Leigh Hearon


Monday, December 12, 2016


Winter arrived in the Pacific Northwest last week with a flurry of snowfall, and shows no sign of leaving for the foreseeable future.  Rain–—our most constant companion in these here parts—erased the white landscape a day or two later, but the temperature has remained unseasonably low.  Predictions call for chilly nights that dip into the low ‘20s.

Many readers probably consider this kind of weather positively balmy.  Not so to us Northwesterners, and I’ll stipulate that I’m one of the biggest wimps.  Whenever I venture outside, I’m draped in a full-length down coat and bomber cap (quite the fashion statement) and STILL am chilled to the bone when I reenter our farmhouse.  Fortunately, my very considerate husband considers his primary job now to stoke our woodstoves so I truly should not complain…but I do.

All of us who have horses in our stables knew this day would come.  Last summer, I cautioned our new animal caretaker, Anji, that she was now experiencing the glory months, when all she had to do was groom, feed, apply a modicum of fly spray, and send our equines out into their still grassy pastures.  Now, the process of making sure the horses are fed, warm, happy and healthy has taken on a whole new dimension.

Unlike my amateur sleuth, Annie Carson, I firmly believe in blanketing.  Fortunately, I have a heated cabin where wet and soggy blankets can dry overnight.  We have four horses who came in four different sizes, all of whom have an assortment of fleeces, stable sheets, turnout sheets, and heavier blankets.  It looks a bit like a tack store right now.  A used tack store, anyway.

Jolie and Cinder, the mares, are generally pretty dainty about where they roll and where they stand in sleety rain.  Eddie and Lefty, our new rescue geldings, are boys through and through.  I’ve purchased the toughest blankets I can, but they still manage to do bring them back as filthy as possible.  The good news is that are perfectly dry and clean underneath, so grooming is still a pleasure.  The manes and tails do take a bit of work.

Even considering the low temperatures, I’ll take snow any day over rain.  It’s clean, it’s crisp, the dampness that rain seeps into your bones is gone, and the horses love cavorting in the stuff.  What I never seem to reconcile myself to is the increasing darkness.  The night disappears only shortly before 8 am these days, and the entire farm is clothed in darkness by 4:30.  If we had any doubt about revising our feed times, the horses are happy to remind us.  Except for Lefty, our young squirt who probably would stay out all night, the rest of the herd politely enters the paddocks by 3:30, hinting that they would not be disappointed to see food in their mangers.

We’re rapidly approaching the winter solstice, and for me, it won’t come a moment too soon.  I depend on those few extra moments of daylight each day.  It gives you hope, knowing that another glorious spring and summer will, in fact, appear.


In the meantime, I wish you all of a happy holiday season.  And if any of you happen to be in your stables at midnight on Christmas Eve, and hear your horses speak in anything other than equine, please let me know!

Saturday, October 1, 2016


This is a photo of two of my favorite redheads—Jolie Jeune Femme, my Spotted American Saddlebred, and Megan Rikkula, her trainer.  

Except that’s not quite correct.  The fact is, Jolie knows how to do just about everything Megan asks her to.  Most of the time, Megan’s training me.

Jolie knows her ground manners like nobody’s business.  She can back up, move her hindquarters, front quarters, sidestep, and do everything a good horse should do on the ground, just with a nod of the head or a hand direction.  And when Megan asks her to do one of these things, Jolie’s just the prettiest, politest little horse you could ever hope to fall in love with.

When I ask for the same things, Jolie’s usually pretty good, but I often have to add a soupcon of pressure.  That’s because Jolie doesn’t think I’m quite as smart as Megan and she’s not 100% sure (1) I’m serious; and (2) she has to.  She’s right about the smart part. 

And if Jolie’s in one of her particularly saucy moods and decides she’s doesn’t feel like doing what I ask, it can take a lot of courage to continue to ask her to perform.  But if I don’t, I know she’s just confirmed in her mind that she’s the leader and I just plummeted to the bottom of the herd.

I don’t have this trouble following through on other horses, but I do with Jolie.  I had a bad injury a few years ago with Jolie in an enclosed space, and had a lot of recovery time to think about why it happened.  I still don’t fully trust Jolie or myself in every situation.  So rekindling our trust in each other is our number one goal every time we’re together, whether it’s just to groom her, feed her evening mash, or saddle her up.

Horse trainers can give you a lot of good information on how to get your horse to do what you want, but it’s the ones who teach you how to be a kind and fair leader that really are worth your money.  As a student, you just can’t step into this role; you have to earn it. 

I wonder how many horse owners truly think about what their horse thinks about them.  It’s easy to be on their backs and concentrate on how well they’re performing for us.  But, if I’ve learned anything in the past twenty-four years as a horse owner, it’s how our horse feels about us that truly shapes the relationship.  In my book, you’re only as good a horseperson as your horse thinks you are. 

Megan continues to work on getting Jolie and me back on track.  So far, it’s been a good ride.  A few months ago, something startled Jolie in the pasture and she couldn’t find her buddies. She galloped straight toward me and came to a sliding stop inches in front my side.  She wasn’t trying to run me down.  She was catching up to her leader.

I hope it’s always this way.