Laughter is the best medicine--especially for riders!
Thanks to the judges for American Horse Publications
for awarding this piece 3d Place, Personal Column in the 2011 AHP awards.
Just read an article the other day on fitness ideas to make you a better rider. I read it lying on my couch, because
utter relaxation helps me absorb new ideas better.
Also, in order
to make sure I remembered what I was reading, I took a generous bite of chocolate with each paragraph. Studies have shown
that pairing a pleasurable stimulus with new learning reinforces the learning. This must be true, as I certainly remember
every bite of the chocolate.
golden rule of exercise is borrowed from Mark Twain: “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes
away.” This does not apply to riding horses, of course, which is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It only applies
to those varieties of torture, er, activity specifically designated as “exercise.”
Regretfully, I have reached the age where exercise might
actually be less awful than the consequences of no exercise, so I had an idea to try to make it more fun by incorporating
actual horses into my routine. After all, who has the time to go to a gym? Who wants a huge pink exercise ball taking up space
in the den...space that could be used for storing extra tack from the barn?
Allow me to introduce “Horsercises.”
It’s important to get your heart rate up so you can post all day. You could do it by breaking green horses,
but the extra adrenaline rush is frowned on for those over 35. Instead, try this. Find yourself one of those horses that doesn’t
like to be caught in the pasture. Head out to said pasture very nonchalantly with the halter held behind your back. Sidle
up to the horse in an obviously suspicious manner. When you’re about four feet away lunge at the horse. The horse should
go charging off like a three-year-old Thoroughbred on Derby day. Run like mad after her yelling, “Come here, you idiot,”
and waving your arms. Continue for 30 minutes. You’ll know you’ve reached your target heart rate when you start
yelling like this: “Come. (puff, puff) Here. (gasp) You. (puff, puff) Idi.....(pant, pant, pant.)
Variation: for extra conditioning, choose a muddy pasture
and wear heavy boots.
For this session, select a horse that is normally bridled
by elves. You can identify such a horse because when you slip the halter off his nose, he will drop his head straight to the
ground, about elf height. You don’t want to cure the horse of this habit – that would not be fair to the elves.
Instead, squat deeply, grab the horse’s head firmly, and haul it up to person-height as you stand up. Go to slip the
bridle on, at which point the horse drops his head again. Do 10 reps. Make sure the horse considers this to be great fun,
so he’ll keep it up; you don’t want one of those horses that thinks his job is to please you. Fortunately, they
For this exercise, select a very tall horse that has never been trained to stand
still for mounting. Ideally, he should be saddled but not bridled. Get a three-step mounting block. Position the horse alongside
it with plenty of room on his right. Climb the mounting block, grab mane, go to put your boot in the stirrup. The horse will
swing his hind end away. Climb down, reposition the horse, climb up again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Do at least 20 reps.
Variation: get your toe in the stirrup
just as your horse moves away. This will provide a very nice inner thigh stretch. Wear loose pants.
Bend and Stretch
This exercise will provide you some interval training. Get a pair of breeches about
one size (or ten years) too small. Make sure they’re made of a very heavy but stretchy fabric. Put them on. Rest 20
minutes. Take them off. Rest 10 minutes. Put them on again. Repeat until you are sufficiently exhausted.
Variation 1: for more resistance, make sure you’re
slightly sweaty from your haltering exercise. Variation 2: put on new tall boots after the breeches are on. Variation for
western riders: same exercise with chaps, only zip them up yourself instead of having one friend struggle to force the sides
of the zipper in proximity to one another and another friend wrestle the zipper grip down.
Whew. That’s enough for now. Nap and chocolate, anyone?
I've discovered the 21st century version of a letter to Santa. It's
the query to Google.
We all know Google is the Book of Knowledge, or what passes for Knowledge in the shadowy world
of the Internet. But it may be taking the place of the letter to Santa, as well.
This discovery came courtesy
of the nifty tracker on my website for horse show parents. It tells me what queries people are using to find my site.
they are looking for info on ‘‘horse show clothes'' or ''horse show moms". But one day I stumbled on
this plaintive question: "How can I get my parents to buy me a horse?"
The girl who typed that question (yes,
I'm sure it was a girl) may not have known it but she came to the right place. Husband and I are parents who had no intention
of owning a horse yet through the application of some mysterious force, did, in fact, buy our daughter a horse.
this little girl wants to know is what this mysterious force is and how she can apply it to her own parents. Thirty years
ago she probably would have asked Santa for a horse. Now she's asking Google. This is the modern age.
So for her sake
and the sake of countless other little girls, I'm setting forth the system that worked on me and Husband. Parents, please
forgive me. But misery and horse show moms love company.
1. Use reverse psychology at the beginning.
Let's say you are scheduled to take riding lessons. Plead to get out of it. Declare you would rather do anything than ride
a big, stinky horse. Be forced to, and immediately fall in love. The surprise factor will catch your parents off-guard, and
give them the false impression that they were right to insist on the lessons, leading to the fuzzy notion that horses are
somehow good for you.
2. Pick a barn that is far away from your house. The half-hour or longer drive each way
will make your mom believe she has a lot invested in this activity. Spend the time on the drive rhapsodizing about horses.
This will have a hypnotic effect on your mom as she dodges traffic, bypassing her rational mind and lodging directly in the
3. Become obsessive. Spend an inordinate amount of time helping at the stables, cleaning tack and
mucking stalls. This will first bewilder your mother, since you show none of this cleaning aptitude at home. But gradually
she will begin to take it as a positive sign that you might have a cleaning streak in your personality after all. She will
be mistaken, but the whole business will serve your purpose, which is to make her feel good about "this horse thing".
Start small. Collect Breyer horses and all the accessories. Also, spend some of your allowance on a hoof pick or other odd
horse implement. These activities accomplish two things. It will get your parents used to spending money on horse-related
items--a crucial step. And it will convince them that you really, really, REALLY love horses.
5. Now you're
ready for the more direct route. First, tell your parents that you want to show horses. If they have any idea
of what this means-or even if they don't-they will protest. Calm their panic by telling them about open shows, and how
you can borrow your friend Emily's clothes, and ride one of the lesson horses.
6. Escalate the process.
With a few shows under your belt, start making vague noises about having your own horse, because it would be better for showing,
etc. etc. Your parents will panic again. Tell them about leasing. Many parents won't be aware that a horse
can be leased like copiers and cars. They will, poor things, think this limits their involvement to a kind of toe-in-the-water
move toward seeing if, maybe, someday in the distant future, owning a horse might make sense.
Spring the trap. Assuming your parents by now have either caught a bit of horse show fever themselves, or at least are
devoted enough to your own happiness to keep this game going, now's the time to make the ask. Start by talking about
the horses for sale at your barn. Mention the most expensive ones first. Once they've heard about the high-dollar
horses, you can zero in on a more modestly price model that you want. The relief alone will propel them relentlessly
toward the notion of actual purchase. As is usual with such requests, make extravagant promises about the chores you'll
do, and the things you'll gladly do without, to have a horse.
8. Congratulations! If you've worked the process
flawlessly, and your parents are anything like us and our friends, any day now you'll walk into the barn to find your very
own horse waiting for you. Remember to thank Mom and Dad profusely. Oh, and save this list. It'll help for
that day you start working toward your own car.
P. S. If none of the above works...there's still Santa.
like to give public service announcements, or handy hints, especially to new horse owners or riders. I'm not that knowledgeable,
but that never stops me. Based on personal experience, here are three tips for you on general horse handling.
How To Catch a Horse
1) As a conscientious
horse owner, read all you can on the art of catching horses in the field. The highest practice of this art is when you merely
stroll casually up to the gate, and your horse comes running in a frenzy of pleasure at the idea of spending a moment in your
Those who teach this art have different approaches, but all agree:
don't bribe the horse.
2) Bolstered by your new research, step-by-step pictures,
and your innate bond with your horse, go out to catch and halter your horse.
Following the sage advice you've gleaned, don't chase your horse. Either wait patiently, pretending not to care how many eons
it takes for him to face you calmly with ears forward, or "herd" him until he decides it will be easier to stop
and let you come to him than go on trotting this way and that. Pack a lunch. Pack a dinner. Pack a tent.
4) After 72 hours straight in the pasture, blistered, sunburned, covered with dust and/or mud,
go get a bucket with some grain and shake it by the gate.
You've caught your horse. It's not bribery, exactly. Think of it as an incentive plan.
How to Bridle a Horse
1). Slip off the halter and fasten it loosely around your horse's neck. Your horse's head should drop to exactly
the right height for you to slip his bit in. It won't.
2). Holding the top
of the bridle in your right hand and the bit with your left, lift your right hand over the horse's head preparing to slip
the bit in.
3) Yell at him when he lifts his head up to three inches higher
than your arm goes. Push his head back down. Notice the baleful look in his eye as he's noticing the baleful look in your
eye. Whoever has the most baleful look will win this game.
4) Start over
with Step 3.
5) Now your horse will probably lower his head. You will lower
your hands. He will lower his head. You will lower your hands. You'll think this is better than The Head Toss until suddenly
you find yourself folded like a jackknife, back muscles spasming.
his head up and repeat step 3.
7) Prepare to gently slip the bit in. Your
horse may now proceed to a variation of The Bridling Game, called The Mouth Clamp.
8) Try to wedge your fingers firmly into the toothless area of his mouth. Notice that he has clamped his jaws as
tight as the stones of the Pyramids.
9) Keep trying. His mouth finally
pops open, but his head pops up too.
10) Forget trying to get his head
in the right position or avoid clacking his teeth with the bit and simply push the darn thing in with the appropriate curse
11) Congratulations! You've bridled your horse, and your trail partners
are only a mile or two ahead of you, or your class is only half over.
How to Wash a Reluctant Horse
and brush your horse.
2) Lead your horse to the wash rack and start confidently
into the wash rack.
3) Stay relaxed and in control as your horse plants
all four feet and pulls back with all his might. Give a quick tug on his lead.
Pull really hard.
5) Get your friends behind the horse to wave their hands,
shoo and/or smack him into the wash rack as you pull with all your might.
Fall on your butt as your horse bolts into the wash rack. Recover your dignity and brush off wet sand, mud or worse.
7) Adjust the water nozzle and/or temperature. Spray your horse starting at the feet. Scream
at him when he dances sideways and steps on you or knocks you down again.
Keep a rag handy for scrubbing dirty spots, like your face when he whips his wet tail across your cheek. This will be in contrast
to your attempts to wash under said tail, when it will suddenly clamp down tightly and be impossible to raise.
9) Raise the sprayer to wash his face. He will raise his head. Raise your arm higher. Notice
that the majority of the water is pouring into your armpit, and very little is getting on your horse's face.
10) Sweat scrape him, as more little rivulets of water pour down your arm.
11) Congratulations! Your horse is now clean, and you are a sodden mess.
Enjoy these simple everyday tasks with your horse, knowing that if he's not actively resisting,
it's because he's thinking of new ways to make you work harder for him.
visit my website looking for all sorts of things. The other day I noticed someone had found my site by Googling “How
do you enter a horse show?”
This seemed like a perfectly reasonable
question, and a chance to provide a service to those who are new to the world of showing. So pay attention and take notes,
because I’m going to outline a simple, 12-step process for how to enter a show.
Step 1. Receive a premium book from an upcoming show. Mentally make a note that you’d like to go to that show.
Keep the book in a special place so you won’t forget. Pile mail, vet bills, horse magazines, tack shop flyers and other
items on top of the book to keep it safely in place.
Step 2. Resolve to
start riding more to get ready to go to that show next months. Plenty of time. Go out to the barn, only to discover that your
horse has thrown a shoe and you need to call the farrier. Settle for grooming.
3. Go out to the barn once the shoe is back on, but spend so much time watching your friend working with her yearling that
you only have time to lunge and trot a bit. Resolve to do better next time.
4. Go out to ride, and work the heck out of your horse in order to be ready to ride in that show in, what, a few weeks? Mentally
resolve to check the book to find the hotel with the show special rate.
5. Wake up the next day so sore you can’t move. Drag your sorry aching bones out to the barn only to find it’s
a toss up as to who’s less able to work today, you or your horse. Settle for grooming.
Step 6. Get too busy at work to ride for a while, but reassure yourself it will do you and the horse good to take
some time off after that big workout. Remind yourself to find the book to check for the entry deadline, it must be pretty
Step 7. While cleaning tack a week later, overhear your friends
talking about the show and smack your forehead with the dirty tack rag. You have GOT to find that premium book and enter,
book a hotel, and get yourself and your horse ready.
Step 8. Dig through
that pile of stuff to find the book. It has disappeared. Locate a second pile and dig through that. Nope. Work your way through
all visible piles of papers. Disgustedly, go out to the car to get fast food for dinner, and find the book in the backseat
where you threw it to take to the barn. Check the entry date, and note that you will now have to late enter and pay for the
privilege of disorganization. Call the show-special hotel and learn that there are no rooms left anywhere around because there’s
also a drag race that weekend. Kick something, jam your toe and realize you’ll never get your boots on so you can’t
ride tomorrow either.
Step 9. Now that you’ve entered the show, which
is next week, realize that you haven’t tried on your breeches in a while. Try them on only to find that, guess what,
the fast food you’ve been living on lately (so you’ll have time to ride) has set up housekeeping in places it
was never intended to inhabit. You could leave the breeches unbuttoned under your jacket, but there are also mysterious stains
that won’t come out. Head to the tack store for new ones. Can’t ride tonight.
Step 10. Get all your tack and gear ready and console yourself with the thought that, oh, well, you can practice
at the show and you really don’t mind bunking in with four other friends at the hotel, even though you’ll have
to sleep on the lumpy hide-a-bed.
Step 11. Get up early, brew coffee, load
your horse, leave for the show. Remember that you left the new breeches. Go back and get them. Get to the show late but what
the heck, you still have a little time to practice before you ride today.
12. Do your warm up, worry about how out of condition you and your horse are, get dressed. Decide since you didn’t have
breakfast and you’re feeling a bit faint, you’d better grab a concession stand hot dog before the class. Drip
mustard on your new breeches. Cuss. Compare old stained breeches to the new stain and decide you’re better off with
the old ones and a large safety pin to hold them closed. Change clothes. Mount up. Ask yourself, are we having fun yet? Swear
on a stack of old premium books that it will be different next time.
Equine-Assisted Economic Recovery
TO: President Barack Obama
FROM: Ange Finn
Recovery Stimulus Ideas
Mr. President, it has come to my attention that you're having some challenges with
the economy. If I understand things correctly, we're in a recession, consumer confidence and spending is down, credit is tight,
investors are spooked, we need renewable energy, and health care costs are through the roof. Trillions of dollars, not
to mention our future, are at stake. Mr. President, I'm just a regular citizen, but I think I have a solution.
every American a horse.
My proposal may not make sense to you at first, but let me give you a little background.
First of all, horses in the US are a multi-billion dollar industry, and that's just at my house. I suggest you have
your economic advisors do a little research on the spending around horse ownership. You'd be surprised, Mr. President.
Start by visiting the tack and clothing retailers like State Line or Dover. Look at the variety of goods available
there. Now take into account that every horse owner, especially if it's a woman, is buying not just one or two, but
tons of these items. Believe me.
So my thinking is that if you give every American a horse, starting when they
reach the horse-receptive age of 10, you're going to do two things: boost consumer confidence, and boost spending.
Immediately. Horses make us feel good, and once Americans all own horses (at the government's expense, of course), they
will all logically fall into the pattern that every horse owner succumbs to: accessorizing. For starters, we need
horse-care implements like buckets and muck rakes, hoof picks and curry combs. And we need at least basic tack, halter,
leadline, saddle, saddle pad, bridle and bit. But then the fun begins.
Zebra print leg wraps. Neon bright
fly masks. An assortment of sheets and blankets for all seasons; you've got your cooler, your lightweight blanket, your
medium blanket, your heavy blanket. Then there's your stable sheet and your pasture sheet. Also your hoodie, and
tail wrap items.
And that's just the clothing for the horse. Don't get me started on the clothing for the
rider, even if she doesn't show. Since most Americans don't have a basic riding wardrobe, the stores would be swamped
for jeans, boots, breeches, t-shirts, dozens of pairs of cute boot socks, and the ubiquitous ball cap. Tell the retailers
to get ready. It'll be Christmas all year long.
Now let's talk about support industries. In addition to
the usual vet and farrier expenditures, people also give their horses chiropractic, massage and acupuncture, not to mention
buying more beauty products for their horses than they do for themselves. All those professions and industries will
benefit. And of course there will be a big spike in hay and grain demand, so the farmers will be happy too.
see, that's the secret to jump-starting consumer spending through my stimulus package. People will spend money on their
horses when they won't spend money on anything else.
But, your advisors might say, there's a catch. Aren't we
paying the price, in global warming, of the large number of livestock animals we currently have? They produce all that
Ah, Mr. President, here's the real beauty of this idea. When you introduce the Methane-Assisted Natural
Unrefined Renewable Energy plan (M.A.N.U.R.E.), you'll be a hero for coming up with an alternative, renewable, home-grown
source of clean energy. Just challenge the energy gurus to come up with a methane gas collection system that can harness
all the "natural resource" produced by all those horses to power our cities. Talk about shovel ready-projects:
M.A.N.U.R.E. fits the bill!
And you keep stressing how we need new industries for investment; well, under the M.A.N.U.R.E.
plan you can sell Petroleum Offset Opportunity units to investors. By buying these units, investors can help us gradually
convert from a petroleum-based economy to one based on horse P.O.O.
Health care costs will go down, too, as everyone
cares for their horses. You can give tax credits based on the amount of time people spend working, riding and hanging
out with their horses, which will automatically make them healthier. (Don't tell the docs, but most horse owners already
get their own basic healthcare from their vet.)
One more thing: everyone is annoyed by these corporate CEOs and their
big bonuses in a down economy. So give the executives, say, one horse for every $100,000 of bonus money they've received.
Those bonuses will be plowed back into the economy in no time.
Finally, because you, Mrs. O, and the girls are such
role models, you can encourage us all by getting a pony for Sasha and Malia. It will teach them responsibility, help
the First Lady plow the garden, and as a bonus: free fertilizer for the Rose Garden.
If you don't believe me that horse
ownership stimulates spending, go ahead, Mr. President. Buy that pony for your girls. You'll see.
My First Horse Show
It's been about three years since
I showed in my first horse show. The scars are almost healed, and I can talk about it now.
Here's how the madness started.
After years of watching Daughter ride, I decided (once she'd gone to college) that this riding and showing thing was something
I'd like to try. Our wonderful trainer found me an equally wonderful palomino half-Arabian gelding.
He claims this is a horse both Daughter and I can show.
The Yellow Horse is a wonder, indeed. I decided to have my debut
on him at our local breed Christmas show. This show’s long been a favorite of ours where we visit with lots of friends,
but Daughter can’t come home to see me debut this weekend. Just as well, I think; I’d probably get nervous if
she watched. She called me before my class, wished me good luck, and gave me some last minute pointers.
Home is just a bit inland
from the Texas Gulf Coast, so we use the term winter loosely here. Still, everything is relative, and when our Texas blue
northers blow in, the temperature drop can be a little startling. From past experience I know that our local Christmas show
is an almost infallible predictor of the arrival of Texas winter on the Gulf.
And this weekend was no different. As Trainer pointed out, it
wasn’t so much the temperature as the 50 degree drop that got to us all.
Anyway, there we were, me new to showing, the horse new to all
of us, and the weather gone goofy on us. The Yellow Horse is kind of a mellow guy, which is fortunate. But he was, after all,
a horse, at a horse show, in cold weather.
So I should not have been surprised when I mounted up in the practice pen, and he was
a little look-y, and I got rattled and took the wrong turn out of the gate and started down the row of vendors and Trainer
yelled at me and I jerked my cold, curious, confused horse into the correct passageway and got more rattled and The Yellow
Horse began to do a perfect, if somewhat nervous, shoulder-in down the path toward the in-gate area. Did
I mention he’s not a dressage horse? Did I mention I’ve never ridden a fresh, nervous horse at a horse show in
an auspicious beginning for my first Western Pleasure class. But once I got through the gate we relaxed because we both kinda
knew what to do at that point. Ok, he knew. So we jogged, and they called for the lope, and I went through my mental
checklist and struck a lope and loped around the far end of the arena and back down to the in-gate end thinking, hey, this
ain’t so bad.
here are words you never want to hear from your trainer as you pass him at the rail on the opposite end of the arena from
where you first began your lope: “Now you’re on the right lead!” It was said in
an encouraging tone of voice, but still. I don’t know much, but I know that’s not good. We finished the class and places were called and sure ‘nuff,
I was fourth. Out of four. Some judges are just so picky about leads! I wish they’d give you a chance to plead
your case in these situations. I would have told him, “Sir, I was not on the wrong lead. I was just
going the wrong direction.”
Back at the stalls, I bemoaned the fact that I was going to have to tell Daughter about
my boo-boo. And everyone said, Your secret’s safe with us! Just don’t mention it.
So I called Daughter, and
heaved a big sigh, and said, Well, the first one’s over with. And she said… “Need a little help with your
leads?” Darn text messaging! Darn horse show friends! She had a spy on the rail. That’s when I realized…we’ve
reversed roles. She’s now the show mom, and I’m the junior rider. And like any good mom, she has eyes in the back
of her head. I’ll never be able to make a move at a show without her finding out.
But hey, look on the bright side: she’ll
make some kid a very good horse show mom one day!