Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Touching Greatness

I found out today that Commanders Nic has passed from complications from colic, and I am deeply saddened by the news. Commanders Nic (Boomernic x Miss Bam Bam Command) was the seventh highest all time money earner in NRHA history, winning $258,815 in NRHA competition, most notably, taking fourth in the 2002 NRHA Futurity Open Finals, winning reserve at the 2003 NRHA Derby, and coming back to win the Derby in 2004. All these titles were achieved long after I sold him as a foal, but even watching his success from afar was exciting.  He was gorgeous, talented and powerful, in a small but elegant package, and his success created a new path for me and my mare, Bam Bam, for which I am grateful.

I've always thought that this shot really captured how much he looked like his momma!
Commanders Nic was just 15 years old, his oldest offspring are only 6 year olds, and by all accounts, his progeny are chips off the ol' block, showing his physical ability and wonderful mind. He had enormous heart, giving it all in every performance, and I have heard his babies do the same.  It will be great to see how 'the grandkids' do in the future. 

Most breeders are in the business to sell horses, so they may not get to share much in what the horse does after it leaves their possession.  But we hope and dream and worry over them, long after they are gone, and at every mention of their name, we remember them as youngsters, marveling at how they changed and grew.  In celebration of his life, I thought I would share some pictures of him as a foal.  He was Bammie's first baby, and his arrival was so very exciting. As I look back at these pictures, I remember the hopefulness I felt, as we do with every new foal, along with the wonder of "where will you go, and what will you do?"  This one went far.

My condolences to all the members of the Commanders Nic Partnership; thank you for everything you did for him and I wish you luck with his foals in the future.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should

On April 23rd, a lawsuit was filed against the AQHA by one of its members, Jason Abraham, along with two of this member's companies, Abraham & Veneklasen Joint Venture, and Abraham Equine Inc.  The subject of this suit is that the AQHA is violating anti-trust laws by not allowing the registration of clones.  AQHA rule 227 (a) states: Horses produced by any cloning process are not eligible for registration. Cloning is defined as any method by which the genetic material of an unfertilized egg or any embryo is removed and replaced by genetic material taken from another organism, added to/with genetic material from another organism or otherwise modified by any means in order to produce a live foal.

 The subject of cloning has been brought up repeatedly to the AQHA Stud Book Committee as well as the Board of Directors, and each time, it was voted that clones should be banned from registration.  Polls of the membership have also been taken, and the vast majority of members are not in favor of including clones in the registry.  Yet, Dr. Gregg Veneklasen and his cohorts have persisted.  Why?  Because they stand to make a lot of money cloning horses if they can get the stamp of legitimacy that registration papers provide. Anti-trust laws are meant to prohibit anti-competitive behavior (monopolies) and unfair business practices, and are intended to promote competition in the marketplace. Anti-trust laws also help protect both businesses and consumers from unethical practices and actions intended to cause harm. This suit assumes that AQHA must legitimize a practice that its members overwhelmingly do not want to include within its business practices, and could force a change that would only benefit as very, very small number of members.  I would also put forth that the inclusion of clones as registered Quarter Horses is in itself unethical and will cause harm to the breed's integrity.

As of right now, there is no way to discern the DNA of the original horse from that of its cloned copies.  And if a horse has been cloned more than once, there is no way to discern the parentage of the offspring, whether it came from the original, clone 1, clone 2, etc.  There has been talk of the fact that a very small amount of mitochondrial DNA may be present from the donor egg, but at the present time, the standard parentage DNA test that the AQHA uses to verify parentage cannot make these distinctions.  Allowing their registration could mean that if these clones began producing foals year after year, we would end up with hundreds and hundreds of horses that are genetically identical to each other.  How would this affect identification from horse to horse within the clones progeny?

Quarter Horses are already so closely bred that it is hard to find true outcrosses.  Certain lines are used over and over, which dramatically reduces the gene pool and increases the chances of replicating serious genetic abnormalities.  The clones already produced by Veneklasen have some serious genetic defects, and even the ones that don't have not lived up to the original's brilliance under saddle.  Why on God's green earth would we want to shrink the gene pool even more?  Genetic diseases that aren't even around yet could easily pop up with cloning to shrink the gene pool; you may be able to test an embryo for known genetic problems, such as HYPP or GBED, but what about physical deformities, like those that some of the Smart Little Lena clones have?  What about the fact that new genetic diseases can arise when a gene pool is artificially shrunken?  Genetic diversity is the key to producing stronger, healthier horses as well as finding new crosses that work better than those previously used.

I do not buy the argument that the resistance toward cloning is similar to previous resistance toward excessive white or toward embryo transfer, and that once cloning is made legitimate by registration, everyone will get on board with it.  This rule benefits only those who have a LOT of money to clone horses, access to DNA from horses famous enough to make it profitable, and the inclination to relive the past.  Embryo transfer is nothing like cloning.  Each foal produced by ET is a unique individual that is verifiable with DNA testing.  In reference to the excessive white rule, given the fact that AQHA is not a color registry, and that AQHA papers for the foundation horses of the breed were handed out fairly arbitrarily in the old days, it makes sense that some horses that are registered Quarter Horses are going to have genes that produce markings that are wilder than what some deem as typical of an American Quarter Horse.  Both the white rule and the ET rule have enhanced our breed, making it better and more inclusive and more profitable.  I think trying to lump cloning in with these two completely unrelated subjects is a way to slip it into our 'acceptable practices' while patronizing the public.  Do they think that we are all just too stupid to understand the difference between breeding clones and using embryo transfer?

Why not breed FORWARD?  Why not put all that money into developing unique genetics, rather than producing the same thing, over and over and over?  Every living stallion gets their shot to be great; yeah, some stallions have better odds by being born into the right barn, but the horses that are being cloned are horses that are proven, not underdogs with obscure bloodlines that 'might have made it, given different circumstances.'  Smart Little Lena, a horse that has been cloned several times, was undoubtedly a great horse. He earned over $743,000 in the cutting pen, he was one of only three horses to win the cutting triple crown (the Futurity, Super Stakes and the Derby), and sired 550 money earning offspring, who earned over $27,000,000 in the show pen.  He sired many, many great stallions who went on to be great sires themselves.  Aren't his accomplishments enough to be proud of?  Why is it necessary to try create another SLL?  Why?  Greed.  I bet there are plenty of folks who want a piece of that legacy so badly that it doesn't matter to them what the consequences are of cloning him.  It doesn't matter that 2 of the original clones have serious genetic abnormalities, 6 of them are nothing special and only one shows any promise under saddle.  And it doesn't matter what the long term effects of shrinking the gene pool would be as long as they get to make their money now.  The fact that this is an anti-trust suit is an admission that it revolves solely around the claimants desire to make money, not because it is the right thing to do, or because it would benefit the entire membership or the breed itself. 

Nothing is stopping cloned horses from competing in cutting, reining, or rodeo events, but the fact that very few have only proves that these horses are not as good as the original.  And the real money for those that own clones is in breeding them, so why would they tarnish that potential by showing them, and letting people see that they aren't as good as the original?

I understand that this is a free country and there is no law saying that people can't spend truckloads of money cloning their horses.  But they aren't Quarter Horses.  The AQHA is a member driven association, whose most important purpose is to protect and promote the breed.  It has been clearly and emphatically stated that clones are not welcome in the registry.  It is a privilege, not a right, to be a member, as well as to be granted papers for a horse.  There must be standards to which we are all held, and there must be some thinking being done as to what inclusion of clones will mean to the breed, not just in five or ten years, but in twenty or fifty or a hundred years. Cloning crosses a line that most people do not want crossed.  It seems to me that if the AQHA caved in to the lawsuit's demands, they would be violating anti-trust laws for most of their members.  I also think that now that this is a lawsuit, the case will be decided by a judge, and most likely a judge that is not a horse breeder, and doesn't necessarily understand that good horse breeding requires a long view of the future.  It isn't just about a person's right to make money now, it is about what we want our breed to look like down the road, what kind of horses we want our grandkids to ride, and what kind of quality of life we want for those horses. 

If you can't tell, this subject makes me quite angry.  It makes me sick that a very small group is forcing this issue through a lawsuit, forcing AQHA to spend time and money to defend itself over an issue that the majority of the membership does not want to accept. The greed driving this lawsuit to ruin the breed disgusts me.  That said, I do recognize that others have different views, and I'd love to hear them.  I'd love to hear someone give me a reason - other than money - that would convince me that registering clones is a good idea. 

What do you think about registering clones?  What effect do you think it will have on the Quarter Horse breed in the long term?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Forward

Happy Spring!  After the mildest winter I can remember for a long time, it seems we are getting an early spring. And how sweet it is!  I have been away from my computer a lot lately, but you can be assured that I haven't been resting.  My days have been filled with all sorts of projects; starting a garden with my two boys in tow,  giving lessons in this gorgeous weather, cleaning and organizing and making home repairs, getting out to spend time with friends, and, of course, working horses.

The horse that I have been working with the most is a registered Half Andalusian, Half National Show Horse (his mom is 3/4 Arabian, 1/4 Saddlebred) gelding named Gaucho, that we bred and has been with us his whole life.  He is technically my husband's horse, and therefore, gets put on the back burner quite a bit.  He is happy and healthy, but just doesn't benefit from our full attention.  So, I have decided to start schooling him, get him in to shape, and see where the path takes us.  He is a very interesting horse; while he doesn't have perfect conformation, he is very strong, very athletic and very smart. I admit that he is a challenge to ride because of these three traits!  You have never met a horse that was so keen, so quick and so sensitive. He does airs above ground on his own out in the pasture, and sometimes when he is ridden, though inadvertently!  But when he is good - oh my goodness is he fun!  Like riding the quintessential Spanish charger!

Taken on a cloudy day - sorry for the dark shadows! :)

Another thing that makes Gaucho a challenge is his size.  He is wide, has a short, dipped back and a VERY deep heartgirth.  All of my western saddles are terribly unforgiving on his back, and created unnecessary distraction, so I have purchased a dressage saddle to ride him in.  I have always ridden English, but most of my adult life I have used western saddles when I train, out of comfort and security. I call it riding 'Spanglish.' I think that the last horse I used a dressage saddle on was Gaucho's sire, a PRE Andalusian stallion that I had in training for several years.  So it has been a while....Don't think that I have given up western, I just have to find a solution for Gaucho that makes him comfortable.  My philosophy is change to the horse, don't expect the horse to change to you.  Let's just keep our fingers crossed that my new saddle fits him!

I hope you are enjoying spring and embracing new challenges. Take care!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pride Before the Fall

The word "pride' can take on a couple of different meanings depending on it's context.  We can have pride in our city, state, and country, we can have school pride, and we can be proud of our children's accomplishments.  But pride is also one of the seven deadly sins. Proverbs 16:18 tells us "Pride comes before the fall." Being prideful is considered a flaw of temperament; associated with someone who stubbornly believes themselves to be above others, above scrutiny, above fault. And certainly, if you set yourself up to be above fault, you are setting yourself up for a major fall.

And so now we are told by the NRHA that deposed president Allen Mitchels is filing suit against the association following the judge tampering scandal that began in January.  We discussed the situation in "A Tale of  Corruption and High Stakes..." and then again in "The First Female President."   In a statement on the NRHA website: "On February 2, 2012, Allen Mitchels filed suit against the National Reining Horse Association due to actions taken by its Board of Directors on January 21, 2012. By advice of legal counsel, NRHA will not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit as long as the matter is in litigation."  Because no details of the investigation have been made public, there is no way of knowing what evidence the Board of Directors used to make its decision, but it would seem a foregone conclusion that the NRHA made that decision based on legal counsel, lengthy discussion of the rules and bylaws, as well as the good common sense that got them appointed to the BOD in the first place.

They must have found some pretty damning evidence, because they didn't just remove him from office; they removed him from the Teaching Panel and the Judges Committee, took away his judge's card, and gave him a lifetime ban from holding a position of authority in the NRHA.  In handing out this harsh sentence, they are making a statement that the NRHA is committed to fair dealings at its competitions, and that the rules will be followed, regardless of position or influence. In administering this decisive removal of Mitchels, and removing him from any involvement in the association, they are also making an attempt to move forward without the hindrances involved in having someone on board who might taint the image of NRHA.  Wouldn't it be great if that really was the end of it?

Mr. Mitchels surely thinks he has a case, and probably has a lawyer telling him that he does.  But perhaps his pride is motivating him to go after an association that he previously claimed allegiance to.  No doubt he is embarrassed, angry, and feels a sense of entitlement to the position that he previously held.  But his pride serves no one.  If he goes after the association and he loses, he will have incurred a huge legal bill, wasted everyone's time, and he will still be that guy who got thrown out of office.  If he manages to win, he will be the guy that wasted association funds on a legal battle, he will potentially decimate an association that doesn't need to lose members and money, and he will STILL have a tarnished reputation.  Whatever they found that he did was enough to make them throw the book at him - what can he say that will make his reputation shiny and clean again?  Many people that I have talked to have said that Mr. Mitchels was known for this type of behavior, so I have to say, the cat's out of the bag now.  Suing the NRHA isn't going to get him judging jobs, it isn't going to put him back in good standing with the membership, and it isn't going to get him his old job back. 

Being prideful can drive a person to seek revenge, because they would rather exact vengeance on others than face the fact that they are, in fact, flawed or have made a mistake.  It takes courage in accepting your own faults, along with humility and service to others, to overcome pride-fullness.  If Mr. Mitchels really wants to clean up his reputation, he should consider taking a humbler course, withdrawing his suit, and accepting responsibility for his actions.  That would be the course that would best serve the membership, rather than one that is rooted in proud denial, and threatens the association that just 45 days ago he pledged loyalty to.  No one wins when the attitude is, "I'm not going down without a fight...."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cyber-Bullying in the Horse Industry

Something sad happened recently on Facebook.  A very nice woman that I know closed her FB page, saying that she was just sick and tired of all the rumors and mean-spirited comments that get passed around on the social media network.  It made me feel bad, as she is a very sweet and kind person, and I enjoyed seeing her updates.  I can't be certain, but it could be related to a falling out she recently had over the genetic testing debate.  While she would never stoop to point fingers or retaliate with insults, it is clear that she was made to feel bad because of someone's unkind words.  There seems to be a lot of that on FB lately.  While I personally get a lot out of FB - it is a great way to keep up with my widely scattered friends and family - I have seen that many use it as a way to push an agenda or spread rumors, half-truths and outright lies.  There is a certain amount of anonymity to social sites too.  People say things on FB that they would never, ever have the guts to say to someone's face, and the fact that they are separated from their audience emboldens many to be truly horrible to their fellow human beings.  Even if a person isn't commenting anonymously, the fact that they are typing their comment, rather than speaking it face to face, makes it easier for some to unleash insults, disparage someone, or embarrass them.

According to Wikipedia, cyber-bullying is the use of the internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.  I have seen this in action many times in discussion forums or posted directly to someone's page, whether the subject was abusive training techniques, how well the NRHA is handling the judge tampering scandal, or what should be done about genetic disease.  In fact, I began this blog as a response to being bullied.  That experience made me realize that there are people out there who don't understand that their words have an affect on others, that they have to power to hurt, to smear, and to vilify.  To be sure, some even relish in doing that to others, as if they are lacking any kind of power in their 'real' lives, so they behave like some kind of tyrant on social media sites, just prowling to look for someone to fight with.  Many of them would hide when confronted in person; the person who bullied me has never owned up to it, even though I have seen her face to face several times since then.

The more contentious the issue, the more prevalent the bullying.  The latest hot topic, genetic testing, is no exception.  I have observed cliques of people dog piling someone who asked an innocent or rhetorical question.  I have experienced my own words being misconstrued, and have seen others get the same.  I have heard the complaints of many people wondering why a certain forum was so hostile.  And I have read people's posts that were full of speculation over an 'irresponsible breeder' or a horse that supposedly passed on a deadly gene, even though there was no actual evidence of that.  Hearsay hurts more people than just the subject of the hostility; it creates an atmosphere that doesn't allow dissension or discussion.  It divides rather than unites.  And it can truly hurt people in the horse industry, an industry where a nasty rumor can decimate a stallion's breeding career, cause a trainer to lose customers, instigate lawsuits, keep exhibitors away from competitions and cause hysteria over topics that may not have real bearing in the life of the reader.  Cyber-bullying can create real financial loss for the person targeted, as well as the loss of business relationships, friendships or even intimate relationships.  It is not to be taken lightly.

How does one deal with cyber-bullies?*  First, realize that sometimes there is no point to arguing with someone.  If a person puts their CAPS LOCK ON, and begins to use multiple exclamation points to scream their point at you, they probably aren't in their right mind.  There is no use screaming back at a crazy person.  Second, use only facts to support your argument, rather than throwing back put-downs.  While you may be completely correct in your assessment that you are communicating with a narrow-minded, pontificating jerk, in pointing it out to them, you are just fueling their mean-spirited-ness.  Don't worry, everyone can see them for what they are by their own words.  Let them look that way, and don't stoop to their level.  Say less versus more, and if all else fails, just leave the conversation.  No one will think you are 'chicken,' they will think you are smart for maintaining control.  And if you find that a group you are in is constantly embroiled in arguments, leave the group and seek out a group that fits you better (or start your own).  There are page admins out there who don't bother regulating group member's comments, or actually encourage fighting, because they like the notoriety of being 'controversial.'  If someone continues to harass you on FB, you can block them, so they no longer have access to you, your page, or your comments. And with a click of the mouse, they can be gone from your cyber life - or at least, you won't be able to see each other anymore.

It may be that someone has harassed you to the point of causing a real loss in your life.  You may need to hire an attorney, and document the instances of bullying.  Learn how to do a "screen shot" with which you can take a picture of what is on your computer screen, containing comments within a thread that are directed at you. On my computer, the screen shot button is on the top right of the keyboard.  Having evidence of bullying incidents is crucial for any prosecution to occur.

Moreover, remember that you have a right to your opinion and a right to ask questions.  While some people seem to have a know-it-all air about them, remember that no one is omnipotent, no one is always right, and no one can foretell the future.  Part of a bully's strategy is to get you to believe that you are less than them, and that they are some type of authority, when reality is that everyone has something to contribute to the conversation, no matter what the subject. 

*If you are a minor, and are being bullied online for any reason, tell an adult, and keep telling adults, until someone listens and helps you deal with it.  Please don't despair, and don't take it personally.  As you grow into an adult, you will see that some people just like to dump on others because it takes the focus off themselves.  It has nothing to do with who you are, or your value as a person, and everything to do with what kind of person they are.  I wish you well! :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shopping For Nice Genes

Equine genetic disorders. Nothing gets horse people fired up quicker than a debate on genetic testing, and in recent public social media forums, the topic has been a hot one lately. We have been there before; we've seen HERDA in the Poco Bueno's, SCID in Arabians, HYPP in the Impressive's, JEB in draft horses, and others, so we shouldn't be surprised that this topic has come up yet again, with the call going out demanding mandatory testing of all breeding stock. The nasty culprit this time is GBED, as well OLWS, both of which have become more prevalent in recent years.

Genetic mutations that cause disease and/or birth defects have always been around; DNA is no more a perfect system than any other within a living being. What has changed in modern times is the speed at which these flawed mutations can spread. Prior to the development of artificial insemination and embryo transfer, stallions could only breed so many mares, and mares could only produce so many babies. The odds were much lower that a stallion who was a carrier of a disease gene would meet a mare who happened to be a carrier of the same recessive disease gene and produce an affected foal. Of course, veterinary medicine evolved along with these diseases, so that many years ago, vets might not be able to connect all the dots in tracing a genetic defect, but now they have the capability to know without a doubt what is wrong with an affected foal, and trace the origin of the gene. Another factor that has increased our exposure to genetic diseases is that many modern breeders follow trends in which stallions they choose for their mares. If Stallion X has made a ton of money in the show pen, or has sired horses that have, everyone has to breed their mares to him. This dramatically reduces the number of animals in the gene pool, and accelerates the distribution of diseased genes.

These disorders are pretty horrible. If you have ever seen a horse suffering an HYPP seizure, you know what I mean. When a horse has HERDA, their skin and underlying tissues fall off and cause terrible scars. PSSM sentences the horse to a life of chronic pain and the owner to providing the horse with a special diet to control symptoms. Foals with OLWS, GBED and SCID are doomed from birth, and they have no hope for survival or any quality of life. It would seem a foregone conclusion that we want to avoid these scenarios at all costs. Yet they persist. Why?

To find the answer, you have to look at the problem from both the mare owner's side, and the stallion owner's side.

Stallions can produce many more babies than an individual mare can, so a genetic disease is often statistically found faster in a stallion's breeding career than through a mare's, since mares only average a few foals in a lifetime. I think this gives some mare owners a false sense of security. They (wrongly) assume that a stallion owner would know if their stud is a carrier, and they (wrongly) expect that this information would be made public.

I have also heard mare owners state that since she has not produced an affected foal yet, that chances are she won't produce an affected foal next time. This is a fallacy based in ignorance. If you put any two sets of recessive genes into a Punnett square, you will come out with the same odds for every breeding; 25% of the foals will be unaffected, 50% will be carriers, and 25% will be affected foals. Each breeding is statistically independent – each roll of the dice carries the same odds. You could breed two carrier horses to each other twelve times, and you might see 12 unaffected foals, 12 affected foals, or distributions from all three possibilities. If you firmly believe that you will get lucky every time because you got lucky before, I bet the dealers at the craps tables in Vegas love you!

I think many people don't know what resources are available to them for genetic testing, or understand how easy it is to have done. This is fairly new, and since registries and horse associations haven't pushed it – after all, who wants bad publicity – many don't test because it is just too much of a bother to figure out this new-fangled technology and seek out help. However, both the American Quarter Horse Assn.* and the American Paint Horse Assn. have begun to provide kits for people to use, and there are also several private labs that can do the tests quickly. The tests aren't exactly cheap, but certainly compared to the cost of having a dead foal, testing looks pretty inexpensive.

Now, the tricky part....getting stallion owners on the genetic testing bandwagon. I have heard many times that this is a taboo subject, that demanding industry-wide testing will never go over with the heavyweights in the business, and that bringing it up will get you blacklisted from the industry. The source of this resistance is fear. People are naturally afraid of change. Individuals who have reason to believe their stallion is at risk of being a carrier resist that knowledge, fearing the stigma that will be placed on their horse, the loss of income and the smearing of their horses', and their own, reputation. When this fear is put under the hot lights of debate, the result is often a vicious lashing out against the knowledge, and the people responsible to bringing the knowledge to light. Some stallion owners have more to lose than others, and as they say, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

My response is that the truth always comes out. Stallion owners – wouldn't you rather disclose something like that yourself, where you have control of it and can even spin it in a positive way, since you will look more responsible to the public? Or would it be better to wait, constantly worrying about it, risking the loss, whether it is your foal that dies or a valued customer's, and having the truth get out? What if it is found out that you knew your horse had a problem but you chose not to disclose it, and then are hit with a lawsuit? Won't that have a worse effect on your reputation and your horse's legacy? Willful ignorance makes not only the individual stallion owner look bad, it damages the entire industry. People don't want to be associated with a group that clings so tightly to the all-mighty dollar that they are unable to be ethical.

I do have a couple of caveats to my arguments for genetic testing. I have heard people say “There oughta be a law...” I do not think this is something that should be legislated by the government. The government has no business in horse genetics, and even a registry doesn't have much legal authority over how people breed their horses. Can they strongly encourage it, and make it easier for people to do? Sure, but I doubt they could require it. Since there are only a small percentage of horses out there that are carriers, and only a percentage of them will mate, and then there is only a 25% chance that the pairing will result in an affected foal, it doesn't make financial sense to require it of everyone. And if registries require one disease to be tested for, shouldn't they require all those diseases that can be tested for to also be included? Where would that end? I have to wonder if required testing by a registry would open them up to some type of lawsuit; after all, simply putting a sticker on a horse's papers does not imply that the registry is then responsible for people's breeding decisions. I am sure that there are people out there who will breed to Stallion X anyway because they believe it won't happen to them. It might better serve the public if more effort was put in to education versus legislation and more rules.

I also do not feel comfortable 'outing' any horses out there. It is completely up to the owner to seek out that information and disclose it. Unless I personally pull hairs out of a horse's tail, send it in and see the results, I do not really know what that horse's genetic make-up is and if I make a supposition without knowing for sure, I am committing slander against that horse and owner. We have to understand that in this business, it pays to spread rumors about your competition, and people who point fingers at others often have their own agenda. I don't want to be part of a witch hunt, I am just advocating for better business ethics that lift up our industry, rather than diminish it. If we have widespread, mandatory testing, it may then become a possibility that there would be pressure to ban those animals that test positive as carriers, and I am not sure that is right. First, it would further shrink the size of the gene pool, perhaps making other disorders more prevalent, and second, it would remove some very successful and popular bloodlines from public use, which does not necessarily push our efforts forward. The object is to control the spread and try to prevent affected foals from being born.

The only way things will change with the current attitude toward genetic testing is if it makes more financial sense to test than to not test. If mare owners feel strongly about this subject, then they should test their mares, and they should breed to stallions that test and disclose. And many will do this! If there is an added benefit to all the fighting going on over this subject, it is that more people will find out the facts about genetic disease. It is my hope that mare owners will educate themselves and that stallion owners will see the changes on the horizon, and become more proactive in their planning. Perhaps if we all did this, we could avoid yet another scandal.....

*I have been told that AQHA has started making genetic tests for all possible diseases available, but I could not find anything on their website referring to an expanded test.  Currently, all Quarter Horses seeking registration must be parentage verified through a DNA test, and if the horse is a descendant of the stallion Impressive, the horse must also be tested to establish its HYPP status. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

The First Female President

The past three weeks have been a tumultuous time for members of the National Reining Horse Association; when I last blogged about the judge tampering scandal, in "A Tale Of Corruption and High Stakes...," the membership had been informed of the allegations, and a flurry of comments on the social media outlets ensued.  Some defended the accused, some demanded their heads, and many worried about where the association was headed.  While the letters both from the anonymous accusers and the reply from the NRHA board have been published on the NRHA website, the actual hearings were held behind closed doors, as NRHA policy requires, so I do not have any ground-breaking revelations to share as to what went down.  But the end result - the deposing of sitting president Allen Mitchells -IS ground-breaking.  I cannot recall hearing of any other sitting president of any horse association being thrown out of office due to an ethics violation.  This is certainly a black mark on our history, but since I am a perennial optimist, I also see it as a positive.  By reacting swiftly, with (relative) transparency, and by handing down a very strong judgement, the NRHA is saying that they stand for what is right.  They are enforcing their rules, listening to their membership and seeking out unfairness on every level.  I applaud them.  I hope this begins a new era of honesty and fairness, which brings me to my next point...

I am so excited that we now have our first female president of the National Reining Horse Association!  Congratulations to Beth Himes for making history.  No doubt she would rather have gotten the post without all the attached controversy, but it is still fantastic.  While women have slowly gained more equality in all areas of life, the top positions in business still elude us.  Even in the horse industry, where there are more little girls that ride than little boys, more female non-pros that show, and many excellent breeders who are women, most 'big time' trainers are men, most judges are men, and all association presidents are men.  The glass ceiling has been present in the horse industry with the same prevalence that it exists in the rest of our culture.  Until now.  We can all revel in this moment, because it shows that times are changing, and for the better.  It is one less barrier that hasn't been breached, and perhaps will encourage more little girls to participate and dream big. 

Bravo, Beth, and good luck.  It is often when things fall apart that we begin to grow, and I am confident that out of all this upheaval, we will emerge as a much healthier association.  How exciting that a woman will be steering the ship!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Seven Invisible Horses

Good morning and Happy Wednesday, dear readers!

Most of my posts have something to teach or something to challenge you.  Today I just want to share something beautiful.

I am an art lover and come by it rightly.  My mother is an artist, and both of my grandmothers were artists.  Every woman in my family practices some form of artistry, whether it is painting, drawing, ceramics, or flower arrangement, and my own outlets have included drawing, pastels, beadwork, and many forms of painting.  Given that the horse is my muse in life, my house contains a collection of equine art that covers many styles and forms.  While I love and appreciate classical styles, such as oil paintings that are conformation studies, or a watercolor depicting the wide sky of The West and featuring a cowboy and his horse riding into the sunset, I also am attracted to the unexpected.  Nothing wakes up my artist's brain like a technicolor horse streaking across a neon sky, a Dali-like horse melting in bronze, or a life-size equine model sculpted entirely of driftwood.

This morning, a friend (Thank you, Kevin!) sent me a link to an extraordinary photo project in which the horse is conjured from bits of clothing.  It is called "The Girl With 7 Horses #7" and is featured on the tumblr site, Ulicam.  The series is ethereal and imaginative and magical.  I hope you enjoy it and that it brings unexpected beauty to your day!  Which one is your favorite?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Standing Up For Laying Down

Have you ever had someone misconstrue your training methods?

Many years ago, I worked as an assistant for a very well-known trainer in a barn that specialized in top-notch Arabian and Half Arabian English horses.  Most of the horses that came through the barn were very fancy, athletic show horses destined to win accolades in the show ring.  But like in every training barn, there are times that you need to keep the barn full, and you take horses in to training that are more likely to end up as personal riding horses who tote their owners around the ring or the trails on the weekends.  That is how we ended up with "Merrylegs."  His owners had bred him and had kept him at home.  They just wanted to ride him for pleasure, and he needed some tuning up.  Much like the pony in the book "Black Beauty," he was short, dappled gray, round and fat like a pony.  He was very cute, and even though he had a longer registered name that the owner called him, we began to refer to him as Merrylegs.  At first, he was as sweet as the pony in the book too.  This horse ended up on my list of charges, so I started by riding him for short periods every day to start getting him in shape - did I mention that he was fat?

Anyway, after a week or two of decent rides he began to display a very dangerous pattern. He didn't want to be caught, he wouldn't move off after you mounted, and he would stop dead while going forward at a trot or canter and refuse to move.  (It should be said here that this horse had nothing physically wrong with him, and the tack I was using fit him fine. I was using a very non-punitive plain snaffle.)  At first, I would redirect him, asking him to turn off one direction or the other, but he figured that tactic out and would again try to stonewall me.  My fellow assistant and the trainer we worked for would make suggestions, but he continued.  I tried groundwork with him and had no problems, I tried different bits, and I tried 'getting after him' with my legs (no spurs, I felt this would make it worse) and the small crop I carried.  Nothing helped.  In fact, the horse began rearing - and rearing BIG.  We spoke with the owner, and, oh yeah, he had been giving her similar problems. This was one of my first experiences with the problem of owners spoiling their horses to the point of making them dangerous, but that is a discussion for another blog.

So everyday I would attempt to ride this horse who had zero interest in working, had been spoiled beyond belief and had learned that you could get humans to get off of you by rearing.  He could actually walk on his hind legs with me on his back!  I hated riding him, and yet, it was my job to at least try to salvage him.  It was obvious that eventually the horse was going to fall on me, and it didn't seem like we were getting anywhere by me just trying to stay on all the time.  It was finally brought up by the trainer I worked for that it was time to "lay him down*."  This was before The Horse Whisperer, before I had seen similar things done by "natural" horsemen, and I was VERY worried.  It upset me that this horse reared, but I am a pretty loving person who can't stand the sight of a living being in pain.  I did not want this horse to be hurt at my hands.  However, it wasn't really up to me, so my trainer put a running W on the horse, and after lunging him in it for a few minutes, she held up one of the horse's front legs, causing him to hop on three legs for a few minutes, and eventually, to lay down in the soft dirt of the arena.  At that point, the trainer, myself, and the other asst. took time to sit on him, keeping him on the ground for several minutes, showing him that we controlled him.  When we finally let him up, he was unhurt, but not unchanged.  His attitude on subsequent rides was much improved; I can't say he was perfect after that, but he definitely had a new-found respect for us.  His rearing became less and less of a problem.

Eventually, his owner's training money ran out and Merrylegs went home, and I don't know how he behaved when he got there, but this was a real learning moment for me.  Prior to this incident, I believed that everyone who layed horses down did so behind their barn, where they might cover the horse with a tarp and beat them into submission.  I believed it to be cruel in every instance, yet here was an example where the horse wasn't injured at all, and probably came out of it for the better.  Sure, there might have been other ways to train him out of it; riders on one end of the extreme might have done ground work for months to make up for all that his owner didn't teach him about respect, and riders on the other end of the spectrum might have just beat the crap out of him until he figured out that when humans say go, you better go.  Neither of these strategies were a good fit for this horse, or myself, so I believe that what we did was somewhere in the middle and the best that we could do in this situation.

Why am I telling you this story?  I recently stumbled upon a discussion about habituation and flooding in horse training that became a highly contentious conversation. The people participating in the discussion were very polarized in their views and it reminded me of Merrylegs and how we used a moment of flooding to change his ways.  For the sake of  this discussion, let's give a quick overview of these terms.  Habituation is the desensitization that occurs when the horse experiences an object, sound or behavior over and over again until it no longer reacts to it.  Habituation can be achieved through approach and retreat, where a trainer repeatedly shows the horse something and then takes it away, or stops.  The action is repeated over and over, increasing the length of time that the 'pressure.' is applied.  Habituation can also be achieved through flooding, which is when the stimulus is applied and isn't removed until the horse relents and no longer reacts to it.

Let's take these tactics and apply them to a horse training scenario, such as saddling a horse for the first time.  You are trying to achieve habituation, which would be that the horse no longer notices the saddle on its back.  If you used approach and retreat, you would show the horse the saddle, let him sniff it, put it away.  The next day, you would set it on his back, and put it away, the day after that, you might saddle him and walk him around a minute, and then put it away, until you had progressed to saddling, lunging and riding.  If you used flooding, you would saddle the horse and let him 'buck it out' until he gave up, realizing he can't get it off his back.  This process might take one session or many.  Both approach and retreat as well as flooding can be applied to many different behaviors that we are trying to illicit from our horses, from accepting tack to teaching the horse to set its head.

As you can imagine, some people are very much against flooding, saying that it traps the horse, breaks them down, or scars them psychologically.  Others offer that it is sometimes necessary, and when applied properly, can break through to difficult horses.  In the discussion that I am referring to, a trainer who specializes in starting racehorses - including problem ones - was villified for laying horses down routinely in his training program.  This trainer has posted videos of his methods on youtube, and what I saw him do was not what I would consider cruel or inhumane.  There was no beating, kicking, jerking, poking or any behavior that I considered to be punitive.  He was not reacting with frustration toward the horse - which is when most cruelty happens, when the human is frustrated because he/she cannot think of anything else to try on the horse to get them to do what he/she wants.  In other words, laying a horse down doesn't mean you are seeking to hurt the horse because it won't relent.  It can be simply presenting the horse with a choice - you either submit to me, or life will get difficult for you.  It reminds me of how a wolf packs behaves; older, dominant wolves will put a pup on the ground, on its back and hold them there, showing the younger who is boss.  In the horse-human diad, someone has to be boss, and it should be the human.

Most experienced horse owners and trainers realize that we give our horses this same choice every day from the moment they are born.  My foals are not spoiled, rubbed on, kissed and given treats.  They are treated like little horses that will eventually become big horses and have the physical power to kill someone.  They learn the rules early, and know from Day One that they need to respect their human counterparts and submit to their wishes.  But after years and years of meeting horses like Merrylegs, and the owners who made them that way, it is clear that many people out there don't understand how to do this. Nor are all horses bred like mine are; trainability and temperament are of absolute importance in my breeding stock.  Does this matter to everyone breeding horses? Not by a long shot, especially within the racing industry.  When you are breeding a horse for speed, temperament doesn't figure in as much.

The thought of trying to break a 17 hand fire-breathing Thoroughbred with the intention of teaching him to run as fast as possible makes my blood run cold!  And these are not horses that are allowed months and months of gentling and groundwork.  If a racehorse is unwilling to get along with his trainer, he has the highest chance of any equine on the planet of being sent to slaughter.  Their lives literally depend on someone getting through to them, quickly and without injury.  I have to respect someone who has the ability and the willingness to attempt to give these horses the choice. While flooding may not be an appropriate training method for every training problem, such as getting a horse to stay in frame or if a horse is terrified on an object, laying a horse down can be useful in establishing who is the leader for horses with no respect for humans. 

Laying a horse down is not part of my training program, in fact, the incident with Merrylegs has been the one and only time in my lifetime of horses that I participated in doing it.  I personally am not up for it; I am realistic about my physical abilities and understand that it takes someone with quick and precise reflexes, and physical agility that I don't possess (I have a messed up knee). Attempting it when you aren't quick and sure on your feet is very dangerous for you and the horse.  It also takes instant and flexible common sense, lots and lots of experience, and above all, a cool demeanor that resists frustration and punitive reactions.  If all of these conditions are met, the horse in question might actually have a chance to have a life, even beyond the race track, or whatever discipline they are being prepared for. In teaching them to submit, you are giving them an opportunity to be useful.

The end message here is that life is many shades of gray, and until we are personally faced with something similar we might not see the intention behind a training method.  Most people can recognize abuse when it happens because there is a shift in intention; an abuser is aggressive in a way that affords the horse no way out, and the punishment comes without rhyme or reason.  But sometimes strictness has a way of shaping desired behavior that shows the animal clearly what their choices are.  Much in the way that juvenile detention bootcamps can shake up a teenage rebel, flooding, specifically laying a horse down, can take a horse that is basically useless and dangerous and allow them a chance at life.

Have you ever laid a horse down?

*Please do not confuse this with teaching a horse to lay down as a trick.  When using 'laying down' as a training method, I am referring to a horse that does not want to lay down, or go along with anything that you are trying to teach them.  It is the act of forcing them to the ground.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Future Awaits....

Breeding horses is a lot like trying to predict the future.  You have to anticipate what the economy will do, what the horse industry is going to do, what bloodlines are going to be most marketable, and be able to satisfy both the need to have stock on hand in the future and the need to keep a balanced budget now.  It takes such a long time between the moment you decide to breed a mare to the point of having a saleable animal from that pairing that it is imperative that breeders be excellent planners and budgeters.

I haven't had any new foals at my farm in several years.  I have sold embryos from my best mare, but I haven't bred any of my other broodmares because I felt that the market was poor, and I couldn't reconcile the amount of money that I would have to put into a baby to get it to sale time with the prices that nice horses were going for.  But I see that things are changing, both for myself and for the industry as a whole.  I see that there is some renewed enthusiasm in performance horse sports, and some indications that our economy is slowly recovering.  It is really a buyer's market, for both horse sales and stud fees, and I see more opportunities for people to invest in performance horses at reasonable prices.  For myself, years of careful orchestration of my mare's embryo career has started to pay off, and I am hoping that I will be able to do some investing of my own this year.  If all goes as we hope, the spring of 2013 will see some foals running around in my pasture.

Never before have these decisions weighed so heavily on me. Predicting the future isn't easy.  All the 'what ifs' are enough to make a person crazy!  So I battle the anxiety by doing my homework, running the numbers, studying the pedigrees, making the phone calls and arming myself with as much information as I can.  And after that, I just close my eyes and envision those pretty babies....and my anxiety turns to excitement!  Yay!  It's breeding season!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Value of Emotional Independence

The other day I was driving, and Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me" came on the radio, and I got to thinking some deep thoughts....

I have many young people in my life; family members, friend's kids, and riding students.  Occasionally, I get to have those important conversations where you have the opportunity to impart advice on their young minds, and hopefully, represent a positive influence in their lives.  This song made me think of a recent situation with a family member of mine who is struggling right now.  What would I tell a younger version of myself?  What important advice do you wish that you could give to the young people in your life that would save them some misery in the growing pains of life?

The thing that immediately came to mind is: be emotionally independent.  No one can "make you" happy, sad, angry, depressed, secure, insecure, nor is it anyone's responsibility to do so.   You are completely in charge of your own emotions.  Nor are you responsible for anyone else emotions either.  Someone cuts you off in traffic?  Doesn't mean you get to be a jerk when you walk into the office.  Someone criticizes a project of yours? Doesn't mean you are allowed to blow up.  Life a little tough lately?  Not an excuse to throw a temper tantrum.  Yes, there certainly are 'safe' places and situations in which you can vent, scream and yell in frustration, throw yourself on the floor and act like a total baby.  That is what close friends and therapists are for.  But even then, care must be taken so that when you are finished getting it all off your chest, you stand up, move on, and realize that you put yourself in whatever situation you are in.  You got yourself there, through action or inaction, and the only person who can change it is you.

How does this apply to horses?  A good horse trainer maintains control and responsibility for what happens when working with their horses.  If the horse makes a mistake, a good trainer doesn't get angry - unless it is at him/herself, for not being clear enough, not being prepared enough, for missing a step.  A good trainer isn't reactive, but proactive.  A good trainer recognizes their mistake, acknowledges it and corrects themselves.  You can't correct anything if you are always 100% sure that you are in the right. You never grow when you are always right.

This advice may resonate with some adults too. I am quite sure that the most successful business people are those that know how to maintain their composure and their emotional independence.  No one wants to invest in people who refuse to filter themselves, don't have any impulse control and have big emotional responses to everything that happens to them.  It reeks of instability, immaturity and self-centeredness.

Like anyone else, as a teenager I was dramatically emotional, but through several life experiences, came to this knowledge after getting repeatedly hit in the head with it.  We either figure it out, or we don't.  I feel like I have, or at least, I am conscientiously working toward it.  So that is what I would put in my letter to me...."get to that point sooner, so you can begin living YOUR life."

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Have We Learned Here?

The World Reining League debuted last fall with lots of flash and bang; press releases, articles, a TV commercial, an extensive website, and several youtube videos of 'trash talking' between the competitors (insert eye roll). But barely a whimper was heard when the WRL cancelled their first event, which was to be held January 21 in Oklahoma City.  Only 284 tickets were sold for the event, and according to Michael Miola's statement, several leaders in the reining industry "without exception agreed that canceling the event was the right thing to do."  I cannot feign surprise; when I blogged about the WRL twice last fall, in "Let's Make A Bet..." and "World Reining League Pt.2", I honestly did not see how it was going to work. 

I do not take pleasure in anyone's failure, rather, I see it as unfortunate that so much time and resources has gone toward this project.  Mr. Miola's statement goes on to say that he was given faulty information, has formed a new management team to figure out what went wrong, and that he intends to 'fix it' and try again.  In other words, the time and resources allotted to this project will continue to distract from other avenues for promoting reining. I'm sure we haven't heard the last from the WRL, but maybe its cancellation will delay having to watch the NRHA turn into the PBR for a little while longer.

I have two thoughts, little seeds of my own personal theory, if you will, on growing our industry.....

First, growing UP isn't the only way to grow, we can grow out and down and in every direction.  The reining industry has enjoyed tremendous growth for many years; and has focused on promoting the top 10 % of the business - the biggest shows, the largest jackpots, the trainers and horses with the largest LTEs.  But those heights are unreachable for most people.  Most people can't afford the $1,000 a month that the top trainers charge.  Most people will never come close to earning a million themselves in the show ring, or own a horse that has made over $100K, and the sticker shock for getting to either of these places would run them off before they even tried it!

We need to focus on SMALL too.  We should be looking at more grassroots, local promotion that gets people excited to show, excited to bring their kids and show.  I have some ideas, some of which I have put forth here, and I know that some of my readers have ideas.  I certainly have heard over and over that people are tired of the politics that favor the powerful within the show pen, they are tired of seeing trainers override their horses and still boast huge sums won, they are tired of paying large membership fees but still feeling powerless within their organization.  I have heard more people say that they were going to get out of reining, or that they intend to stay away from it in the first place, than ever before. They are people who love their horses, so they aren't getting out, just staying away....from all the drama, unfairness and pie-in-the-sky promises.  They are looking for somewhere to go, and spend their money, where they are appreciated.

Second, growth is relative to your starting point.  The NRHA has not been around that long compared to other horse associations; it was formed in 1966.  The American Quarter Horse Assoc. was established in 1940, the Arabian Horse Club, which later became the Arabian Horse Assoc., was founded in 1908.  Morgan horses have had their pedigrees recorded since the mid 1800's, though the first official register wasn't established until 1894 - which happens to be the same year that the Jockey Club was founded.  These older associations have seen their ups and downs, boom and bust, growth and correction.  Stability and sticking to their mission statement has helped them endure as much as any promotional endeavors.  Yes, you can have great years, and grow a bunch, but you can't do that every single year without losing something else.  In other words, if you worry only about growth, and growing BIG, you are going to fail to keep the people happy that you just recruited into the sport.

My dad used to tell me, fast changes aren't necessarily good changes; usually, when something changes really quickly, it often isn't for the better.  It is the changes that take more time and are gradual that hold the most positive changes.  Slow and steady wins the race.  My dad sounds pretty smart right about now....

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Tale of Corruption and High Stakes....

One of the first pieces of news out of the National Reining Horse Assoc. in the new year was a press release regarding an anonymous complaint of corruption and possible judge tampering at the 2011 NRHA Futurity.  I read about it through Pat Feuerstein's blog at the Quarter Horse News; the segment has a complete repost of the anonymous letter and the NRHA's response to the allegations, and you can read it here.  

First of all, bravo to those who came together to make this complaint.  It is an uncomfortable place to be in, to be the one to address the nastier side of horse competitions.  It has been shown to me over and over again that the person who stands up often has to do so alone.  It is unfortunate that those who put forth the complaint felt that it was necessary to remain anonymous; on one hand, it takes away from the whole 'standing up' thing when you don't add your name and face to the cause. Being willing to put yourself on the line for the right thing lends legitimacy to it's importance.  But on the other hand, it is certainly a commentary on how scary and dangerous it is to be perceived as someone who rocks the boat in the reining industry.  

In a time when the national and global economies have been on the ropes, and spending on luxury goods, such as expensive show horses, is down overall, the reining industry has prospered, especially for those at the top levels.  And it all has happened very recently. The past ten years have seen huge growth for the NRHA, with more prize money, higher sales prices, and a firm emphasis on earnings - how often do the catch words "million dollar status" cross our radar these days?  Those of us who have been around for a while have a saying..."That horse made $150,000 back when it was hard to make $150,000!" We have grown and changed tremendously.  The amount of money at stake these days at any NRHA promoted/owned event is cause for great excitement - but also indicative of the great responsibility that NRHA officials, judges, and elected board members carry to uphold the highest standards of fairness and integrity.

Which brings me to my next point....I am skeptical that even an independent investigation is going to be able to turn up much 'evidence' of the corruption, nepotism and judge tampering that allegedly occured.  Why?  Because those who would be witness to it are most likely complicit in enabling it.  In an atmosphere in which it is already known that you may be blacklisted if you speak up, why would you incriminate yourself by saying that, "Yes, Mr. Mitchells was present in the judges room, and yes, I feel that he influenced me to score his horse higher than deserved?"  Because while it truly is each individual's responsibility to uphold the rules, if there is no direct proof, such as a secretly recorded audio/video tape, or evidence of bribe money changing hands, it is a lot easier to just hold your chin high, and say, "No, he had no influence over me."  The other allegations, that Mr. Mitchells and Mr. Lopp were allowed to take pay for work done at NRHA owned events, are more concrete, and certainly support the hypothesis that the NRHA elected officials in power take care of their own.

What is the cost for turning a blind eye to those doing wrong and lining their pockets inappropriately?  Trust.  The members of the NRHA already know that politics in the show ring affect scores.  They have seen it over and over again in every level and category.  But they want to trust that their association is against those practices and working to create a level playing field.  The truth WILL come out, and then it may be time to clean house at the NRHA offices.  Until that time, I hope that more people are willing to stand up, tell the truth and do the right thing, and maybe, if those of us interested in creating a better NRHA lend a supportive gesture, they will be willing to give their names.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Meaning of Commitment

This morning, as usual, I went out to the barn at sunrise to turn out my Quarter Horse mare Bam Bam and her BFF Ruckus.  My husband feeds and turns out early in the morning, but Bam Bam stays in her stall, under lights, until the sun is up.  This is part of preparing her for the coming breeding season.  As I got their halters on, and led them out, one in each hand, I began to think about Ruckus, and her place in life.

Ruckus is a seventeen yr old bay mare, 3/4 Arabian, 1/4 Saddlebred - a double registered Half Arab and National Show Horse.  Her bloodlines are outstanding; her dam, The Socialite, was a Half Arab *Bask granddaughter whom my sister showed to National Champion in Amateur Park. Her sire was the gorgeous *Bask son, MS Baquero, who earned National titles in Driving and English Pleasure.  Ruckus was bred to be a show horse, but unfortunately, that was not to be.  You see, Ruckus' dam, a first-time mom and a very naturally intense mare, rejected Ruckus only hours after her birth.  The mare had foaled outside over night at our trainer's facility, and when she was discovered in the morning, she was moved into a stall.  This proved too much for Socialite; she picked up her beautiful newborn filly by the neck, shook her violently and threw her about the stall.  Barn help were able to separate them, and later, reunite them, but this incident left Ruckus with nerve damage in her neck.

I took over Ruckus's care when she was a two year old, and broke her to ride, but she could not stand pressure on her poll.  Even with just a halter on, she would cock her head, sometimes shaking her head back and forth. In a bridle it was worse, and even though she was pretty easy to ride in all other regards, the irritation she felt in that area was a distraction for her.  Conventional veterinary medicine at the time had very little to offer her in terms of rehabilitation, and there wouldn't be any guarantee of long-lasting results. She would never be able to live up to what had been planned for her.

Despite the frustration of our thwarted plans, we, my husband and I, had grown to love Ruckus.  She was sassy, sweet, and just pretty to look at.  So we kept her.  What other choice did we have?  Ruckus was brought into this life by a human's choice to breed her.  She has never done anything wrong (Ok, there was that one time when she ran a gate before I could close it, but who could blame her?).  What kind of life would she have if she was sold?  I know in my heart that the problems in her neck could not be resolved, so selling her as a riding horse was out of the question.  And there is very little market for horses that aren't rideable.  The truth is, when you sell a horse, they are out of your control.  I just could not bear the thought of someone else discarding her, mistreating her, sending her off to the slaughter house.  I knew Ruckus deserves better than that, and since you can't 'un-know' something, how could I live with myself if I were the one to put her at risk?

What has this decision cost me?  Well, Ruckus will be 18 this year, so I have been paying for her care for 16 years now.  Feeding her, vetting her, giving her the exact same standard of care that I do for all of my horses.  I figure that I have at least $25,000 in that mare, and it wasn't even my choice to breed her!  I know, I know....that is a LOT of money, and it is money I could definitely have spent on other things, like broodmares, stud fees, or heck, even a vacation!  But again, how much is my peace of mind worth?  Sure, my horse budget has been limited because a certain amount has to go toward upkeep of non-working animals, but in my mind, that is how it should be.  You don't discard the animals who are injured, or are too old to work.  As long as they are healthy, and aren't a danger to anyone, they deserve life too.  And I have always felt that I am doing the right thing; rather than putting the responsibility off on someone else, rather than looking to escape my responsibility by selling her to slaughter or just putting her down directly, we have chosen to let her live out her life as a pasture ornament.

As it is, Ruckus does have a job.  She is a lady-in-waiting for my mare Miss Bam Bam Command, a post she has held for most of her 16 years with us.  Ruckus is the only horse that Bam Bam wants next to her when she is stalled.  Put her in alone, or with another horse next to her, and she will have a meltdown.  Ruckus also 'protects' her out in the field; she will put herself between Bam Bam and other mares, and will stand over Bammie when she lays down for a nap.  I know that Bam Bam doesn't care that Ruckus never won a ribbon.  The love and trust displayed between them is as real as any friendship I have.  $25,000 well spent....

Do you have horses that you are committed to for life?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You Are What You Do

Good morning and Happy New Year!

I am a person who loves to learn new things.  I crave challenges and am always seeking out my 'next thing.'  Sometimes a phase of fascination can be for a relatively short period of time, such as reading a series of books that are related by subject, or my obsessions can be years long, where I am driven to master something and it becomes part of my personality.  My love of horses has been a lifelong passion, and a purpose that permeates nearly every aspect of my life.  Likewise, being a riding instructor, trainer, and breeder are all endeavors that generate a huge amount of inspiration, drive, and yearning to learn within me.  They are fascinations that turned into my reality because I worked at figuring them out, every day.

More recently, I began writing about horses.  This is something I have wanted to do for a long, long time.  What held me back?  Well, first, having the time to do it; I was out living it and doing it, and it seemed that writing about it (adding my voice and recording my experiences) wasn't as important when I was younger.  But I think I was also afraid to use that title...."writer."  Who am I to call myself a "writer?"  Aren't writers intellectuals?  Esteemed authorities on everything there is to know about their subjects?  If I boldly called myself a writer, wouldn't there be people, maybe even people that I really care about, who would laugh at me, or *GASP* even worse, tell me that I suck at it?

And then it hit one is ever going to give you permission or approval to claim that title.  That is one you give yourself.  In everything that I have done - teaching, training or breeding, I have taken something that I loved, something that moved me deeply, and worked everyday to figure it out, learning to be better, and earning the title. It occurred to me that every time I write, I am earning the title of writer.  YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO.  If I regret anything, it is that there have been moments where I hesitated to take action because I was waiting for someone to give me approval.  So here's to a New Year; one in which I intend to give myself permission to be what is in my heart.

Who do you want to be this year?