Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gift Horses

Do you know who first said, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth?" The saying means that a horse's value can be determined by his age, which is roughly determined by examining his or her teeth. The message is that a gift (in this case a horse) should be appreciated for the thought and spirit behind it, and not for its value.

St. Jerome is the one who said that, way back around 400 A.D. He would not accept payment for his writings, and used the phrase in reply to his literary critics. According to history, his exact words were "Never inspect the teeth of a gift horse."

 I think of St. Jerome's words because horses have been such a gift to me throughout my life. But the gift is not entirely the horses themselves. The gifts surrounding horses are actually so many that I can't possibly list them all. Through horses I have learned so much about myself, I have learned about life through the wisdom of horses, I have found friendship and companionship with other horse lovers, and I have been fortunate enough to pass some of that on.

I have also learned to take both horses and life as they come. For whatever reason, specific horses have found their way to me and figuratively speaking, I do not look inside their mouths. They might not have been the horses I would have chosen, but they ended up being the right horse for me because I learned something from them. I think life is the same way. We don't always choose our circumstances and we do not always have control over what happens to us in life, but we can learn from any situation, any event . . . if we choose to do so.

Monday, June 21, 2010


This month would have been Snoqualmie's 49th birthday. Snoqualmie was the horse I had as a child, and then was my son Colby's horse when he was small. The bond I had with her and then that Colby had with her was amazing. I never had a moment of worry or doubt about Colby's safety if he was  with Snoqualmie. He'd climb up her mane and ride her in through the pasture with no halter or bridle,  guiding her by pulling left or right on her mane.

Sometimes they'd amble along, a Civil War soldier and his horse coming home from battle, complete with cardboard guns and a military cap we found at a thrift store. Other times they'd gallop through the field, a pirate ship and her captain escaping the enemy (which was sometimes our dog, Dexter, or less often, our cat Bootsie).

Colby never fell off. Snoqualmie would never have allowed it. If he got off balance, she shifted underneath him and gently slowed. She was quiet and patient with Colby, but she knew he was important to me and took good care of him.

Snoqualmie passed away when Colby was six and she was 31. She'd had a stroke a few days before and finally got down and could not get back up. One thing she loved to do was eat, so as I held her head in my lap in a field of trees as I waited for the vet, Colby went to the barn for the grain. For once she could have all she wanted. She licked handful after handful from Colby's little hand and when it was time, I sent Colby to the house. She is buried there, underneath the trees. Even after we moved away from that house, Colby and I visited her at least once a year.

Today I like to think that she is galloping off to new adventures in the great beyond. I had her with me for twenty-three years. She was my best friend and I miss her more than words can say. Happy Birthday, my Fat Girl.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Honoring Loved Ones

Snoqualmie with my son, Colby, when he was about 18 months old.

Twice in my life I have worked closely with mother/son equine pairs. The first was Fred and Ethel, a quirky, ancient draft team when I was in my teens. Ethel, who was nearing thirty, had to be hitched on the left and Fred who was way past twenty, on the right. Woe be you if you got them mixed up, as I did several times. They would thrash around, breaking leather and wagon poles until they got themselves sorted out. Hopefully no humans got in the middle of that. Turns out that Ethel was Fred's mother. When Fred was a foal, the family that had them hitched Ethel to a one-horse buggy and they went down the road with Fred tied to Ethel's right, away from all the traffic. In all of Fred's life, he had never been separated from his mom.

The second pair was my mare Snoqualmie and her son, Ben. I have written a lot about them in several of my books. But what I have not shared was that when Ben was five, I leased him to a 4-H family. He was there for three or four years and then I leased him back. When I unloaded Ben off the trailer, Snoqualmie, who was about 800 feet away grazing in a pasture, threw up her head and came running, whinnying, to the gate. Snoqualmie knew immediately her son had come home.Then Ben started in. I turned them loose together and it was so sweet to see them catch up with each other.

My point in all of this is to be sure to honor and remember your own family members, as these horses did. These horses realized the value of loved ones and humans sometimes take each other for granted. So hug those you love. Tell them you love them. Do nice things for them. Appreciate them. Value them. I hope you can learn from these wise horses and honor those who honor you.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Happy Horses / Happy People

Valentino: happy at work.*

I recently wrote an article for NARHA’s Strides magazine on equine stress that will be in their Summer issue. In taking several photos to illustrate the article I decided to use Valentino, an eight-year-old, 14.2 hand, Tennessee Walking Horse cross who only gaits when he is near a mare who is in heat. Vali gives ground and riding lessons to people with disabilities, and he is very good at what he does.

My idea for the photo shoot was to simulate scenarios during a therapy lesson that might make a horse tense and then photograph the physical reaction. The problem was, Valentino is so happy and loves his job so much that nothing we did caused any signs that he was stressed, uncomfortable, or unhappy in any way. In fact, in more than five dozen photos, all you see is a relaxed, happy, confident horse.

I wonder how many people can say that about their horses and the jobs they do. I also wonder how many of us can say the same thing. We spend so much time at work, we should enjoy most of it. Not everyone is able to switch jobs or careers, but there are ways to find more enjoyment in what we do everyday. Here are a few ideas:

1.  List the three best things about your job or career, then see if you can find a way to do more of that aspect of the job. Or, schedule the things you like best during times when you typically get bored or tired. Doing something you love is a great way to keep your enthusiasm up throughout the day.

2.  Set a work-related goal and then be sure to treat yourself to something nice or celebrate whenever you complete the task. This works great for both group projects and also in improving personal performance.

3.  Re-organize your work space so you can find things more easily and can work more efficiently. A little sprucing up around the work place goes a long way in sprucing up your attitude as well.

* For more information on Valentino and what he does, go to Therapeutic Animal Partners

Monday, March 15, 2010

Feed Promotion

The current economy means there are a lot of hungry horses out there. There are also a lot of nonprofit organizations such as NARHA programs and equine rescue groups that are struggling. While I do my own clinics and seminars, I also team up with Sam Powell and other horsemen- and women for an event called The Power of a Whisper.

One of our sponsors for The Power of a Whisper is Purina Mills and I am so proud to say that through a program The Power of a Whisper is running on Facebook, we are able to help feed some of these wonderful horses. Basically, for every new Facebook fan for The Power of a Whisper  before April 15, we will donate one serving of feed to a NARHA program, equine sanctuary, or horse rescue group.

So far we have four recipients! They are:
Horse Haven of Tennessee
Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary
Therapeutic Amimal Partners and
Coyote Hills Stable and Rescue

Please take time to check out these wonderful organizations, for they are doing a lot to help both horses and humans. And if you can, please become a fan of The Power of a Whisper on Facebook. Soon. We'd love to feed even more horses.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dick Francis: My Inspiration

One winter Sunday afternoon when I was twelve I found myself with nothing to do. It was too cold to do much outside (even for us Minnesotans), and I had already played with the dog, brushed the cat, done my homework, and found nothing of interest on the three channels that passed for television back then. It was one of a handful of times in my life when I have been utterly bored. Then my mother changed my life forever.

I was sitting in a chair in the living room when my mother came out of the room we shared with a book in her hand. Now, I was a voracious reader and at twelve was reading well above my years, but I had not yet bumped into a real grown-up novel. Until now. "I think you might be ready for this," she said. And then she handed me a Dick Francis novel. I read the first sentence and was so hooked that I knew right then that I wanted to be a writer.

For the uninitiated, Dick Francis, a British author who was a former steeplechase jockey, rode for, among other clients, the Queen mother. His forty-two mysteries combined, horses, intrigue, love, and dysfunctional families, and I thought I had never read anything nearly as good. I still feel that way.

I had the good fortune to meet this award-winning author, my hero, in Nashville in the mid-1980s, when he came to town for a steeplechase event that was being held at Percy Warner Park. I rarely get star-struck, but I have to admit that I was quite nervous when we met. We chatted a few minutes about the weather, the race, Nashville, and his books, and I told him he was the reason I became a writer. He became quite flustered, but also shook my hand heartily and wished me well.

Dick Francis passed away recently at age 89, and his is a loss felt around the world. Many of us never get to meet our heroes, our inspirations. I was lucky.

Everyone needs someone to admire, to look up to. So who has inspired you? Who influenced your life? Your career? I hope you can post a comment and tell who means as much to you, and why.