Monday, July 16, 2018

From Rags to . . . rescue?

You can't be on social media, have anything to do with horses and escape seeing those heart wrenching ads.Worse than Sara McLaughlin singing in those commercials.

There will be pictures, video of some tragically cute horse, riding nice or looking like the gentlest critter on the planet. He's in an awful strait. For some reason, the kill buyer who has him absolutely must ship him no later than this coming Saturday. Why the pressure is on and this nice horse must die an awful death day after tomorrow no one seems to know.

There will be posts by "rescues." Let's get his adoption fee put together! Hurry, donate now!! Save the horse!

The adoption fee is far more than the horse will kill for but it is what it is and no one wants to see a horse like that take the awful trip to Mexico. By the way I have some inside scoop on plants in Mexico and you would not wish that on your worst enemy much less a horse, even a rank outlaw.

But back to our subject, horse rescue scams. If you are on Facebook there's at least one page dedicated to exposing these jerks. I pulled this image for my use, here:

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There are stories abounding of how the horse you "adopt" again, paying full retail shows up more than half dead (I personally know someone who pulled one of these unfortunate creatures that did die, three days later). Sometimes it's not even the same horse.

I had wondered about this when I first saw these ads. I fell for the "buy it today or I will ship it tomorrow" horse trader's ploy back in the 90's when I was newer to the game.  This looked like a higher tech version of the same old song.

Are there any legit rescues out there? Well of course there are. Is there any humane slaughter options left available? Canada, but it's tricky, what they will accept and still a long haul to that border as well.  Seems to me we better get it back here in the States because in all the years now since it was banned no one has come up with a good option for horses that for whatever reason find themselves out of a job and unwanted.

Which brings us to the real subject of our story.

Enter me, standing out back at a small horse sale checking out the loose stuff.  A good friend of mine and long time trading associate had a heart attack shortly prior and his wife wanted me to come along and try not to let the guy overdo.

I used to be a regular at sales and knew most of the familiar faces at that time. I have been retired (nice way of putting "out of business" again much thanks to the bottom dropping out of the value of the mid-range horse in the 90's) since 2010. I didn't know anybody but pretty much anyone looking at this bunch of horses has shipping in mind. 

We always used, back in the day, to scan for anything that was pretty, sound, had shoes or saddle marks.  Sometimes loose horses get there for a lot of reasons than they want to try to kill you if you get close enough. It is, at times, just that. I had no idea if that still happened and none of the people looking had a cowboy vibe so it seemed unlikely.

There were not many horses to see and most painfully thin. This has become a common sight.  People lose the ability to feed their horses, find out the colt, now 10 that they never got around to getting broke to ride doesn't sell very well.  Hauling to a sale and letting them go for whatever they bring, hoping something okay works out for them is sometimes the last ditch resort to watching them starve in the yard.

A horse catches my eye. Not just mine, either. The bay is standing casually aloof. He doesn't care to come up to the people around his pen but he's not bothered by them either. Handsome, long rangy pleasure bred looking   . . . guy. All man. Darn it. A stud. A teen aged stud at that.

I board now and no way I can bring home an unknown stallion, pay to put him in a stall, get him cut, take the risks of trying to get a saddle on him, let alone ride the thing. What once would have been a plan was way too far away from today's reality.

It was, even for my friend. To manage a horse like that, you have to either have the ability and knowledge to check out a dicey one or be able to hire people who can. Those people are getting harder to find, too. We left him, shaking our heads at what a nice horse and sad for his fate.

Unanimously we felt his people probably got out of the horse business, tired of losing money like the rest of us and he was out of a job. Damn shame, but there it was. My friend bought some other stuff and we moved on.  It's life in the horse business. You cannot save them all.

Two weeks later I accompany them to another sale. I am checking out saddle horses as my friend fills a contract for a resort in Colorado that runs horses seasonally. Leases and sends them home at the end of the season.  Because of the heart attack, he was behind schedule and scrambling to get his order filled.

There were a couple likely prospects, the prerequisite amount of scamps. I watched a horse dump his rider and then later sell for far more money than he had a right to bring.  Watched a guy that calls himself a big deal trainer come in with mostly nags but one pretty cute buckskin colt that made me say hmmm. And no.

End of the day, a fellow I hadn't seen rides into the facility on a big bay horse in full roping gear. The horse was in no hurry, looked like he may have had a long day of roping behind him prior to the sale. He looked . . . tired. And beat up, bite marks all over, a particularly savage tear in the side of his neck He'd tangled with somebody tough.

I'm asking the guy my usual question and it occurs to me he's looking at me funny. I put it aside as who knows. Maybe I have a booger. It's been a long day for me too.

Horse was a stud, gelded awhile ago . .. how long? Oh, he says . . . maybe a month? I look, it's pretty fresh for a month but looks clean and gelded is gelded.

Okay thanks, says me.

My friend buys the horse.

Later that night (You probably know this already) I have a light bulb. It's that same horse! That stud from a couple of weeks ago.  Gelded a month my ass!

I call my friend with my revelation. "You really only figured that out now?" He's laughing.  Well yeah . . . No wonder the guy on him was looking at me like I was an egg. I will tell you, a loose horse looks different than one riding and no, the "recently gelded" did not ring a bell. Just like a horse in different "clothes" take a guy out of a polo shirt, khakis and put him in jeans and boots and you have a whole nuther deal.

No wonder the horse looked tired! Yanked out of his life, hauled to a sale, gelded, rode, dumped into a pen of horses that knocked the snot out of him. He'd had a hard couple of weeks!

Now, next comes the kicker and then the punchline. Stay with me.

The horse turns out to be a broke beast and on top of that, so kind and quiet you wouldn't know in any way he was fully intact three months ago, or about to lose his life on a brutal killing field.

Punchline; another friend has a client looking for gentle kid safe horse on a budget. I get everyone put together and they buy this fine horse. He will be in tall pastures with the best of care as much loved as he absolutely deserves to be. This is the kind of horse you want to hug his neck anytime you are anywhere near him.

What a good thing it is to know there are still guys out there, combing those sales, looking for saddle horses. A saddle horse is worth more than naked by the pound. Anyone tells you different, watch your wallet.

Pretty nice end up for a horse we couldn't save, huh.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A day in the life

Hello. Long time no see. Many of you have heard about the tragic departure of our friend and mentor, Peter Campbell. I thought my next blog would be to talk about that, and I haven't been able to find the words. I think I will, maybe but not today.

Yesterday I drove out to the barn. That would seem no big deal except I haven't been. Not on Saturdays or any other day. The weather. Working mad overtime. I was sick for awhile. Bought a house.

Underneath all those excuses lay a deeper  . . .  reason? Was I done? I've asked myself that question before here and there and the answer always came back a resounding no, sooner rather than later. No answer was turning up. Losing Peter definitely took a chunk of heart out of me. There didn't seem to be any good way to grieve and move on when every time I looked at Royal I thought of all our unanswered questions. 

I doubted my ability to move us past them on my own. If I could, would I not have already? I would think of Peter and what kind of pain a man faces to cause that type of choice. How we had let him down, not seeing, not somehow being there for him. Being enough.

So I found a lot of other places to be and considered possible homes for my horses.

A couple of years ago, I took on a young off the track Thoroughbred. I've talked about him some but that was awhile ago. Just Sam.

He's an old soul kind of horse, but still a kid and I tend to forget that. I throw him into the trailer, into situations, and while I notice there's trouble brewing I figure I'll get to that later. When I have time.  And desire.

Yesterday, back to that. Sam ran himself into a lather and then rolled, taking up a good layer of Greg's spendy top footing and turning himself into a caked unsaddleable mess. 

Royal then. I did the groundwork. He knows it as well as I do. We did nothing different and he looked okay to ride.

He was . . .okay. Not fabulous. High, fussy, and promised to bounce his ass, and mine if I asked for canter transitions. Welp. When you ride a horse three times in 7 months, you may get something like this. I wasn't really mad at either of us just chagrined at where I find us, fat, sassy, out of shape instead of where we might be. 

I started dressage lessons again last spring, thinking I could keep my mind and heart busy with new learning. All I did was get angry. With myself, my horse, even my wonderful instructor because she was not, could not be Peter and nobody else ever could be, either. I quit lessons and riding altogether for the most part.

Today, I began with Sam. He was not completely enthusiastic about trailer loading when I got him and I have never taken the time to make that right. The trail ride I hauled him to in November was no different. Good thing Tammy Musil was there, and calmer with him than I was. Between us, we got him loaded nicely but I give her far more credit than me.

I saddled him with the fully rigged western saddle. He doesn't mind it so much anymore. I let him hang on the wall and I considered my plan. Where to begin? Where the trouble starts.

I built a horse trailer inside the arena. To you it may have looked like three barrels about three feet apart, five or six feet away from the wall with a pvc pipe on the ground at either end. I knew it was a trailer and Sam knew it too.

The wind was blowing a total gale. Skeletal branchy fingers clawed at the roof, screeching against the tin. Doors banged, limbs took flight. Sam thought the hounds of hell were poised just outside the back door. It was perfect for learning.

We did a bunch of stretchy circles. I allowed him to find his way into moving all four corners the same. They have to relax to be able to do this. Tight, a horse can't round himself from poll to hip. Something sticks out or caves in . . .  When he quit tucking his butt to the noisy end of the arena, I moved to the make shift trailer.

Head come up, nostrils flared, eyes widened with suspicion. What's this? Why would I go anywhere near that  . . .  contraption.

I had to get both smarter than I was and also remember what I used to do, back when I successfully trailer loaded horses. Back before Royal.

Sam lifted his head way up high. He is tall. He can put his head higher than I can reach and evade looking where I want him to go and where the eyes and ears go, the feet soon follow. Anywhere but approaching the opening between wall and barrel.

I found my old stick and string (my flag too far away or I'd have used that). It worked as it always did. 

"Don't go that way, Sam, there's trouble over there. Yes, look where I want you to go. No trouble there. Peaceful." You are not taller than me now, either my friend. Look, over there, that's right . . .

Meanwhile we have other riders doing their thing in the indoor arena, cantering circles past us. Wind howls and screams. I don't care, Sam. We can load here, we can load anywhere.

Eventually it works as it always has when I do this right. I am patient. I am kind. I am quick to teach with release when he makes a small tentative try.

You know how this story ends. Sam, calmly following a feel all the way in and through a bunch of times until it's a non issue. Then I wind him through the barrels because now it's not a trailer anymore, it's an obstacle course. Follow a feel, Sam, go where I point you.

This did not happen in five minutes. I don't know how long it took, felt like a lifetime. As in any of these things, I always feel I have bitten off more than I can chew, that I will never see daylight and the horse is never going to do what I want it to do in any right way. When I cave to those fears, they are realized. When I don't they are smoke, whirled away on the breeze as fears usually are, once you walk all the way through . . .

Sam licked, chewed, came down, looked like he was even enjoying himself a little. I have rushed that sweet horse and he deserves better from me. Today, he got it.

Then Royal. We did a little of the basics, then to the obstacle course. Trailer loading is no issue for Royal. He's a point and shoot. Getting in was never a problem, it was the claustrophobia once he was in that got us in trouble and there's been no sign of that for a long time.

He's a more advanced horse than green eggs and ham Sam so I didn't waste his time with baby steps. Coming forward, I stop a foot in midstep, back him up, catch a foot come forward again. Then we back through the barrels. Straight, and then weave through them. Backwards.

I am in his way a hundred times. I can hear Peter "Terri WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? How can he even back up with you at that angle. Come ON!"

I stopped, rearranged myself, set up my horse for success. We did different things, made us both think, and we achieved a different result.

Royal was flawless. Nicely in the bridle we extended our walk, slowed it from my seat. Trotted pretty cadenced circles. Canter transitions that when I set them up correctly were light as a feather. I had to close my eyes a couple of times and just allow him to canter under me. The banging, screaming thumping noises all around us bothered me far more than they did my horse. Pivots on forehand. Walk front end around the rear. He was so damn much fun. Far better than ice cream, even Rocky Road.

So, looks like I did end up talking about Peter, after all.  It also looks like I may be up to dealing with Royal. I still have no idea where our journey will lead us but this, I know; I will stick to my guns and not listen to my fears. I will give my horses the best deal I am capable of and when I know better I will come back and do better.

That's what I have, for today.