Santa on Horseback
by Scott Thomson
Where did this year go? Seems like only yesterday I was writing about all the things I was thankful for during 2012 and in my horsemanship past. Now 2013 is coming to an end. One of the first attractions of the horse world for me was the need to be in the moment, in "horse time," if you will. When you were with your horse, time sort of stood still. No looking forward or dwelling on the past, just dealing with things as they are right now — the way the horse lives. I found this a great way to put the day-to-day grind of life, business and commitments aside for a few hours.
But if things keep moving as fast as the distance from the numbers on my birth certificate, maybe it's best to look forward with a wish list before the coming year becomes history. If there is a Santa, a genie or someone else who delivers on good wishes, maybe he or she will be reading Desert Exposure this month.
This is a big one, and certainly not possible, but I wish for a home for every horse. I could say the same about every dog, cat or other animal that has been neglected or become unwanted, as they have no say or alternatives in their lives beyond what man decides.
For all the horses that will never find a home, I wish there were more people like Carol Johnson and all the volunteers at End of the Road Ranch in Silver City (firstname.lastname@example.org). Working tirelessly, and at great financial burden, they provide a sanctuary for as many horses as possible, where they are promised a home for life. I wish for a lottery win for Carol and everyone else trying to do the same thing for the literally hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses.
In fact, I wish more people would come out and visit Carol's ranch, especially to meet one of the most inspiring horses I know, Cheyenne. Pushing 37 years old, a bit sway-backed and missing a few teeth, she strolls the grounds greeting volunteers and visitors, and keeping an eye on the herd. She even breaks into a spirited trot up the driveway and back to her field at mealtime. She embodies the magic and wonder of the horse and what kindness and respect can mean to an animal. I'm not sure what 37 years old for a horse translates to in human aging, but I hope I look as good and move as well as she does when I'm that age.
I wish there were more breeders like Heidi Collings of Dripping Springs Ranch in Mule Creek. I spent a good deal of time this past summer helping some good friends and students looking for new horses, and had a chance to meet Heidi and some of her Spanish Barbs. Being in the business, it was inspiring for me to see someone who lets her horses grow up as horses and starts them correctly. She seemed more focused on truly matching the horse and rider, based on the variables that are important to me as a trainer, rather than just trying to sell a horse. I'm sure she would walk away from a sale if she thought the match was simply not going to work. You can't imagine how rare this is. If you're looking for a smaller, handy horse with a great mind and superior foundation, you should go see Heidi and her Barbs (email@example.com).
I wish we could keep the instant gratification, quick-fix, top-line mentality of the Internet age out of the horsemanship business for as long as possible. It just seems like instant and horses don't go together. To think there is a shortcut, a piece of equipment or even, God forbid, an app that will immediately solve a performance or behavioral issue with a horse completely devalues the horse as a living being. I hope the horse/human partnership, and the time and patience it takes to build it, does not get abandoned because it takes too long and is really never finished.
Case in point: I wish I never have to hear another story like the one I heard this summer from a mom in one of my clinics who loved horses and bought a pony for her daughter, who had been begging for her own horse — only to find that her daughter spent more time playing with a virtual horse on her computer than with her real horse in the backyard, because the virtual horse was "nicer, cleaner and easy to take care of."
For the veterinarians in Silver City, and all over for that matter, I wish for no weekend emergencies so they can get some sleep and enjoy their families.
I wish that some of the folks in the cattle industry who have been hit so hard by the drought and other factors would take a look at all their land and see that it might still be profitable as a retirement home for horses. There are so many horse owners who have the means but not the space and want or need to retire their horses. There simply aren't enough safe and well-managed retirement operations with affordable prices to meet the demand.
I wish "buying local" and supporting local small businesses meant something to more horse people. Sure, we're a small town and don't have the population and financial base to be state-of-the-art in everything to do with horses. But there is a lot of talent and experience here that will not be able to survive or improve if horse owners ship their dollars out of town every time they think they need help in some area. I'm sure every business owner in Silver City feels the same way. If we don't want local resources to dry up and blow away in the spring winds, we need to keep some money here.
For some of the people I know who are entering the final phase of their riding lives, I wish their last years on their horses will be happy and safe.
I wish I had the time, the space and years left to take all the knowledge and experience I've gained to bring along a horse that is a blank slate. I have a beautiful young horse in my facility for foundation training for a great owner, and it is simply amazing to watch and be part of the learning process. It confirms one of my strongest beliefs that so much of what happens with horses is based on what happens in the first few years, and that developing a horse doesn't require a fight or that you have to "break" them. I wish I had time to do it for myself.
For every horse owner, I wish for lower hay prices.
I wish someone would design riding pants for men that looked like jeans but were as comfortable as riding tights. We could still look manly but not be as grouchy after a long ride.
I wish researchers could find the definitive cause for laminitis and come up with a cure so horses prone to this awful problem could still get a treat once in awhile. A similar wish for finding a way to keep horses colic-free for their entire life.
I wish designers could find a way to make safety helmets and vests look cool enough that more riders would wear them and not feel they were giving up Western style.
I wish more drivers would respect that a horse trailer probably contains horses and stop tailgating.
I wish there was one Mr. Ed out there who could tell us exactly what horses really think about what we ask them to do.
Finally, I wish our two horses could stay as energetic and entertaining as they are now for as long as we're able to get up in the saddle.
Happy holidays to all and have a great New Year! Stay deep in the saddle and think about just how lucky your are to be able to enjoy the company of one of the most amazing creatures on earth.
Scott Thomson lives in Silver City and teaches natural horsemanship
and foundation training. You can contact him
at firstname.lastname@example.org or (575) 388-1830.