Melinda's Life With Horses Blog

Melinda Folse, author of The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife Horses, shares her experiences since returning to horses at 45.

Whataya Gonna Do?

If you’ve ever spent any time with me at all — or read my book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses, you know two things about me. One is that the “smart woman” referred to in the title is most decidedly not me. And two, that I have done the unthinkable in the horse world.

I fell in love with a horse.

And worse, I’ve made a commitment to him that rivals the most dysfunctional marriage you can think of. And yet, I continue to search for that elusive “loose screw” in my love interest that makes him at once the best horse I’ve ever ridden and the worse nightmare a horse owner can have.

Oh yeah, this condition also makes me a trainer and clinician’s dream. For the time energy and money I’ve spend trying to fix this ranch gelding of questionable origin, I could have had a well-bred, good minded, push-button trained fill-in-the-blank pure breed.

And yet, I persist. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me to sell my  horse, Trace, I’d be a rich woman. Why do I stay in this situation?  Well, it’s complicated.

For one thing, it is because of the struggles I’ve have with this horse that I’ve learned more about myself and people and horses than I ever could have imagined if he had been well-behaved. I never would have started watching those Clinton Anderson DVDs. And I would never have gotten to go to work as Clinton’s head writer, written his second book, Lessons Well Learned with him, and enjoyed one of the most fun, rewarding and getting-paid-to-eat-ice-cream (channeling Jo DiMaggio’s famous quote about getting paid to play baseball) stretches of my career. I never would have written The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses (if you haven’t read it, every chapter starts with a problem I was having with Trace and my efforts to solve it that led me into another world of horse issues, looking at these through the lens of a horse-obsessed middle aged woman) or met, spoke to, and conversed with hundreds of like-minded women about this horse thing that thrills us and drives us crazy as nothing else. In fact, if it weren’t for Trace’s contrary nature, I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

So there you have it. My horse seems to have worked himself into a job. And, for better or worse, I’ve just decided to roll with it.

There seems to be a line drawn between two camps of horse owners. On one side, there are those who view their relationship with their horse as a commitment. A for-better-or-worse journey of discovery.  An unparalleled opportunity for self-discovery and learning that transcends self-help AND horsemanship.And, across the line, are those who view a horse as a thing that does or does not “fit your program,” as my friend Carol says. Carol shows at very high levels and has owned dozens of good horses. She has no trouble letting go of one that isn’t working for her. She loves her horses, takes meticulous care of them, and knows when to pull the plug. It really depends, I’ve come to realize, on what you’re after.

So, keeping these two camps — and the somewhat wavy line between them — in mind, I’ll be exploring in coming series of posts some of the more extraordinary things we do when our horse has, as a vet friend sometimes diagnoses, ADR (Ain’t Doin Right). Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you what you’ve done to solve a horse problem, especially against the advice of the “just sell him and get another one” camp.

On my upcoming posts on this topic I’ll be checking in with a holistic vet, an equine massage therapist, a cranial sacral therapist, and yes, an animal communicator.  Stay tuned and happy trails!


Categories: Life With Horses Blog.

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9 Responses

  1. Well, I have a tiny little mare who I bought for only $100. Not very good conformation, not the best mover. Honestly, looking back at the pictures of her when I first bought her and knew nothing about horses, I wouldn’t have even considered her now. I don’t think anyone ever thought she would be able to do anything other than pleasure riding, including me. But she’s been the best thing that has ever happened to me. She taught me how to be a good rider, when neither of us knew how to ride (she hadn’t been broken in yet). She never did anything that was more than I could handle at the time, and yet got more challenging as I became better. And we have done everything together. Trail riding, western pleasure, halter, barrel racing, mounted shooting, team penning, roping, racing, trail competitions, jumping, and now we’re actually working towards beginner novice eventing. I recently had someone come tell me I need to get a bigger horse because I’ve outgrown her (her size has always been an issue, her 14.3 hh and my 5’7). And yes, I would like to get a bigger horse when I can afford it. But never at her expense. I will never outgrow my little pony who’s as adventurous and competitive as I am.

  2. If he hasn’t yet killed you, or at least dumped you, if you can stay in that saddle and keep some semblance of balance, DO CIRCLES! Mine is afraid to be alone, and afraid to be without his specific friend too, afraid of a new group of horses to ride amongst. When he’s bobbing and weaving and backing up into bushes and trees, circle him. When he’s bouncing to be able to join his buddy, circle him. When he’s in the middle of blindness to be where he wants to be, open his eyes and re-engage his brain with a circle or two. All the sudden he seems to wake up and realize life isn’t so bad… Just sayin’

  3. My horses are a lifetime commitment on both sides……I’ve learned to accept that over the years!

  4. You and are are sisters from another lifetime I am sure. I started riding at 40ish and bought an reg. Appy Mare. She has passed now at the age of 34 but left me with a son, and 2 daughters along with 2 granddaughters. I had the intent to breed and sell and that worked until I had to sell them. So now I spend my time with each one and am thankful they are all special in there own ways, never push buttonhorses, but fabulous in there own ways. I love them all and they will each stay until they join their mother. They have each taught me something and carried me through some hard times especially this last year while I cared for my own Mother who passed in June. Now back to riding at last, I missed our special times but am enjoying getting back into the saddle again. YAHOO!

  5. I started riding when I was 12. I loved my horse time. Every Monday I looked forward to my hour lessons. Eventually, I started leasing him like he was my own horse. It was the best!! In June, 2 weeks before my first horse show, he coliced and had to be put down. I started on another horse a few days after his death. He was a problem horse that had been “fixed” for anyone to ride. Not so. I wasn’t ready to ride him. But we figured it out eventually. I rode 4 other horses as a teen and young adult. Now, I’m much older and 3 years ago bought my own “problem child” and was making some progress followin Clinton Anderson. She died this August, and it’s been hard getting over the loss of having my first really mine horse. I have found a yearling filly that I’m making payments on to have my second fully, owned, all my horse. I’m starting her on my own, and so far it’s looking good, but at my age, I don’t heal as quickly. I’m not so sure about the first time ride this spring. But with expenses, and all, and the NEED to do this before I’m too old to try. I want to have that bond that so many people have that trains their own horse. Plus, I want to see if all my previous knowledge and new lessons from Clinton Anderson tv, books, and videos will help me teach my lovely filly into an awesome show and ranch horse.

  6. the horses problems have usually been caused by people, ie:former owners, riders, and etc. Horses reach the level of intelligence of an 8 year old child and they do not all think the same. It grieves me that so many hoses are treated like mechanics, if all you want to do is win trophy’s or money then why not drive race cars? They don’t have feelings. You should show BECAUSE you believe in your horse and are partners, NOT just to win. I had an Arabian stallion who hated showing, the judges loved him and he qualified for the nationals every year I showed, BUT I did not take him….he hated showing. I only showed him 1 or 2 times a year, I don’t do what I hate so I didn’t expect him to.

  7. Melinda–That is so interesting that you worked with Clinton Anderson! I discovered him when trying to solve a lead change issue with my horse. I happened to see a TV episode several years ago and was immediately hooked on Clinton. I have a masters in instructional design and adore Clinton because his teaching techniques are a textbook case of the correct way to transfer skills to learners. He is a gifted instructor and clearly works hard at his craft. With that said, a little over a year ago, I bought a lovely and talented show hunter that began misbehaving not long after the check cleared. I confess that he had my number and intimidated me. I tried to work out the problems, but after several months, decided that I was not the correct person to deal with him, and I sold him to someone who would enjoy him. A few months later I found a gelding that is not as fancy, but much more reliable. Because I’m more confident on him, I am riding better and have shown him successfully. Instead of trying to make the wrong horse fit my needs, I opted to find the right horse and it was the best decision for both me and the horses.

  8. I feel your pain. I have had a Thorobred/dutch cross mare for 7 years who is generally a great ride, but has many very strange traits that make her hard to handle. some days she is fine- on others she runs back to the barn when being turned out. refuses to leave the water trough to graze, takes off before I can get her halter off, can’t seem to ride in the trailer, etc. etc. She is a great mover and has taught me plenty as a rider because she is so sensitive. Nevertheless, the other parts of her personality are very challenging and some times I would just like to get her brain x-rayed to make sure there is really one in there.

  9. Oh yeah I have a black and white pinto half arab/AppendixQuarterhorse mare my husband bought me as a four month old. It was love at first sight for me, and my husband bought me the horse of my dreams or was it nightmares? We bought Eclipse as well as her mother as the man that owned them just wanted to be done with the horse thing. Little did I know what I got myself into,13 years ago., Eclipse was born in the spring outdoors in a pasture and had never had human contact until the day we came and put them on a truck to their new home. Long story short the mom sadly died of a broken upper leg, within two months of us getting them. The Vet said she probably slipped and fell badly or was kicked by another horse we had at the time. It seemed though they were getting along fine with each other. We will never know for sure and sadly she had to be put down. Eclipse was not yet weaned. we were in the process of arranging to send her mom to a friends barn to wean her. We tried everything in our power to befriend her, after all we loved her. but she had no love back for us. When we toached her she would actually grunt. Took months to gentle her enough to brush her all over and desensitize her to toach. Even then she didnt like being toached. but she soon learned if she had her halter put on, she was not as wild or ferel. To this day she is not a lovey dovey girl. When she is free of halter, she is as wild as can be. She can snort and blow as loudly as any stallion. She taught us both patience, and many times for the first 6 years I would tell my husband she was probably to much horse for me. She was a wild bucker, we did all our homework and worked slowly and methodically with her, sacking out, groundwork, horse gentling at its best. I took her to clinics, I sent her to the finest quarterhorse trainer, who was afraid to tell me after the first week that she might just be the stubbornist horse he had incountered and if she didnt stop her intermidden bucking(one day she was real good and the very next day a bucking bronco. He said she wasnt good enough to be a professional bronc, but she might never be trustworthy. He offered to sell her to someone else and give me a tried and true older trail horse, that was actually quite nice.But I was as stubborn as she and said give her more time. He kept her for 60 days and said she had come along way,the last 3 weeks he worked with the two of us together and said we were both doing good but in the long run he thought Id be better off with a sainer horse. she was still having her bad days, His offer still stood. I still refused, That winter surprise to me, my back went out and I had to have surgery in the spring. I was unable to work with Eclipse everyday as I had been. She was much better if I worked with her every day or the very least every other day. When I could ride again, I was surprised she was real good, moved out nice on a loose rein, light aids, she was smooth and a dream to ride. but day 3 or 4 wham, she wheeled around a few times and bucked and bucked. Yup she got me off, and with a bad back I was looking for a trainer. The first one said he didnt want to train her, as he really prefered to be training Quarterhorses that were going to be shown and he reminded me I should have traded her in. Well I found a trainer by accident, long story short I called an ad about a horse for sale, and the women said it wasnt her horse, her husband was just working with it. i said oh he is a trainer, she said he was real good with horses but that he was a professional bronc rider. BINGO the right man for the job. He took her and had no fear of her tantrums, and believed me whole heartly, that sometimes just sometimes its not the owner that has messed them up but there are difficult personality horses out there. Believe me we own every training book that was available at the time, we were always patient and kind and disciplined quicckly after an offence. He took her on trails by cars, through creeks and taught her to tie and stand without pulling. His assessment when he brought her home. She need to be worked every day, she needs to stand still when you get on her, and if you ask her to do something you damn well better mean it. Shes stubborn and things are going to take you a longgggg….time to get her to agree, but agree she must. Oh yeah he said, she will never buck you off again, on this he got her to agree.but he said you better love her cause no one else on earth is going to put up with the shit she dishes out, and she is never going to be some kids horse. Everything he said is true, she never has bucked me off, although while running every now and then she will try to bunch up and cow hop, I just urge her on. It took hours of me sitting on the lead rope in the trailer and when she would give me an inch I would loosen up on her. At first it took at least an hour to get her on, then days later a half hour then ten minutes and now she just walks on in seconds. ( but alot of days months and years have gone bye. I am blessed to have met 3 great friends at a park one day, who were not afraid of Eclipse worlling and spinning when she didnt get her way. and pinning her ears back at their horses and blowing and snorting. They only laughed at her and helped me gain confidence with every ride we went on. We have traveled all over N.Y. trail riding, Been to the adarondicks at least 10 times. We ride several times a week at different parks in our area of upstate N.Y. On Eclipses behalf, she just floats when Im on her, I only have to look in the direction I want her to go, She is safe and sane on the road and has great self preservation which keeps us both safe. Shes very lovey dovey after she has been ridden, and enjoys our outings and our friends who she no longer pins her ears at and will ride side by side with all of them. Although new horses riding with us, she has to know where they are at all times and still loves to use this occasion to whirl and spin and snort.(This summer in the mountains she swung her butt around and knocked a dead tree 15′ tall over with her butt.) We have gotten into ground bees and hidden wire in brush. and I know she now trusts me, as in both situations instead of panicking she stood still as a statue while I got off her swatted the bees off her and got wire unwrapped about her hoofs. She is 13 now and we have both come along long way and she will be my horse till God takes her or I home. I love how you said the relationship at times was like a bad marriage. I understand you more than you know. Cindy

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