Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Originally published in Horse Directory  July, 2014

By Tom Gumbrecht

I paused to reflect today, Father's Day, after sharing a short ride with the child I've shared all of my horsey accomplishments with. She has her own child now, so we are entering a new phase of life around Dreamcatcher Farm. It occurred to me that just like the rest of my life, my horse life has had many phases. They seem distinct when viewed separately but mostly they have been woven by time into a fabric that provides the backdrop of my horse life.

Lola greets Daniel to her world, with new mom Sam..

The beginning phase was really just being exposed to horses, in my case as a middle-aged adult, and feeling that unmistakable pull that I perhaps didn't really understand but can now spot instantly when I see it happening in others.

For me, you might say that the next phase was obsession. The pull of horses was at it's peak, and all attempts to maintain the illusion of self-control were fruitless. Every spare moment, it seemed, was spent learning about or experiencing things horsey. Friends were starting to wonder...

A couple of years later I guess I dove in head first and took my family with me. We sold our house in a small beach community that we had made just how we wanted, and started over in a much older home with some land in a horse friendly area not far away. We built a barn, a ring and paddocks and adopted our first horse, followed by another soon after. Non-horse people that we knew were polite, but quietly concerned now.

The author assumes a new duty at the farm.
The years leading up to being horse- and barn-owners were filled with lessons designed so that we could find our niche, which for Samantha and I ended up being jumpers and eventing. After getting our first horses and building the barn, I took a little break from lessons, focusing mainly on fun stuff like trail rides, group events, costume rides... things that answered the call of any excuse to get on a horse and go. I don't really remember if I thought that I was done with lessons or not, at the time. But this phase was really just another lesson.  "Time in the saddle is what you need now," my first instructor had told me.  By the time I owned a barn and some horses, I thought that I was past that phase, but really I was smack in the middle of it.

As Sam's riding progressed and she became engaged in competition on her own horse, my focus shifted to supporting her riding, while riding  enough to keep my own legs and horses in shape, more or less.  During that time we also did some equine trekking both here and abroad. But mostly that phase was characterized by trekking to lessons several times a week, and weekend horse shows with the alarm screaming its demand for a 4:00 am wakeup. That era ended with her leaving for college, with my duties then diminished to transporting her horse halfway across the country twice a year, and attempts at encouragement via text message.

During this time I entered a phase that I would have skipped if given the choice, but that would have been an unfortunate series of lessons to miss out on. My own horse became severely ill, and I learned that the road to wellness for a sick horse is very much a partnership between owner and the veterinary team. It was a sometimes frightening, sometime crushing and other times rewarding emotional roller coaster that I was learning to ride in my reluctant pursuit of horsemanship, as opposed to merely riding. These were skills and a temperament that I would need desperately in the future that was yet to unfold.

As my sick horse, Buddy, got better, it became evident that he would be serving a purpose other than riding, going forward. We acquired a younger horse and began training once again. Buddy took on the role of teaching an arrogant young gelding some manners, and he was well suited to his new role. Meanwhile, I found that I had missed those early morning wakeups and the excitement of competition that I had been backstage for up until now. The time seemed right to take the stage myself, and so I did. We enjoyed a couple of years of moderate success at the lower levels of eventing and jumpers, and moreover discovered an array of tools to combat things like stage fright and frustration and learned the value of goal setting to accomplish more that we would have thought ourselves capable of. I carried these tools out of the arena with me, and they made a positive difference in my personal and professional life.

All of the things, physical and mental, that I had learned to that point were called upon when my next challenge was to be faced: the rehabilitation and subsequent retraining of a racehorse who we had adopted and who ended up having been injured just two weeks prior to our taking her home under circumstances where her history and condition had been masked and not accurately communicated. Although frustrated, we had all of the tools available, including the somewhat newly honed ability to know when to ask for help.  In doing so, we found our real niche in the horse world which enabled us to experience the rewards of teaching a horse to do something completely different from what she had been trained to do, made possible by finding the right mentor from whom to learn those skills.  I found that my most cherished ribbon was the one we had earned in a class that I had trained her for myself.  

We wind up now, back at the point where we had started: with the reason for this little mental exercise and trot down memory lane, a little one-month old boy named Daniel. The child of the child we hauled to all of those horse shows. I can't wait to tell him everything that I have learned about horses. Will he be interested? Maybe he will, and maybe he won't. 

But maybe he will...

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