Blog .:. July 2009 6 Entries

If I ran a classified site…

26 July 2009 Comments

The search criteria would be something like this:

  • Show ads with photos of a horse draped in a tarp?
    • Yes, I think it's great that the horse will be able to sleep in my tent with me when we go camping!
    • No, I do not need my horses gift-wrapped.
  • Show ads where the photo shows a person is standing on the horse's back?
    • Yes, because I guarantee Cousin Billy is going to try doing that the second I bring the horse home.
    • No. I do not have a Cousin Billy and/or Cousin Billy is not allowed near my horses, so I do not need a horse with this particular skillset.
  • Show ads that have only one photo, showing the horse from behind?
    • Sure. You can tell a lot about a horse from the shape of his rump.
    • No, I'm a legs person myself.
  • Show ads with "artistic" videos (zoom ins on parts of the horse, slowing down/speeding up the speed, neon color saturation, etc.)?
    • Sparkly!
    • No. Put down the special effects, back away slowly, and no one will get hurt.
  • Show ads with videos that show the horse grazing in a field?
    • Yes, it's important to verify that the horse knows how to graze.
    • Unless the grazing is preceded by the horse walking out from underneath the guy trying to stand on the horse's back, no.
  • Show ads where the mare is in foal?
    • Yes, I love the idea of buying a horse, paying tons on prenatal care, and hoping like heck mare and foal survive foaling. Just think how KYOOT! that foal will be!
    • No. And if you show me one more "three in one" package, I am going to get stabby.
  • Show ads where the horse is a jumper prospect because it cleared its pasture gate once?
    • Bring on my next A-show superstar!
    • I saw a cow clear a pasture gate once. What's your point?
  • Show ads where the horse is guaranteed to be a particular height?
    • Yes, I'd like to meet the one honest seller in the world.
    • No, I'd like to actually find a horse to buy, accurate height or not.
  • Show only horses over 17h high?
    • Yes. I totally buy into the idea that my 5'4" self couldn't possibly ride a horse smaller than 17hh. My legs would drag on the ground if the horse were two inches shorter!
    • No, because I like the "short horse" discount.
  • Show the horses being billed as the next big winner?
    • Totally. It's absolutely natural for a Nationals-level horse to be sold for $3,000 on
    • No. I have seen national level horses and your horse, dear seller, is not it.
  • Please select your preferred color options:
    • Gray, covered in mud and manure.
    • Gray, with the sparkle that says the owner owns stock in Quicksilver.
    • Chestnut. I like me some fire.
    • Anything but chestnut. I hear they're craaaazy.
    • I'd like something in a traditional bay, please.
    • Black -- I swear! S/he's just sunbleached!
    • Buckskin/dun/grulla/perlino/cremello/palomino/etc. Magic colors!
    • Pinto -- I can't decide on any one color, so let me have two.
  • Please select your marking preferences:
    • No bling. Solid colors are striking. Also, if I screw up, the judge won't remember me.
    • A bit of bling. I'm not afraid to stand out in a very small way.
    • Lots of bling. Is it true the judge will be so blinded they won't see my arms flapping like chicken wings?
  • Please select your gender preferences:
    • Stallion/stud colt. I hear you can make a fortune breeding.
    • Mare. If she turns out to be a total failure in the show ring, I can just breed her. That'll work out, right?
    • Gelding. I am allergic to hormones.
  • Select your maximum budget:
    • I can't afford this horse in a million years.
    • If I can find a really big sponsor, I could buy this horse.
    • I have a trust fund.
    • What's a second mortgage on the house?
    • This is my life's savings.
    • I'll just work some overtime. Sure I won't have time to ride, but I'll own a horse, by golly!
    • My actual budget.
    • Ramen noodles, yummy!
    • It's me or the meat man, seller!
  • Please select your discipline:
    • Trained and shown in X, take the seller's word for it.
    • Trained in X. Shows are elitist and the seller can't be having any part in them. so take their word for it.
    • Prospect. There's raw talent in there somewhere. Probably.
    • Kid-friendly. At least, the horse saw a kid once, in the distance, and didn't die of fright.
    • Trick trained. Rearing is uber cool. Judges love it!
  • Tagged: Horse Sale Ads

Whoa, there, eager beaver!

25 July 2009 Comments

So, here I am in the grocery store: sweaty hair plastered to my head, wearing breeches and half chaps and boots, all a bit mud smeared. I’d been out riding one horse, lunging another, and giving a third a quick bath. In my defense, I did change my shirt before I left the barn, so that was at least clean and dry.

I’m holding my dinner (salad—that is so not the way to end a long day at work and three hours at the barn) and regretting my decision to buy something healthy instead of having popcorn for dinner. Why is everyone at the grocery store at 9:30 at night?

Meanwhile, behind me, I can hear a mother and daughter talking. They are saying things like “half chaps”. I am grateful they are not saying things like “who is that stinky vagrant and why is she allowed out in public?”

Suddenly mom says “Excuse me?”

I turn around. She says, “You ride horses?”

I say yes. She says, “My daughter rides, too. You should let her ride your horse.”

I… you know, here’s the thing. I’m all for asking, because the worst someone can say is no. But she wasn’t even asking. She was very factual about it. I should let her daughter, who was all of eight? ten? ride my horse. There’s only one conclusion here: mother is not very horsey, or she’d realize that not all horses are child friendly and she’d start out with something sane, like “Is your horse child friendly?” Ok, two conclusions: she has the social skills of a piranha.

They aren’t my horses, I say, and start to turn away. I am tired. I am sweaty. I do not want to talk in the line at the grocery store. I want to go home and enjoy my nice… hearty… salad. Crap. This was such a bad decision.

“Oh,” says the mother. “But…” says the mother. I turn back, because although I do oblivious exceptionally well, I am very bad at being intentionally rude. “You can let the owners know, then, and then she can ride.”

Again— no question in there, just facts. I know some of the owners of the horses I was working with sometimes read this blog, so consider yourself informed: a random lady at a grocery store has decided her daughter should ride your horse.

I look at the daughter. I have seen kids look far more enthusiastic while at the dentist. I am guessing that 1) she is used to her mom pulling this, and is over it already and 2) the world will not be big enough to contain her cynicism by the time she hits 13.

“Look,” I say, trying to avoid the trap I know is coming, “I don’t think that would work. But there are lots of places that teach lessons around here. I’m sure someone would love to teach your daughter.”

Fortunately, she doesn’t make the leap I was afraid of. She does not ask if my barn teaches lessons. She does not even ask the name of my barn. She says, “Oh, she’s beyond lessons and all that. I was thinking she could help you train the horses, actually.”

At this point, I’m thinking there’s some sort of special Horsey Candid Camera thing going on, because there’s no way this mother can be for real. It’s just not possible. I wait for someone to leap out. I wait for the cashier to magically ring up the two people in front of me and save me. Unfortunately, this is real life, and I am stuck in this conversation.

“It’s a nice offer, but I don’t know of a situation that would work for that,” I manage. At this point, I hate my salad. I hate all salads. I never want to see lettuce again.

The conversation died down fairly quickly. The line continued to move very slowly. Eventually, I escaped. The woman probably thinks I’m a fool for not letting her daughter train horses. I’m relieved the entire incident can fall into the ‘flabbergasting but harmless’ experience category.

Seriously? There are parents out there like this? If the mother had been normal—if she’d just asked anything, instead of telling me how Poopsie could just hop on and ride my horses for me, I would have been happy to suggest some instructors so the kid could ride. But this assumption that I should just let her daughter run wild with my (presumed) possessions… where does this come from? What next? Mothers telling people to give up their cars so Poopsie can drive them?

I’m tempted to make some sort of statement about society and kids, but honestly I have never run into someone like this. The kids I know are all normal, enthusiastic kids who don’t mind getting dirty and putting in a little work for what they want to do. The parents are all perfectly normal and raise their kids in sane, sensible ways.

Where on earth does a lady like this come from?

Tagged: Horses

Just to prove I have been on a horse lately

16 July 2009 Comments

A few weeks ago, my instructor offered me the opportunity to take some lessons on an upper-level horse, and I jumped at the chance. I have been taking these occasionally, in addition to my regular lesson, with the thought that it would be good to take what was learned with the more advanced horse and see what happens when I try it on the less advanced horse.

That sounds very lofty. I also just wanted to ride more.

Here is what I have learned (again): quiet is better.

You know when people talk about the half-halt and they say “seat, back, legs…” and a million body parts later get to “hands”? I learned to use my shoulder blades. (The rest of the dressage world: “Oh, look, it’s the clue train. A little delayed, but showing up all the same.” Me: “It’s shiny!”)

Riding the less-trained horse afterward has been a different sort of education. Can I still half-halt with my shoulder blades? Yes. Does it take a little longer for the horse to respond? Yes. Am I impatient and too quick to think I need to make my aids louder? Yes. Am I getting better at being patient? A little bit. Do I want a shiny gold star? Why, yes. With glitter.

I feel like things have clicked again, in a big way, even after just a few lessons on this super guy. It’s not that we are doing new and different movements—it’s the same leg yield, the same shoulder-in, the same stretching down and riding into the contact and establishing rhythm. I think what is changing for me is the trust aspect—trusting myself to be quiet and deliberate and trusting the horse, in turn, to respond to that.

And, yes, I’m pretty sure I posted on this same topic not that long ago. It’s a matter of degrees. I am, sometimes, when I am not being a hopeless cynic, like a kid who is endlessly surprised that summer follows spring. There is something delicious about a life of endless small but sparkly revelations.

Tagged: Horses, Riding - Lessons


16 July 2009 Comments

When I was a kid, I rode horses and my younger brother played hockey. My poor parents; they tried to lure us into swimming, baseball, even football—cheap sports—and we were having none of it. But I digress.

It was not unusual for my brother and I to argue about whose sport stunk worse. I was cleaning stalls at the barn, and he argued that his gear bag could never smell as bad as me after a stall cleaning day. I begged to differ, because how in the world could honest manure compare to dirty hockey sock stink? And his helmet… oh, his helmet… at least my helmet stayed at the barn, you know?

I have, unfortunately, discovered there is something that smells even worse than an adolescent boy’s hockey bag.

And that is shoving a wet towel into a gear bag with a dirty saddle pad, chaps, gloves, and helmet, tossing it in the back of the car and forgetting about it. It is two days later. The bag has been in my car in 100+ degree heat for two days. I have not been in my car, or I would have, um, noticed.

This is… unfortunate.

Y’all should buy stock in Febreeze. Lots and lots of stock. Because no matter how much stock you buy, it simply is not going to touch the amount of Febreeze that car is going to need.

Tagged: Horses

It’s all horsemanship in the end, isn’t it?

6 July 2009 Comments

Let’s face it: understanding equine body language and behavior is not instinctive. And most of us do not have an evil pony just hanging around in our backyard, waiting to spend hours teaching us the finer points of the equine psyche. So how do we learn to understand what our horses are telling us?

For many of us, what we learn about horses is limited to a few hours of interaction a week, when we take our lesson(s). Even for those lucky enough to own a horse, if the horse is boarded out, we may only see the horse a couple hours a day. The face-to-face time that’s crucial to practical (rather than theoretical) understanding of horse behavior is severely limited. We can only learn so much in the time we spend at the barn, and let’s face it – most of what we learn when we’re at the barn is how to ride, not how to decide if a timothy or alfalfa diet would be a better choice for Dobbin.

I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame instructors for this situation, although I know some do. All the good instructors I’ve had have taught basic horsemanship, as situations came up to warrant it. For example, the Super Saint came up lame in a lesson. After I dismounted, my instructor showed me what to look for on his legs – swelling, heat, tenderness, any cuts or scrapes (from interfering, etc) – and then put him on the lunge for a few minutes so I could see how he was moving. It is one thing to feel lameness on the horse’s back, and another to know how to judge it from the ground. And then it was on to aftercare.

So, I learned something about lameness that day. But you can’t plan on that type of lesson, and it’s one you hope doesn’t repeat itself frequently. I’m still better at feeling lameness from the horse’s back than I am at seeing it on the ground. And, often, even when I can tell a horse is off from the ground, I couldn’t pinpoint it to tell you what leg it is, unless it’s very pronounced at the walk. At the trot, I can only see that the horse is uneven.

Most good instructors I know take advantage of those lessons any time they can. Last week, for example, I had adjusted the noseband too tight for that particular horse/bridle combination. As my instructor fixed it, she explained why it needed to be looser in this particular situation. It was thirty seconds out of a forty-five minute lesson, but it was one more piece of general knowledge filed away. This is why I can’t blame the general lack of knowledge on instructors; I think the good ones are doing the best they can in the time the students give them.

But I can understand where people could feel like there is something missing in their education (there is). And I can see where students might not realize that the thirty-second comment their instructor makes on noseband fit is actually a lesson and not a criticism of their tacking up ability. I understand how, when a different group of instructors pops up and says “we can teach you everything you’ve been missing,” people would fall head-over-heels for it. I get where the appeal of natural horsemanship comes from.

I remain, however, in the traditional camp. From everything I have seen and heard of “natural” horsemanship, it’s just good basics that any horseman should aspire to. I do think most people would learn the same information – perhaps phrased differently – from their regular instructors if they simply showed an interest in learning more than how to perfect a distance to the jump or smooth the trot-halt transition at X, but sometimes you need something phrased differently to get it.

I think, if I ever were to take lessons from a “natural” horsemanship trainer, I’d do it simply for the benefit of having things phrased differently. I wouldn’t do it with any expectation that what they could teach me would be radically different from what any other instructor I’ve had could teach me. Because of that – because I think “natural” horsemanship is good, old-fashioned horsemanship in a shiny wrapper—I do tend to put quotation marks around the “natural” aspect of it. I’m not buying that particular bit of marketing.

I will agree that one benefit that has come out of the natural movement has been that more people are talking about things like more turnout, more herd time (vs. individual turnouts), and questioning the need for things like shoes and blankets. We do keep horses in a very artificial situation, and I approve of any dialog that will attempt to make the situation as good for the horse, mentally, as it can be. But if a horse needs shoes or a blanket, I’m going to give them to the horse. If the barn I like best for X, Y, and Z reasons has less turnout than I’d prefer, I will deal with that and help the horse deal with that as best we can.

As far as I’m concerned, the divide between natural and traditional horsemanship simply isn’t as great as the proponents of both sides want it to be. For people with basic common sense, it’s another tool in the box that may or may not come in useful. And it isn’t even another tool; it’s the same old hammer, with a different colored handle and maybe a more efficient nail-puller on the back.

Unfortunately, you get the people who go a little too far into the natural world and refuse to see that the methods they espouse are not unique to their discipline. Or you get the traditionalists who hear the word “natural,” stuff their fingers in their ears and scream “na-na-na-I-can’t-HEAR-you” at the top of their lungs, in case this “natural” stuff is catching.

Both extreme ends of the spectrum are equally wacko as far as I’m concerned. If you were to force me to take sides on an issue that I’m not sure has sides, I’d call myself a traditionalist. I still think the traditionalist who think all “natural” ideas are evil are just as shortsighted as the naturalists who think all “traditional” methods are cruel.

Now, would I ever teach a horse to back up by wiggling a rope? Hell no! What happens when some kid fetches the horse from his stall and walks him down the aisle, swinging the end of the rope around? Kids are kids – you know they will do that kind of thing. But wiggling a rope at a horse is not what I would consider “natural” horsemanship, in the sense of actual horsemanship. It’s just a cue, taught by a particular discipline.

I am as uninterested in teaching that cue as I am in teaching a hunter to trot as slowly as a western pleasure horse, or a dressage horse to park out like an Arabian halter horse. The fact that we can learn things from different disciplines doesn’t mean we’re going to embrace everything about the other discipline.

And here everyone is going: you just said natural horsemanship isn’t different than regular horsemanship, so how are they different disciplines?  The difference for me is that the basic skillset – learning to read the horse, understanding how the horse thinks and reacts, learning to use that knowledge, etc., is all the same. The end goals – happy, willing partners – are the same. The differences are the cues that are taught and the end to which those skills are used. Clear as mud?

Ultimately, I don’t care how people learn the basics. I wish they would learn them with a little less antagonism for people who choose a different path (and I mean that for both extremes), but as long as we’re all trying to reach that goal of a happy, willing equine partner, I don’t care how we get there.

We have to face facts: the days of the evil pony teacher are over for most of us. We’re doing the best we can with the alternatives we have available to us, according to whatever method works best for us. Do we really have to spend so much time arguing about the shape of the hammer we’re using for the job?

Tagged: Horses

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