Friday, March 30, 2012

Find Your PATH

If you ever find yourself doubting the value of your family’s involvement with horses, you might want to go spend a little time with a therapeutic riding center near you.  In fact, I’m going to recommend that you do something that I need to do:  volunteer a little time helping out as a side walker or some other role at the center.

I recently had the honor of meeting Molly Sweeney, the 2011 recipient of the USEF/EQUUS Foundation Humanitarian Award.  Wow, what a lady!  All of us rightly believe our grandmother is the best grandmother in the world.  Let me just tell you, Molly’s grandkids really have something to crow about.

Molly has devoted a good portion of her life to helping build and sustain SIRE, Houston’sTherapeutic Equestrian Centers.  Beyond that, she has been active with PATH International, the national accrediting organization for therapeutic riding centers.  And she is a founder and board member of the Horses & Humans Research Foundation.  The goal of that organization is to advance research into the broad beneficial effects of equine-assisted activities and therapies.  We’re talking wounded warriors.  Folks young and not-so-young with learning disabilities.  People diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord injury, and much more. 

Molly, who credits her horse granddad with influencing her passion, has done all sorts of riding – for competition and for pleasure – all over the world.  She is about as deserving an award recipient as I can imagine. 

If your family is being enriched by its involvement with horses, figuring out a way to support your nearby therapeutic riding center might be a good way to express a little appreciation for that blessing.  Just a thought.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Archie, the bay gelding, decided to take a late afternoon stroll earlier this week.  His stall door was open, after all.  And the wheelbarrow that customarily blocks the exit while his owner works her cleansing magic with the muck rake?  Well, it must have been situated so that there was enough of a gap for Archie to morph into a truly hairy Houdini.

The grass is tall out at the barn right now.  What horse would not be lured by its green goodness?  As a row of stabled mates looked on with unbridled envy, Archie grazed and roamed and grazed some more.  First on the good stuff that grows right up against the barn, where moisture dripping off the roof assures some sort of crop even in the hottest part of summer.  Then a couple of lengths away from the barn.  In the seconds that passed before his owner noticed his escape, Archie had made his way out into the open, grassy area that separates the barn from the riding arena.

The young owner, mumbling something about how embarrassing this was, grabbed a halter and lead rope and made her move toward her “baby boy.”  But Archie was having none of it.  Each time she got within a couple of steps of him, the gelding moved away and munched some more.  Soon, other youngsters dropped what they were doing and joined the low-key bronco chase.  Archie, noting the increased interest in his liberated state, darted to another, more verdant corner of the field.  He ate some more. 

The posse grew in number.  More lead ropes.  Peppermint treats were unveiled.  Carrots.  Handfuls of grass.  (Hmmmmm?  There is a field full of grass here and our horse-on-the-lam is going to hit on this bait?)  Each time the throng got close, Archie would take off in a different direction.  The manner of it all made the Keystone Kops look like the Bolshoi Ballet. 

Now, a loose horse is nothing to be taken lightly; everyone was fortunate in this case that most of the horses were put up for the evening, no one was riding down in the arena, and so on.  Still, it was hard not to smile at the vision of Archie enjoying his freedom and the determination of his young pursuers.  Finally, one of them rattled a feed bucket.  Archie’s ears perked up, the quick-thinking captor was able to get close and secure a handful of mane.  The incident came to a peaceful close. 

Question:  What feed buckets are you listening to that are limiting your liberation?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What's in a Name

One of our dear friends just bought a new horse, a good looking gelding paint that came with the name Waco.  Not a bad name, Waco, in my estimation.  Any city that just produced the reigning Heisman Trophy winner can’t be all bad, right? 

But Waco was not a name the paint’s new owner was able to warm up to.  In an effort to assist, a herd of alternate names was quickly rounded up by the local experts.  Several bold suggestions did not survive the first cut, however, because of a theory endorsed around these parts that says a horse adopts a behavior associated with its name.  

In other words, according to those who live under my roof and spend more time with horses than I do, “Buddy” is indeed a great pal of a horse.  The name just fits. “Natural Disaster” was, they say, a big ol’ accident-waiting-to-happen kind of horse.  And so on.

I don’t know if I fully buy into the theory or not.  But I have noticed that some horse names can spur me to certain behaviors on a regular basis.  When we participate in evening bring-in at the barn, for example, Lilly the crazy-eyed mare can almost always count on me yammering like Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles as I slip the halter around her neck:  “Lilly, Lilly, Lilly.”  I’m able to readily identify Walker, the black gelding with two white socks, because a walker needs socks, right?  And for reasons I’m sure would justify professional help, I find myself slipping into Edith Bunker voice each time I go out to bring in the chestnut gelding, Archie.

I suppose there is a chance that this horse-portrays-its-name theory holds some validity.  If so, I opined on the way to the barn recently, I’ve got the perfect name for our next horse.  A name that would make stall clean-up fun and profitable.  Poops Gold Nuggets.

Our friend, by the way, decided to name her new paint Hank.  Outstanding.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daylight Saddle Time

Spring forward.  Even as a damp and chilly day persists where we are, tonight is the night we leap into a fresh, new phase, surrendering an hour of sleep so that we can enjoy a season of extended evening light. 

Around our house, that means increased time with horses, extra moments to spend with friends at the barn, and a general sense that the rhythm of life as we like it best has awakened from hibernation.  Daylight Saddle Time.

It is a time of year when work around the house gets put off (more readily than normal) and time at the barn is relished.  Occasionally, after lessons and barn chores, a tailgate picnic – fried chicken or pizza or sausage and cheese – allows for bonus time out where the horses live.  On those evenings, the sun will drop below the horizon and there will still be enough of a chill in the air that no one is particularly eager to leave for the comforts of home. 

From my perspective, these times are best enjoyed with the assistance of a couple of things: a good lawn chair and a sharpened sense of observation.  Take note of the interaction between kids and animals.  Enjoy the magnificent dance of the sky – the early spring choreography of Jupiter and Venus.  Pay attention to the sounds and the aromas. 

In his masterful book, From a Limestone Ledge, in a chapter titled Noticing, John Graves writes “… in surroundings that you care for and have chosen, you use eyes, ears, nose, taste buds and whatever other aids you can muster for reception.  You notice.  And in noticing, you live.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dads: Never Do This

For whatever reason, this morning’s Internet-recommended reading included a recycled Woman’s Day article titled “Top Ten Things Husbands Should Never Do.”  The (far-from-exhaustive) list included such nuggets as, “Never Give a Home Appliance as a Gift” (well, duh …) and “Never Brag About Your Driving” (look, if it’s the truth, it’s not bragging …)

The piece got me to thinking that there surely must be a comparable list of things a horse dad should never do.  For example:

5.  Never turn your back on a young, energetic mare.  Once while bringing in horses from the mare paddock, I made the mistake of giving a two-year-old too much lead rope.  She got excited when some other horses in the field started to frolic in the evening breeze and she flat bowled me over in her attempt to join in the merriment.  I got up, made sure no one was looking, dusted myself off and was just thankful I did not catch a hoof in the back of the head.

4.  Never pick a horse’s hooves.  Leave that to the experts.  I’m told there’s frogs in there.

3.  Never try to act like you know when a rider is on the wrong diagonal.  It is easier to identify the nuances of the Tampa 2 defense from the comfort of your couch than to spot an errant riding position even when you are sitting right by the arena.

2. Never buy a saddle off eBay.  Trust me on this.

1. Never use any barn implement smaller than a muck rake.  Nothing good can come from you having a riding crop in your hands.  We’ve already mentioned the need to avoid hoof picks.  And for Pete’s sake, even uranium-rattling Iran is a more stable situation than you with a worming syringe in your possession.

I’m sure there are at least five more things horse dads should never do, but I don’t know what they are.  Perhaps you do.