Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Predictable Problems

                                                by Laura Crum

            There are some horse blogs that I follow in random ways—just checking in from time to time out of curiosity. For whatever reason, I didn’t become “addicted” to the blog—maybe the blogger’s way of working with/thinking about horses is just too different from mine, maybe I left a comment or two and got no response, maybe I don’t care for the writing style…whatever. To be frank, the biggest reason is usually that I get the sense the person is headed for a trainwreck with her horse, and I know perfectly well that she doesn’t want my advice, and I can’t stand to watch. So I don’t keep track of the blog in the way that I do the bloggers I have really connected with. But I will look at these other blogs from time to time—just out of curiosity. And almost inevitably there eventually comes the result that I expected.
            The horse dumps the rider, and/or the horse’s behavior gets worse and worse, the rider becomes afraid of the horse. Sometimes the owner/rider gets hurt, sometimes she is just unhappy. The horse is either sold or put into training. Sometimes the professional training works, sometimes it doesn’t solve the problem. But it is ALWAYS the case that the owner realizes that her initial “I’ve found just the right horse and I’m going to have so much fun,” assessment was a little off. And the sad thing is that many experienced horsemen could have accurately predicted this result from the get go.
            I know, I know, I’ve said this before, but I will say it one more time in the hopes that it will help someone to have a happier life with horses. Unless you have had a good deal of experience training horses, or you plan to work for several years with a trainer, don’t choose a green horse—unless, that is, that you are prepared for some risk of life and limb, and willing to persevere through this. By green horse I mean a horse less than eight years old, or a horse that has had less than four years of steady, competent riding—doing the thing that you intend to do with the horse. If you do choose a green horse, just be very sure you are up for some drama. Because no matter how mellow that young horse seems when you first get him, there is a 90% chance (really, seriously) that you will be dealing with some very exciting/scary moments with the horse in the years to come. If you’re up for that, Ok then.
            What I have seen over and over again, is the only mildly experienced horseperson—has ridden quite a bit, but has not trained very many horses, if any—chooses a pleasant four-year-old (or three year old, or six year old…you get my drift). And the usual pattern goes like this: first six months go well, next six months not quite as well, between a year and two years the horse has developed some serious problems. He dumps rider, or scares rider, he consistently is difficult for rider/owner to deal with. And then we get to the send-to-the-trainer and/or sell point.
            The most constant feature of this story is that rider/owner has a huge list of reasons why things have gone this way. Horse has health/soreness/emotional problems, horse has had to move barns, owner hasn’t had enough time to spend with horse…etc. It is very rare for the owner to actually realize that she should not have chosen a young/green horse. And yet this is the usual problem spelled out in simple terms. And it’s common as dirt.
            I myself have trained many, many young horses. My two retired horses, Gunner and Plumber, were trained exclusively by me and became very competitive in their events and never once dumped me. I know the game. But after taking several years off from riding in my forties, I’m perfectly aware that now, in my fifties, my skills are similar to those not-that-experienced horse people I’m talking about. The difference is that I know better than to pick a young/green horse to ride these days. I choose those solid older horses that I would recommend to less experienced horsemen. And it has worked out quite nicely for me. No drama, no dumping, no fear…just a pleasant life with horses.
            Those of you who are young and willing to take your lumps (or older and willing to take your lumps, for that matter), I get it. More power to you. I have watched some of you turn around very difficult green horses through sheer persistence (via the internet), and make good partners out of them, and I applaud you. I was once in your camp, but I’m not any more. However to the very many of you (me included) who don’t want those “scary” or frustrating moments with a horse, I have one thing to say to you. Quit buying young/green horses. You’ll be a lot happier.
            (As always, I welcome dissenting opinions. I learn a lot from people who disagree with me.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014


                                                            by Laura Crum

            Spring has really sprung in my garden, and everything is blooming…which makes me very happy.


            I am currently completely absorbed in my most recent (and most ambitious) garden project. Digging a BIG hole in a perfectly good driveway.

            In the end it’s meant to be a pool, lined with natural stone, where the water is filtered and cleaned by water lilies and reeds rather than chlorine. Because we have a small place, it will be a small pool, more of a water hole, really. But big enough to get in. And just in scale with our very small houses (750 sq feet and 550 sq feet, respectively).

            So, I am not riding much right now. But I hope to get back to it when the pool is finished and see a few more views like this one (from our ride last week).

            As for the rest of you, I hope you are seeing many lovely views through the ears, and I wish you a very happy Easter and a happy spring. Cheers--Laura

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mistakes I Have Made

                                                by Laura Crum

            So last post I wrote about judging another horse person’s action as a wrong action. And that is exactly how I feel about it. But I have also made some bad mistakes. Today I’ll tell you a true story about a time I really failed to do the right thing. And it haunts me.
            About fifteen years ago, my husband had a co-worker who was looking for a gentle horse for himself and his kids. Said co-worker had just bought a country place with a horse set-up. He was no horseman, but he’d been raised with horses and he wanted his kids to have that experience. At the same time my horseshoer was looking for a home for his gentle, still sound, older rope horse who was a good trail horse and fine for beginners, and twenty years old. I got the two people together and the old horse (Latch) was bought for the sum of $1000.
            Latch lived at his new home for about five years and taught the kids to ride. The dad took him for trail rides. Latch never did one thing wrong. But eventually the kids were no longer interested in horses and the family was moving. The co-worker asked my husband if I would find a new home for Latch, who was now 25, but still sound. He was willing to give the horse to a good home.
            Latch’s previous owner had moved to town and could not take the horse back. I had a nursing baby and wasn’t interacting in the horse world to speak of. I asked a friend, a young man I’ll call T, who did quite a bit of buying and selling and training, if he could find a good home for a free horse. I explained exactly what the horse was, said that no money was to change hands, and it had to be a good forever home. I said to T, “You’ll be doing the right client a huge favor—this horse is a real babysitter and still sound. And you’ll be doing the horse a favor, too. Remember, no money changes hands and the new owner has to keep him and put him down when it’s time.”
            T said he understood, and I made arrangements for T to pick up Latch. A month or so later T told me that he had found the horse a good home with a roper who wanted his very timid five-year-old to have a safe horse to ride. It sounded good. And there folks, I screwed up. I never looked into it further.
            I was a new mom, I was overwhelmed, still trying to keep up with my career writing a  mystery novel every year or so and raising my baby. Yes, I had excuses. I thought I had taken care of finding Latch a good home through T. But it turns out that I hadn’t.
            Maybe a year later T mentioned casually that Latch had been sold. “Sold,” I said. “He wasn’t supposed to be sold.”
            T gave me a look that I didn’t quite understand and shrugged.
            I then asked a few other ropers who it was that T had given the horse to. One of them gave me a straight look. “To R—he’s a horse trader. I don’t think he’d really fit anybody’s definition of a good home.”
            Of course, I went back to T and demanded an explanation, but T wasn’t talking to me.
            Eventually I pieced the story together. T had SOLD the horse to R for $1500 and pocketed the money, rather than giving Latch away with the stipulation he couldn’t be sold. R was indeed a roper, also a horse trader. The only true part of T’s story was that R had a timid 5 year old daughter and wanted a gentle horse. But within a year the daughter was confident enough (due to Latch) to move on to other horses, and R got rid of Latch.
            I was able to contact the woman who took Latch off R’s hands. She was a horse trader, too, and a friend of R’s. She said the then 26 year old Latch was thin and sick with pigeon fever. She took the horse, doctored him and fed him up until he looked OK. She then traded him to a woman who had a five acre property. That woman had just lost one of her two old horses and wanted a companion horse for the other one—she wanted to find an old horse that was gentle and sound enough to ride at the walk around her property. She swapped the lady horse trader a purebred Aussie puppy that she had raised for Latch.
            Well, it sounded good, but the horse trader could not remember the new owner’s name or address, and though I tried and tried, I could not track Latch down. It made me wonder if the story was bullshit and Latch had ended up at the sale. I was furious at T and told him so (in front of a group of other people). He had not only lied to me, and done a huge disservice to the poor horse, but he had totally screwed the previous owner, who gave the horse away in the hopes he could find a good home. If anybody should have had the money for selling Latch, it was the owner. T behaved in a totally dishonest and despicable way—though not untypical of a horse trader, sadly.  But the person who really was to blame for this mess was me.
            I was the one that my husband’s co-worker trusted to find a good home for the old horse. That man was trying to do the right thing. He wasn’t trying to get his $1000 back out of the horse, he just wanted Latch to have a good home.
            That was all I wanted, too, but I made the mistake of trusting T, who was a friend of mine. I simply did not realize that T would see a chance to make money on this horse and take it, rationalizing to himself that he had gotten Latch a good home, just as he was supposed to do.
            I should have checked, I should have asked a few people about R as a “good home” (if I had asked I would have been told that R did NOT qualify as a good home), the truth is I should have placed Latch myself. Though I tried and tried I was never able to find out what happened to Latch. I’d like to believe he did get a good home in the end, but I know it’s perfectly possible he ended up at the sale.
            The worst part is that this was a genuinely nice old horse. If I’d been thinking straight, I would have taken him myself, knowing that Latch could teach my child to ride. But no, I was tired and not riding my own horses and the last thing I thought I needed at that point was another horse.
            But I’m very, very sorry I dropped the ball on this. It really does haunt me to this day. The next two horses I found homes for, I made sure to do it myself and the horses got a great home. But Latch…poor Latch suffered because I didn’t do for him what I should have done. I can only hope it ended well for him. But I’ll never know.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


                                                            by Laura Crum

            Advance warning—this is not a feel-good post. If you want a feel-good post, read my previous posts, Payback Time or What Happens.
            I recently read something posted on another blog that made me think hard. I am going to discuss it here because I believe it’s important. I’m not going to mention the blog or the author of the post because I don’t want to pick on this person in particular, and I may not have the details right. But I have known many situations like this, and, to be frank, they really piss me off. And so I am going to tell it like I see it. Maybe it will help one horse. If so, it’s worth it.
            The story, as I understood it, went like this. The person had a seven year old horse who had become blind. She described him as her “heart horse,” said she loved him, but said she eventually couldn’t cope with the difficulties of keeping a blind horse. She repeated many times that she could only afford to feed two horses. I don’t remember her explaining who her second horse was. She said she could not afford to have the blind horse euthanised and hauled away. So she sold/gave him to a horse trader, with the clear understanding that he might end up going to the sale and going to slaughter. The story implied that she used to judge people who did things like this and now she knew better. She said how heartbroken she was. The blogger who posted the story said something about not judging. Those are the facts as I understood them—with a lot of weeping, wailing and such thrown in.
            I spent several days thinking about this story. And the very many stories that I personally know of that went something like this. And you know what? I am judging. I think this sort of behavior is really wrong.
            The person who wrote this post sounded young to me. I understand that young people make mistakes. I made plenty—though I never did this exact thing. In fact, as a young woman in my twenties, I stepped up and found a home for a horse that my uncle had been going to haul to the sale to (probably) be bought by the killers. But anyway, young people make mistakes. There are horses that I wish I had done more to help, that is for sure. And I also wish I could have told the young woman who wrote that post, “Don’t do this. You sound like a good person. This act will keep you awake at night, full of regret and grief, when you are in your fifties.”
            Because if this gal has the money to feed two horses, she has the ability to come up with the cost of euthanasia and hauling. Most vets take payments. The money she was spending to feed the blind horse could have been used to make payments until the cost of the euthanasia was paid off. If her other horse was a useful horse, she could have sold him to a decent home and raised the money that way. What I read between the lines (not said, possibly not true) was that she wanted to replace the blind horse with a horse she could use—and thus the money used to feed the blind horse, which could have been payments for his humane end and disposal of his body (whether shot by someone who is capable—which can be cheaper-- or euthed by a vet, whether the remains hauled away in a truck or buried with a backhoe—makes no difference to the horse), was needed to feed a prospective new horse.
            And you know, I have no respect for that point of view. If this person “loved” that blind horse, she owed him better than the possibility of being hauled to slaughter. If you can afford to feed two horses, you can afford to deal with putting a horse down. A blind horse has VERY little chance of finding a good home. If she couldn’t cope with him (and she loved him), what would make her think that anyone else would want to cope with him?
            I totally understand not wanting to deal with a blind horse. If any of my much-loved horses went blind, I’d probably put them down. But it boggles my mind that anyone who says that they love a horse could ever, ever allow that horse to go to the sale and be bought by kill buyers.
            The thing is, I’ve known lots of people who did this. I will never forget a likable roper I know telling me all about his favorite horse of all time and how much he loved that horse. I asked where the horse was, since the guy wasn’t roping on him. And this is what he said:
            “Well, he went lame a couple of years ago; it was his stifles, and we rested him and tried to get him sound, but it just didn’t work. Every time I used him he went lame again. So, about six months ago, I had to send him to the sale.”
            My jaw must have dropped a foot. I could not believe what I was hearing. It would not have shocked me, not at all, to hear he put the horse down. But to let a much loved lame horse be hauled to slaughter in Mexico? I could not believe it. I literally did not know what to say. I think I just walked away.
            The thing is, people, this is not about you, and your broken heart, and others not judging you, and wanting to spend what money you have on a horse you can use…etc. This is not about YOU. It’s about the horse. And how much he must suffer. Surely if you say you love a horse, you will spare him unnecessary suffering? How could you not?
            To say it is about money, other than a situation where your children don’t have food or you can’t pay the rent (and in such a situation you absolutely should NOT own a horse, anyway) is a complete cop out. It is not about money, it is about priorities. If you love a horse, you prioritize what is best for him (or at the very least you try to spare him suffering)--even if it causes you to have to give up something you want (like another horse that you can actually use). In my opinion, the blind horse should have been given a humane end if the gal didn’t want to keep him or couldn’t find a home for him (and I do understand that it would be very difficult/impossible to find such a horse a good home). Yeah, it would be sad for her to put him down, yeah, she would still be heartbroken, but the horse would not suffer. And that is what counts. I’m willing to bet that some day this young woman will see it this way, too, but by then it will be too late to make a different choice.
            It is definitely the kindest possible end to put a horse down at his familiar home, whether by bullet or injection. There is absolutely no question that a reasonably humane end for a horse is possible, if you will put the needs of the horse before your own stupid frivolous wishes or your cowardice. (There is very large group of horse owners who simply don’t want to deal with the trauma of putting a horse down and think sending him to the sale or giving him to a horse trader is somehow better—perhaps the horse will “find a good home.” It’s possible, but very unlikely in the case of blind or crippled or unbroken or old horses. What is really at work here is it’s easier for the owner to think that the horse may find a good home than to face the horse’s death head on. In short, the owner—with a bit of denial—finds the horse trader/sale option “easier.” Easier for the owner, but much harder on the horse.) There is much suffering involved for a horse in being taken to the sale and hauled to slaughter. Sorry, but it’s true. It is a really terrible thing to do to a horse that you pretend to love. And a blind horse or a lame horse is going to have an even worse time of it than a horse without weaknesses. An old horse that is bonded to his companions and home will suffer an enormous amount of distress and fear on top of the physical suffering.
            Every single person who can afford to feed two horses can afford to give a horse a humane end. That’s the straight truth. If you are not willing to do this, you just shouldn’t own horses.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What Happens?

                                                by Laura Crum

            What happens when you take a couple of horses who haven’t been ridden much in a month, other than short rides around the property, and haul them to the beach on a brisk spring day with a chilly little wind blowing drifts of clouds around, and the waves crashing in a sprightly way on the shore? Well, lots could happen, but because these two horses were Henry and Sunny, our two very reliable trail horses, what actually happened is we had a lovely ride.
            Ok, I’m bragging. But I’m not bragging about myself because I didn’t train these horses. Nor am I doing anything to help keep them solid (see the above mentioned lack of riding). No, I’m bragging on my horses because they are such good horses and I’m proud of them. They are the ones who have simply decided that being reliable, calm trail horses is their job, and they intend to do it well—because they choose to do this. Whatever happens, they take it in stride.
            Yesterday we had the time, so hauled them down to the beach near Moss Landing (the central point of the Monterey Bay) for a ride. And they were so good. So happy to be out—it was quite obvious—brisk and forward without once pushing on us or doing anything disruptive. We had a lovely ride and I am just so grateful to these horses. What a gift they have been.
            Sunny power walked quite a bit, and I let him. We were in pretty deep sand and I didn’t want to risk trotting or loping, so we power walked down the beach for a couple of miles with sea lions playing in the waves, sand pipers running along the shore, and sea gulls swooping overhead. It was big fun.
            And my son’s 26 year old Henry was just a champ. As free moving as if he were 6 rather than 26. As long as we avoid hills, Henry is completely sound. Which makes the beach a good destination.
            Here we are headed down the trail through the sand dunes to the beach.

            Looking toward Monterey.

            Looking toward Santa Cruz. You can see the curve of the bay if you bigger the photo up.

            My son and his 26 year old Henry. My 13 year old kid does not like his photo taken, but doesn’t Henry look good? Those are the stacks of the Moss Landing power plant in the background—which I sometimes refer to as the “Two Towers.”

            Anyway, this isn’t much of a post, but I hope you can all enjoy a brief vicarious experience of riding down the beach on a pretty spring day on a really good, reliable horse. Not a dead head, but a horse who is enjoying the expedition as much as you are. A horse you can trust to take care of you. It doesn’t get much better than that. (At least for lazy riders like me who have no interest in going 50 miles, or even 30 miles, let alone 100!)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Payback Time

                                                            by Laura Crum

            I was recently discussing my horses with an acquaintance, and after hearing my litany about keeping weight on my old guys and keeping them sound and giving them lots of turn out time and grooming and attention, she asked me, “But what are you DOING with your horses these days?”
            I had to think about this. “Well, I still ride,” I said, a little hesitantly. “But not a lot, right now. I’m busy with a lot of different things, and just taking care of the horses takes time.”
            She then said, “It doesn’t sound like you’re having much fun with your horses any more.”
            I was a bit stymied by this. This gal knew me when I showed cutting horses and trained horses and competed at team roping and went on several horse packing trips in the mountains every year. You get the drift. From her point of view, my horse life looks like one big, boring drag, compared to what my horse life used to be. And really, I can see her point. But it doesn’t feel that way to me.
            I could go on and on about how I’ve reached a different stage of life and just hanging with my horses and tending my garden seems delightful to me. And I’ve talked about this before. But there’s something bigger here, and it is this. It’s payback time.
            Even if I still wanted to spend my time and money competing at some horsey event (which I don’t), the horses who carried me for so many miles, and in so many different competitions and trail rides are older now. Gunner is 34, Plumber is 25, Henry (my son’s horse) is 26 and Sunny is (I think) 19. Gunner and Plumber are retired. Henry and Sunny are still carrying us faithfully on short rides, but both are less than happy about steep hills (Henry doesn’t like the “ups” and Sunny doesn’t like the “downs”). Based on what I see (they are both sound on level ground) I think they have the slight arthritic changes that are typical of older horses. So we avoid steeper hills these days. The thing is, it’s time for me to pay these horses back for all that they have done for me. And I am glad to do this.
            Yes, I could send them to some retirement pasture. But I don’t have the money for a really first class operation, and I have seen first hand what turning these senior horses out in a pasture with very little supervision really amounts to. The older they get the harder it is on them. And eventually they are thin, lame, shivering in storms, fly bitten in summer heat, and picked on by other horses. If I want my older guys to have the care they deserve, they need to live with me, where I can make sure they get fed the supplemental feed they must have to thrive, pain meds as needed, blankets in storms and fly spray in fly season…etc. Not to mention grooming and attention that they love. So that is my first priority right now.
            Because these horses have earned this. Not only do I love them, but in all fairness, I owe them. Gunner gave me ten straight years of faithful work.
            As a cutting horse.

                    As a rope horse.

            As a trail horse.

            Plumber wasn’t just a rope horse (for fifteen years), he babysat my kid and me for several years as well.

            He was my pony horse for my son’s first ride at the beach.

            I could never put a price on all that Henry gave my little boy in the seven years that we have been privileged to own him.

            And Henry is still giving my son great riding experiences. What a good horse he is.

            Sunny has been a huge gift, enabling me to ride with my kid without any worries.

            We have been on literally hundreds of trail rides.

            So many happy cruises down the beach together, without one wreck, or even a really anxious moment.

            Yes, it’s payback time. And I am nothing but grateful and happy to do this.

            Thank you, my wonderful horses. I love you. And I am glad to spend my time taking care of you, in honor of all the times you took good care of me.

            I am so lucky and blessed to have you in my life.

Anybody else in this place in their horse life? Or can imagine yourself being here?


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Insuring the future

By Gayle Carline

Down here in southern California, winter has been opening the door of summer and doing the Hokey Pokey. One step in, one step out, then in, then shake it all about. We get promises of torrential rains, followed by actual drizzles of less than a quarter of an inch. The temperatures dip from daytime 60s to daytime 90s within the same week.

You know what that means to a horse owner... colic weather.

Unlike that old wives' tale about cold weather causing colds (especially if you go outside with wet hair, apparently), colic weather is real. The sudden changes in temperature can cause changes in a horse's routine and eating habits.

Last year in March, we had a sudden, slightly warmer week. I went to get Snoopy out of his stall, and he didn't try to chew on the halter or lead rope or me. This was disturbing, as it was not natural behavior for him. Even worse, he wanted to lay down and bite at his stomach.

Turns out, he had quickly gotten dehydrated, and spent a week in the hospital getting fluids. The good news is that I have major medical and mortality insurance for him. The bad news is that this year, because he was treated for colic, his insurance company excluded colic from the list of coverable illnesses.

I'm now feeding him electrolytes every day and praying.

Last week, we had a little episode, where he had, basically, a twenty-minute gas bubble. He blogged about it here (Tummy Trouble), and my rebuttal is here (My side of the story). What both of us left out is the massive amount of prayers I was saying that would keep him from actually colicking. Technically, I have the money to have surgery, but it means dipping further into my retirement account than I'd like. Plus, I just don't want my horse in that much pain, or having to have an operation, etc.

Curiously, another horse in the barn did the same thing today. For twenty minutes, the little mare (her name is Pearl) wanted to lie down. She was being shod at the time, which made it awkward. They walked her around until she felt better. (She was also not fed and monitored closely.)

I've recently found an insurance company that will cover Snoopy for colic and I'm filling out the paperwork as quickly as possible. On the one hand, I hate paying insurance because I usually don't use it. On the other hand, I've used insurance more than once for Snoopy's medical bills, so he's totally worth it.

Any insurance stories you'd like to share? Colic stories? Jokes? Cute kitty video links?