Monday, March 23, 2009

Stress Reduction for Better Horsemanship

“Have you seen my glasses? I can’t figure out where I put them.”

I’d love to tell you that in our household, this is Best Husband in the World talking. But no. It’s my bad. It’s my mantra. It’s a way of life.

And I’m sick of it.

So I recently started meditating.

I’m not the only one. From your local heart specialist to national talk show hosts, to aging super models, all the way up to respected and renowned religious leaders from all variety of worship, there’s a general buzz out there—meditation, it is said, can help you focus and de-stress.

Given that stress is one of the primary contributors to heart disease (the #1 killer of women in the US), this must be good news.

My meditating hero, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, advises that you shouldn’t tell people you meditate until you have at least 10 years under your belt. After that, you should still give it another ten years before you start blabbing about it, and even then, it's best to keep it to yourself. Yet, as I am wont to do, I’m going to disobey.

I’ve been meditating for about five years. In the last year, I started utilizing Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness meditation.

Kabat-Zinn first introduced Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Since the success of that first program, he has implemented MBSR programs into hospitals across the nation, and, in fact, throughout the world. He has helped thousands of people cope with heart disease and other life-threatening health problems.
(For an MSBR program in your area, click here.)

Regardless of your religious persuasions, I can vouch for Kabat-Zinn’s programs: meditation is an excellent way to help you get in touch with your heart—and ultimately, your higher power.

To learn, I first purchased an audio version of Kabat-Zinn’s “Mindfulness for Beginners” at From there, I progressed to more intensive programs. Thanks to Best Husband in the World, who gets up to feed the horses and clean stalls, I have the luxury to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour each morning in mindfulness meditation.

What has it done for me? Without any effort at all, I’ve started eating less and exercising more. I’m more careful about what pops out of my mouth. I’m kinder.

And I’ve become a better horse trainer, rider, and teacher.

One of our most recent additions is Sammi, a 5-year-old Standardbred mare who has required a slower training program than any other STB we have worked with so far.

Her former owner, Stephen Chambers, believes that Sammi, who raced under the name “Joanne’s Fancy,” was kicked in the head fairly severely when a tot. Given her what I call her fragile sensibilities, I believe him.

She has none of Kiwi’s rock solid confidence. She has little of Stormy’s wise appraisal of new tasks or situations. Nor does she have a speck of Cordealia’s bravura.

With Sammi, everything must be taught with an extremely quiet, unfailing focused, and persistently patient attitude.

If one of my close friends, dare I say Best Husband in the World, were asked to describe me, I don’t imagine the words “quiet,” “focused,” “focused,” or “patient” would come up.

At least until now. I made the connection between mindfulness meditation and my horse training a few weeks ago when I was working with Sammi. I’d been in the round pen with her for about an hour when I suddenly realized time had flown by without my even noticing it. I was deep into each and every moment—and loving it!

I was working quietly. I was working with great care and patience. And I was utterly focused. I wasn’t thinking about grocery shopping. Or the fact that I had to get the house ready for my mother’s impending visit. Or that I had a deadline for an article for a national magazine looming. I was completely present.

As a result, Sammi responded to everything with interest, ease, and elegance.

The true payoff came yesterday, when Best Husband and I took a ride with two friends. The rain was coming down, but we couldn’t help ourselves; the lush green hills were calling. I wondered how Sammi would do with new horses and intemperate weather.

She performed with aplomb. She quickly accepted Best Husband as her leader. She strided out for him with new confidence. Things didn’t seem to baffle her as much.

Craig and Sammi in the rain at Cronan Ranch

I most assuredly attribute her happy nature on the trail to Best Husband’s skill in the saddle. But I would be remiss if I did not also give a nod to Jon Kabat-Zinn. His soothing, humorous, non-judgmental approach to mindfulness helped me make a timid horse just a bit braver.

And I almost never lose my glasses anymore.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Horse transport companies: Proceed with caution!

Do your homework before putting your horse--and hard earned cash--in someone else's hands.

When our friend, Ariel, sent her horse. River. to us in December, I was very nervous about how the 9-year-old gelding would fare during the week-long trip from New Hampshire to California. With a few minor glitches, River arrived cheerful and, most importantly, safe.

But not everyone is so lucky. My morning email brought a warning letter from a horse owner who had recently been burned. Bad.

Here's her letter:

I arranged to have my OTTB shipped from California to Colorado with the company 'Total Equine Services Inc' ( This is the first time I have shipped a horse long distance so I am new to this, which is what is partially to blame for my mistake.

I thought this company's website looked professional and legitimate. I "googled" their name and didn't see anything bad about them. I contacted them about transport and they were quick to call me back, to e-mail me, to answer any questions I had.

The second they received money from me, they disappeared.

ON the day my horse was scheduled to be picked up, they never showed. After several phone calls and e-mails, I get an e-mail from them late in the evening saying the clutch in their truck went out (which doesn't give you a warm, fuzzy feeling either). Pick up was rescheduled for the end of the week.

The week came and went, they are nowhere to be found. Their voicemail box is full, I can't leave a message if I tried. Another week has gone by. They have disappeared.

In my frustration, I have been doing a lot more research and have looked up their DOT and MC numbers online. Not only are there several company names under one number (Total Equine Services, We Haul Horses, Double S Transport), but a lot of very recently unhappy people. They have pulled a fast one on several people in the past few weeks, I am not alone.

Through the help of friends, I have now become familiar with several helpful websites that post reviews on horse haulers. During this process, my two favorite websites have become and

They both list customer reviews of transport companies.

This is a sad story, and just a sign of that there are some people out there who don't mind taking your hard earned cash and anything else they can get their mitts on.

The other night, my 75-year-old mother went to a friend's house for dinner. While there, her car was broken into, and her garage door opener stolen. While she enjoyed a relaxing evening, the thieves easily drove into her garage, closed the door, and quickly ripped off thousands of dollars worth of valuables. I can guess that our horse owner feels much the same as my mom--angry, frightened, and violated.

My mother learned that we now live in a world where you cannot leave your garage door opener in your car.

Our horse shipping friend learned that when it comes to turning your money--and your cherished four-legged friend--over to a horse hauler, check them out thoroughly.

In addition to the two sites she recommends, I have some other adice.

DO check with the DOT (Department of Transportation) to see if they are up to date on all licensing and permits. You can also ask the transport compnay to fax their permits and registration to you.

---CHECK with the Better Business Bureau.

---MAKE SUREyou have a physical address where the business sits.

--NEVER HAND OVER A CENT until they show up to pick up your horse. Most horse haulers will ask for a deposit for half the transport fee when picking up the horse...NOT BEFORE. The remainder of the fee is due when the horse arrives at its destination safely and in good health.

--ASK IF THEY HAVE OTHER TRUCKS IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY. In the last leg of River's journey from New Hampshire (and just an hour from our house), the truck's engine developed problems. Fortunately for River, we were only minutes away and able to come pick him up ourselves. As for the remaining 11 horses headed to Los Angeles, the company immediately dispatched another truck from Oregon to come get them. It arrived just five hours later and the trip finished as planned. If the horse hauler you have chosen says, "Oh sure, we have tons of trucks," get proof in the form of registrations that you can check against DOT records.

--DO NOT BELIEVE THE TESTIMONIALS ON THE WEBSITE. Anyone can write up a testimonial. For real reviews, check in with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and the websites our horse owner mentioned above.

--GET THE DRIVERS' CELL PHONE NUMBERS. I made sure I had the cell phone numbers of both the drivers for River's trip. This way, I could track their progress and, as they got closer to California, get a better idea of their exact arrival time. It was good that we had exchanged numbers, because, as mentioned above, the semi hauling the horses could not negotiate the narrow highway to our house. We ended up having to go pick the horse up for the last leg of the journey.

--GET THE COMPANY'S PHYSICAL ADDRESS. Verrify it with the Better Busines Bureau and DOT. This can help greatly if you have to follow up due to problems, such as your horse being injured en route.

Anyone can put together a fairly snazzy, impressive website for under $500. So do your research before handing over your money and horse to a horse hauling company.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What to do in the rain

I would love to tell you that all this rain is going to make for a drought-free year. But it’s not. Warm temperatures mean that the snow pack high up in the Sierras is melting fast.

So everyone needs to do a rain dance, quickly followed by a “cold” dance, in hopes that the thermometer will drop a bit.

I hate even talking about the weather right now. Because the truth is, I am sick of the rain. Best Husband is sick of it. . As are the horses.

Of course, if you look at these photos of Cori, you’d never know it.

Why is it that a horse--having a perfectly large, warm, and shaving-laden stall--will choose instead to stand out in her lake of a paddock, getting soaked to the bone?

Well, if you, like me, are sick of the rain and looking for something to do until you can once again get back in the saddle, I have the ideal suggestion...

Showcase for equine art

A few weeks ago, Best Husband and I were privileged to attend the opening of a new art exhibit at Sacramento’s historic (and gorgeous) Crocker Museum. We went with our friend, Stephen Chambers, and his fabulous other half, Susan. Stephen owns, trains and races Standardbreds and is the reason Best Husband and I have far too many horses.
(Note to museum staff: Susan and I should never be allowed to visit any exhibit in the future while in each other's company. We had far too much fun!)

Do not miss "Animals in the Drawing Room: The Art of Mari Kloeppel (to read more about this show from the msueum's site, click here). Under the careful guidance and sponsorship of Carmel art aficionado Chris Winfield, Mari has gained renown with her stunning paintings of birds, dogs, and her beloved Arabian, Cobahsaan.

“Stunning” actually does not begin to cover Mari’s thoughtful, intuitive, sumptuous paintings. As you stand before the picture of a charming rabbit—and his bell and ball—you are drawn in by the antique, elegant, Victorian feeling of the piece.
Yet viewing the enormous portraits of Kobe and a yellow Labrador evokes different--and powerful--emotions in the viewer. The night of the opening, I evesdropped on several viewers. All of whom were rendered quite speechless by these haunting works.
"...I don't even know how to put how I feel," said one viewer.
Another summed it up for me. "Amazing. Beautiful and amazing."
I try hard not use cliches in my writing, but truly, Mari's work takes your breath away.

When you learn that Mari's decision to paint full-time came, in part, due to an accident with her horse that resulted in Mari's temporary blindness, as well as a crushed pelvis, these paintings become all the more intriguing.
This is a show not to be missed, espeically if you love horses. It will run for the next four months, through June.

During the evening, we were also treated to a tour of the new exhibit on artwork about Buddha. Included in the exhibit is a centuries old sculpture of Buddha on horseback, made of wood, clay, and horse hair. This exhibit is beautifully presented and an interesting contrast to Mari's work.
Sundays at the Crocker are free from 10 AM to 1 PM. And for more information on both shows, as well as hours, directions, and more, click here.