'Tis the Season…
by Scott Thomson
This is the time of year when we traditionally give thanks for what we have and try to do some good for our fellow man. I'd like to think this season of goodwill extends to our horses as well. The history of this great country was written from the back of a horse. From the early days of being our primary means of transportation, working our fields, fighting our wars and delivering the mail, to the recreational and pleasure riding of today, the horse has always been there for us. Even today, with no real role in our daily lives, the horse is still a powerful icon that stirs our emotions.
It would be easy to look around today and get a bit discouraged about what is happening to the horse. The tough economic times, drought, our aging population, a migration away from rural areas and careers in ranching and farming, overbreeding, and the sheer cost and time commitment of ownership have made it difficult for many people to continue their love affair with the horse. Current estimates from the US Forest Service say we are losing 6,000 acres of farmland and open space a day to development and private restricted purpose. That is a staggering number and predicted to get worse as developers buy cheap land and sit on it, hoping for better times to start building. As budgets tighten, and public land and trails disappear, I suspect the conflicts between various user groups will intensify and that riders may lose more than they win.
Despite all this, I still like to pour myself a good single malt, sit back and think of all things to be thankful for this year, for myself and for all horse people:
- For Eohippus, a funny little rabbit-like animal about 12 inches tall that lived almost 60 million years ago, which evolved into the magnificent horses of today, without losing many of the instinctive traits that make a horse so special.
- For amazing horseman like the Dorrance brothers, Ray Hunt, Monte Roberts and too many others to name, who resurrected training techniques and philosophies, literally thousands of years old, that put the needs of the horse first, and for inspiring the next generations of horse men and women to continue their work.
- For the continuing influence of science and research on how we care for our horses. Innovations in shoeing, saddles, nutrition, training, fitness and general healthcare are giving us more options to help our horses live longer, more productive and healthier lives.
- That even in a small town like Silver City, we have two organizations that are doing everything possible to help with the growing problem of unwanted or abandoned horses. There may be as many as 200,000 unwanted horses in the US today. If you have any dollars left at the end of this year, show your appreciation for the tireless efforts of End of The Road Ranch Horse Rescue & Sanctuary and Serenity Acres.
- That we still have dedicated professionals willing to be large-animal vets. It can be a dangerous, frustrating and not always lucrative profession, but we'd be lost without them. I recently helped one of our vets with the sad but necessary end-of-life decision for an old horse. The kindness and compassion that went into a very physical task was extraordinary. The danger was also obvious as this old horse, before galloping off to horse heaven to run free with the herd in endless green pastures, never having to see a vet, farrier or trainer again, decided to take one last chunk out of the vet's arm as a souvenir — and maybe a reminder that all horses still have wildness in their hearts and souls.
- For groups like the Back Country Horseman and the Equine Land Conservation Resource and their efforts to keep and maintain trails and access to areas for riding. With all the open space and great riding we have here, we might think we're immune to the plight of riders in other parts of the country, but the same things can happen here. As someone who has owned, ridden and worked with horses in California, Oregon and Washington, I have seen firsthand how quickly a fence can go up or a trail can be closed. We're fortunate to have so many good people here locally keeping these issues on the radar on behalf of all of us.
- That so many of the volunteer fire and rescue personnel here are also horse people. We've all just seen what a tragedy a natural disaster can be, and we have certainly experienced our share of fires and violent storms in recent years as well. But I sleep a little bit better knowing that the people we count on to help us in an emergency truly understand how important our horses are to us.
- For riders who take the time to do some PR when out on the trails. I know it is hard to believe, but not everyone loves horses, understands their behavior or likes to share a trail or campsite with them. It never hurts to stop and chat, give a little free education or promote our cause.
On the flip side, I'm thankful for hikers and bikers who know something about horses, by letting you know they're coming, not hiding behind trees, and by controlling their dogs.
- For Ken Jones, one of the best horsemen I've ever met, who after watching me work with an unhandled weanling at his ranch in Colorado, when I was so green I wasn't even sure which end the food went in or which the poop came out, said I had a feel and touch that couldn't be taught. Didn't have any idea what he meant or what it would lead to, but he was the first person who opened the door to horses for me.
- For Pat Parelli, who wrote a note to my wife 15 years ago that said, "Mere mortals can do this work with horses, even blondes like you!" That started us on our journey.
- For Dennis Reis, who after my first nine-day clinic at his ranch could have easily said, "Sell your horse and don't ever come back here again." Yes, it was that bad. Instead, he said, "There is a good horse deep inside of your horse, and if you can reach him, given his past and issues, you'll be a great hand and on your way to being an accomplished horseman." Two years later, he wanted to take me and my horse on the road and make me head of his business. None of what I've accomplished since would have ever happened without his encouragement and patience.
- For Liffey, a dangerous horse that had been surrendered to End of The Road Ranch, whom I thought had no future and should be put down. She opened her soul to me and let me into her life, and in the process validated everything I've been taught and learned about horses, especially the power of natural horsemanship. "They're all good for something" was a powerful line in the movie Seabiscuit, and my new best buddy Liffey proved that to me.
- For my wife, who when she called me from a castle in Ireland, where she was riding on beaches and in countryside too beautiful to be believed, and I gave her the news that I'd bought my first horse without consulting her, didn't hop the next plane home to check my sanity but looked forward to the journey ahead together.
- For Cody and Revere, our two wonderful horses. Through endless clinics, shows and demos, showing patience with students of all levels and helping train other horses when I needed an equine assistant, through major moves and many miles, and always being willing to let me try out new techniques and ideas, they have proven that the idea of true partnership with a horse is not just a clever marketing phrase. Now entering their senior years, they have given us just one sprained ankle and two broken ribs in 13 years of riding and playing — not bad given the nature of the sport and what we have asked of them. With no special skills or fancy breeding, they've been what we all want — just great horses.
Happy holidays to all, human and horse alike!