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Posts Tagged ‘Horse People’

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I have been remiss in commenting and answering comments, but I’ve still been hoarding away posts to list today:

I have a heap of new horse blogs to go through when I have some time to “pan for gold” as I love discovering new sites to network and share. If you know of a great blog that I haven’t yet discovered, send it my way!

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Was it just me, or was it kind-of a slow blogging week? I was up until 5:30 last night (what with the time change and all) working on a little project I’ll reveal tomorrow, so it might just be that I’m bleary-eyed.

and a new blog that fits in nicely with tomorrow’s project post:

That’s it for this week – I’m off to enjoy the 70° weather with Mojo!

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In Service to the Horse: Chronicles of a Labor of Love

by Susan Nusser

Little, Brown and Company, 2004

karen_oconnor.jpgNusser is an excellent writer, with a great eye for details and the ability to create suspense out of an eventing season. The secondary stories of the showjumping and breeding grooms, while interesting, never take off, and it’s the groom of the O’Connor Event Team that creates the center and meat of the book. The book seems less about the lives and livelihood of grooms and more about the O’Conners – celebrities in the elite world of Three Day Eventing – and one wonders why the author didn’t admit her fascination and simply write a book about them, since they provide plenty of interest. The premise of the book doesn’t live up to the jacket copy, but in its stead, the glimpse into the lives of two of the equestrian world’s biggest names make it well worth reading, at least for the equine enthusiast.

*Review originally written on Google Book Search

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I spend a lot of time trying to keep up with all of my horse blogs – although using an RSS reader makes it simpler, the entries still seem to proliferate like OTTB’s. I like to visit all of my sites at least once a week so their stats reflect my readership, and so I can check out any new links or sidebar content that might not be reflected in the RSS feed. With that in mind, I thought a nice feature might be to have a once-a-week link round-up to some of my favorite posts. (Some of these posts are older than a week due to my new immersion in the horse blogging world, but as this feature continues, I’ll be keeping them within a weekly timeframe.)

There are really wonderful, instructive and entertaining writers out there – please visit them and let them know you enjoy their work!

UPDATE:  I just found Deanna’s similar post from January at Improving Communication Between Horse and Rider.

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The barn where I stable my horse is that rarity, a place where riders of different ages and disciplines exist in harmony. While there are only two Western saddles in the tack room (mine being one of them), there are numerous Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, an aged pony, and even a mustang, and no one is anything but kind in their comments and treatment of other people’s horses. There is no snootiness, and no drama. I am very lucky in this regard, and I know it.

One of my fellow boarders, a kind and conscientious college student, is a dressage rider who shows above third level – an assumption on my part based on her use of a double-bridle when she rides. She has a fabulous warmblood and one day while she was grooming him, I asked her about her experience and his. She talked for a bit about her good fortune in being able to own a horse trained to his level, and how good he was in all ways. Then she turned to me and asked, “And what do you do?”

I was momentarily baffled. After all, she had seen my saddles in the tack room, so it wasn’t as if she was asking if I rode, or even what style, since I have both English and Western saddles. The assumption behind her question presented a real conundrum. How to answer such a simple question when the premise wasn’t one I embraced?

“I ride, and we play,” I replied after a moment’s thought. Then it was her turn to look baffled. In the spirit of the goodwill that pervades our barn, she recovered herself, smiled and nodded, and our conversation moved on.

It’s been my experience that people who show and compete have a hard time envisioning any other reason to own a horse, much less what you might actually spend your time doing if not in training. In the comments of a post bashing on Natural Horsemanship on a blog I read daily (and with which I normally agree), I recently read someone’s response to this video: “Why, why, why? What is the point of this? What function does it serve?”

It’s a revealing question, one that suggests that ‘function’ is the preeminent and logical reason to own a horse. However, a pleasure horse – one not owned with the specific intent of generating or contributing to an income – is a luxury item, regardless of the owner’s income level, social standing, or the appraised value of the horse. Luxury items, which by their very definition are owned for the enjoyment and status of the owner, are not possessed for their functional value, so why is it that we continue to think of horses in such a manner?

Obviously, in many circles, the amount of ribbons your horse is awarded is in direct proportion to the amount of status conferred on you, so there’s some logic to the thought that a horse’s ‘function’ is to compete or show (and win) but in reality, if that’s the case, then your horse’s true ‘function’ is to confer status upon you. The competing and showing is a secondary function, a symptom or result of the first.

On the other hand, if you willingly admit that the horse’s primary purpose is for your enjoyment, the video of the man dancing with his horse suddenly makes sense. What is the point of it? What function does it serve? Well… it’s fun, among other things. It’s enjoyable to both parties (or at least it appears so.) Does there need to be another reason?

On the far, far other end of the spectrum from those who see showing as an end unto itself is the philosophy of Nevzorov, the Russian classical dressage trainer who believes all horse sports are cruel and coercive, and thus unethical. I couldn’t agree less. I am in no way opposed to sport with horses (although I might be opposed to certain training methodologies of these sports) and, in fact, hope to show and compete myself one day. (Actually, I hope to compete Mojo, but you know what I mean.) My only question is why we all continue to act like those sports are the ‘point’ of horse ownership.

I have heard more than one rider say that she feels almost embarrassed to admit that she “only” trail rides. Besides the obvious argument that trail riding anything other than a totally experienced “dead broke” horse is a challenging hobby requiring its own set of riding skills, experience, and courage, why should any horse owner feel the need to justify themselves if they can’t whip out an answer like “We jump 3’6,” or “We compete at training level,” or some such thing?

Furthermore, what if the owner were to reply, “We don’t do anything. I just like looking at him in my backyard.” Anyone who doubts the condescension of riders towards non-riders need only read the comments I mentioned above. The irony of these comments is that this particular blog is geared toward the rescue of horses – and it’s often the owners who don’t ride who willingly provide an important segment of the homes available to rescue horses too lame to compete or show. Likewise, the much-maligned middle-aged woman new to owning and riding and faithfully following the NH ‘gurus’ is, by and large, far more concerned with the care and well-being of her horse than many life-long owners who take their own knowledge for granted, and certainly just as likely to provide a good home. Ultimately, isn’t that the most important thing, especially given the staggering number of unwanted horses being sent to slaughter?

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing a goal, and nothing wrong with competing. But to make that the only “real” reason to own a horse deprives us all of the freedom to explore the mystery and attraction that drew us to horses before we could ride, or drive, or even tack up a horse. And, the beauty of it is, to do that, you don’t have to do anything – except enjoy the company of the horses you keep.

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Where are all the horse people?

Looking at the advertising pages of some of the most popular, professional horse sites, such as Horse Channel, The Horse, HorseWeb, DreamHorse, HorseCity and Equisearch, I see that these sites get between 550,000 and 6.8 million visits per month – not bad for a niche market. Equisearch says that their research shows that over 90% of horse owners are internet-savvy, using the web to look up information and shop for new tack and apparel. Given these numbers, I wonder where all the horse people are when it comes to blog traffic. There has been a marked increase in horse blogs in the last 18 months and some of these blogs are truly well-crafted, well-written sources of information and entertainment. Yet many of the most linked-to sites get less than 10 comments per entry.

I am obviously not privy to the stats of each individual site, so I can only guess at traffic based on comments. It may be that for some reason horse blogs have an unusually large audience of lurkers, who enjoy reading or visiting the sites but decline to comment. However, given how passionate and opinionated most horse enthusiasts are, that seems surprising to me. Another possibility is that the majority of horse owners read their blogs through an RSS reader, as I do myself. This of course means that even though the content is still being read, the actual site isn’t being visited and therefore is registering a misleadingly low visitor count. (It’s for this reason that I visit my RSS sites at least once or twice a week.) Still, a number of RSS readers show how many people are subscribed through the reader to each site, and the numbers are low, if not virtually non-existent.

Of course there are exceptions to this trend, such as the charming and clever Bazzy Boy, winner of the 2007 Webbies Best Animal Blog, which seems to hold an appeal beyond the horse world to pet lovers in general, much like I Can Has Cheezburger? appeals to far more than cat fanciers. Another site with a very respectable number of comments to each post is Fugly Horse of the Day, which provides a scathing commentary on ads for horses taken off of Craigslist and other sources akin to a Go Fug Yourself for horse lovers, albeit with a much more serious message about the perils of backyard breeding. But these exceptions exist at least in part because the blogs have been able to cultivate an audience outside of horse enthusiasts, which does nothing to answer my original question of where the horse people are in relation to blog traffic.

We know the audience exists – after all, the number of horse owners and enthusiasts has risen each year for the last two decades, and a majority of this audience is female, a demographic that lends itself to reading exactly the kind of horse blogs that most owners create – personal, inclusive, and character-specific. The rapid rise in readership of Confessions of a Pioneer Woman shows just how successful this style can be, particularly when presented in an elegant and creative package. The most successful mainstream books on horses of the last few years – The Tao of Equus, Seabiscuit, The Man Who Listens to Horses – all used personal stories to drive the narrative forward and engage the emotionally-driven sentiment that horses produce in even the most jaded of readers.

How do we tap into this audience and, even more on-topic, how do we lead this audience to our blogs? While few bloggers are in it for an income, all bloggers long for readers or we wouldn’t be putting our stories and opinions online. There’s a glaring gap in blog readership here that’s waiting to be bridged – a wonderful opportunity for all of us, if we can just find a way to get our stories across.

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