to panic if a roping run comes in their direction. But this mare stood calmly at the fence, tied solid, not squealing or pinning her ears at the horses tied near her, not pawing or neighing or fretting, not nervous—she stood patiently. She didn’t seem worried about the roping at all.
            When I had a chance I asked Mark about her. He said she was a flunked out cowhorse. She was twelve years old and knew the drill but she just wasn’t fancy enough to win on. The cowhorse trainer who had been riding her had convinced the owner to sell her, and the mare had been on the market for a fairly high price, but there had been no offers. She was said to be gentle for beginners, a little on the lazy side, and good on the trail. She was solid bay, a plain looking horse, and about 14.2, with good bone. She was barefoot, with nice, big (for her size) round feet. Mark had picked her up that very morning (paying very little for her—the owner/trainer were both desperate to move her)-- and brought her to our roping arena. And despite the fact that she was in a completely new place and had probably never seen a roping before, she was as calm as could be. I really liked her.
            When we took a break, Mark climbed on her. Just cinched up and got on, which, of course, you damn sure ought to be able to do with a twelve year old said-to-be-kid-gentle horse. The mare was pretty well broke by my standards—took both leads, could spin, had a nice stop, turned with a cow in a very handy way, and did it all very cool and calm. She looked absolutely sound. Mark had picked her up for $2500 and he had someone that planned to buy her that afternoon for $5000 as a kid’s horse. I was just drooling over her.
            “If you give me the $5000 you can have her,” Mark said. And you know, I was really tempted.
            This mare had shown me everything I want to see. Calm and relaxed in a new place. Laid back to ride, handy and well broke, pleasant around other horses, sound, with good bone and good looking feet. Twelve years old—which is just about perfect if you want trouble free, but still has some good years left. And she was little, and bay (which is my favorite color). She just looked like the right kind, and I really wanted her. But, of course, I had to say no.
            Which is maybe partly why when Mark and I went for a ride a few days later and he showed me a photo of a puppy he was getting as part of another horse trading deal and asked me if I wanted her, well, I said yes.
            I mean there were reasons. The puppy was a corgi, and my son was lobbying for a corgi, as he loves the corgi dog that belongs to his cousins. And our little dog Star has seemed a bit lonely and mopey since our old dog, Jojo, died in February. I had been saying that she needed a companion. And this puppy was the runt of the litter and was supposed to be very small for a corgi, which would be just right to be a good playmate for Star. So yeah, I had logical reasons. But mostly I just looked at that cute puppy in the photo and thought, well here’s something I can say yes to. It felt right. So I did.
            And thus we have Cleo. Short for Cleopatra, queen of all she surveys. She’s a really good puppy. And here, with further ado, are photos:
Cleo—on her first day with us.

            Meeting Star.

            Playing with her boy.


            Boy and dogs are very happy together—Cleo and Star are best friends already.

            Such a sweet, happy, confident, little dog.

            Anyone else have any insights on how to pick a horse—or a dog?