I remember a few months back reading in one of the major horse magazines about some reining stallion who was still sound and competing at the ripe old age of nine--nine!
Since when did keeping a horse useable only up to the first third of its life expectancy become something boast-worthy? How is this acceptable?
I don't know about anyone else, but as I've gotten older (heh) I find that I take much more pleasure in the growing
process of riding. I've done the competition thing. I never had the money for an expensive, already-trained horse, so I had to make do with my own, but fore years my parents spent an absolute fortune on lessons, and trainers, and gadgets, and hours and hours hauling me back and forth from place to place. And yes, turning a blind eye to some of the questionable, er, abusive things the trainers were either doing to my horses, or having me inflict, in the name of improvement. And I had good results, yes, both from the borderline cruelty of the trainers and from my own, more sensible, hard work. But it was only after leaving the trainers and going out completely on my own that I began to relax and take real pride in what I was doing. In barrel racing, I climbed to the top of my game, taking the "crazy" mare the trainer had all but wrecked through harshness, channeling her energy, and winning.
And then the mare got hurt, and stayed hurt, and two years and two months later I've finally realized that there is no going back. I'm done. Three vets, two states, $6000 in diagnostics and treatment for a niggling left front leg problem...it's over. With other my other barrel horses all retired, lame, blown, or dead, I have to give up the sport I loved so dearly.
But it's the joy of running that gray mare that hurts most of all. She, the horse I broke myself, started myself, trained myself, wrecked (with the trainer's help), rehabbed myself, treated myself, brought back, won...all me. She's my horse; we've got a Black Beauty bond in a far less romantic sense than the movie, but if you've ever had a horse like that that's your
horse then you know what I'm talking about. THAT, to me, is what the process of riding is about
: art, companionship, spirituality, hard physical work, blood/sweat/tears...doing it yourself, and growing.
Let me further illustrate with some pictures.
To take this:
Even if I could afford to buy a ready-made barrel horse now, I wouldn't want to. Sure, I could get the $5, $10, $20,000+ barrel horse, and win--but what's the honor or prestige or learning process
of that? Anybody can be a jockey on a pushbutton horse if you hold on tight enough. It's the same story in most disciplines. Spend enough money, know the right people, and you can win. Whoop-de-doo. Go you. I'll take my $200 cripple any day, and be glad for it (though the pain, I'll admit, still does very much sting, and the jealousy of how "doing it right" got punished...).
Or, how about this?
See how much fun we're having? :roll:
When I finally came to turns with the fact that the sorrel Did Not Want to be a barrel horse, well, a lot of re-training had to happen. Namely, I had to try to rehabilitate her from the things I had allowed to happen to her at the hands of the professional, world champion trainer...things like ghastly bits and beatings with a length of hose tubing around the head and face. Real classy stuff.
Competing at--and winning--an extreme cowboy race. No prestige, no fancy trophy saddle won, actually only got half my entry fee back...but score one for legitimate horsemanship. Both the mare and I enjoyed ourselves.
It's been a long time coming.