20 April 2009

Razz--Not Quite a Rescue, but Close

In May of 2005 I agreed to go along with a friend who wanted to see a purebred Arab gelding that needed a "good home." One guess who ended up with a new horse.

The horse was living with an old mare in an enclosure that included automobile carcasses and hogwire--some up, some down, some with sharp points. The owners were caring people who'd received him as a gift when he was a yearling. They'd even laid out over two thousand dollars to repair him when he'd punctured a knee in 2004, but caring doesn't make people horsemen. Luckily, they recognized they were not up to dealing with Razz. In fact, they said he was almost impossible to catch, or lead, or even hold onto.

I found that out right away. It took the owner quite a while just to snap a lead onto Razz's outgrown halter, and when I took the lead rope he jerked free so fast I ended up face down in deep, fluffy manure. Most people would have said, "Crazy Arab" and left. But his eyes told me he was basically kind and intelligent and willing to learn.

His registration papers backed up that. Razz, registered as Sunsaba, was in fact line-bred to *Witez with a bit of Bay Abi thrown in as well--good working stock.

So, a few days later, Razz, then six, arrived at my place totally untrained and completely without manners. Luckily, he proved to be a quick learner.

Within a month, the horse that wouldn't let anyone lead him much less pick up his feet was much more amenable to working with people.

By August, he was already on his third month under saddle.

And Lion had found a playmate that also liked to run--summer, winter, whenever.

Razz's still not a beginner's horse, but he's more than kind and he tries to be tolerant. In fact, he'll stand like a statue to be mounted, but once up, his rider needs a quiet seat or he'll still become tense and confused.

Here's one of my favorite photos of Razz. By June of 2008, a couple of my teenage students were developing those nice quiet seats. When Erica dismounted, she said, "That was actually fun." I already knew that from Razz's attentive ear position. We're seeing relaxed trust more and more often from him now.

In fact, the horse that used to be nearly impossible to catch is now nearly impossible to get rid of. Here's one last shot of him "helping" my husband clean stock tanks:

My ReRun Thoroughbred

I like the idea of rescue organizations, but I'm also a conformation and pedigree snob, so I gravitated to ReRun. They rehome Thoroughbreds. More accurately, they rehome horses that were, in their past lives, Thoroughbreds. To prevent these horses from returning to racing, ReRun returns the registration papers to the Jockey Club for cancellation.

Since I wasn't looking for a breeding animal, the lack of actual papers wasn't important to me at all. Finding a well-bred, well-conformed, good-tempered horse was. And ReRun happily supplies pedigrees, race records, and detailed info about the animals they have.

Of course, being picky, I did a lot of looking.

I looked for months. Then I finally saw a photo of the gelding Life Goes On. Seeing smooth elegance and angles indicating great athleticism, I called and tried to adopt him from ReRun KY on the basis of this one photo:

Of course by the time I phoned, he'd already been adopted. I thought, well, someone in TN just got a good looking horse. Over the next few months, I looked at horses on the ReRun site without seeing another horse that grabbed me. So around six months later, I called to ask the person running the KY chapter to chat, and she asked me if I was still interested in the gelding I'd liked months ago. She said the husband of the woman who'd adopted him had fallen ill and she was returning him. I jumped at the chance to get him.

When the horse returned to ReRun, I got a call telling me he was severely underweight and most likely riddled with worms. Understandably livid, the ReRun person told me that the horse never would have passed his six month mandatory ReRun vet inspection and would have had to have been returned sick husband or no sick husband.

I wanted the horse anyway, but I was braced for a walking hat rack. Here he is right off the truck from KY:

Many wormings and much food later, Life Goes On, now known as Lion, once again looked like the horse I'd fallen in love with. Six months after he arrived, I sent this in as his first vet inspection photograph:

I love this horse. Not only do I find him exquisitely beautiful, I find him delightful in movement and character. While he LOVES to run, he's gentle enough under saddle to use as a lounge horse for children. I knew that the woman who lovingly raced him for five years took him home between meets and hacked him around her farm. I didn't know she obviously had more than a slight knowledge of dressage. When my neighbor got up on him, she discovered he was already quite adept at some low level movements. Here he is in leg yield:

Even his idiosyncrasies intrigue me. At play, he runs and runs and runs, and typically he squeaks when he's about to make the leap to hyperspace. I already knew this about him the first time I decided to try a canter on my trails. Most OTTBs run hot, so I cued with more than a bit of trepidation. When I heard him squeak, I looked at the expanse of trail in front of me and thought, I'm too OLD for hyperspace. Without much hope, I put my shoulders back and sat deeper. To my great relief and surprise, Lion settled into an easy, wafting canter. A horse that wafts--what more can anyone want?

Of course, he does have his standards. Trying to touching his right ear is still a problem. I've gotten used to taking his bridle apart to get it on him. Or, more usually, we just ride him in a halter.

But, if he has an excellent opinion of himself, he earned it. A horse with 42 starts--9 wins, 7 places, 4 shows--has a right to some standards of his own.

I still spend way too much time staring at his pedigree.

According to my research, Lion's by the same sire as Anne Moss's fabulous Helium, the gelding she rode sidesaddle to a USDF Silver medal. There's an article on Anne and Helium here. When I read that Helium squeaks, I smiled.

And, oh yes, my little avatar of a bay horse under About Me on the left of this page? Yup, that's Lion wafting.

19 April 2009

Memories--Colter in His Prime 1977

Colter's sire was National Top Ten in Park in the class won by *Bask. So people assumed Colter would be a Park Horse too. He had the movement, but his temperament was more Western Pleasure or maybe even Lead Line. He would have been glad to move out had people taken the time to explain what they wanted, but instead he more likely got the fire extinguisher treatment--certainly one way to get a horse to show "presence." When I got him, he had a broken rib from going over backward in a bitting rig and scars up both sides of his mouth, probably from the same experience.

When I got him, if was also terribly obvious he'd been mechanically collected with a curb bit for seven or more years. He was, in other words, stiffer than the average board.

As he rode my stallion during this March 1977 clinic, I also remember Dominique saying, "The old man is a little stiff, yes?" Indeed he was. But despite his stiffness and tension, Colter was still one of the most gentle and kind horses I've ever met.

I still clearly remember this moment. Dominique was relaxing, swinging his legs and saying, "Ah, another crazy Arab stallion!" Meanwhile, Colter was just quietly watching the other stallion then working in the ring.

By mid-summer, Colter wasn't nearly as stiff, and, instead of leaning into the full double of a park horse, he was yielding to a simple snaffle.

Of course, I'm really not big on using any sort of bridle if I'm riding for fun.

Memories--The Horse of a Lifetime

In the mid-1970s, a friend asked me to look at an Arabian stallion she was considering for her mare. I looked, told her I liked him, and thought nothing more of it until the phone rang many months later. The stallion's owner had leased him out, moved out of state, and was extremely worried--with good reason. I checked on him and found him about three hundred pounds underweight. When I reported this, she offered me time payments on a price that was a fraction of what she'd paid for him.

He sired a Reserve National Champion, several Class A Arabian regional winners along with Anglo-Arabians, colored part-breds, and many other nice horses.

More than that though, he was a fine friend for the eighteen years that I owned him. I just wish I had a photo of him with the Brownie troop. When they came to the farm to earn their Horse Lover's Badges, I selected the one horse I trusted to be perfectly mannered with a giggly, wiggly bunch of elementary school girls--my breeding stallion. I still smile when I remember him standing head down in the middle of his pen with a brush-wielding girl on each leg and still more on his head, neck, and tail. It was his idea of heaven. Mine too.

COLTER (Res. Nat. Ch. Afari X Rieza)
Foaled March 1965--Died January 1, 1995

Memories--The Mare Who Taught Me

Lemon and me in 1974

I found this little mare in 1971 at the military stable at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She'd been for sale for a year without any takers. She wouldn't longe, but she would buck, bolt, refuse jumps, and generally behave badly.

On the advice of others, I asked the guru of Fort Leavenworth his opinion of her. Master Sgt. Roland R. Richmond (ret.), former head farrier for the US Cavalry, said, "Not a mean bone in her body." When I then asked him if he'd shoe her for me, he said, "Too old to get killed by a horse" and walked off.

Young and intrigued, I bought her and renamed her Twist of Lemon. She quickly taught me that intelligent, generous horses become calm, eager learners when rewarded for good behavior. She also taught me that punishments and attempts at "control" typically backfire. Together, we both learned a lot, although I learned more from her than she ever learned from me.

Six months after I bought her, Sgt. Rich walked by and said, "Shoe your mare. Two p.m., Friday." I've never had a higher honor in my life.

Update: 4 August 2015

I should have added that before Sgt. Rich started he said, "Been watching. We'll do it your way." That meant that no punishment was involved. Not even any yelling. When she cooperated, she got verbal praise and rubbing and then Sgt. Rich and I would have a cup of coffee before he continued.

We went through three pots of coffee and he didn't finish until six p.m., but by then Lemon had figured out what we wanted. Sgt. Rich charged me eight dollars, and Lemon, the terror other farriers had thrown and hogtied, earned the last slot of the day, the one a tired farrier saved for a horse with perfect manners.

07 April 2009

Learning to Ride As an Adult

The full title of Erika Prockl's book is Learning to Ride As an Adult: A New Training Method for First-Time Riders. So far, my only complaint with the book is the title. This little volume is also quite suitable for people who, like me, have been riding for many decades. Prockl uses simple diagrams and instructions on how to use a physio-ball--Pilates ball, Swiss ball, yoga ball, whatever--to help a rider learn balance, muscle control, and position for riding a horse.

Now I have an excuse to sit on an exercise ball while I watch TV. This's certainly cheaper than buying one of those super-expensive horse simulators I've wanted for so long.

I admit it. I never really outgrew those coin-operated horses outside K-Mart.

A Book Worth Reading

Here's German veterinarian and professional rider Gerd Heuschmann in the 2007 English edition of his book Tug of War: Classical Versus “Modern” Dressage:

I do not understand how, just because someone is a horse enthusiast, he or she is allowed to mount a horse without having any previous education whatsoever, and calls himself or herself a “rider” from that very moment on. Imagine this approach applied to the sport of hang gliding or diving! And, such disciplines to not involve another living individual creature that, on the one hand, is very strong, yet on the other, very delicate and sensitive. (123)

The original 2006 German version of this book carried the provocative and easily translated title Finger in der Wunde.