27 March 2017

Buying a horse

Above is a link to an excellent article, found on Haynet, on how to sell a horse. Haynet is an excellent website devoted to horse crazy folks such as ourselves. 

I do hope Haynet doesn't mind that they inspired this post. 

Having been both buyer and seller of horses, I thought I might chip in with a post on what a buyer should do in the process.

There is more than just money involved when you are shopping for a horse.Of course, you want to do a lot of homework on the process of buying a horse: Conformation, pedigree, etc. This is concerning a few other things that might not immediately come to mind when you head out on the road to look at a prospect.

First and most important: you must be honest with yourself. Precisely WHAT do you want a horse for? How experienced are you as a rider? How good a horseman are you, meaning how capable are you at the everyday care of a horse?
Do not go horse shopping with ‘unrealistic expectations’. If you want a horse on which to learn to ride, you are looking for a completely different horse than if you are looking for a 4th level dressage horse on which to compete.

EQUUS magazine, (issue 13, which is many more years than I care to admit), published a matrix titled “The 7 Attributes in buying a horse”. It is undoubtedly long out of print, and I do not have the time (or money) to ask permission to reprint it.

Essentially, the Y axis is the rider’s experience level and the X axis is the aspects of the horse. The human experience level ranged from raw beginner to high level competition, as well as breeding. The horse’s attributes were: temperament, size, conformation, age, skill, soundness, and pedigree, with a score of each attribute of 1 being essential and 5 unimportant. With the exception of breeding, the higher the score, the greener the rider.

In a nutshell, it enabled you to decide what horse would be best for you.

  If you are a novice or a beginning rider, you do NOT want that drop dead gorgeous but green as grass three year old colt (a wise old horseman told me once, Green + Green=Black and Blue).
You want an old timer,  in his late teens who’s been there, done that.  He might have leg issues or not be the best in conformation, but if he has a reputation as a ‘babysitter’, give him a really good look. Pedigree is nice but you can't ride it. A 'grade' horse can be just as good a horse as the most blue blooded one.

If you have no experience whatsoever at training a horse, you don’t want that cheap-in-price mustang just three months off the range. If you are looking for a mount for a child, a Shetland pony might be the right size, but an older horse is a better bet. Shetlands have a deserved reputation for being little monsters,because they are so small an adult horse trainer can’t ride them. On the other hand, if you are a Grand Prix dressage rider or an eventer, you might be in the market for a hot tempered off track Thoroughbred that, with a steady hand and a little retraining, can become a gung ho eventer.

Decide what characteristics (i.e. vices) are acceptable to you. I would never take a cribber or a barn sour horse, but some folks can accept that if the horse meets their criteria in all other aspects. If you’re not going to breed them, a gelding or a mare with less than ideal conformation is perfectly acceptable. With age, horses develop common sense and wisdom. As my vet once said about my Arab, Jordan…”he didn’t get to be 25 years old by being stupid.”

When you contact a person who’s advertising her horse for sale, do so at a decent time of day. Understand that the seller is busy, too. Mom taught me, never call before 9 (AM) or after 9 (PM). These days, texting and emails are acceptable and convenient forms of contact.

I once had a woman call me at 11 PM without so much as an “excuse me, is this a bad time to call? (It was…I’d been asleep). She said the horse I was selling; a 16.2 TB/Appaloosa gelding; was “perfect for her daughter who wanted to do eventing.” I said "He doesn’t jump". She proceeded to shriek at me, what did I mean, he doesn’t jump? He has to jump, how can he do eventing if he doesn’t jump?”  “Nowhere in my ads does it say he jumps. He doesn’t jump.” I said, aggravated at the woman’s arrogant insolence.  She then called me a liar and hung up.   

If you go to see the horse, be there ON TIME. The seller has taken the time to prep her horse for you. She’s got things to do, too, and it’s rude for you to show up two and half hours later.

If you have to cancel, let her know as soon as possible. Set a return date and KEEP it.

When you get to the barn or stable, remember the Golden Rule: leave the gate as you found it. Other rules include not feeding any of the horses anything, being polite to the staff and other horse owners, etc.

Don’t be a ‘looky lou”. If you’re definitely horse shopping, it’s okay to go and look, but don’t  go 'shopping' solely  because it’s a lovely day and you want to see horses.

Don’t take your dog(s). I know, he ‘goes everywhere with you.” But it’s not your barn, and the seller’s dogs might not appreciate a stranger peeing on their turf.
You might not believe this, but not everyone likes dogs. Just because there are dogs everywhere in horse circles doesn’t mean that everybody is fine with it.
Your dog may be well behaved at home, but in his eye, that strange barn cat is fair game. Do not take your dog, even if you keep him on a leash. Don’t take your dog with the idea that he can ‘stay in the truck’. You are at someone else’s barn, not an offleash dog park. In this State, it is illegal to leave a pet (or a child) in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes, especially if it’s extremely hot or cold. Don’t expect the barn’s staff or horse seller to keep an eye on your mutt.  Leave your dogs at home.

Don’t take your babies or little children. This is business, not a trip to the petting zoo. Some folks, (like my barn lord) have dogs that have proven to be untrustworthy around small children.  The seller is trying to sell you her horse, not be your free babysitter. Don’t expect her to keep an eye on your kid while you ride.

The only reason you should take your child is if you are buying the horse for the CHILD, in which case, the care of the child is on YOU.

Go to see the horse with a definite plan in mind, and don’t waste the seller’s time. For instance, if you’re looking for a jumper, discuss whether the horse jumps or not BEFORE you go to the barn.

Take your own equipment with you. That means, YOUR boots, helmet, gloves, etc.

You don’t want to wear a helmet? Understand that, at least in the US, horse barns/stables are not liable for any injuries you might sustain while trying out a horse. If the seller insists you wear a helmet, wear it.

Keep your opinions to yourself regarding the seller’s appearance, weight, experience, etc. You’re there to look at a horse she is selling, NOT criticize her or impress her with your show record or knowledge.

Do take someone with you, preferably a trusted friend who knows more than you do about horses and knows your capabilities.

Do be careful. There are scammers in the horse world just as everywhere else. If the seller says “this horse was Canadian World Champion Dressage horse in 2010”, ask to see the ribbons, or pictures. If his price is high because he’s registered, ask to see the papers, and don’t accept a cock and bull story about “well, they were left out in the sunshine so you can’t read them.” Ask about the background of the horse: what was he used for, where did you get him, how long have you owned him, any medical issues he’s had? DO ask about vices. An honest seller will tell you.

Handle the horse. Groom him, look at his feet, his eye, his general attitude. Tack him up, (with HIS tack, as it fits him). Lead him up to a horse trailer. Lead him away from the barn and his buddies. Will he load? Will he start crying for his friends? Will he stand tied? Do ride the horse. Yes, I have had occasions where a looky lou refused to actually get on the horse. Have the owner ride the horse in front of you, to see what he can do.

Have the horse vet checked. Your vet may even be willing to come with you for a fee, of course.  You may even arrange to take the horse home for a few days: (leaving a good check for the agreed price as collateral). Why? He might be sedated for your inspection. Don’t ask me how I learned this-it’s a long and infuriating story.  Remember he’s going to be stressed in a new barn, but there is stress from new situations and stress from coming down from a chemically induced state of calm to find himself in a totally new barn.

If you like him, make more than one visit.  

Do have a formal contract with a return clause, as well as a bill of sale. Forms for this are available on the net for a nominal fee. Contracts will save your butt. Trust me. 

If you truly want him, leave a down payment for him, contingent on the horse passing a vet check. Half the selling price is a good down payment.

 Don't  leave the seller hanging.  A down payment is strictly that: something that says I am going to purchase this horse. Taking him "off the market' makes him almost yours, but it's not fair to keep the seller waiting for weeks. Three  business days is the unofficial limit on 'holding' him with a down payment. 

 If you realize he’s not the horse you are looking for, Say So. Don’t hedge. If you don’t like the price, she may be willing to negotiate, but don’t expect it.  Americans don’t like to haggle. Don’t say, “well, I’ll see what my husband says,” or “I’ll let you know in a couple days.” Or “I’ll have to look at that price after payday”. If he’s not what you want or you can’t afford him, be honest. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t afford him” or “She’s a nice mare but I realize she’s not what I want.” Then THANK the seller for taking her time to show him to you.

Good luck and good hunting. Your horse is out there. It is just a question of finding him.

08 March 2017

My apology to Western Equitation and the evils of Rollkur

Lifted from "The Mugwump Chronicles" a Word Press blog.

Before I begin this rant, let me relate something I learned from one of my massage clients.

A woman owned a very lovely Arabian stallion. She’d bred and raised him. He was a complete gentleman. She could hand breed him or let him out with his mares. She could lead him past a mare in raging heat without him turning a head or a hair.
He was gentle as a lamb, beautifully bred, well conformed, and perfectly trained.
He could not win in the show ring. 


Well…then..as now…judges didn’t want to see a gentle, quiet, gentleman of an Arabian stallion. They wanted to see a hyped up psycho on a lead, racing into the show ring on hind legs, eyes bulging, nostrils wide, screaming his head off, dragging his handler by the lead rope. They wanted to see flash and insanity, not a well-trained, quiet horse. A horse galloping, spinning, kicking, bucking was far more entertaining than a quiet stallion you could reliably put a toddler on. 

The tales of an Arabian stallion (or any gender) being artificially jazzed up  before ever entering the show ring…with drugs, whippings, insertion of foreign objects into its anus…are not apocryphal, or even anecdotal. They are true. It’s all to win a piece of fabric. 

The owner was excused from a show ring on more than one occasion because her stallion wasn’t insane. She was accused on more than one occasion of ‘sedating’ him. WHY sedate a quiet horse? She retired him from showing because she was disgusted with the expectations of a registry more impressed with insanity than horse training. 

To continue:

There are times when I have to admit I am wrong.

Now is one of them.

In the past, I’ve been a fairly harsh critic of “western equitation”. Most especially, I’ve disliked, vociferously, the WE’s fashion for the horse to go ‘low and slow’. Their horse’s gaits are so very slow, slow enough that a lame human like myself can easily keep up on foot beside a ‘’’jogging’’ (trotting) Quarter Horse.
What I disliked most, though, was the fashion for ‘peanut rolling”. 

Well, at least he's on a loose rein

This was the form they approved of, one where the horse’s nose is a mere handful of inches above the ground. I could always tell, just by ear, when a Western Equitation class was being held in an arena, just from the coughing of the horse.

I still don’t like it, because it appears to me as if the low hanging heads were forced into that position.
Now I wonder if I was wrong because of typical bias, or wrong because while I’ve heard that the way they’re ‘trained’ is by tying their head high the night before a show, I’ve never actually witnessed it.  Somehow, though, I believe that it’s forced carriage. While a horse at liberty does carry his head relatively low, it’s not THAT low. 

In the past few years, I’ve heard that WE judges have changed their positions and now want to see a higher, more traditional head carriage, and a more natural speed of trot and canter. This is good news, and more power to them.
My bias has showed in my failure to attack the opposite position, that of rollkur , an affectation that is now common in upper level dressage. (This was not intentional. I don’t have the opportunity to see upper level, international dressage.)  
Is this a happy horse? NOT. His rider is a VERY famous and professional rider. This is "rollkur'.

 “Rollkur’ also known as ‘deep’, took the dressage world by storm. No one protested, because deep pocketed donors liked it, and famous riders and trainers did it. Suddenly, the horse that was ‘deep’ was winning despite not being correct.  In rollkur (I won’t go into the biomechanics of it too deeply), the horse’s head is sharply overbent, in some cases, the horse’s chin is literally touching it's chest. (as in the photo above).
WHY this occurred is beyond me. Was is it to give the impression of collection? Obedience? (to me, it looks like abject submission.) Acceptance of the bit? Or, was it more one of “that is so cool looking”? 

I think it is the latter. Dressage people, it appears, are no more resistant to a fad than any spangled, teal colored  spandex ‘western’ body suit than any Western Equitation costume designer. Flash wins ribbons. 
Butt ugly, but that's what wins ribbons. Don't think the clothing manufacturers wouldn't love to convince the FEI to accept shit like this in the gravy train of  dressage.

Like my friend’s Arabian stallion, substance, gentle, proper training and presentation gets the gate.

What is even more offensive is that several people who should know better, went all aboard on rollkur. It’s one thing to say, I want my horse to look like this because I’ll do anything-even hurt the horse- to get the prize.  It’s another, offensive thing altogether to say, if you don’t agree with me then you are obviously a moron. It is utterly criminal for the judges to flop over in acceptance of rollkur, in complete denial of the very rules they are hired to adhere to. 

Dressage ideology used to be based on the concept that things like collection must be achieved correctly and NOT by the use of force. Perhaps in the days since I learned about the basics of dressage, that has been dismissed. Perhaps the line about a horse’s head being ‘vertical’, neither ahead or behind the bit, fell off the page as the regulation was being printed. It certainly is being ignored by FEI judges.

Rollkur is, in reality, ‘overbent’ to a ridiculous degree. The rollkur horse is so far behind the vertical (aka behind the bit) there IS no ‘vertical’. It’s ‘diagonal’. It is achieved, in many cases, by bits that are decidedly NOT a ‘simple snaffle’ or a curb. 
No, they look at this monstrosity:
I see three sets of reins, and this 'double bridle' doesn't look very gentle.

Being ‘overbent’ or ‘behind the bit’ allows for higher movement in front, yet another concept of dressage being subsumed by flash. Now you see upper level horses (like Moorland Totilas) doing “high school’ movements in the same vein as Spanish riding.  I remember watching the World Equestrian Game’s horses in freestyle dressage…and Totilas won, I believe, by his high stepping.  

 This was NOT what I learned of classical dressage in the 70’s. In those days, balance, harmony and symmetry was the desired picture, not the  high stepping (in front and shuffling in back ) of a circus horse. But…when big money/big names take on a fad, even the FEI is not immune to the pressures.

As seems to be the case in competitive horse showing, dressage people are no different from the WE folks in going to extremes. Here’s a photo of a horse being ‘trained’ into carrying its head in “rollkur’.

This is not 'training'. It is  TORTURE.

 How different is this from a Western Equitation horse I saw being ‘trained’ by having her head tied by the bit to the cinch of the western saddle on her back? Was this ‘suppling”? Is this picture showing a horse ‘in training’? No. (note, too, how gaunt he is).

This isn’t ‘training’. It’s TORTURE. There’s not a bit of difference in the mindset here: force a horse into a physical position. Not one whit. Different flavor of horsemanship, but still-forcing a horse to hold its head in a way unnatural and uncomfortable, all for the sake of fashion, is CRUEL. It is abuse. It is certainly not Horsemanship. 

Now I begin to see that the WE folks, perhaps, weren't alone in training their horses to go in a specific head carriage for fad reasons, although I can’t think of a good reason for it, any more than I can justify rollkur.  In a nutshell, I believe in allowing a horse to carry his head like he wants. 

So. To the Western Equitation folks, I apologize. I was wrong. I was being a snob. If your horse rolls peanuts WITHOUT BEING FORCED, more power to him…and you.
So now we come to Raven.

Sue and I have been riding Raven on a very loose rein for about a year.
Raven has a long back, so it is difficult for him to shift his weight to his hindquarters. He’s heavy on the forehand. In addition, he had a heavy, ‘upside down’ neck, coming from that heavy on the forehand work. 

Sue came to the realization that Raven wasn’t happy with the typical collection, or being on the bit. 

So she let him have his head, literally. We’re still making him ‘work’ but not “in a frame”. By allowing him to trot, canter and mostly walk on a relatively long, relaxed rein, we are seeing something interesting: his neck has slimmed and has, over time, become arched. His back is coming up underneath us, and he is carrying himself. The underside of his neck is no longer bulging out. Allowing him to ride with his head down allows his back to come up, his weight shift back and his forehand to lighten. 

Here is how it works:
This is the mechanics of equine movement.

Most importantly, he has stopped ‘arguing’. This is not to say they were fighting, but Raven would not ‘listen’ to Sue. 

When she gave him more rein, his resistance stopped. He began to dance with her. His head came down and his eye brightened. 
To add: this is how a natural lowered head looks, and how Raven is traveling now.

Now I’m not saying he’s peanut rolling. Far from it, literally. He’s carrying it where he wants to carry it. The difference in his attitude and happiness is amazing. He always has been a good work horse, always ready to be ridden and worked. But now he is happier, in ways I cannot elucidate. Is it ‘pretty’? That depends on your definition of pretty. I think seeing a horse carrying himself, with a calm tail and a happy face, is far more attractive than a wired up horse in chains.

 I took a lesson on him a while ago, and the trainer kept urging me to take up more rein. I found myself holding onto the bit with hands of iron, and I don’t like that. I didn’t feel him ‘seeking contact”. I felt myself with a rock hard grip on his mouth. He took it without complaint, but I..I felt guilty afterwards.

I came to the conclusion that, if furthering my education in riding dressage means using the reins as a weapon, well, then, I’m not going to. If dressage has become nothing more than an overly expensive fashion show, I am out of here. 

I will still ride to the ancient precepts of dressage: harmony with the horse. WILLING obedience on the horse’s part, me doing MY job of carrying myself and working WITH him, not against him. Most especially, I won’t FORCE him to do something that might Look Good but isn’t in his best interest.

05 March 2017

Every day is a bad hair day

I was born with a head full of wavy hair.

From that day forward to this, my hair has always been unruly. I know now that I have 6 cowlicks, all growing in different directions, lengths and speeds. In the summer it grows so fast that I have to get it cut every four weeks.

In all my life, I have never been able to get it to look neat. It’s virtually impossible to find someone to cut it so that it looks nice.

Having bad hair has always been a problem.

When I was a child, my mother used to nag me about my hair. “Your hair looks like a busted out mattress! DO something with it!”  What? Shave it off?  I haven’t the clue what to do with it.  But I didn’t have the wit to snap back with this retort, and probably would have been punished if I had. Shaving it may have made a temporary improvement in my appearance. But it would of course grown back, looking as it does now, as if a  trio of squirrels on LSD were nesting in it.

I was always being held accountable for my hair’s bad behavior.

I lived in South Korea for two years. South Koreans, being an exceptionally ‘pure’ population, (as opposed to mongrel me), all have hair that is black, straight and well behaved. The reason so many Koreans, both males and females ‘look alike’ ( I’m not stereotyping them) is that they all have the same hair, so there’s not much in the way of ‘fashion’. A bowl atop the head, a quick snip around their heads with scissors and voil`a, they are done, perfectly tonsured and neat as a pin.

I remember sitting in a Korean woman’s barber’s chair, hoping she could tame the hirsute beast atop my head. I heard her say (in Korean, which she was unaware I could speak) “this woman’s hair is crazy”.


Every picture of me shows a mass of hair that appears to be a black cloud of dust raised by a pair of battling bison.  Sometimes it looks like a giant muffin. Other times it grows wings beside each ear. I look like Bozo the clown. I have not one but TWO natural parts. One runs from my temple to just over my right ear to the back of my head. The other starts on the left side of my head and makes a dogleg at the top, making a hard right, where it ends in a cowlick. That one grows sideways across my forehead.

After I retired, I got a job that didn’t require me to look perfectly coiffed. Good thing, as my hair will never look anything but insane. One of my female co-workers started teasing me, calling me ‘cowlick girl’. Well, yeah. She had that right. Another female coworker claimed she’d been to a professional hair cutting school, and would I like her to try and make it behave?

Please? No problem. She tried. And tried. She gave me six haircuts in all. Every time they grew out in a different pattern. She stopped answering my phone calls for another appointment. I did manage to make one more. She refused to answer the doorbell. I know she was home. She was hiding from me. What a coward...why couldn't she just say I can't cut your hair anymore?

Being in the Army, I had to keep it short. This was helpful in that it made it easier to keep clean, but it never, ever looked right. That’s because haircutters would hide when they saw me walking into their salons.

While deployed to Iraq, I was unable to get my hair cut. It grew into a tangled mane that was totally un-military and hot as hell.
The Army usually provides each unit with a barber’s kit. The guys use it. They either shave or ‘buzz’-close crop-their heads in a war zone, for comfort and cleanliness. I would have done that but no one knew how to cut a woman’s hair.  I was miserable. When you live in the desert, you don’t have showers. You take cat baths out of a metal basin. Keeping your hair clean is pretty difficult.
One of my ‘attached’ soldiers (meaning, he was from a different Army post but was working with my unit) became our ‘barber’. I learned this when I saw him cutting my soldier's hair.
I asked him if he would shave my head. Really? Yes. I am so miserable.
 He looked around himself, and seeing that we were alone, asked me if I could keep a secret?

Yes, why?

Well, before he joined the Army, he’d been a lady’s hairdresser. No, he was not gay, but in American culture, a man who styles women’s hair is automatically considered to be gay..and in most cases, they are.

He said he would cut my hair ONLY IF I PROMISED not to tell the other guys that he cut it.

Oh, hell, that was easy. Please. I don’t care, I won't say a word,  just cut it, please.

The piles of hair at my feet looked as if I’d been at a sheep shearing. 
He must have taken six pounds of hair off my head. It felt great. 

When I returned from deployment, The Evil Sister...the one who'd always treated me like scum...insisted I get a 'perm'.
Still groggy, so to speak, from the 48 hour change from a desert war zone to a green Midwestern farm, I agreed.

BIG mistake. HUGE. I came out looking like Angela Davis, the Black Panther activist. Or, Grace Slick, the rock singer. My hair was  a huge dome of bubbled, tightly curled hair. I looked like a poodle on steroids. 

Because I've never learned what 'good' hair is, I am astounded at the comments the new hair cutter makes. 
They LOVE it. Oh my god, your hair. It's beautiful. It's thick, luscious,  it has 'body', look at these curls, it's a mane, you're like a lion, a horse. I'm in my sixties and don't have a grey hairIt's so weird to have someone run her hands through the mass, extolling its health. Then they begin to cut, and the conversation stops. I can see her in the mirror, manfully attacking the mane in front of her. Her scissors makes the same type of noise a hedge trimmer makes. The hair falls in masses, but still, there's hair. More hair. More hair. 

After a while, the scissors stops, the woman wipes the sweat from her brow and she says, I am so sorry. I have butchered you. I've never seen hair like yours. I even had one say, you don't have to pay me. 
Well, of course I do..and did. It's not her fault. I say,

"It's okay. I'm used to it. If you promise to keep it cut, I won't blame you for  the way it looks."
I have given up. Now all I do is keep it clean and run a brush through it in the morning, so I can say I DID brush my hair. I have a friend who cuts it now, with no promises other than she'll take off the overburden. That's all I ask. Sometimes it looks okay. Sometimes it looks insane. A ball cap covers it quite nicely.
As for the soldier who cut my hair-it was the best haircut I ever got in my life. 

I had to go to a combat zone to get the perfect haircut.