Tag Archives: horses

Show Jumper

Coming up fast to the fence, feeling the muscles gather beneath you, crouching low over Ian-Millar-and-In-Style,-winners-of-WEF-Challenge-Cup-Round-7the horse’s neck, then springboarding into the air. Sailing over the rail, touching down on the other side, horse and you regaining balance and cantering on. The exhilaration of flying. One time I did this.

I had no business jumping, in fact had no plans to. I was taking English riding lessons at a large stable. Lessons consisted of riding around in small circles, learning balance and control. I liked it; just being on a horse’s back was enough for me. I had many different teachers, all young women who had ridden since they could walk. The horse was often different too. They wanted you to learn to ride any horse.

One week, only one teacher was there. The others were at a show or something. She had never taught me before. Maybe she was bored, tired of watching incompetent people ride in circles or, with it just being two of us, felt like having some fun. She said, “do you feel like jumping?” I stared open-mouthed and said “I don’t know how to do that.” She shrugged and said “up to you.” I said ok. I’d never ridden that horse before either. He was a good choice. He knew what he was doing.

Jumping

Show jumping sequence over fence, DelawareI was like a floppy sack of potatoes on his back on the first jump. I’d chickened out several times leading up to that; getting to the jump, then losing my nerve and pulling him up. I daresay he was fed up with me and probably as surprised as I was when, finally, I let him keep going.

I remember the power surge as he prepared to jump. But I don’t remember the actual jump. I closed my eyes to keep my heart from stopping. I reopened them when we landed on the other side, both of us in one piece and me still on his back.

Then I wanted to do it again. That time was perfect. I made myself keep my eyes open 2008 Olympics poster, Eric Lamaze and Hicksteadand experience it. Riding Pegasus. It was bliss. I was Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze rolled into one.

Third time, I unbalanced myself. He jumped straight, but I came off to the left. He circled around and stood looking at me. My teacher thought maybe that should be the end of my lesson for the day. So I got back up on him – always get back on the horse – and rode around a bit.

After the Jump

I took him to the barn, took his tack off and groomed him. Then I went to my car. Standing beside it, I had no idea where I was. The barn didn’t look familiar and I didn’t know how I got there, or why. After a few minutes of concentrated thought, I remembered my lesson, the jumps and the fall.

The next week, I had a familiar teacher. She didn’t mention jumping and I didn’t tell her about the week before. I kept taking lessons, but never jumped again. My time as Captain Canada was over. But it was worth every second of terror and the concussion to fly that one time.

Horse: Free to a good home

standardbred ex-racehorse Jaffey LeeA few years ago, I got involved in finding homes for two Standardbred ex-racehorses whose owner had died. Neither were broke for saddle, they were getting up in years and they’d been together for most of their lives, so finding a home wasn’t going to be easy. As it happened, we did find a home for both of them as companion horses in a small herd. But in the course of all this, I learned a couple things about horses and people.

Meat Buyers

One thing was beware of meat buyers. Not knowing any better, we advertised them as “free to a good home”. Their eventual new person and others told us “list them for sale at least at their dollar value as meat”. Unfortunately, there is a market for horses to be sold for meat and “free to a good home” just means more profit for horsemeat brokers.

While thinking about how to find a good home for these two lovely horses, one day in Aylmer, I saw a horse and buggy on the road. Aha, I thought, there’s the answer! What could be better for a Standardbred than life on a Mennonite farm! A job for the horses without having to race, without having to get used to a saddle and rider, a job of value where they would be respected as important members of a way of life. If anyone would treat animals well, I thought, it would be Old Order Mennonites. So I was thinking about how to find out if anyone in the Old Order colony near Aylmer wanted a couple of horses.

Sulky to buggy?

Then I began hearing the second thing I learned. Every horse person I knew said, without my asking, “whatever you do, don’t let them go to the Mennonites”. This truly surprised me. At first, I thought it was individual xenophobic distrust, prejudice against the “different”. But too many people said it, including people I thought of as fair and unbiased. I started asking more questions. I was told some Mennonites – some said the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – were ok and treated their horses well. But, people told me, too many others do not care for them properly.

Instead, horses are regarded as pieces of equipment that you use up and replace when worn out. To explain it, especially in a case of free or cheap horses, people made comparisons to the old ‘beater’ cars that many of us have, where you don’t bother spending money fixing them, just drive them until they die and buy another old cheap one. That, I was told, was the attitude of many Mennonites to their horses.

Rode hard, put away wet

The objection these people had was not that the horses were used for work, it was that they were not cared for properly. In the words of one horseman, “the horses are run hard and put in the barn wet.” That is a good way to get a sick horse, and something no responsible horse person would ever do. I still find it hard to believe that anyone who relies on horsepower wouldn’t treat that horse well. It’s in their own self-interest to do so.

horse and buggy near Aylmer ON photo D StewartI see the horses and buggies in the parking lots of Aylmer stores, in shade if shade is available. Along #73 Highway and the sideroads near Aylmer I see them trot. I watch draft horses pulling plows in Mennonite fields. I look at the horses turned out to pasture at well-tended Mennonite farms. And I wonder.

Puppy Mills

I see puppies and kittens at Mennonite stalls at the local farmers’ market. They are all breeds and types, but they all look healthy and well-cared for. I’ve never asked “how do you treat your horses, do you run a puppy mill?” How do you ask that?

Mistreatment of animals doesn’t stop with horses, I was told. Many of the small scale puppy mill operations here are in Mennonite areas. I started paying closer attention to the Dogs for Sale ads in the paper. Yep, “no Sunday calls” and a phone number with an extension – something found where one central phone services an entire community.

I read in One Nation Under Dog about Amish dog breeders in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Author Michael Schaffer seems to have the same dilemma as I do about this. He writes that, for the Mennonite farmer, dog breeding provided a new livestock market or crop when small scale farming was being battered by agribusiness and coming out on the losing side of economies of scale. But the dogs are being raised as livestock outside in barns and cages, even though the intended ‘market’ for them is the inside of homes with dogbeds and squeaky toys.

Rehoming a Standardbred

There are a lot of Standardbred racehorses in South Western Ontario. Thousands of them never make it to the track or retire every year. They still have a long life ahead of them. They need homes. Old Order Mennonites need horses for transportation. Trotters and pacers are ideal. It seems like a match made in heaven.

But the horse people I talked to, harness racing people and others, all said they would not send a Standardbred or any horse to a Mennonite farm. I was saddened by this, and felt disillusioned about the ideal of Mennonite life I’ve always imagined: of people and animals united by a fundamental connection with nature lost to most of us in the modern world, and a spiritual injunction to care for all God’s creatures.