Apr 2, 2012

On the Road to Find Out

I have so enjoyed sharing these stories about Bryan and I hope you have appreciated them as well. But I can hear people wondering ‘Who are you and what makes *you* think *you* could reach that horse, anyway?’ It’s a fair question and I will answer it now.

I confessed that I am attracted to pathology. Even as a kid  I never wanted the ready made horse. How boring was that! I got my first backyard horse when I was 9. I started riding at a local hunter barn when I was 12. I was in awe of the grooms, college age women who also showed. When I heard a vet describe one of them as being able to ‘put a busted leg back together’ I knew I wanted to be her. Perfectly wrapped legs in clean cottons with flannels and pins were objects of reverence and beauty. I hung out at barns and watched vets work and do PPEs and learned poultices and blisters and etc etc. At 15 I groomed at my first A show for a BN jumper trainer. My hero was Jimmy Williams, my Gods were Bill Steinkraus and The George. I was a hard core horse girl.

When I was 17 parents let me buy a lame aged school horse, an OTTB, pinfired, with a big low bow and no flexion in his ankle. Did I mention the nasty infected wound on his left front cannon bone? The vet I knew and helped occasionally said ‘no way!’. 150$ later he was mine.  By then I could wrap and soak and ice and poultice with the best of them; I got him sound, kept him sound, showed him successfully, and sold him for 1500$ to my trainer’s sister a year later (who did not keep him sound, and retired him).

In 1974 I went to Cal Poly SLO as a freshman in Animal Science and planned on a veterinary career. Whee! Equine Cadavers! Cutting horses! Rodeo horses! TB breeding stock! Lots of pathology!

Fast forward to 1992. I was married with two toddlers and living in Massachusetts. I had changed my mind about vet school and after four years of Animal Science I switched majors and in 1981 got my BA in English. I had groomed on the circuit with Hap Hansen, been a braider, owned  hunters and jumpers, had worked for equine vets, had worked at a dude ranch, had driven teams of Belgians, and had spent those years immersed in horses. Throughout I saw, over and over, horses that were clinically sound but whose x-rays were like Swiss cheese. I saw horses with grade five lameness with x-rays that weren’t bad at all. I saw the soft tissue injuries, foot issues, good x-rays, bad x-rays, navicular cysts, sore backs, behavior problems, training problems, mystery lamenesses with no apparent rhyme or reason. ‘That’s just horses!’ people would say with a shrug.

I also believed that horses had attitudes, work ethics, and free will, and that we always needed to ‘win’ in any discussion that might arise. I  followed all the usual training practices. I lunged in side reins, played with bits of varying severity, loved my bitting rig and my various martingales and nosebands. I also blamed the horse when ‘they didn’t/wouldn’t’ do something that I asked them to do. Not in an angry way, or a punishing way, but matter of factly. It’s what everybody did. When training and riding problems arose, it was just the horse’s issue; ‘He doesn’t like the left lead/he leans/ he escapes/ he evades/ he’s spoiled/he’s lazy…’ And if he went lame, well, you bemoaned your bad luck, paid your vet bill, and if you were lucky you got a new one. It never occurred to me that there was a different way.

But in 1992, things changed.


  1. It was only after proving to myself that others were wrong about horses even more than I was, that I opened my mind to the fact that all those platitudes accepted about horses -- they don't want to X, we need to win, blah, blah, blah -- weren't necessarily correct.

    Now, I think there's a different way, as you do, and I'm not afraid to present a different point of view when I hear the platitudes and untruths spoken about horses.

    It takes a lifetime to learn about horses and I'm still learning, but the more I learn, the more I question.

  2. And it is comforting to find like minds! There have been times that I felt I lived in a vacuum. It was wonderful when I got my first computer, in 1996, and could read and study and link to others who were on the same page, or at least looking for the page! Now there are so many of us who have learned, sometimes the hard way, that much of the Common Wisdom regarding horses is just so much crap, and that horses have paid the price for a long, long time.