Friday, May 12, 2017

Happy Horses

   Starbucks was a beautiful bay with a bright white star on his forehead. He was bred right, had a refined and solid look to him and had been a show horse for seven of his eight years. The gelding was a solid performer in both reining and cow horse, and won about eight grand during his career.      Starbucks survived being started, ridden and trained by his green owner with grace and dignity.

   The game little horse had his quirks. He was hot and bronc-y when I first got on him, spooky, and hyper vigilant, especially around cattle. If I stepped up and kicked him through his fear, he would put in a sharp performance. The wide eyed, blown up nostrils and pricked ears gave him great expression.

   I became actively involved with Starbucks when his owner put him up for sale. One of my clients was looking for a new horse and they were an excellent match. She put him in training with me and immediately asked if I would turn him out in the big corral filled with horses in front of my barn. It was kind of a catch-all pen for the wash-outs, the cheap 2-year-olds, and the occasional abandoned horse.

 "I'm going to keep him on pasture with my other horse and I want to make sure he can get along and respect fences," she told me.

   This plan got me in immediate trouble with the Big K. He had a strict policy against turnout for client horses. If they were on the property, they were a legal liability, and they stayed where they were safest, in their box stalls. I chafed at the restriction, the life of a horse in training was tough enough without ever getting the bucks out or a run with a buddy. This of course had created a friction between us.

   Starbucks spent the last two years in a stall with a 2' x 3' pee hole.It was regularly filled with shavings, but deep enough to twist my ankle when I went to halter him. He developed the habit of standing stretched across the hole and slept curled around it  like a fawn in the grass,  instead of flat out. I moved Starbucks to a stall where he could sniff noses with his future pen mates and feel the wind in preparation for his big move.

   I turned him out the following week and he took off, bucking and bolting around and through the horses. Thirty minutes later, he ran out of steam and stopped to snort and paw with the boss mare. His kind and gentle way with people translated right over to horses and he settled in without a single squeal.

   K stopped by to give me an earful, but I explained it to him.

   "It's better he work things out here than get run through a fence after he goes home," I said. Something, somewhere must have been aligned that day because he shrugged and walked away.

   That afternoon, Starbucks found a warm, sunny spot out of the wind, laid down and stretched from stem to stern in the soft, dry manure. He slept harder then I've ever seen a horse sleep. Worried, I kept checking on him, but he seemed fine. The only thing bothering him was me, so I finally left him alone. Except for eating, he slept in that same spot for a week straight.

   His owner came out and decided to stay off him until he voluntarily gave up his naps. She was one of the clients I honestly liked.

   Once I started riding again, it was like I was on a new horse. Starbucks hadn't been ridden for most of the week, but he led out of the corral as calm as he usually came in after a ride. There was no buck, no fidget, just interest. He was still snorty, but what a difference. His ears flicked back and forth, his tail swished a gentle happy beat and our ride was smooth and solid.

   He went home to his new life in the mountains and only got better. I heard from his owner off and on for a few years and ditzy, snorty Starbucks grew to be a rock-solid gem.

   I look out my window at my horses. They are fat, their manes and tails are tangled and they're kinda sorta muddy. Nobody has worn shoes for years. They're a little irritated with me because the pasture is coming in and they're still free feeding on 2016 grass hay, but a horse who free feeds doesn't get worked up about much. They are calm. Even Madonna is quiet and content.

   My horsekeeping plan evolved from my health limitations. It's working out pretty well, but the image of Starbucks stretched out in the warm manure and soaking up the sun is in the back of my mind all the time.




  1. Horses are pretty happy when they get to just be a horse. They like hanging around, eating, rolling, and getting dirty. Sometimes they like to go and play around with people, but in the end, it's important to let them be a horse.

  2. It is a pleasure to have you back writing the blog again!

    I have often said that horses and dogs learn in spite of what we do sometimes. This is an excellent illustration of that. Pretty cool to see how much more he had to offer under his ideal circumstance.

    Makes me feel good that I have the opportunity to have mine out with some room to move, I have not always been in an area where I could provide that, it does seem to make a difference in their overall well being and manageability.


  3. I have a favorite picture of my two "hot" horses all stretched out on their sides, snoozing away. A friend was so surprised...she said her horses never did that. Hmm...

  4. YAY! My attitude exactly. Glad to hear from you. SInce I have Parkinson's Disease my time with the horses has diminished, but not stopped. Having your stories and thoughts cheers and helps me along. Bug smiles to you and yours!

  5. Three new posts?


    Also, today I kind of envy Starbucks and those naps.

  6. Mugs, I am so happy you are back! I have been reading this blog for nearly a decade now and I missed you when you were gone. I checked once a week for a long time... Thank you for taking the time out of your life to give us your stories. I just wanted to let you know how relieved I am that you are ok. Thank you for coming back!!!

  7. That's beautiful :))))

  8. Hey lady. Sad happens, eh? This post warms my heart - I love to see my fat hairy horses sprawled out in the sun! I totally have the easiest possible horsekeeping situation, also out of necessity, and other than boredom, they don't seem to mind.

    Do what you gotta do.

    (Good to have you back!!!)

  9. Great to see you back. I agree with the "let them be horses" attitude. Eleven months ago I bought a 2 year old pony (was sold to me as a 4 year old). There was something not quite right about him, so I went digging into his background. It transpired he was a hand raised foal who was not so much quiet, but stale, jaded and shut down. He was used to other horses, but tended to ignore them as he did most things around him. Since I turned him out to learn to be a horse he has been kicked, bitten, struck or chased many times by the rest of the herd for various indiscretions. He has stood under trees in the rain, hunched against frost, sweating in the extreme heat and exposed to winds and storms. It took six months, but the other day just being a horse paid off for him- for the first time ever I saw him going for a buck and fart across the paddock for no reason other than the breeze was teasing him to play. Better still, I now have a light, responsive horse three year old horse who actually pricks his ears, snorts for fun and at sometimes looks sideways at new things. What a shame he was rising four when he found the inner pony in himself.

  10. Heidi! So happy to hear from you and all your hickness! Stopped by for some Blog Nog over the Holidays, but the halls were emtpy and a little dusty.

  11. So nice to "see" you! I love this post. Yay for Starbucks :-)