Sunday, February 8, 2009

Winds of Change . . .

Ice. Snow. Darkness. Headlines screaming of economic disaster and job loss. Seasonal Affective Disorder . . . Too many tense conversations about how there is just not enough money coming in to cover the expenses going out, fingers pointing, blaming, rocking the stability of a relationship I can't imagine my life continuing without . . . loss of a beloved dog adding to the sorrow. Winter has not been easy on many of us this year and this is what it has been for me.. I hate that awful feeling of being stuck in a neverending loop, that the inevitable end is the big crash . . . I have always been one to believe we create much of our realities by the perceptions we point at them and being in control of my destiny is much preferred to being a victim of it.

Starting back in 1984, sitting at the polished cherry wood desk of a posh reception area, helping veteran employees of 20+ years trying to polish up resumes from an unexpected lay off, I have never had much faith in the illusion of corporate America job stability. I have fought, scraped, sacrificed and managed to be self employed since my divorce in 1991. I have worked day jobs, given up on my dreams, only to be steered back to them, again and again. It's what I thought I would do til the body just wouldn't do it any mo'.

Which brings us current . . . an economy that is not kind to my chosen body of clientele, the middle class worker looking to put a great horse under their kids and themselves, through either my continually developed training programs or my carefully assessed and chosen sales prospects. That same clientele isn't getting tattooed quite like they used to and that only matters as my husband is also self employed and he's a tattoo guy. Combine that newer wrinkle with inclement weather, no indoor arena to cover me wee head on the wet n windy days, a certain increasing, possibly age inspired, lack of willingness on my part to deal with the elements and ride anyway, and I no longer have a viable training operation. My books last year more than underscore the point.

Good broke horses are still holding a value, but with a market flooded with free mostly unrideables, and a new generation of folk who don't know the difference, it's getting increasingly difficult to get an honest price out of a good saddle horse, and I don't think I ever want to hear "my six year old has been taking lessons, do you think your unstarted three year old will make a good kid horse??" ever again in my lifetime. Will he make a good kid horse? Oh hell yeah, I am sure he will . . . in a few years with the proper education and set of experiences behind him . . . There's just some questions people ask that let you know beyond a shadow of any reasonable doubt that NO horse they end up with will do well for them, because they just have not a clue about what makes a horse tick and how to get a job done. Just try getting into your vehicle, turn it on, put it in gear, don't steer it or properly use the brakes, and you will get an idea of what I am talking about. . .never mind adding the factor of a living, breathing creature with thoughts and ideas of it's own, into the mix . . .

Okay, I digress. Looking out my window, up into our still snow covered pasture, I still see too many butts gathered around the round bales, as I have seen all winter. I didn't mean to become a horse collector but rather than sell off some of the really cool horses I found last year, they got turned into the "keeping horse" side, until that side's swelled to bursting. Over the course of my lifetime, I have developed an eye for the great horse, and year after year, I send those great horses on to their next good homes. I get a lot of joy and satisfaction from most of those sales, I get emails from happy owners that love and appreciate the good mount I have put under them . . . I get to share trails and make memories with a lot of those people who started out customers and have become friends. Those things mean a lot to me but something happened to me last year and I just decided to keep some for myself for a change . . . Thinking, Tyler, dude, where are you now and I hope you are okay . . .

Which brings me to my current situation . . . too many horses, not enough time. If I saddle two horses a day, with 12 head to maintain, I could ride 6 a week . . . is this likely? No, not really . . . even so, it means a rotation in which I just get started on some, then they sit, while I ride others, none of them ever really getting to the point of rideability I know I can produce in a horse, which perpetuates the frustration on both mine and my horse's part, every time we ride. Doesn't make for that great relationship between horse and rider that I try to create for each one of my customers, but don't seem to make the time, for myself . . .

Too many horses means making hard decisions about foot care, feed, supplements, all that. I am a believer in a grass hay diet for most lightly working horses, but I LOVE the shine and muscle I see on my friend's horses that are getting a little better than that. I HATE seeing long and chipped toes on the hooves I skipped last time around as no way can I get 12 head trimmed, all at once. They do okay, out there, but fewer would do better.

A budget whose shortfalls are growing, rather than receding, threatening my very ability to keep a roof over any of our heads. The dissatisfaction with taking a great little gelding to compete in an event last year with total lack of preparation, and the disappointment of not doing well in something we should shine, had I the time to do what I do with a horse I own. A rescue horse whose great brain shows me, with time and dedication, I can ensure he'll not stare down the slaughter truck ever again. . . My son's money tied up in a really nice horse I haven't had TIME to develop and realize his investment for him . . . not to mention being able to do right by the horse.

Okay, it's more than clear I need to reduce, and I need to do it right now. I know, probably as well as anyone out there, what it takes to sell a horse. The stock I have sitting out back are carefully put together over the years as the ones I wanted to look at for the rest of their lives. The drop dead gorgeous Skipper W bred AQHA mare that I salivated over when Colleen brought her home, and snapped her up, with THAT baby in her belly, when the opportunity offered. The lovely black Quarter Pony mare that I have been through thick and thin with, who has never given me a less than spectacular foal and whose fault it is not that her job has been downsized and done away with . . . The black breeding stock gelding I purchased as a companion for one of those foals that grew up to outshine his brother in every way, looks, disposition and personality . . .The sport horse filly I have such high hopes for . . . and others.

Selling those horses opens me up to every conversation I have ever had . . . kid's horse? . . . will you come down on your price? Why are you selling? What are you trying to hide? I am so done with all of that. It's time to make a change.

In year's past, I'd have prettied them up, loaded them onto a trailer and headed for the nearest sale. A lot of people know me, around here, and they know they can believe me when I tell them if I take a horse to a sale, it's either a knothead or I need the money. In this case, would'a been the latter and the horses would have been okay. In today's climate, the likely end for a non ride, and a lot of almost rides at a horse sale is a long ride in a truck to be herded down an alley toward a guy with a sledge hammer. I'd really like to take every single ignorant ill informed PETA son of a bitch who closed the USDA run facilities that at least had humane methods of disposal and regulations to follow and take them on a tour in Mexico. This is what you've done, folks, hope you feel okay about that because I sure don't. I didn't raise or rescue a single head on my property to send them to that fate, I'd rather shoot them myself than see that happen to them.

Which brings me here. If I am contemplating having to shoot my friends, guess I better find homes for them. I made the very difficult and painful decision to give away a large portion of our herd because it gives me control of where they go. The right people can take an opportunity to own a super nice horse, or they can stay here and I will figure something else out.

Along those lines, I decided to close the business I have put so much blood, sweat, and tears into, over the years. Yesterday, I was beginning to feel a certain amount of freedom in my soul. One horse has already left, to a home I couldn't have picked better, had I been allowed to choose. I have been gratified at the quality of the folk who have responded. Not people looking to scoop up a cheap or free horse, but thinking horsepeople who can take these horses and develop them every bit as well as I can, and who will have time and resources to do so . . . I have recommended other trainers without that pang of "omigod, how will I pay my bills if I don't have my calendar booked?" I have told people no, that the horse I have is not what they are looking for. . . I have done that before, in sales, but there is always that battle of the bottom line . . . "Terri, you sell horses for a living . . . you MUST sell this horse!" and sometimes you do what you have to do, against the better judgement of what you should do . . . and hope for the best. I don't quite know who I am or how to think of myself as a person who does NOT buy, sell and train horses for a living, it's been the biggest part of me for a very long time, but I am going to figure it out.

I will probably always develop and occasionally sell nice horses. It's part of my addiction and it's in my blood but not having to make a living at it, frees up something in my soul. The idea of taking my good little Donovan to an event we have trained and prepared for, bringing all the heat at our disposal . . . that thrills me. We might still get our butts kicked but if it's by someone who is just flat plain better than we are, my hat is off to them, and we go back and try again, as opposed to defeating ourselves before we ever get started.

I am keeping some really nice horses. They will require less time to get them where I want them to be than the raw material I am sending on to other homes. I am looking forward to the sun on my face and the joy of having a great horse under me, doing what we love best, being out there, together, thinking as one, moving as one, with the comfortable old shoe feeling that comes of hours in the saddle with your very best friend. Am I going to cry about this? You bet I am, but I'll survive and there's better days ahead. Let the winds of change blow . . .

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