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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a "Bomb Proofing" clinic put on by the Carrollton Hounds at Plum Creek Farm in Littlestown, Pa.

As it happens I went to that clinic. I took pictures there and farm owner Kitty Hoffman was kind enough to take me around to all of the three fields in her gator so that I could watch the various horses at the different obstacles. There were a lot of obstacles and there were a mixed lot of horses and I will get to that a little farther down the page.

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But first I want to say that I don't often go to the shows or clinics these days. The world has become a serious place and horse showing and clinics are no different. It could be that everyone is working so hard just to keep their standard of living where it is in what has become chronic hard times that they even carry that grim attitude to their horse shows. It could be that what we are doing as an avocation has become too terribly important to us — maybe too important.

Maybe we are too worried about how we look to others. Or maybe we have just forgotten how to have fun.

So I almost didn't go to the Bomb Proofing Clinic. And that would have been a really bad mistake. For one thing, the grounds were simply beautiful. Hoffman has retired from one line of work and has taken up keeping her whole farm as a well-tailored country place in the best traditions of an earlier day. We don't see that much anymore and I had forgotten how nice it looks.

But beyond that, there was no pressure to this day. Everyone was doing things with their horses that were actually potentially dangerous if you want to come down to brass tacks but it was done with a sense of humor and of what I call dark adventure. According to their natures, some horses spooked a little before they settled, a couple spooked a lot and then got over it.

But this is how you make a truly good horse — you and the horse learn to do these things together and in that way you build a sense of trust.

I saw horses standing quietly with open umbrellas over their heads. The Umbrella Beast (there are two types of this beast, the sun umbrella and the rain umbrella, both frightening) has long preyed on innocent horses and it was good to see that an entente had been reached. I saw a horse down in the corner of one field having a wonderful time pushing around a 4-foot ball with his chest.

I saw a horse walk calmly up to a 2-foot-long Nemo balloon floating from a fence rail and consider it before quietly walking away. Everything on that farm on that day was created to be a potential horse disaster — but no disasters occurred because of the way that it was handled. At the end of the day well-educated horses left with a new sense of their own ability to trust both themselves and their riders in case of sudden fearful happenings.

Of course the two objects that were the most daunting to some of the horses were what you might call "natural obstacles" — a pair of cows in a pasture and a small donkey in a pen. The cows were just being cows, it's what they do. The donkey was another matter altogether.

He was one of the smallest, loudest donkeys I have ever heard. He would wait until a horse had taken a good look at him and then he would bring forth a bray of such decibel level that windows shook in neighboring counties. That pretty much decided the horses that being friends with this little guy was a non-issue. It wasn't going to happen. Some horses left with that opinion intact. Others allowed themselves to be persuaded. I guess it's a personal thing with horses.

About the horses: it was a wide open day. They came in western or English, in all colors and sizes. All the way from a little pony on a leading line (complete with child) to a pair of half drafts that were definitely on the draft side of the equation. Of course there were Quarter Horses and I was really encouraged to see several lovely OTTBs, Off Track Thoroughbreds, there that had finished racing careers and were on their way to new lives as riding companions or sport horses.

It was a friendly day, a happy day with people who enjoyed being with each other and their horses.

It's a shame that feeling can't spread and bloom to different parts of this avocation. We need more of it.

410-857-7896

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