Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Pony called Lightning

by Linda Benson (a repost from the past - about ponies.)

Ponies in general get a bad rap, don't you think? Many of them, clever and mischievous by nature and too small for an adult to ride, never receive enough training to become solid citizens.

But years ago we had a wonderful pony who came to us by chance, when my daughter was young.

I was a single mother at the time, living on a rural property where I had a small saddle shop behind my house. I also sold a horse from time to time, to help with the rent and the groceries. We always had something to ride, but my daughter did not have a horse to call her own.

A neighbor phoned, asking if I knew anyone that was missing a little silver dappled pony that had just walked up her driveway. He was visiting with her two horses out back, and so she turned him in with them, so he wouldn't run loose all over the place.

Although a horse or pony getting loose (and other horse people catching them up) is not particularly strange, what was different about this pony is that no owner was ever found. After my friend went through the appropriate channels looking for an owner (animal control, feed stores, newspaper) she finally admitted she had no use for the pony, and did my daughter want it?

So the pony was walked down the road to our house, where my daughter tied it to a tree in the backyard and began to brush the little gelding. He stood probably only 11 hands, and after passing all the tests for gentleness, we progressed to saddling him, bridling him, leading her around, and eventually, turning over the reins to her. I expected him to be a typical little balking pony, who'd amount to nothing more than a lead-line mount. Surprise, surprise. This pony was broke to death!

This little gelding walked, trotted, and even cantered at my daughter's first cue. He stopped immediately for her, neck-reined like a pro, and the huge grin on my daughter's face as she put him through these paces was priceless. Here was a very well-trained little horse, her own size, that did exactly what she asked! She was so proud!

I can't imagine who ever took the time to train a pony like this, and why no one was missing him. A person could search and search for just such an animal, and have a desperate time finding one. To a single mother, struggling to make ends meet, this was a gift from the heavens.

To make the deal legal, I think we paid my friend $50 for this pony, which my daughter promptly named Lightning. As you can see from the pictures, we eventually trusted the little guy to ride double, bareback (no, we never had helmets back then) and my daughter gained more confidence from that priceless little pony than you can ever imagine.

Now, my daughter has grown into a beautiful woman who will soon be getting married. But neither of us will forget the little pony who simply walked up the driveway one day. LIGHTNING!

Have you had a good pony in your life? Or a bad one? One that you learned a lot from?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The busy life of a writer

By Gayle Carline
Writer and Crazy Horse Lady

As usual, I am not here. This weekend I am driving back and forth to Long Beach, to attend Bouchercon, a mystery lover's convention. It's named after Anthony Boucher and is a huge event. Once that event is over, I will stop by a hotel in Anaheim and register for a leadership conference that I must attend for my position as a library trustee.

The following week, we're hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

At some point, possibly early January, I plan to sleep.

Everyone seems to think that a writer's life is one of leisurely writing. We do our chores, run errands, go to meetings and conferences, promote our books, and write. Every day. I'm not sure when they think we write.

There are memes on the internet about writing. This one is pretty accurate:

And then there's this one about horse riders:

Have a great weekend, doing whatever you think you do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cover Reveal

by Linda Benson

Very excited to show you the awesome new cover for the re-release of my most popular novel - now available!

This post-apocalyptic horse novel was inspired by an actual college research project I did, as well as the state of the horse industry today. Can you imagine a time in the future when the bond between horses and humans has been largely forgotten? Except for one girl, named Sahara, who still dreams of horses.

Here's the link on Amazon and it's available as an ebook for only $2.99.

Hope you like it! And feel free to share. Thanks!

Monday, November 3, 2014


Laura wrote in her last post that she has been overwhelmed with responsibilities. Gayle and Linda are great about posting, but Natalie couldn't post on her day because she has been too busy. Terri we haven't heard from since her last great trekking adventure (it seems like that was the last time) and 'Cesca, well, where have you gone???

Life has gotten complex, harried and busy for everyone I know.  My girlfriends and I finally got together for lunch after trying to coordinate schedules.  The days I work were their days off and vice versa.  When we do get together we promise it needs to be more often. But now the holidays are rolling around and there will be no time once again.

There is a billboard on my way to one of my jobs (register gal at an antique shop) that basically says "No time for a mammogram?  Then how will you fit cancer into your life?"  It makes me pause every time I pass by (effective advertising) because I avoid fitting a mammogram into my day.  I forget to smell the roses, I don't sit down long enough to read a good book, I leave the wash in the machine, I misplace my to-do lists, I forget the tick meds until I find a tick on the dogs, I don't brush manes until there's a burr, and I wait until the last minute for deadlines.  These are just a few.

So after this rant, I am simply adding some photos (many off Google, of course, since I don't have time to take my own) that perhaps will make you pause and smile and even smell the roses.

Love the curious expressions --and what fun these guys must be having! 
Fang sharing a good book, This photo always makes me laugh. 

We actually did get an afternoon drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway
My gorgeous daughter and her equally adorable friend. 
So to all of you who are as harried and harassed as I am, good luck finding time to enjoy life and savor the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


by Laura Crum

My apologies to those who regularly read this blog--I've been overwhelmed lately and have no time for the computer. I hope to get back to posting soon. And for today, here is the next installment in the story of my own little horse property.

            So much went into choosing this land. To begin with, I had hoped to build my home on a much loved family property in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But I have a strong sense of place, and also a hard-headed practical streak, and the cabin in the mountains failed these tests. Somehow those mountains did not feel like home, and I wanted a place that felt like home to me.  I also wanted to live somewhere that seemed isolated, but was a convenient drive from town. Not to mention that I had learned my lesson about what could happen with family-owned properties when the family ranch was sold off—against all my wishes.
            So I began to search for a property that met my needs. I began this search in a very pragmatic way. There were only a couple of areas in the county where I really felt at home. The villages of Soquel and Aptos, and the country around them, were somehow “right.” The slant of the light, the feel of the air, the gentle, comfortable look of the land…this was where I wanted to live.
            When I thought about it, it made sense. The Ranch had been halfway between Soquel and Capitola, and Capitola was completely developed by this time-- no place for horses there. And Aptos, well, I had lived by Aptos Creek until I was three years old. It was my parents first home as a married couple. Both Aptos and Soquel were side by side in the hills a little south of Santa Cruz, and north of Watsonville. Aptos Creek and Soquel Creek both drained right into Monterey Bay. And I knew it was in one of these two drainages that I wanted to live.
            It was and is odd, but I dislike the cold lonely light of Santa Cruz proper, particularly the harsh ocean glare light of the west side. I found the San Lorenzo River Valley stifling and claustrophobic. I didn’t care for the industrial/agricultural atmosphere that predominated in the south county, and I thought the mountain areas were too inconveniently remote, as well as inclined to not-useful steepness and unfriendly-to horse-trailer twisty roads. Those gentle smiling creeks in their pleasant hills rolling down to the protected shelter of the bay—Soquel and Aptos-- that still carried their Native American names—my home would be there.
            I refined my thinking further by considering, of all things, freeway exits. Yes, you have that right. Freeway exits. Highway 1 is the main route through Santa Cruz County and each exit/onramp has its own dynamic. Some are very crowded and congested, others more rural. Eventually I settled on the Freedom Blvd exit, what used to be called Rob Roy junction. In the old days, it was where Freedom Blvd connected to Soquel Drive (pre-Highway1). Few people still remember that old name, but it seemed auspicious to me. It is a fairly rural, wide open place to get on the freeway. Very horse trailer friendly—something that was on my mind. And so I began my search for a small horse property in the vicinity of Rob Roy junction.
            I rather rapidly realized I would not be buying a “horse property.” I would not even, it seemed, be buying a house. Because I could not afford a house, let alone a horse property. I was going to be very lucky if I could find a piece of land that could possibly become a horse property. Real estate in Santa Cruz County is very expensive. But I persisted in my search.
            I quickly grew exasperated with real estate agents. They seemed not to hear what I said, and kept showing me properties that cost more than I had told them I could spend, and were nothing like what I had described. After awhile I just drove around, looking. One day I decided to think about exactly where I would like to live if I could pick. And as I drove through that area, I spotted a real estate for sale sign—lying flat on the ground.
            The sign was at the turnoff for an unnamed road. I followed the road up the hill, between a couple of rather standard looking suburban houses, and came to another for sale sign at the very end of the road, leaning crookedly into a shaggy bush. Next to this was a gate, closing off a dirt road that led further up the hill. The gate was not locked. Nor was it attached to a fence. Nor was there a “No Trespassing” sign. The gate appeared to simply block vehicular traffic up that dirt road/driveway. It seemed to me that the “For Sale” sign was referencing the property beyond the gate.
            I walked around the gate and up the sketchy dirt road. The ground was sandy, and the road/drive, such as it was, wound up the gently sloping hill, through a grove of young live oaks. I could see by the light that there was open space ahead and above me. So far I could see no house. I kept walking.
            The road rounded a bend and abruptly died. I was facing a little hollow in the hills, like a cupped hand. This hollow was maybe an acre or so in diameter and floored in gently waving grass. In my memory it is May, and the grass has that silvery sheen that it gets when the seed heads are ripe. In another moment I became aware that in the center of the bowl was a small group of deer bedded down in the grass—including a very majestic buck with a large rack. The deer lifted their heads at the sight of me; a couple of them stood up.
            I froze. Everybody held still. Slowly I turned my head, surveying the bowl-shaped hollow, surrounded by brushy hills on three sides. There was no house in sight. Merely this little deer park hidden in the hills. The deer watched me cautiously.
            The place had an intensely private feeling. Despite the fact that I knew the suburban houses were not very far away, I could not see them—screened from my view as they were by the oak trees on the lower slope. The brushy hills that surrounded the hollow blocked out whatever houses were beyond them. From where I stood there were no people or houses to be seen. The place felt remote and wild—though I realized that this was an illusion, created by the unique topography of the land.
            After a minute more I turned and began to walk back down the hill. The herd of deer remained where they were. When I reached the gate I wrote down the phone number of the real estate office listed on the crooked sign. I was pretty sure I had found the right place.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Achieving the proper balance

By Gayle Carline

I always think of horse riding as a Zen-like activity. Horses like balance. They like their riders to be balanced on their backs. Too much weight on one side makes them move to that side, to get the human back in the middle.

Writing about a subject as specific as horses also requires balance, especially in fiction. Consider a mystery set around horses. Too little detail about the horse world and non-horse mystery lovers will be confused, close the book, and perhaps toss it across the room. Too much detail will explain it all to the non-horsey people and make the horse folks bored, close the book, and well, you know.

I know you can't please everyone, but balance is good.

In Snoopy's memoir, FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH, I could put a lot of detail in, because the book takes Snoopy from his birth to his adult years, so he has to learn about being trained. The trick with his book was to describe training from his point of view. How does a horse see our methods?

Maybe like this:

* * *

Even when I was staying with Uncle Snowy, or with Johnny and Tucker, my humans came every day and taught me things. Either Hilde or MomToo took me out of the pen and led me to the barn, where they brushed me and cleaned my hooves. Miss Tina talked about it being part of my training, but I don’t know what I was being trained to do except stand still.

Before they taught me to be brushed and cleaned, they had to teach me to wear a halter and follow them on a lead rope. At first, I liked the halter and wanted to follow them around. Then, when I was four months old or so, I had a better idea.

Every time MomToo tried to put my nose in the halter, I would throw my head backward, then side to side and keep her from putting it on me. I thought this was a fun game. For about forever one week, we spent a long time wrestling with the halter. I thought we were having fun, even if her face was red and she looked kind of mad afterward.

Then one day, she put her arms around my neck and held the halter out in front of me. I was curious, so I pushed my nose forward. Suddenly I was haltered and our game was over.

MomToo was smart.

* * *

For my romantic suspense, MURDER ON THE HOOF, I couldn't rely on a horse's eye view of the L.A. Equestrian Center. How do you convey the information without a data dump from the mouths of your character-experts?

I solved the problem by making my main character a beginner in the horse show world. She has some knowledge about horses and riding, but her inner dialogue explains what she's doing and how she feels about it.

Here's an example:

* * *

As they passed Emily and Tyler, she heard her trainer say what she dreaded but knew was coming.

“Go ahead and lope her.”

Loping was a gait that seemed faster than it was—it could be choppy if the horse couldn’t keep their rear end pushing forward while their front end contained the energy. Willie took a deep breath, then put her left leg on Belle’s ribs, made a kissing sound with her lips, and hoped for the best.

As before, the horse responded. Willie felt the push of the mare’s rising back end, then the upward roll of her shoulders. In a few strides, Belle settled into a gentle rocking-horse rhythm. Willie kept her butt digging into the saddle, her left hand trying not to pull up on the reins, and her right hand trying to stay on her leg. Every four strides or so, she reminded herself to breathe.

It takes a lot of work to look this relaxed, she thought.

* * *

Writers, do you worry about your readers' level of knowledge in your subject? Readers, do you need a writer to guide you through unknown territory, or are you just interested in who done it?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reasons We Ride

by Linda Benson

We ride horses for many reasons. Some of us like to compete in shows. Some like the kinship and relationship that we develop with our equine partners. For some, training a horse is a thrill.

I haven't been riding much recently, but on a recent camping trip, I hiked with my husband on a gorgeous trail through the northernmost grove of Redwood Trees, in Southwest Oregon. And I realized that the most joy that I have experienced on horseback, and the main reason that I like to ride, is to experience wild places.

Because everyone needs a little wilderness.

Even as a girl with a horse (although I did my share of barrel racing and showing in other classes) my main place to ride was away. Gone for the day, into the mountains, up trails that only my horse and I knew about.

These experiences come out in my writing, too. In my short read called The Summer Cat, fourteen-year-old Hannah rides her mare on the hundreds of acres of forest land behind her house. She has names for trails that she uses, like the Wild Rose Trail. (Have you named the trails that you ride the most? I always did.)

"I pushed her up the Wild Rose trail. We trotted straight up the steep slope which opened onto an amazing view of the valley and the forest and mountains behind our property. Those show horse people never get to see this stuff . . ."

The most fun I ever had horseback was a three-day camping trip with a girlfriend, riding the 100 mile Tevis trail (several weeks prior to competing in the actual race) but doing it in thirds, camping along the way.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the day. I hope in all of your riding, training, and bonding with your horse, you are able to use that wonderful creature to take you places you might never otherwise see.

Wishing you all a little wilderness.