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?