Everything sublime is as difficult as it is rare. Baruch Spinoza

Sunday, May 10, 2009

End Of An Era

There is just as much horse sense as ever, but the horses have most of it. 

This is a nice photo - click for larger image

Horses have been a part of my life all of my life. I decided I had the tumidity to breed and raise the beasts almost two decades ago, but they have always been in my world. The smell of them is ingrained in my pores. Not everyone likes this, but I can't smell it, so it's all good.

Some people are born to do something. I was born for horses. An unfortunate thing, being so connected to something of no practical value. I found I liked breeding and raising them, even though I have some battle scars and some badly creaking joints to show for it. I was also, overall, good at it. But the economy tanked and the horse market went with it. My little business came to a screeching halt.

This isn't about that, although it is relevant. Times have changed. There are fewer and fewer people like me around. Kids whose parents didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with a kid getting on a horse, unsupervised, and doing god only knew what. My parents didn't treat me like precious cargo, I was a kid. I'd mend. Now it's all supervised and under someones control and direction. I understand the concern, I really do. But in the meantime, these kids don't learn to be brave. I'm not sure they really learn to ride. I mean ride. These same parents will buy the child a car and send it out on its own to navigate the unpredictable on the highways and byways. Or send them off down ski slopes, or buy them motorcycles or snowmobiles. I'm an anachronism. I think a horse is safer.

So I wonder where will the next generation of trainers and breeders come from? You can't be timid and see horses as a threat and work with them. I don't understand the fear combined with the desire to have a horse. I just wonder about this sometimes. But that part of it is not my dilemma.

Which leads me to my dilemma. I breed horses you have to ride. They are good horses. They are smart, athletic, willing and quick. They are not people carriers, they are equal partners in the venture. People who really ride love them. But people who really ride are becoming an endangered species. I don't like breeding horses enough to breed horses I don't appreciate and the horses I appreciate are not highly valued anymore by the instant gratification mentality of the 21st century. Which leads to an understanding that I can't expect to sell what the general buyer in the market doesn't want. This has been a change.

There is something else. For as long as I can remember, people of average means have been breeding quality horses and been able to take proper care of herds. Minnesota has a lot of rural space and usually an abundance of hay. Some of the most famous names in Arabian horses have come out of Minnesota, from small breeding farms. This is bound to change. For many reasons. Hay that I used to buy based on the ag market price is now based on what boarding barns will pay for it. Grain prices don't seem to be following the commodities market. Bedding costs are through the roof, based largely on a lack of waste wood because of the downturn in new housing. Its been my experience once something goes up, it rarely comes down in. So I assume bedding will stay high regardless. 

And then there is veterinarians. Farm vets are going the way of the dinosaur. It's hard work, requiring dedication few people possess. Equine vets exist, but this is a different breed from the horse vets of the past. My beloved vet retired three years ago and it has been a nightmare for me. Horses are pets, owned by people who baby-talk to them, buy blankets, sheets and color coordinated frou-frou. They love their pet and will spend great sums of money. It's sort of like having a very large dog. This is not in itself a problem for me, except that this is the prevailing owner and this has caused a shift in horses no longer being considered livestock. Vets have adjusted to this. Large animal is now going the way of small pet. Equine vets have learned how to charge lots of money. When a farm treated colic costs me $500, I know the world has changed. I realize I cannot manage the costs associated with maintaining a breeding farm when everything around me escalates in cost at such a rapid speed. I had someone point out to me recently that although the classic horse vet has disappeared, the advances in knowledge and treatment available make up for it. Depends on your perspective. Medical science has advanced. Equipment is available to diagnose and treat many things not possible 20 - 30 years ago, if you go to the clinic. What happens on the farm is by and large the same. The diagnostic and surgical procedures are really phenomenal, but they come at a large cost. And if only a few can afford it, it's not of much help, it just makes you feel bad that you can't. But oil is still oil, a gastric tube is a gastric tube. Wounds get treated, sometimes mysteries get solved. Same as always. Only the cost has changed. 

Things change and that means some people get left behind. It really is unpleasant when it's you. Not nearly as much so when it isn't. This time it's me. I'm getting too old for this anyway, but still..........I guess I had some rambling thoughts on an early Sunday morning. I know this is of no relevance to most people, but my woes creep into my fingers sometimes and they just get themselves typed out.


  1. I have always wanted to learn how to ride, but to find someone who would just let you throw leg over their horse was not easy. Now my daughter too would love to take a spin at it, yet, again unless we pay through the snout for lessons then it is a no go.

    As far as owning a horse - my dad always said, they are a money pit through their mouth... you don't want one. (I think he didn't want to pay for one!)

    I am sorry for you -it is a noble cause.

    I love this article so much you should submit it to a horse magazine.

  2. I had my own horse, so it was easy! My dad was a horseman, so it was not difficult to whine my parents into one of my own. Your dad is right about the money pit thing, but when you have compulsion you just go with it. : )

    It's really hard because of liability to allow people to ride, especially children. A reasonable parent can become a shrieking shrew on the phone to a lawyer if darling child gets bumped. So the only choice is the professional facilities which have the insurance to protect them. Too bad, but it's the reality of the world we live in.

  3. You wrote a wonderful post and so true. I am not as familiar with the business of horses but the little I have learned this is happening everywhere. It is a life style that is hard to maintain in these difficult economic times.

    You have already learned of my love of these animals and yes I would love to own a horse or two. But is it fair because I do not ride? They would be very expensive pets that would indulge my needs and wants but I do not think fair to the animal. Just my rambling too.
    Happy Mother's Day!

  4. Well I'm a riding instructor. I would love more than anything to teach the kids bareback to start!

    But, as has been mentioned, liability is a huge huge problem. The funny thing about liability, horses and the legal system (and the legal system in general) is that it isn't about right and wrong per se, but how it all appears. So, while learning to ride a horse bareback (as a child) is a great way to do it, if someone got hurt, no judge would rule in my favor.

    I think a lot of barns go south with their riding programs when they teach the show ring before they teach just plain riding.

    People can go around and around but they can't tack up and ride down the road alone. In my opinion, that should come first.

    However, many of these people DON'T WANT that. They want to show, RIGHT NOOOWWWWW.

    Other barns go south with their group riding programs because it becomes a follow the leader situation. Which ultimately bores people to tears and they get out of riding. Or, they quit that program, buy a horse and they STILL can't ride.

    I think riding in groups is one of the best ways to learn, but the people have to stay independent. That takes a lot of work on the instructor's part.

    Private lessons are fine, but for the advanced student. Riding in an arena by oneself with no one and nothing to manuver around is not the real world (for most of us anyway).

    So that is my take on the learning/lessons dilemma. Not enough horse people raising kids on horseback - people have to go to lessons. Most people are not willing to just rent or borrow out horses - for the sake of the horse and for the liability. I wouldn't do it.

    Great post Sandra, you got me thinking on some other things too.

  5. Judy, I haven't met a horse yet that has begged to wear a saddle and carry a person, most tolerate it and some actually enjoy it. But all can live without it.

    A horses life, if left to themselves, is spent eating, eating some more, pooping, peeing, a little arguing amongst one another, eating. Did I mention eating?

    I don't have any problem with horses as pets, I have a bunch of them. What has happened though is because they are people's babies, the cost of care has become very expensive. When the main attitude was they are livestock, everyone knew the perimeters. Now there aren't any.

  6. It is a dilemma, but not one that I will solve. I just know that my horses have become too much for a lot of people and that didn't use to be the case. The horses are the same, so I have to assume the people changed. Well, I still plan to keep bees!

  7. Hi Sandra,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. Sienna and I are riding only in a ring and only once a week. We are also not actively involved in grooming the horses which I would really like to learn more about. In Brazil the fear of liability is not so great as it is in the States for good and sometimes for bad but I still feel that our lessons are a little 'controlled'. I think that I could ride a horse 'in the real world' : ) but I am not sure about a high spirited one : ) We are riding on the most docile of
    docile horses. I must admit that makes me happy as a parent but I do understand the adventure and self reliance that comes from learning to ride high sprited horses. I hope that Sienna keeps with this and from more than just the show jumping angle. The instructor we are woring with now is really limited in the times that we are available so maybe I need to look for some alternatives as well. What do you think about Western riding as another type of riding?

    Bye the way,

    Happy Mother's Day

  8. Sandra, I know nothing of horses but I do understand your remarks about courage & can comment from that perspective because I do not understand the coddling of our present generation.

    My parents let me sail alone once I could freestyle 25 yards so long as I wore a safety vest. For most of my sailing time I sailed a boat I did not have the weight to keep upright in a stiff breeze. Once my kids could swim they had the freedom of our little bay in whatever dinghy they could beg or borrow or buy. I often didn't see them for hours at a time. Were they always good? Probably not. They were perfectly normal kids. Did they get into trouble? I expect so ~ but they survived. They learnt to be brave & self reliant.

    These are important lessons. I have issues with an army [naturally] but I remember being shocked when members of the armed forces & their families objected to them being deployed in a war zone! I thought then & think now that having joined a military unit, whose declared objective is of a violent nature, to then object to active duty is sheer cowardice. How did we end up with an army that does not want to fight? I suspect you are right. It begins with not letting our children run the risk of being hurt ~ on horses, in boats, riding bikes. They are children. They bounce well & they mend. No, there will be some messy accidents & if it was my child I would be upset but I do not think that is any reason to wrap our children up in cotton wool. It makes them inept & gutless, fails to challenge them & turns them into fearful adults who won't run a risk, however mild. Evenbtually that become a soft society that stagnates & if history runs true to course it will fall before a nation of courage prepared to risk everything. Hm I seem to have waffled more than usual.

  9. What a lovely post and blog.

    I'm a children's author and love horses...actually all animals.

    Please come visit my new animal blog at http://animaltalk4u.blogspot.com/

    or my writer's blog at http://ignitetowrite.blogspot.com/

  10. I am sorry to hear this! But don't let it stop you throw your leg over and race off into the sunset!

    I had two horses when I was little, and although I don't go out of my way to hang out with them now, I can still appreciate their majesty.

    And I agree with Just Jules, submit this to a horsey mag.

  11. Ashley. I don't think you will get much independence on a lesson horse. Lessons aren't designed for that. It really doesn't matter what style of riding, a lesson is a lesson. I'm not an instructor, but my own opinion is that Sienna is getting a better seat at what she is doing than if she were taking western lessons. To have independence you will need your own horse, or perhaps a leased horse. Just being able to ride is a wonderful thing, though.

    Ganeida, if I were raising a child right now I would be ostracized from the community because I wouldn't do it differently than I did with my 35 yr. old son. I love what you wrote and I agree completely.

    Jan, thank you. I will visit.

    Stacey, I have to let it stop me. I still have horses, there isn't anything I could do with them If I wanted to be done with them. But my days as a breeder are finished. Not just until the economy picks up again, but over. Thanks for visiting.

  12. Wow...where does one begin? Great post and everything is so true. Coming from the East coast, and having horses, I know of the Equine vet first hand and the cost difference that we experienced between NC and ND..ie $32 for a tube of bute in NC to $14 ND. Specialty vets? No...it's the pet thing.

    The big change I saw in horses was what you call ridable horses. I was flabbergasted when people in the Dakotas were telling me they were looking for a horse for their child (who has not ridden before) and the comment kept resurfacing.."It has 90 days on it". 90 days!?! I kept telling them that 90 days with a trainer does not equal a horse for your child. Look for the old plug in the pasture that you can hop on bareback because that is what you want...not the fancy horse that you "think" you child is going to grow old with...doesn't work that way. I think that parents who have the child that begs to ride needs to be educated into what is the correct horse for their child's ability. I was fortunate to be able to allow my horse loving daughter ownership of her little beasty but there were certain criteria that had to be followed. The horse had to be broke, bought from a breeder such as yourself who actually BROKE horses to be partners and she had to take total responsibility...feeding, mucking, saddling, the whole nine yards. The last criteria...and one of the most important to me... was that she was not allowed a saddle until she could ride in the pasture under all circumstances bareback. Tough love. I had an old gelding that matched that criteria of being able to ride bareback and knew would take her through the beginning steps. If she could master this geezer (smart old Arab who had a mind of his own if he wanted to) we would find her horse. I can tell you, she mastered the bareback, developed a seat in all gaits and eventually went on to jumping 5" fences and doing vaulting. Any kid that came to our farm for lessons was started out with a surcingle and a bareback pad. If the parents didn't like it and felt their little baby was going to get hurt, then we weren't the place to be. Their kid would learn how to ride correctly or would soon loose the notion and move on to something that was more suitable and didn't involve a 1000+ pound living, breathing, thinking animal.

    I think the horse world is threefold...breeder, instructor, owner. All need to work together to have the end result of kids that will grow up to be the breeders, riders and owners of tomorrow. Something in this equation is lacking today. You and Everyone Thinks They're Good have written on subjects that I am very passionate about...teaching kids to ride with interfering parents...this is a fabulous post, Sandra!!

  13. Thank you for your well-thought response Alicia.


I really appreciate the concept and sentiment behind awards, but I cannot participate in them anymore. I have too may and I have not got the time to devote to participating properly. To all who have honored me, I am grateful but I don't have seven more things to tell anyone about myself! And I'm a terrible passer-oner.