When people ask me how I got into horses, my simple answer is that it was something that I just kept falling into, having been raised in northern Westchester County, New York, which is a very horsy area of the country. Wherever I traveled or lived after that, I could always find work with horses, albeit often for low wages and in dangerous conditions. Three things happened during my experiences with horses, however, that eventually focused me toward a career and dedication of my heart, mind, spirit, and imagination to my work with them.
The first and most transformative was a night I spent in a pasture under a makeshift tent of hay bales and canvas with a downed and dying 2,000-pound Clydesdale horse. A kerosene heater kept him warm enough to live through the night. My purpose was to shove hay bales under his shoulder to help him when he would lift his head in his sporadic attempts to stand up. It was one of many inanely dangerous situations my boss had put me in that year I spent in New Mexico, and to which I obliged in my best subservient cowboy manner. But I cursed the situation most of the night, as the horse's attempts to get up threatened to collapse the precarious structure on top of us and, more importantly, on top of the heater. As the night progressed and his efforts waned, I found myself of a different mind toward this dying animal. By morning, I understood something of a bond between horse and man — a debt of care and compassion that we owe to our domestic animals that must never be denied.
I was paid meagerly to break a horse that had been sent to pasture a few years earlier to breed and raise her foal. This mare didn't want me on her back, period, and after a few warnings, threw herself up and backward, landing on top of me. The message was clear, and the lesson invaluable. Know what you're doing when dealing with an animal that is capable of killing you. Sometimes, horses have only a thin veneer of domestication. Even a well-trained horse can revert to wild instinct in which our partnership of domestication is forfeited to millions of years of her genetic evolution as a self-sufficient prey animal.
That same spring I took an interest in a fine young Arabian horse. He was a nonworking member of the herd on a ranch where I was employed. I later found out that he was in fact a very fancy blood horse, being kept as a favor to his owner who wanted this horse herd raised on the ranch. An anomaly among rough ranch quarter horses, appaloosas, and paints, he was about thirty horses down at the very bottom of the pecking order. With my special attention, some groundwork, and confidence building exercises, he quickly climbed the ranks. He became so full of himself that he would make precocious attempts at the feed of the dominant horses, who luckily didn't take him too seriously. He was a horse that wanted to go to work for me, and within a few weeks, became my lead horse for trekking tours. One night, after a full day's work that never tired him but only seemed to inflate his new pride and confidence of purpose, I took him for a mile-long gallop into the open range. I have never since ridden a finer or faster horse or had quite the sensation of flying as I experienced in his gait. I walked him back home in the final light of the day, a calm, proud, satisfied, and trusting animal. Rarely have I met a horse with such heart and spirit.
Anyone who rides or cares for horses has had experiences that have fostered in them a love, dedication, and respect for them. After all the knowledge and expertise you can attain in the world of horses — the victories, unpleasantness, accidents, and egomaniacal, confidence destroying horse people you might encounter — it is these simple, sympathetic bonds of partnership and learning from horses that is what it is all about.
The format of the Everything® series has given me the opportunity to present the basic tenets of horse care, as well as a license to put out on the table a lot of random experiential information that will help you to effectively and efficiently manage your farm and horses, and guide you on your way to a healthy relationship with your horse. Your experience with horses can be everything you imagine. Have fun.