The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Door to Door

The time has come when yours truly needs to start earning some money for real. So yesterday, I screwed up my courage, got into the car with my box of hoof-trimming business cards, and set off to introduce myself to my horsey neighbours.

I was nervous, not normally being the type to go round selling myself, but also a little excited at the prospect of meeting the inhabitants of houses which I scrutinize with curiosity every time I drive past.

The afternoon turned out to be really fun. I was gone for three hours but only stopped at six houses. At three, no one was home (too bad, I really wanted to meet the occupant of that cool log house) and so I just left cards in the door. But the other three houses were welcoming and chatty.

The first house, just along our road, belongs to a young couple with two little children and a very friendly chocolate lab. The husband has a horse-training business, and we exchanged cards. He does his own trimming but is often too busy to keep on top of it, so he might give me a call. He has two of his own horses, as well as two in for training - well, one horse and a mule, which I was excited about, as on the basis of no experience whatsoever, I really love mules. He said this was his first mule experience and he was enjoying it, as mules are "thinkers." Apparently a lot of trainers don't like mules, probably for that very reason, and he's hoping that he might get a name for himself as someone who is good with mules.

At the next house, I saw a yard containing a black horse, a donkey, a calf, two sheep, and an older gentleman leaning on the fence. I pulled in the driveway, climbed out, and introduced myself. We stood for a long time chatting, as he told me the story of the mare and all the other four-legged inhabitants of his barn. The mare he'd set his eye on when he saw her as a not-yet two-year old, carrying a young child safely on a trail ride, and boldly walking up to within a few feet of a caged black bear (which apparently resides up the lane. Crikey who knew?) He had coonhounds in a run out back and told me tales of treeing bobcats up on the mountain.

The mare had not had her feet trimmed in five years, but her hoofs - although definitely on the long side - looked tight and shapely. The calf and the donkey hovered in her shadow, and she fussed over them maternally, touching them with her nose, or scolding them if they stepped out of line. The three of them came over to the fence, and the mare greeted me kindly.

The next house turned out to be the home of a client of my trimming friend, who trims one of their horses and gives riding lessons to the oldest daughter. I spent a long time at this house, as we found lots to talk about, and I had to meet the bantams, the peacock (magnificent in full plumage), all six horses and, of course, the dog.

The horse whom my friend trims is a little Arab mare belonging to the daughter. As she is ridden regularly, they splurge on the extra cost of a balanced barefoot trim, $25 dollars more than the farrier charges for the pasture trim he does on the other five horses. Only trouble is, the pasture trim isn't working out all that well. They have a large draft cross gelding with severely contracted heels and an accompanying deep cleft between the heel bulbs, prone to fungus and thrush. On being questioned about this cleft, apparently the farrier said, "All horses are like that." Only they're not. I charge only a little less than my more-experienced friend, and it feels weird to ask for so much more than the farrier - but the farrier's trim takes 15 minutes and thinks contracted heels are normal, whereas a balanced trim can easily take an hour to perform (unless your name happens to be Gene Ovnicek or something). I'm thinking I might offer a within-radius discount for locations ten minutes or less from my house. Which is assuming anyone wants me to come!

One thing which I took away from my afternoon's adventures was a realization that I'd better be careful to not become holier-than-thou about the Spilkered approach I have with horses. The horse owners I met are people of skill, experience, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Perhaps they could be categorized as "natural horsemanship" owners, but their understanding of horses clearly is wider than the confines of one method or school. The young trainer enjoys the challenge of working with his thinking mule; the old farmer has a little peaceable kingdom in his yard; the last family have three superannuated horses which they take care of out of loyalty and compassion, and their riding horses came crowding round to socialize with the humans.

Driving only a couple of miles brought me into contact with a much larger world.


  1. June, that last comment of yours is so true. I had this experience recently and I think that horses read our intent and energy and not what books we have read (obviously) and the most traditional, common-sense horse people here can have great relationships with their horses.

    Good luck with your trimming venture. I wish you could come here and trim ours.

  2. Do you find it a bit of a conundrum at times, Maire? - I so agree with you about traditional, common-sense horse people, and yet I know I do things which they wouldn't agree with - usually involving letting the horse "get away" with things. Or - as Spilker says - allowing the horse to say no. But if I try to account for this to these people, I can't really say say anything much different from what they're saying. Have you experienced this?

  3. What a wonderful afternoon you had, meeting all these interesting people so close to your home!
    It sounds like some of them had great relationships with their horses. I'm beginning to think it doesn't really matter what form of horsemanship you practise, traditional, natural, Spilker or Hempfling. What matters most is that you find a way that suits both you and your horse. I used to get confused, trying to emulate brilliant people like Hempfling or Spilker, it actually gave me more questions than answers. Now I just read books because I enjoy them and find them interesting, but I listen to my horses and take it from there.

    Good luck with setting up your trimming business!

  4. Thanks for the good wishes, Sandra and Maire!

  5. Yeah, I'm thinking about this, and I think you have to go with what works for both your horses and you. If I look at the way I brought up my children, I was way more laisser-faire than most, and others might not have approved. But I think it worked out - because it wasn't a lack of high standards, it was an approach to enforcement or something. So maybe the fact that I'm also more laisser-faire with the horses compared to most traditional horsewomen doesn't really put me in a different camp per se.

    Which brings me to another point, which is that people let you alone to raise your kids and if they do judge you, at least they tend to do it behind your back. Whereas with horses, everyone and his uncle thinks it's appropriate to weigh in and judge your horse's behavior and the way you treat your horse, and tell you right to your face the way you ought to be doing it. Which is often rude and usually confusing.

    Whaddya'll think?

  6. Looking at, say, Spilker and Widdicombe - two writers/trainers whom I hugely admire - on the surface there's actually a rather large difference between their respective mo's. I guess the difference seems to be that Widdicombe is more human-goal-oriented, whereas Spilker is more horse-lead. But ...

    Well, this is going to turn into a whole post. I need to think about it some more.