Monday, April 6, 2009


I used to work for an internist who shared this bit of wisdom: Shopping creates a need. Do as little of it as possible. While I agree with his logic, it is an utterly male thing to say. I confess to doing my fair share of drumming up "needs" in life.

Advertisers know full well how to manipulate a very needful society. Those that market to horse owners are no less aware that to access our wallets (as if keeping horses doesn't require terminal seperation from cash) requires creating a deep need for their product, however ridiculous or unnecessary. A couple of weeks ago I attended the large yearly horse expo in Albany, Oregon. Ah, what bliss. A whole weekend of horse smorgasbord with nobody saying, in exasperation, "Are you thinking/talking/dreaming about horses again?" I took my daughter and hung around with two other girlfriends and their daughters. A (cowgirl) chick weekend. We watched demonstrations, stallion reviews, breed parades, and, the highlight, cowboy races. Then there was the shopping. Two warehouses full of anything and everything even remotely related to horses--tack, home decor, jewelery, clothing, you name it.

Prior to the event I'd taken my ten-year-old aside and given her a strict lecture. There would be no superfluous spending over the weekend. We did not need anything and would remain rock solid in our financial responsibility. The only item we might buy was a new helmet for her. I could justify that. Safety first. But "new and improved" anything we certainly would not be suckered into buying. I needed no $60 dollar handy trail saddle bags, no high tech riding tights. I would blithely walk past the newest saddle pad that promised increased endurance for my horse. He was on a budget, too.

Immediately upon walking into the "cave of temptations," I spied a group of fancy headstalls that sported ridiculously heavy and uncomfortable looking metal contraptions. The metal piece had the approximate shape of a rawhide bosal but it certainly wouldn't perform like one.

"Look at that," I said to my girlfriend. We examined the item, considering the reasons it stunk as a training aid and was a huge waste of money at nearly $200 dollars. Just then the salesman walked up.

"This is a terrific training device. Really helps to set the head. Horses and trainers seem to love it."

"Really," I countered, and proceeded to describe the timeless qualities of a genuine bosal, particularly the necessity of rawhide for the noseband. The salesman faltered before admitting he had never used the item. In fact, he didn't even own a horse. I was indignant. The nerve--what does he think we are, gullible! I was a mighty Oak, wise and immovable.

We continued to walk through the virtual buffet of equestrian items. I ran my hand over a lush merino wool saddle pad and fingered a fine leather headstall before stoicly moving away. I refused to be swayed by the smell of good leather. Next stop, a display of Mylar bits. I'd seen them in my local tack store but never got beyond my first (and last) thought--A hundred bucks for five inches of metal?! Why on earth would someone pay that much when they could pick up unwanted bits for 5 or 10 bucks at any 4H tack sale? I'd never paid more than $20 for one. Just then a mild, unassuming woman appeared out of nowhere.

"Are you familiar with Mylar bits?" She pulled a snaffle off the rack and fingered the roller in the middle.

"Uh, not really." I sensed danger. She continued talking in a gently convicting voice.

"See, traditional snaffle bits collapse fully on the tongue. The degree of tongue pressure prevents a horse from swallowing. In addition, the jointed mouth piece pinches the tongue uncomfortably. As you can see, Mylar bits also use tongue pressure but our unique roller protects the tongue and prevents the bit from fully collapsing in the mouth. Horses are more comfortable when they are able to swallow. This bit is less distracting."

I simply nodded, my Oak tree roots holding me firmly in place. The woman continued, in her quiet way, to explain the benefits of a Mylar bit. How they could fix issues such as gaping, and evading the bit. My horse would be more comfortable, more in tune with me, yes, finer in every way. Weakening, I shared a few training dilemmas. In a matter of moments, the saleswoman became my best friend and confidant. She knew to move in for the kill.

"I think this one would be perfect for your horse." She slid a bit off the rack and handed to me. "This one is very popular."

I gaped at the price tag--$94 dollars? Run away!!

"Expo price is 10% off. Plus you get a free hat." She smiled, genteel and affirming.

"Cool. Thanks for your time!" The strange woman inhabiting my body smiled at her new BFF and marched to the check out, bit and credit card in hand.

Two weeks later I show up for a lesson. Actually, it is for my daughter but Chance is the lucky recipient of a genuine, $80 (on sale!) Mylar bit. He is somewhat less proud of this fact than I am. Chomping on his new bit he looks suspiciously like he did the previous lesson when he wore a used $5 dollar snaffle. Roger approaches.

"See my new snaffle? Do you use Mylar Bits?"

A veteran horse trainer, Roger shrugs, reminding me suddenly of my old boss. He probably avoids shopping for the same reasons. "I've seen 'em. I prefer to use a regular old snaffle."

"Well, these are better...."I suddenly cannot remember what, exactly, makes a Mylar superior. It has something to do with the tongue!"They don't collapse all the way and don't pinch." I desperately wish for my new BFF to appear. Then Roger would see why the bit is essential. He might want one, too.

"Just ride with lighter hands." He smiles at me.

I wish we were born completely downloaded with all the wisdom we need to function successfully. Still, I'm thankful for the knowledge that comes in fits and starts along the way. I'm thankful for truth that makes a difference. With horses the most effective bit is always the invisible. It exists in the brain. For a rider, real skill and confidence come from deeper insight into the mind of a horse and what motivates behavior, not a particular tool.

Here are three insights into critical areas of my life that have helped me immeasurably, no gimmicks (or cash) needed.

Horsemanship: Don't fear movement or try to stop it. Movement equals the ability to motivate the brain--its a good thing! When a horse is moving forward a rider is actually in the best position to train and influence, even if the animal is disobedient/misunderstanding.

Marriage: Love is not a feeling. True love is an action given because it is right and good, not because that person "deserves" it.

God: God is a god of relationship; a personal God. I don't need rhetoric, ritual, or religion. I need Jesus. Through Him real freedom is possible.

In conclusion (see above photo):

Mylar Bit: $80 dollars on sale (don't forget the hat)

Quality braided rawhide bosal: $15 bucks at a 4H tack sale

The wisdom to use said tools effectively on three Arabian horses: Priceless

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