Monday, June 30, 2008

New Horse, New Book

Guess what? We have a new horse! I haven't had my own horse in ten years and well, this one sorta fell into our lap.

Last week I received a call from my best friend who is a phenomenal horse woman. She has a toddler these days and so her time is limited with what she can do outside of being Mommy. Her trainer called her up and told her about this mare. Her name is Krissy. She is a grey TB/Warmblood, 12 years old, 16.2 hands, sound, jumps four feet, gorgeous, sweet and very well trained. You'd think this horse would cost an arm and a leg, right? Well, the lady who owned her has a handful of horses, a lot of $$$$ and needed a write off. Krissy was her practice mare. Now she is my mare. All I had to do was donate a few hunderd dollars to a horse rescue and we got to bring her home. I am so in love with Krissy. I have to keep pinching myself. I wasn't even looking for me, but for my little girl. However, she's a bit too large and powerful for my little one. Funny thing is, I made a dream board about six months ago and guess what was all over the board? A grey horse. Maybe this Secret stuff works. LOL.

I will be posting photos. i'm taking my camera out today to take pics of her and I can show you.

In other news: My daughter was in her first show and won a second in equitation and third in pleasure. It was a very exciting day!

I know we like to keep it about the horses on the blog here, but the other gals gave me the "thunbs up" to share some news about my wine mysteries. Book four in that series (A VINTAGE MURDER) will be out tomorrow. If you haven't read any of the books in the wine lover's mysteries, i hope you'll give them a try. They're a combo of murder mystery, mayhem, comedy, a little romance and recipes with wine pairings. They star my heroine Nikki sands who is the manager of The Malveaux Winery and who always seems to have the misfortune of coming across dead bodies. I like to say that they are a bit of Murder She Wrote meets "Friends," on the vineyard with a dash of Racahel Ray.

I am posting chapter one here of the new book and if you'd like an opportunity to win all four books in the series, please visit my website and go to the contest page to enter.

Thank You. Have a wonderful week!



Nikki Sands could not believe where she was and what she was doing. But what she really couldn’t believe was with whom she was doing it. She looked out the car window. The valley was breathtaking, covered in grape vines, the soil the color of buttered toffee as the sun cast its morning rays across the landscape. Although she’d seen plenty of vines working at the Malveaux Winery in Napa, this was different. She was far away from home.

She couldn’t help but smile. Even inside the car she could smell the rich soil and the aroma of ripe fruit that hung in the air. God, it was intoxicating. She breathed in deeply, closing her eyes. When she opened them again, she shook her head in amazement. Was it possible that she actually sat smack dab in the middle of a Monet painting? Because if that was at all possible, this would be what it would feel like—kind of blurred but completely serene. Peaceful. Yes that’s where she must be—in the middle of a painting. The view spread out in front of her: rolling hills of green set behind a charming village filled with church spires rising high from ancient stone buildings, and amidst it all were rows of manicured vineyards. Napa had charm in and of itself, but this place felt almost as if Nikki had been tossed back in time to a yesteryear of simplicity combined with rustic elegance.

The last forty-eight hours had been a whirlwind, and even though she still had some jet-lag, everything in her world felt right. Well, almost everything. She knew that on another continent, in another part of the world, she’d left someone with a broken heart, and that did not feel good at all. In fact, she knew she’d have to deal with it, with him sooner than later, or the guilt would eat her alive. There was a part of her that couldn’t help feeling like a monster for making the choice she had, but the logical side—the one not connected to her heart—helped her realize that by making that choice, she’d actually wound up sparing him less pain in the long run. The truth was, the relationship she’d decided not to pursue would’ve never worked. No matter how hard she would’ve tried to convince herself that it was right, her heart would’ve belonged to someone else, and it was that someone else she was now with.

And when the man beside her took her hand and gave it a squeeze, a surge of electricity shot up from her toes and warmed her entire body, validating that yes, she’d made the right choice. He glanced over at her. “I can’t believe you’re really here with me.” Nikki’s stomach swirled with a mixture of nerves and something she hadn’t felt in years—passion, not lust, but real passion. “I really can’t believe it. I didn’t know if you would come. I’d hoped.” He pulled the car off to the side of the road.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“This.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Thank you for being here with me,” Derek said and then kissed her again.

“There’s no place else I’d rather be,” she replied.
Derek pulled back onto the road. They were on their way to the Hahndorf Winery in the Barossa Valley of Australia, to meet with the owner, Liam Hahndorf, and his wife. Derek’s goal was to secure a co-op deal with Hahndorf Wines. The popularity of Australian wines was on the rise in the states. Derek felt they made a great product, and when Liam Hahndorf had approached Derek, he saw the potential in the deal.

“Tell me a little bit about Liam Hahndorf,” Nikki said. “You’ve obviously met him before and you think he makes a good wine.”

“Yes, he does. He and his wife Grace started the winery about fifteen years ago and they’ve done well. Liam is a smart businessman. I’ve met him a few times, and he’s real personable. The last time I saw him was about six months ago. He was in L.A. at the same time I was.”

“Oh yeah, when you went there for that big-time celebrity soiree and didn’t invite me,” she joked.

He shook a finger at her. “Let’s get one thing straight: I know I should have told you a lot sooner about my feelings. I didn’t know how you would react. I didn’t know what you felt.”

How couldn’t he have known? She thought her signals had been loud and clear, like a neon sign.

“Anyway, you know what I’ve been through in the past, so as stupid as it might sound, I guess I was apprehensive to hang my heart out there again.”

“It doesn’t sound stupid.” Nikki knew all about Derek’s unlucky-in-love history. He’d married a conniving, horrid woman who’d totally manipulated him without ever truly being in love with him. “I just wish you hadn’t taken so long to get smart, you big dummy.”

“Funny, huh? I like funny women, you know.”

“You do?”

“Oh yeah. What I’d really like is to take you back to the hotel and have my way with you.”

Oh boy, stomach flip flop right on over, like a pancake on a griddle. “Hmmm.”
He held up a finger. “But business first this morning, and like we agreed on the plane, the first time will be an all-day affair.” He winked at her.
Oh yeah, that agreement. That had been her idea. How stupid had that been? But last night had been kind of sweet. They’d talked all night aboard the Malveaux jet and cuddled, ate excellent food and drank champagne. Then, after a bottle of Dom Perignon and some slow kisses, the topic of sex had come up.

“Wow,” Derek had said after one long swap of the tongue that made Nikki’s toes curl.

“Yeah, wow.”

He laughed.

“What so funny?” she asked, feeling confused.

“I’m laughing because this is so crazy. You and me.” He leaned back in the cushy seat.

“Well, yeah, it is a little crazy, but…”

He took her hand. “No I don’t mean crazy in a bad way.” He shook his head. “I know how your mind works. I mean crazy in a great way and I was laughing because if our kiss is any indication of…well, you know…” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Her face grew hot and all she could do was nod.

“You do want to, don’t you? Make love?”
Of course she did, but things did feel sort of weird. After all, Derek was her boss and she’d run away with him on the spur of a moment. Holy cow, this was the craziest thing she’d ever done in her life. “Yes,” she said tentatively.

“I don’t want to push you, Nikki. I can definitely book us separate rooms at the hotel.”

“No, no. I want to. I guess when we do, I want it to be special.”

“Me too.”

So when they’d landed in the middle of the night, exhausted from travel and emotions, they’d turned in with Derek taking the sofa in the hotel room and insisting she sleep in the bed. Although she’d been exhausted, she’d fallen asleep thinking she sure would have liked having Derek’s warm body by her side. Suddenly their idea of making their first time extra special seemed extra stupid, because no matter what, it was going to be special.

Nikki set the fantasies aside as they pulled up to the Hahndorf winery. A security guard waved them to a stop at a kiosk. “I thought this was a mom and pop operation in the middle of nowhere. What gives?” Nikki asked.

“You got me. It does seem like overkill, and I had no idea Hahndorf would have security.”

Malveaux was one of the larger and more well-known wineries in Napa, and they didn’t have a set-up like this. Not even close. Derek gave the security guard his name. The man glanced down at a sheet of paper. “Yep. G’day sir. Says here you’re visiting with the Hahndorfs. Okay then, go straight ahead and over the small hill there and you’ll see the winery and house.”

Derek thanked the man and drove off.

Unlike Napa Valley, which in May would mean summer was near and so was picking season, in the Barossa May was the end of autumn. Winter would arrive in the next month, just as the heat in Napa started to rise into the nineties.

“What’s that?” Nikki pointed toward the middle of the vineyard, where several trucks were parked, including a large semi. There was also a row of motor homes. She squinted to see if she could get a better look. “I think that’s a film crew.”
Derek slowed down. “Yeah, it looks that way. You should know.”

“It’s been a while.” Nikki had once played the starring role in a one-hit-wonder cop show when she’d pursued an acting career in L.A. The acting had never taken off, and she’d discovered she was much better at managing a winery than she could ever be at playing a detective on TV.

They pulled past the winery, its architecture very chateau-like, reminiscent of the wineries in France. “Jeez, if that’s the winery, what must the house look like?”

“Good question. We’re about to find out. I’m curious what they’re filming out there,” he said. “Maybe a commercial.”

“I don’t know, it seems like a lot of vehicles for a commercial.”
At the end of the drive, in an area secluded back behind a row of gum trees, a house appeared. It wasn’t as opulent as the chateau. Though still quite large, it looked comfortable, like an English-style stone cottage.
Derek parked in the circular drive next to a row of expensive automobiles ranging from the sporty to luxury.

“He must like cars,” she said.

“I’d say someone does.” Derek climbed out, went around to her side and opened the door for her, taking her hand.

“Such the gentleman.”

“My dad didn’t send me to private school for nothing. I hated that place, especially the etiquette class.”

“I’d say it paid off nicely.”

“Don’t get used to it. I’m only trying to impress you.”

“You’re funny too.” They walked up a pathway lined with flowers and plants that Nikki assumed were native, because she didn’t recognize them. “Someone keeps a lovely garden.”

Derek pressed the doorbell. Chimes rang out from the other side of the door.
Soon a young woman in her early twenties swung the door open. She had long sandy blonde hair, large hazel eyes, pouty lips and seemed awfully thin. She wore tight jeans and a low-cut orange cotton sweater. Nikki thought her pretty in the grunge, Kate Moss way that had hit heights of popularity back in the late nineties. “Oh, the film crew is down in the vineyard. You passed them,” she said in a heavy Aussie accent.

“We’re actually here to see Liam Hahndorf,” Derek said.

“Oh. Dad!” the girl shrieked. “Some man and woman are here for you.” She breezed past them, keys in hand. They watched her get behind the wheel of a Navy blue Aston Martin. She took off in an apparent hurry.

“Well, well, g’day mate!” A tall gray-haired gentleman with warm brown eyes and soft wrinkles forming around them appeared in the doorway. “Oh damn, Hannah. She’s gone again! Damn girl. She is not a good listener, that one. Oh boy, Grace won’t be happy about this.”

“I won’t be happy about what?” A middle-aged woman joined him. Nikki assumed she was the girl’s mother. They had the same eyes, and the lady was as thin as her daughter. She also had the same long blonde hair, but hers was pulled back tightly into a ponytail.

“Goodness, we have forgotten our manners. Grace, this is my friend Derek Malveaux. I told you he’d be dropping in with us today for some business. Good to see you.” The men shook hands. “This is my wife Grace, and that was Hannah, our terror of a daughter, who blew past you. I’m not sure how we’ll survive her.” Liam kissed his wife on the cheek. “Grace here is far more patient with her than I am.”

“Hardly. You spoil the girl something terrible. Nice to meet you, Derek.”

“And you. This is my girlf… ah, my winery manager and my assistant, Nikki Sands.”
He’d almost said girlfriend. Girlfriend? Wow. That had her in a spiral—a delicious spiral. She understood why he’d used her business title, but she couldn’t wait until things were more cemented between them and the formalities could be pushed aside.

“Where are my manners? Come in, you two,” Grace said.
They followed her through the entrance across light hardwood floors inlaid with another type of wood in a diamond pattern. Maybe walnut, but it was more reddish than walnut and quite dark. Possibly cherry. “Your floors are gorgeous, Grace. What type of wood are they?”

“It’s Jarrah wood. Popular wood here in the bush. Somewhat on the expensive side, but I love it. I redecorated the house a few years back and couldn’t resist.”

“It’s lovely. The entire house is.”

No joke. The house looked larger on the inside than it had from outside, and Grace had done a great job of turning the manor into a cozy home with warm golden colors, family photos, colorful throw rugs and leather sofas. Everything about the place spoke of wealth and sophistication, but also of care. For the family it had to be a nice place to live, because it was definitely a nice place to visit. Grace led them out to the back, where the gardens spread out and a lap pool took up a portion of the yard. Behind the pool, a large patch of grass rolled down to a flowing river. Vast woods stretched out across the river.

“This is gorgeous,” Nikki said. “What river is that?”

“That’s the North Para River,” Liam said. “More of a creek typically, but we had some decent rain this year, so we have a bit more water than usual, which is good because the water can be important to the Barossa Valley for viticulture. You can’t imagine how lucky we feel to have it run right through the property like this. Good stuff for the vines. Have a seat. Enjoy the view.”

“Nikki and I were wondering what’s going on here. When we turned into the vineyard we saw all the activity.”

“Oh yes. Hollywood has come to our village. Our place really,” Liam replied.

“Hollywood?” Nikki said.

“It’s quite a story. We’ll have to tell you all about it, but let me grab these contracts for us to go over first. They’re in my office. I would like to go over some matters that have come up, Derek. Would you like your assistant to join us?”
Derek looked at Nikki, who felt that whatever Liam wanted to discuss with Derek, he wanted to do in private. She’d just met the man, but she read body language and she knew that Derek likely sensed that too. She wondered what it was all about. “Uh, no. Nikki why don’t you visit with Mrs. Hahndorf? We should be back soon.”

“Of course.” It felt really awkward to have been holding his hand less than half an hour ago, and now this stilted kind of weirdness.

“Yes, yes. You two take care of what you need to.” Grace waved them away. “We’ll head into the kitchen and have some tea.”
Nikki found Grace to be hospitable, and the tea was warm and soothing. They made small talk for quite a while. Nikki told her about the Malveaux winery and Grace began to fill her in on the scene they saw when they’d entered the winery.

“You wouldn’t believe it. Shawn Keefer is doing a movie here, with Nathan Cooley directing it.”

“The Shawn Keefer?” Nikki’s jaw dropped. Shawn Keefer was only Hollywood’s most sought after leading man, and Nathan Cooley was the kind of director everyone in the business wanted to work with. He was a genius.

“No kidding. What’s the movie about?”

“I…don’t think I can discuss it. We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the film company.” Grace lowered her voice and looked pensive.

“Who else is in it?”

“One of those young starlets. The one who is supposedly so brilliant. But she’s quite a troublemaker, from what the tabloids say. We’ve even had some paparazzi lurking in our midst. It’s the pretty redheaded girl. That Lucy Swanson.”

“Oh yes, I’ve heard of her.” Who hadn’t? Lucy Swanson was a fine actress who’d starred in some successful films. She was also one of the new breed—if that’s what they could be called—of Hollywood: young women who spent too much time partying, getting busted, and then going back for more. This one hadn’t done any stints in rehab but rumor was that she needed to, if you believed the tabloids. She at least supposedly had a work ethic, and that was her main driving force. It might also be her saving grace. God, Nikki really had read too many rag mags and watched way too much of E! Entertainment.

“Yes, well I can tell you that she is a wild one. Hannah has been spending some time with her, and also one of the crew people. Some good-looking young man, and I’m not crazy about it. I’m afraid they’re going to get Hannah into trouble.”
Nikki doubted that the girl had any problems getting herself into trouble. Instead of saying what she thought, she replied, “Really? Trouble, huh?”

“Out partying at all hours.” Grace shook her head. “Anyway, tonight we are having an old-fashioned barbecue and the entire crew is joining us.”

“Including Shawn Keefer?”

Grace nodded and smiled. “He’s quite a cad, that one. He flirts with all the ladies.”

“I’d read in one of the tabloids that he is a huge flirt.”

“But he is a dear really, once you get to know him. We’ve had the actors up for dinner on occasion since they’ve been on the premises.”
Nikki noticed Grace’s cheeks flush and she wondered if the woman had a crush on Keefer. Many women around the world did. He was on par with Brad Pitt and George Clooney in both the looks and acting categories; definitely a superstar. People loved him, and considering his stature he did a decent job of lying low and keeping out of the limelight, except for a few years back, when he’d gone through a divorce with his actress wife, Fiona. But from what Nikki recalled when that happened, they had remained decent to each other, and she’d made out like a bandit in the settlement. It would be interesting to meet Shawn Keefer.
They talked a bit more about the actors on the vineyard before Derek and Liam returned. “Ladies, would you like to take a trip down to where they’re filming? I filled Derek in, and he said that he’d love to go, especially when he heard that Andy Burrow was on the set.”

“Andy Burrow, too?” Nikki shot a glance at Derek. “How great!” Andy worked with all sorts of wildlife. He was eccentric, quite a character. Nikki knew that Derek loved watching the guy’s show on the Earth Channel.

“I know. Isn’t that awesome?” Derek sounded like a kid, but there was also a catch in his voice that Nikki didn’t recognize.
It was strange, because he sounded excited about meeting Andy, and Nikki was sure that he would be, but there was something else there that she couldn’t put her finger on, as if he were slightly troubled. She wondered if there was a problem with the business deal.

“Liam says that he’s not in the movie, but they’ve got a bunch of wild animals they’re working with on the film, and Andy is on hand with the animals. He brought all of them from his zoo,” Derek added.

There is was again—an edge, almost fake like. “Sure, I’m in. Let’s go,” Nikki replied. “This must be quite a production,” she said as they climbed into Liam’s golf cart, still curious about what was rattling around in Derek’s head.
“It is at that,” Liam replied. “Quite a group too. The producer has put up a lot of money to film it and they’re looking for one of those big blockbuster movies you watch in America.”

“I personally can’t wait until they’re finished. They’ve created a bit of havoc for us,” Grace said, “as much fun as it’s been.” She glanced at Liam. Nikki couldn’t figure her out. “Did Grace tell you that I wrote the script?”
No she hadn’t. Now that was strange. She acted as if she wasn’t even certain what the movie was about. “Uh, well…”
Grace rubbed Liam’s shoulder. “I didn’t mention that. I know you don’t like to brag much.” She smiled at Nikki.

“Since when? I couldn’t be prouder, and having Andy here is wonderful. You’ll love him.”

Derek looked like a kid in a candy shop, he was so excited. For him, meeting Andy Burrow was way up there with one of the coolest things in the world to be able to do. She was excited too, but also baffled by Grace. “That’s great,” Nikki replied. “I know what the business is like. It’s not easy to even get a screenplay read, especially not a first one. Then to have it made into a movie, no less. You should be proud.”

“Oh this isn’t my first go at it. I have a bunch of them in the closet. Been writing forever, but never really thought it would happen, you know. I’m a farm boy at heart. I grow grapes and we make wine. To have this now makes everything complete.”

“How did you get the idea for the story?” Derek asked.

“That’s a long story in itself,” Liam replied.

“Yes it is. We don’t want to bore you with it,” Grace said. She looked at her husband. “Do we, Liam?”

“Right. Maybe another time.”

Nikki thought she heard Grace’s voice tighten as she spoke.
A group of people sat around in chairs as they got closer, all looking pretty bored. The camera crew and extras. Maybe they were taking a lunch break. It seemed a little early for lunch….

Liam parked the cart just as a horrible scream came from the direction of the trailers parked on the set.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You Should Sell That Horse

Considering the previous subjects of this week's posts and the fact that I went to a horse show last weekend and had lousy performances, I thought this would be a fitting subject for my blog this week.

When I finished my last class on Sunday, I rode out of the arena with those prophetic words ringing in my ears. You see, I've heard them over and over in the past several years from friends, trainers, and casual acquaintances. Though, my very best friends never say those words to me, nor does my current trainer. They all love my mare and understand her.

My previous trainer did, though, which is why she's a "previous" trainer. In fact, she announced during a lesson, "This horse is too difficult. You should sell her and get something easier for an amateur to ride."

Then you have those railbirds and armchair trainers who offer their expert opinions, sometimes to your face, sometimes behind your back but in front of your good friends. "She should sell that horse. She can't ride her. She's too difficult." Truthfully, if I wanted their advice, I'd pay for it. They are still riding as amateurs, right?

Okay, my mare is difficult but not in the way you're thinking. She doesn't buck. She doesn't rear. She's so easy to sit, everyone who rides her thinks she's like sitting on a couch. She doesn't do anything bad. She's great on trails and generally unflappable.

So what's the problem?

She's big, a huge mover, and she uses her movement against me by falling on her forehand and going faster and faster. I respond by pulling. She responds by pulling And so it goes in a vicious endless circle neither of us seem to be able to break. Not a good recipe for winning dressage scores.

And from that comes: You should sell this horse.

I can't sell this horse. Aside from the obvious fact that she and I have a bond forged over ten years of going through all kinds of experiences together, I can't sell her because no one else would understand her idiosyncrasies. If you've read this blog, you know about her trailering traumas and issues with small enclosed places. Would anyone else understand how very real these issues are to her? Would they realize that she isn't just being stubborn?

How about when she gets worried at a horse show and tries too hard by second-guessing what I want next? Would a new owner understand that she wasn't being belligerent, she was actually being the opposite?

And who would look at me with those big doe eyes and nuzzle around for hidden treats in my pockets? Who would wait at the paddock gait for me when she sees my truck coming up the driveway? And who would be there when I just needed a big chestnut shoulder to cry on? Or someone to listen without making any judgements?

So, no, I'm not selling this horse. Not today. Not tomorrow. She's mine. I love her, and I have a responsibility to her to see that she doesn't go to someone who doesn't understand her history or her fears. Owning her has humbled me, and I consider that a good thing. I, too, was once an armchair trainer of the worst kind. Now I know how hard it can be and have sympathy for any rider who is trying their best to do right by their horse.

So that's why I have this talented, though difficult, mare that I don't win ribbons on and don't seem to be able to do her justice. You know what? She doesn't care if we win ribbons. She doesn't care if she scores 50s or 70s. She just wants to be understood and treated fairly. That's all she's ever asked.

There is more to riding than ribbons.

So needing a break, I brought my mare home this weekend from the trainer's and let her be a horse. This is her working hard at eating down my overgrown pasture.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I Made a Mistake

By Laura Crum

Yes, I made a mistake. And I’m sorry. I caused a mare to be bred to a stud this past spring. Its not something I normally do; I don’t raise horses. I have been the cause of only one horse coming into the world so far, and that is the mare in question. And yes, in hindsight I should not have bred her. But before you revile me (I’m reviling myself plenty, believe me), listen to my story and let me know what you would have done in my shoes.

I have rarely owned mares--only three, in a lifetime of owning horses. I prefer geldings. And then, with geldings you don’t get tempted to breed them. And I know that I don’t need to be raising horses. So, how did this happen?

Well, many years ago, when I was very actively involved in competing at team roping, my team roping partner had a great mare. She was talented, athletic, a well bred registered Quarter Horse, gentle, good confirmation, stayed sound…etc. When she got to the end of her working life he bred her to a local stallion and raised a nice filly. He then asked me if I’d like to raise a colt out of her. I should have said no. But I happened to have another friend who had a great stud. He had all the virtues a horse could have. He was well bred, pretty, gentle (she let little kids show him, she ponied mares off of him, she treated him just like a gelding and he behaved like one), she’d won on him in everything from western pleasure through cutting to team roping, and his get were successful reiners and team roping horses. To top it off, he was a beautiful color—dark gold palomino—bright white mane and tail. To make a long story short, I bred my team roping partner’s mare to this stud and got a baby.

My first piece of bad luck was that the foal was a filly. A nice filly. We broke her as a three-year-old and she was easy, athletic and very, very cowy. She would have made a great cutting horse, but since I was team roping at the time we heeled on her some as a four and five year old (she was fourteen-two and too small for a head horse). We never got further than the practice pen on her—partly because she was too young to push hard (in my opinion), but also because she was almost too cowy for a heel horse—she wanted to stop too abruptly; she wanted to blow off the cow too hard—as I said, she should have been a cutter. Heel horse was not her best job description. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with her when yet another friend of mine with a young stud asked to lease her. This friend was retiring, moving, and planned to start a new life raising reined cowhorses. She had watched my mare work a cow and really liked her. She thought she could raise some excellent cowhorses out of her. This woman’s stud horse was nice looking, had done well in training, and seemed like he would be a good cross on my mare. I told my friend she could have the mare, but I didn’t want any of the resulting foals.

This friend was a responsible, ethical horse owner. I visited the ranch where she kept my mare. It was beautiful. The mare was turned out every day in a lush pasture. I saw the babies. They looked great. She raised five, kept two for herself and sold the remaining three for $2500, $5000, and $7500 (this last one as a stud prospect) respectively. I call that success.

Well, we all know about the price of hay, the poor horse market…etc. This spring my friend called and said she needed to give the mare back. She was getting out of the horse raising business (smart decision). I had no earthly use for the mare, but, of course, I’m going to take her back. My friend asked if I wanted her bred. I said no. And not but a week after this conversation, a woman who owns my mare’s half sister (the one my team roping partner raised by the local stud) asked me about my mare. This lady, too, is raising Quarter Horses and my mare’s half sister is her best broodmare. Perhaps you can guess the rest. She offered to lease my mare; I said yes, and mentioned that my other friend had offered to send the mare back bred. Emailed photos of the previous babies went back and forth, along with much info on them. Oh yes, said my mare’s prospective home; I love those bloodlines; the colts look great. Please have her breed the mare.

So now the mare is bred. The mare has a new home. We are all happy. The mare was supposed to arrive at her new home this week, and last week a wildfire swept through our area. The mare’s new home was threatened; they saved their horses, but their pasture burned. All the previously pastured horses are now in the barn, in the arena, in any pen they can find. For the moment they have nowhere to put one more horse.

I understood their dilemma; it isn’t every day a wildfire comes through. My friend who currently has the mare also understood. She offered to keep the mare a couple more months. I agreed that if things didn’t work out, I would bring the mare home to my place. But now the mare is bred!!! I never, ever would have had her bred if I had thought that she was coming back to me. I know I don’t need another horse. I don’t want to raise horses. Even horses as nice as the ones my mare has produced. But bred she is.

So that’s my sad story—feel free to heap scorn on my head for being an idiot. I will continue to take responsible care of this mare (and her foal, if that’s how it works out), and I sincerely hope that her new home is willing/able to take her after they regroup from their trauma with the fire. I guess hindsight is twenty/twenty, but I sure wish I had just said no to that breeding(!)

Laura Crum

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Fate of a Horse

By Laura Crum

As the author of ten mysteries featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, I’ve done plenty of writing about horses in my life. But until I was invited to participate in this blog by its founders, back in March of this year, I had never written a blog, or, for that matter, read one. So, for the last few months I’ve been reading various “horse blogs”, trying to find out what it is I’m supposed to be doing here, exactly. From what I’ve read so far, there seems to be great variety; some blogs are essentially just personal diaries, others have a particular theme…etc. The most popular one I’ve stumbled upon (judging by the number of comments) is essentially a rant against horses going to slaughter—also addressing the various reasons horses end up going to slaughter, including poor breeding and training practices as well as the basic inhumanity and stupidity of many in the horse industry. Now I agree with this gal’s opinions more often than not, though I’m not nuts about the “diatribe” format. I admit it can be entertaining to read her rants (must be why she gets so many readers). Still, the main point of “Fugly Horse of the Day”, as I see it, is how we as ethical horse owners can do the best for the horses in our care. And one question arises for me over and over again, which I would like to pose to the regulars on "fugly horse" (and anyone else who reads this blog); a question that really bothers me, and I welcome any insights offered
I’ve owned horses all my life; I’ve trained horses, competed for years, rescued other people’s horses and retired them, retired my old horses…etc. I currently maintain eleven horses, only four of which we ride. One of the main things I have learned, after thirty-five years of owning, riding and training horses, is that if you truly care about the ultimate fate of a horse you have to retain ownership of said horse. And you have to check on the horse regularly if its placed with another caregiver. Even if that caregiver seems absolutely perfect in every way. (I could tell you stories.)

I have never had the experience of a horse that I retained ownership of coming to a bad end, but there were some situations that could have worked out that way if I had not owned the horse and checked on the horse regularly. The only horses I ever owned that may have had a sad fate were those I sold. And I never sold any horse that was not sound and well-trained (within the parameters of that individual—like people, some horses just have easier personalities than others). I have always tried to sell only to people I knew, who I believed were responsible, but the truth is, when you sell a horse you lose control of that horse. If the new owner decides to sell the horse, he/she can do that, and doesn’t need to consult you first (even if they promise you that they will). Once they have a bill of sale and you have the money, they have control of that horse’s fate.

At this point in my life, I’ve pretty much given up selling horses; if I take a horse on I’m responsible for its fate, and I take that seriously. Which is why I have eleven horses, only four of which are our riding horses. The others? Horses I owned who got injured or became lame or just got old and are now happily retired. Two horses that didn’t really fit me and are now being cared for and ridden by others (and are checked on regularly). One horse that I rescued many years ago and had to take away from the home where I placed him (which for many years worked well), when the horse got old enough that he couldn’t keep his weight on and the people who had him were unwilling/unable to fork out the money for the diet of “equine senior delight” that he needed. This horse now lives with my retired horses and is slick and happy. In fact, all my eleven horses are healthy and happy today, within the parameters of who they are.

The horses I feel sad about are the ones I sold. Now, I did not sell these horses when their using days were done. No, the horses I sold were all young, sound, and reasonably well-trained. And when I sold them, I thought I was selling them to good homes. But in some cases (not all) the horse eventually changed hands, and one at least did end up at the livestock auction, as I found out later.

No, this horse did not go to the killer buyers. At least not when I heard of her. Because she was a young, sound, pretty mare, well-bred, with papers, and broke to ride, she got bought by a local horse trader and sold to be a riding horse. He told me about this later (my name was listed on the papers as a previous owner—I was not the breeder), which is how I found out. I have no idea what caused her to end up at the auction in the first place.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I could/should have done differently. Lets face it, I sold these horses for a reason. One and all, they didn’t fit me; they weren’t the ones I wanted to keep and take care of forever. But I did want them to have good homes and I thought I had sold them to such. Thus I no longer sell the ones that don’t fit me; I place them in homes where they fit (and I check on them). But at the time I sold these other horses, I couldn’t afford this luxury.

I still wonder what happened to some of these horses I sold; I have nightmares about them ending up on trucks to the killers. At one time I owned them and was fond of them and agonized over their health and training. I certainly always wanted the best for them. Is the answer that one can never sell a horse? What is the ethical horse owner to do faced with this situation: I bought this horse, he doesn’t fit me, and I don’t really want to be his forever home. I want to give forever homes to horses I truly love and admire (and there are always more of these in the world than I can ever give homes to). It is a tough question, or at least I think so. I wish I knew what the right answer is/was. Thanks for your insights.

Laura Crum

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life's unexpected twists and turns

Okay, I write a lot about being a horse mom, but I believe this moment pretty much defines it. I'm sitting outside the ring during my daughter's lesson, writing my blog draft on the inside front cover of a dinosaur coloring book. I've always heard when inspiration strikes a writer forages for any handy piece of paper. For an equestrian author, this often involves scribbling on horse show schedules or the paper used to keep kids occupied in between rides.

I'm looking over at my daughter sitting straight and tall, leg at the appropriate angle, for all the world defining what is meant by a natural seat. As young as she is her talent is already far outshining mine, so I'm sure I'll be scribbling on horse related paper for many years to come. At the moment I'm balancing writing and watching her for support without distracting her. Stopping in the middle of her lesson to wave at Mommy probably isn't on her instructor's list of things to do today! Of course, the fact my little girl laughs out loud sometimes with happiness while she's riding isn't on the instructor's list either, but it always makes her smile.

The fact that Susan, the heroine of my new novella (Never Trust a Matchmaking Witch), shares many of these experiences, makes her near and dear to my heart. Of course, just to make things even more interesting, I added a magical horse with a mischievous sense of humor and a head trainer who happens to be a witch. Toss in Susan trying to overcome a fear of horses to help her horse-crazy niece and her secret passion for handsome boarder Brad Conway and we have a recipe for a wild ride!

Here's a sneak peek:

Susan wrinkled her nose at the smell as she dragged the muck bucket, a large plastic bucket filled with soiled bedding, across the brick aisle of the beautiful barn. The stalls gleamed with a high finish on dark wood and were light-filled and airy. The building exuded an aura of class befitting the wealthy clientèle who boarded their horses here.

Leaving the bucket a few feet outside Jake’s stall door, she opened it and tentatively stepped inside. A large brown jumper stared her down.

“Now, look,” she said firmly. “We each have a job to do here.”

Alicia had told her that Jake, the horse now eyeing her with obvious evil intent, was just testing her. Unfortunately, his tests involved much stamping of his huge feet and dancing around while she tried to clean his stall.

“Okay, buddy.” Susan gathered her courage. “If you don’t behave this time I’ll have to take you out on the cross-ties while I clean your stall. Then you won’t have any hay to munch.” Susan planted her hands on her hips.

Susan and Jake continued to eye each other. Finally, Jake snorted with a shake of his head and returned to his hay. Triumphant, Susan turned to go back for the pitchfork and the bucket. A bump from Jake in the center of her back made her lose her balance. Flailing, she grabbed for the wall of the stall before landing spread-eagled across the bucket, which was now in the middle of the stall.

“Um, can I help you?” Dr Bradley Conway peered in the stall where she lay flapping like a fish out of water as she struggled to rise.

He placed one arm under her belly and her muscles tightened in response. He gripped her upper arm with his other hand and gently pulled. This can’t be happening, she thought as Dr. Conway gallantly levered her up onto her feet. He gently deposited her outside the stall and reached back in to tug the bucket through.

“Thank you.” Susan desperately wished the floor would open up and swallow her, but no such luck.

“No problem,” he hefted the bucket easily and deposited it in the corner. “I’m used to it.”

“You clean stalls?” Susan asked incredulously, and then bit her lip.

“Well, not lately, but as a kid I did plenty of them. Want some help?”

“Oh, no. I can handle it. Uh, how’s Jen doing in her lesson?”

“Alicia’s working her and Ritchie over a gymnastic. She’s loving it.”

“A gymnastic? Isn’t that the wrong sport?”

“Not in this case.” He laughed and she noticed deep creases by the sides of his mouth. He was too manly by far to have dimples. “Come look,” he added.

He placed a hand briefly at the small of her back to urge her forward. Just a common courtesy, Susan told herself as a warm tingle flowed through her core and down her arms. She preceded him through the wide doorway to the indoor riding arena.

Together they climbed the bleachers that lined one wall and were separated from the riding area by a low wall.

Casting about for something to say, Susan’s eyes lit on the ceramic owls set in the rafters in the four corners of the barn. “Interesting decoration.”

“What is?” Brad asked.

“Those,” Susan pointed at the nearest owl.

Looking where she indicated, Brad said “Ah, those aren’t decoration.”

“They’re not?” Susan frowned at them.

“Nope. The plan is to scare other birds out of here.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“Well, cleaning up after them isn’t a fun job.”

“Oh.” Knowing the odds of her being the one doing the cleaning, Susan looked back gratefully at the owls, then blinked. They had moved. Hadn’t they? They were in the center of each wall instead of the corners.

“Is anything wrong?” Brad was looking at her closely.

“No. Nothing.” Susan looked again. The owls were in the corners of the barn. I really have been working too hard, Susan thought. She glanced at the owls again and one winked at her.

Susan jumped sideways against Brad’s shoulder.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” His arm came around her.

“Fine. Thanks. Um. . . do those owls have any moving parts?”

“I don’t think so.” Brad frowned at the owls.

“I just thought, you know, to scare the birds, they might have them move or something.”

“I’ve never heard of it, but good idea, though.” Brad grinned at her. “You should send the idea in to a horse magazine. Barn owners everywhere would be thanking you.”

“I’ll think about it.” Susan smiled back at him, forgetting the owls as she got lost in his warm hazel eyes. She must have just imagined the wink.

“See those?” His thigh brushed hers as he leaned forward to point toward the center of the ring.

Susan nodded, noting Jen astride the trotting Ritchie before looking to the area he indicated. Three jumps in relatively close succession were set up down the far side of the ring. The first was a cross rail fence Jen was used to jumping, followed by a straight rail that looked a little larger than what she was used to. It was the height of the last fence which had Susan sitting forward in alarm. “Jen’s not going to jump those three, is she?”

“Sure. That’s the gymnastic.”

Susan stared at Brad, all inhibitions lost. “How high is that last fence?”

“Well,” Brad considered a moment, “I’d say about two-nine to three feet.”

“What!” Susan jumped off the bench. “Jen’s never jumped that height before.”

“Relax, Susan. She’ll be fine.” Brad tugged her back down on the bench beside him. “Alicia knows what she’s doing. That’s the whole purpose of a gymnastic. The horse is set up correctly to jump so the rider can focus on her balance and strength over fences.”

“What if she loses her balance?” Susan’s small fingers gripped her knee.

“She’ll be fine. Alicia has the jumps spaced to be easy for Ritchie. This way Jen can focus on her position. Watch.” Gently Brad pried Susan’s fingers off her leg and held them loosely in his hand. Even through her agitation Susan’s body reacted to his touch and she glanced down at their joined hands before Alicia’s voice jerked her attention back to the drama at hand.

Hope you enjoyed this snipped from Never Trust a Matchmaking Witch. I had so much fun with this story! BTW, my daughter secretly organized the barn staff and other parents to sing Happy Birthday to me. I've just been serenaded. Even the horses looked attentive, if a bit confused. Sometimes we horse moms do get some unexpected rewards!

All the best,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Night Shift (con't.) . . .

by Kit Ehrman

In my last post, I wrote about my all-time favorite job: delivering foals on the night shift. I adored that job and have many fond memories such as the one I described in my post of June the 3rd--witnessing a mare nickering to her unborn foal.

The mares I dealt with were Standardbreds, and in case you’re not familiar with that breed, they’re the harness racehorses (the trotters and pacers) that pull the sulkies and usually, in my experience, race at night. They’re similar to Thoroughbreds in many respects, but overall, they’re less high-strung, and the wonderful mares I worked with bore this out.

Most of them were extremely easy to deal with and tolerated my presence before and after the delivery with a kind generosity. Only one had a reputation, and lucky for me that she did, because I was warned about her. The woman who trained me had delivered her foals twice before, and she told me that soon after delivery, once the mare was on her feet, she’d try to kick me, and sure enough . . .

We followed a strict procedure foaling-out. Once the mare entered the first stage of labor, if we had a chance, we’d wash her vulva and udder, then braid and wrap her tail, warm two enemas for the foal, and wait as unobtrusively as possible for the mare to enter stage two, when her water broke. During the delivery, we offered gentle assistance if needed and made sure the foal’s nose and mouth were clear of the amniotic sac once he was delivered. After he kicked free of the umbilical cord, we’d treat it with an iodine solution and administer the enemas. (A foal’s first movement is sometimes difficult and can make him colicky.)

But back to my troublesome mare. After the delivery chores were completed, we were supposed to strip and bed down the stall with a luxurious layer of straw that we banked along the walls. I had finished one half of the stall, and was working on the next, when the mare spun around and fired with both hind hooves. I actually had to use the pitchfork to hold her off so I could get out of the stall.

But that was it. The rest of the mares were dreams to work with, even a maiden mare that I had to open up as she bore down to deliver her colt. Her vulva had been stitched partially closed some ten months earlier, to keep containments out of the birth canal after she was confirmed in foal, and the vet had missed opening her up. She was a sweetie; although, when I think about it, she was a bit preoccupied with the contractions when I got to work on her.

So, in and of itself, the job was exciting. Patrolling the barns in a driving blizzard was a highlight, but my nightly patrols took a sinister turn one season when a serial arsonist settled in the area.

Even in the dead of winter, we kept the barn doors cracked for ventilation purposes. One morning, around two-thirty, I was checking a mare to see if her teats had waxed up when I stepped out of the stall and glanced down the aisle. There was an orange glow on the horizon.

I realized the fire was located in the direction of my house. I hopped in the farm truck and drove past, relieved that it wasn’t my horse barn that was burning, but a neighbor’s structure used to house farm equipment.

My boss considered hiring someone to patrol the barns with a shotgun, and I was relieved when he didn’t. I figured I had a better chance being shot by mistake than encountering the arsonist. Eventually, the fires stopped, and the horse farm was never impacted, but I’ll never forget how I felt when I stepped out of the stall that morning and saw that glow on the horizon.

Here’s an excerpt from COLD BURN:

At four-thirty on a bitter February morning, the arsonist struck for the third time.

I’d heard about him from the guys who worked the day shift. So far, he’d entertained himself by torching vacant buildings, and as I stood in the doorway at the end of the barn aisle, listening to the mares moving in their stalls behind me, I hoped like hell he’d stick with his game plan.

I slid the heavy door farther along its tracks. An eerie glow marred the horizon as if a monstrous red moon had tilted on its axis and risen behind a screen of cloud and smoke. Without a reference point, distance was impossible to judge. Six miles away, the Rappahannock River snaked through the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, but the blaze looked much closer, and that worried me.

I had just finished feeding the mares in barns one and two and still had four more barns to work my way through before I was supposed to check seven and eight. They were located on the newest section of the farm, directly to the northwest. Directly in line with the fire.

I decided to ditch the schedule and head over earlier than usual.

When I turned to close the door, the bay mare in the stall to my left angled herself in the corner by her feed tub so she could peer through the bars on the front of her stall. She stared at me with such unnerving intensity, I could have sworn she knew more about what was going on--and what was yet to happen--than I did. But I was letting my imagination run away with me. If anything, her superior senses had provided her with far more information about the fire than I could ever hope to understand. I inched the door down the track, blocking out her image as deliberately as if I’d closed my eyes to her

Happy riding and reading,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sometimes I wonder...

...why I do this--Horse showing, that is.

Let's start with the obvious reason why I'm questioning what I want to do. Money. Horse showing is getting more and more expensive. Dressage was once a poor man's sport in this area that you could do on any old backyard horse. Now it's getting to be more and more of an elitist sport. With the cost of gas, entry fees, stabling fees, show fees, etc., the average amateur is being priced right out of the sport.

Then there's the huge amount of work it takes to get ready for 6 minutes in the show ring. I spent the majority of yesterday getting ready for a horse show next weekend. I pulled my trailer out of its parking spot wedged in between several fir trees. It's covered in green slime and moss. So far I've cleaned one side, which involves standing on a ladder and scrubbing it with a scrub brush and warm water, and I've loaded all my show stuff. Then I had to clean the camper and load it. Now all this work doesn't even involve the work needed to get the horse ready.

Today, I clip my mare and hop on to see if she's sound. That brings up the other reason why I wonder how much longer I want to do this.

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time and money on my beloved mare. I swear, every show season she decides to go lame. So I've been trying to find out what the problem is and if it can be rectified. The way that she's built behind gives you an incredibly smooth ride but isn't conducive to long-term soundness.

Her questionable soundess has been forced me do a lot of soul searching. How much longer do I really want to do this?

I'm not sure I can answer that right now, but this year will be my deciding year. I'm trying to get my writing career off the ground. Juggling that with working full-time and riding and showing a dressage horse is taxing to say the least.

Sometimes, I think that people get into showing to a point where they forget why they were attracted to horses in the first place. No is nothing more enjoyable to me than a relaxing ride through the woods on a sunny day, the sound of horses munching hay in their stalls in the evening, or watching a horse grazing in the pasture. It's the little things that make me love horses, not the ribbons or the scores.

And I do love this mare. I've had her since she was 3, and she's now 13. Dressage is hard on a horse's hind end. Gailey is an incredible mover, but she's developing the early stages of arthritis. I have no intention of showing her until she breaks down. All of her full siblings have broken down and are unrideable. She's the oldest and the smallest (at 17-1), and the only one still under saddle to my knowledge. I feel pretty good about that. Big horses have a tendency to break down sooner than smaller horses.

If she isn't sound enough to show, it doesn't matter. She will always have a home with me. I admit that I'm fortunate that I have a barn and three acres where she'll retire someday.

If and when that happens, I'll have to answer the question: Do I want to get another show horse or do I just want to enjoy horses for being horses?

So I've given you a lot of negatives as to why I'm questioning my decision to show, next time I post I'll cover the other side of the story and give all the reason why I do show.

Take care and have a lovely Father's Day

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Next Project

By Laura Crum

My next project? Writing book number eleven in my mystery series about equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, of course. At least, that’s what I’m supposed to be working on. Don’t tell my editor (Merry, if you’re reading this, close your eyes), but lately work on the next book has been somewhat delayed by another project altogether. A project named Smoky.

Yes, that’s him, as he looked last month out in the pasture, four years old and full of himself. Those of you who have read my previous blogs and know that my current horseback adventures are mostly fairly sedate trail rides with my seven-year-old son, may be asking yourself (with some justification) what in the world did she want with this colt? That’s a good question. The short answer is: I didn’t exactly want him, but now that I’ve got him, he’s won me over, as so many horses in the past have done.

Smoky is a grandson of a mare I rode many years ago; he was given to us by his breeder in exchange for a debt. Though I wasn’t in the market for a young horse, I agreed to take him: what can I say? I’m a sucker for an appealing equine. Smoky was a three year old blue roan gelding with thirty rides on him when I got him. He seemed like a gentle, willing colt, with no buck and an easygoing nature. He also seemed very babyish, with a slightly awkward, almost tentative way of moving.

I knew that Smoky had been raised in boxstalls and small turn out pens; he had never been in a space any bigger than an arena; he’d never seen a wire fence, or grazed his dinner in his life. Nonetheless, virtually my first move upon acquiring him was to turn him out in my sixty acre pasture. This field has lots of “topography”—rolling hills, rock outcroppings, two small streams running through it…etc. Though I have replaced all the barbed wire with smooth wire, it does have wire fences. My twenty-eight year old gelding, Gunner, and Danny, a horse with an old injury that gives him a slight limp, are the two current equine residents of the pasture, so I knew that Smoky would have some steadying influences. And, of course, I kept a careful eye on him.
It was an interesting process to watch. Over the year that he spent turned out, Smoky went from a slightly awkward three-year-old to a robust, powerful four-year-old, and became a very strong mover. In the photo above, he has just galloped in to see me and is easing up, after running full speed across the pasture.

Now the point of this post (if I have one) is that the pasture was very rough this spring. The ground has a lot of clay, and this particular year it went from being very wet to very dry in a short period of time. This had the effect of “setting” the ground (somewhat like concrete) in little ridges; every hoofprint that dug deep into the mud in February was a rock-hard crater by April. Not to mention all the ground squirrel holes, rock outcroppings….etc. Rough, broken ground for sure, nothing like a groomed arena or racetrack. Nonetheless, I have many times seen Smoky (and many other horses over the twenty-five years I’ve owned the place) run flat out across the field, jumping the ten foot wide creek bed without missing a beat, never once stumbling. Its amazing and a little scary. One can’t help crossing one’s fingers.

And yes, he could break a leg. In the wake of this year’s Derby, such a thought comes readily to mind. Certainly Smoky is running as fast as he can; a knowledgable spectator can easily see that he is using every bit of speed he has. No one is making him do it. He feels like it. Its his nature.
Its this very thing that has turned him into a balanced, athletic, powerful mover, a horse who is ready to do something. I’ve let Smoky spend a year living like a natural horse, to “grow him up”, and this is what horses do, given the freedom to do it.

Watching these young horses out in my pasture has taught me a lot. Primarily that a horse will, out of his own desire, run faster, stop harder, jump further, and turn tighter than we would ever ask them to do. I have seen them do this when the mud was so deep and slick I would have been scared to walk a saddle horse across that hilly ground, as well as in the rough, hard, broken condition the ground is in right now. I could no more run across that ground on foot without twisting an ankle than I could fly. Yet the horses do it without a stumble. And I have seen them persist with this “play” until they were soaking wet and gasping for air; again, a great deal more exhausted than I would feel comfortable with were I riding them. Its their nature.

Yes, they could break a leg. So far, none have, knock on wood. But after what I’ve observed, despite the grief I would feel, there would also be the knowledge that this is part of what it means to be a horse. To run hard is in their genes. It is also what makes them healthy and strong. Its part of the inherent risk in life.

I try to keep this in mind when I feel sad about the filly that broke down in this year’s Derby. It could, after all, have been Smoky who broke down racing across my pasture. There’s no use pointing a blaming finger at a particular sport or event. Sometimes, even when everyone is doing the best they can and a horse is doing what it wants to do, accidents happen. Unpredictable and tragic, accidents are a part of life.

(I do, however, think that breaking horses as yearlings and working them hard as twos and threes is a recipe for lameness and breakdowns—its one of the main reasons I gave up training cutting and reining horses.)

So here’s to horses and their gallant hearts, their beautiful, athletic bodies and playful spirits, and here’s to those who love them. Lets all try to hold a space where the least possible accidents will happen, and yet know that when they do, it isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault.

Laura Crum

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My New Release and Contest

Win this gift bag today!!!

I wanted to pop in and tell all of my EI friends about my new release, "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?"

You have until 6:30 Pacific time tonight to enter my contest for this San Juan Islands gift bag. Just make a comment on my personal blog to enter at:

Also join in the fun at my release party today at Siren-Bookstrand's Yahoo Loop. For details see my website at:

I'd love to see some of you there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Farewell to a Friend

by Laura Crum

I lost my oldest horse last December. Burt was nearly forty: a horse I bought while I was in college (and I turned fifty-one this month). He appears only briefly in my mystery series about equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, mostly in my first four novels, Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock and Roped. But he was a huge part of my life, and I would like to take this opportunity to tell his story.

Burt was the first horse I ever bought who really worked out, the first horse I determined to keep until he died (turned out to be a long road). I know all you other horsewomen out there will understand when I say that the three horses I owned before Burt, though all good horses in their way, were not really right for me. I owned each a couple of years (broke one of them to ride and trained another to be a pretty good reined cowhorse) and then sold them.

Now I’d grown up training horses and breaking colts for my uncle, who competed at team roping and raised Quarter Horses, so I’d ridden some pretty nice horses over the years, horses I really liked (and wished I could afford). I was determined to find a horse for myself that I liked as well as I’d liked some of these others. But in my teens and early twenties I hadn’t very much money, and my only path to acquiring a quality animal was to buy a young horse and train it myself. I’d tried this twice before (as I mentioned above) with what I considered to be incomplete success (though both the two horses I mentioned were bought by people who loved them and kept them until the horses died, so I guess I didn’t fail too miserably with their training.) Then came Burt.

I literally stumbled upon him by accident. I was in my last year of college and had recently sold Hobby, a little gelding I’d determined was just too stubborn a personality-type for me. I didn’t really need another horse; well, lets face it, at that point in my life I needed another horse like I needed a hole in the head. But I couldn’t resist making an offer on Burt.

I’d gone with a friend to look at a litter of Queensland Heeler pups, and there in the corral was a bright bay gelding with the liveliest look in his eyes I’d ever seen in a horse. Now I’m a sucker for bays; its long been my favorite color in a horse. And Burt was the particular type I liked—a fifteen-three hand bay gelding, a brilliant sparkling red with no white on his face and those very alive eyes.

“Is that your horse?” I said to the guy with the pups.

Turned out the horse wasn’t his; it belonged to a friend, an eighty-year-old man who had raised horses his entire life.

“This here’s the last of the old guy’s line. We call him Burt.”

Well, I got the old man’s phone number and asked him if he’d like to sell Burt. Sure he would, and he named a pretty high price.

I’d learned that Burt was a well-bred five year old Quarter Horse gelding who’d had thirty days of riding put on him by a ranch cowboy when the horse was three—and hadn’t been ridden since. I knew that this was not a scenario that was likely to lead to an easy project. Still, the look in that horse’s eye….

I made a very lowball offer—less than half of what the man was asking. He pooh-poohed this and I told him, “Fine. Here’s my phone number. Call me if you change your mind.”

Two months later, I got the call. I’d nearly forgotten about Burt by then, but he jumped back into my mind right away. The old man was ready to sell him, and to make a long story short, we comprimised on a price a few hundred over my original offer. Great. Now I had a horse again.

Burt turned out to be a kind and willing animal, just as I had intuited. He never once bucked or balked in all the years I owned him, and he had very smooth gaits. He wasn’t particularly spooky and was quite athletic and had lots of “cow”. As with all horses, though, there was a slight catch. Burt had a little too much go.

No matter how much I worked with him, Burt’s lope was always trying to accelerate to a gallop, his walk wanted to be a trot. Trail rides with Burt proceeded in a prancing jig, a gait that frustrated me no end. He never wanted to run away, nor was he ever out of control. He simply always wanted to go a little faster.

Nevertheless, Burt had a lot of good points. When I left college, I hired on at a working cattle ranch in northern California, and the cowboys there all tried to buy him. I had a pretty fancy handle on him by that time, and he would spin and slide and work a cow with the best of ‘em. I could corral rope off of him and gather cattle in the roughest country around. I spent many long days herding and separating cattle on that ranch, and Burt proved to be a real trooper. Didn’t matter whether it was pouring rain, snowing, well below freezing, a howling gale (all of which we endured), and/or we’d been working for ten hours already (true story), Burt was still game and cooperative. All that go had found a real purpose.

Eventually I gave up cowboying and went to work for a series of horse trainers. I bought a three-year-old (Gunner) and began training him to be a cutting horse. (For more about this, read my post “The Real Horses Behind the Books”—March 2008.) Since I had no job for Burt (and not much money), I loaned him to a ranch family I knew and their three teen-aged girls used him for team penning, barrel racing and goat tying, as well as ranch chores, at all of which he was quite successful.

As the years passed and Burt got older, I found him a home with a friend who wanted to trail ride, and when she got a divorce and could no longer afford a horse, I took Burt back and retired him to the pasture. Burt was in his early twenties, then, still sound and usable and we rode him occasionally. I could put anyone on him—first time beginners and little children included—and take them for a trail ride.

Time passed. Burt stayed sound and bright-eyed all through his twenties. In his thirties he began to lose his teeth and started to have a hard time keeping weight on. I put him on a diet of “equine senior delight” and he promptly gained back his lost weight and became glossy and healthy again. In his mid-thirties Burt looked much younger than many horses that were twenty or so, and he still came galloping in across the pasture at full speed when I showed up to feed him. It always brought a smile to my face.

Burt remained sound and healthy and was trotting briskly around on the morning of the day he died of a massive stroke one month short of thirty-eight years old. He had a good life and was loved by many people, including me. Something about him was very cheering; he just had an innately joyful energy. To see him was to feel happier. I’ll always be glad I made the decision to buy him all those years ago, and equally glad that I chose to keep him and take care of him until the end of his long life.

To Burt!
Laura Crum

Monday, June 9, 2008

This is a big week for my seven-year-old little girl Kaitlin. Next Sunday is her first horse show. Well, sort of. Last October she did a fun Halloween show which was just doing various games, but this one on Sunday is the real deal with the hunt coat and the braids and everything that goes along with it (like getting up at the crack of dawn, rushing to the stable to wait around for hours). I remember what that was like. All week I would anticipate and ride my horse. Friday night I'd shine my tack and boots. Saturday was all about grooming the horse and when Sunday would arrive I'd be ready to go and out the door as the sun came up.

This past weekend Kaitlin's trainer had a tack cleaning party and all the girls got together and cleaned the good tack. They shared snacks and grazed their horses. It's so great to see a group of girls doing what they love more than anything in the world. Already at 7 & 8 years old a passion has been formed and this will stick with them forevor. I almost get choked up thinking about the love for the animal and the bond created between horse and rider. To have my little girl experience this and enjoy it has probably been one of the biggest thrills for me.

I have three children and my sons are teenagers now. For years I tried to get them interested in horses and with no takers. So to finally get a kid who loves them like I do has been a dream come true. I may still get one of the guys interested. There's a 16 year old girl at our stable that he saw and she is really pretty. Now he wants to come out and see his sister ride. Sure! I just laughed at him.

But back to the horse show. My fingers are crossed my daughter has the best time of her life and I will be taking lots of pictures because you're first show only happens once.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

GUEST BLOGGER: Maggie Toussaint

I'd like to welcome Maggie Toussaint, who has written a wonderful equestrian romance that involves a horse rescue farm. I've read this book so I can vouch for how good it is. Thanks for joining us today, Maggie.

Rescuing horses one book at a time
By Maggie Toussaint

The love of horses is an abiding emotion. It lodges in our hearts, a warm glow that transcends time and space, a powerful feeling that fills our emptiness.

I fell in love with horses as a child. Shetland ponies and quarter horses hauled me to the swimming hole and to the country store. They kept me out of trouble and taught me confidence.

School happened, then college, marriage, and children. So when my oldest daughter fell in love with horses, I understood her enchantment. I can’t begin to list how many hours I’ve spent at barns, at horse events, pulling trailers, soaking horse hooves, and so much more. When I had down time, I worked on my dream, that of becoming a published writer.

As with riding, publishing takes practice and untold hours in the saddle before the blue ribbons start appearing. Last year, I contracted my horse rescue farm book to The Wild Rose Press. I’m thrilled to be here at Equestrian Ink to share details about my recent release and the real life horse rescue charity it benefits, Days End Farm Horse Rescue (

In the story, Hope Farrier has rescued more horses than she can afford to keep. Devlin Temple’s goal of taking over the family firm is jeopardized by his cousin, a man who wooed Devlin’s fiancée into his bed. The link between these two strangers is Devlin’s mother, a terminally ill woman who’s determined to see her son and her friend achieve their goals of financial independence and leadership. To that end, she establishes a business partnership and unknowingly triggers a deadly enemy into action.

Horses are a mainstay of this book. Their actions and behaviors are integrated into the romance and suspense, adding impulsion to the fast-paced story. You’ll keep turning those pages because you want Hope’s farm to succeed and for Hope and Devlin to have their own happily-ever-after.

Plus, each sale of No Second Chance benefits Days End Farm Horse Rescue. Though this farm is located in Maryland, they help rescue of horses on both a regional and national basis. Be sure and visit their website to learn more about them and the fabulous horses that they have saved.

No Second Chance is available in print or ebook. Buy links are listed below. If you’ve got thirty seconds, click here to see the book trailer at YouTube.

Thanks, Equestrian Ink, for the opportunity to share my love of horses.

Maggie Toussaint
No Second Chance, ISBN 9781601541628, buy a book, help a horse
Print: Buy it at Amazon ebook: The Wild Rose Press or Kindle

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On First Loves


My sincere thanks to everyone who gave me such wonderful advice regarding my six year old daughter’s heartbreak over her beloved horse Pete retiring. We made arrangements to go and visit him at his new home and her whole world looks bright again. It will be awhile before we can make the trip, but as long as she knows she’ll see him again, she’s okay.

Last evening she was pretending she was Pete and I had to call out voice commands to walk, trot, canter, halt, and back as she practiced her various gates! Considering she’s only ridden at a walk and trot so far she’s got a pretty good instinct for the three beats of a canter. My guess would be every time she sees a horse cantering she’s making an extensive study of the process. Hmmm…I’m definitely looking into a future full of horse mom activities.

Watching her brings back so many memories of my own horse-crazy youth. We couldn’t afford a horse for me, but my parents did spring for two lessons a week and I took my ‘barn rat’ duties very seriously every day during the summer months. There was one lesson horse in particular who stole my heart. His name was Ritchie. He was a tall, gentle hunter who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. His height was a definite advantage since at 12 I was already the tallest girl in my class (I eventually topped out at 5 10 ½). There was a pony named Cricket who could jump higher than Ritchie, but when I rode her my heels were about level with her knees!

One year, I saved every penny all summer so that I could lease Ritchie during the winter months when the barn didn’t have lessons. I will never forget the day my mother took me to the barn to arrange the lease. I was so excited I could barely sit still. When we went inside to speak with the barn owner, she had sad news for me. Ritchie had already been leased. I remember my heart being somewhere in the vicinity of my shoes and I know that’s how my daughter feels now about Pete. The owner had another horse named My Colonel available for lease, and we agreed to lease him despite (or maybe because of) the tears in my eyes over Ritchie. The owner said ‘he’s not the same horse as last summer,’ which I should have paid more attention to, but I was so desperate for ‘a horse of my own’ I begged my mom, not a horse person herself, and despite her reservations she agreed to let me try it.

Well, it turned out to be a good life lesson in ‘buyer beware.’ Colonel had developed the unfortunate habit of bolting for the barn whenever he got out of the ring or pasture. Unfortunately, one day he bolted and my hand got caught in the lead rope and broke the pinky finger on my left hand. I still have a crooked little finger, but I prefer to think about it as a reminder of Ritchie, whom I loved so much. Although, I do also remember the quite painful ‘buyer beware’ lesson as well!

I’m glad my daughter will have a wonderful, positive experience to remember with her first gentle equine love. As a matter of fact, I put elements of my own youthful experience as well as my daughter’s into my just completed novella, Never Trust a Matchmaking Witch. In this story a young girl has a chance at a free lease of a marvelous horse named, of course, Ritchie. Her Aunt Susan helps make those dreams come true by working in the barn in exchange for the lease and lessons. Of course, the fact that the barn owner is a witch who is matchmaking between Susan and a very handsome, sexy boarder adds fun and spice to the story!

The opening paragraph of Never Trust a Matchmaking Witch should ring true for all the horse moms, aunts, etc. who are helping little ones find their own dreams with horses:

Susan wondered why being a favorite aunt had to involve risking life and limb. For her niece Jennifer the risk was jumping astride an animal which outweighed her by at least half a ton. For Susan the risk was having a heart attack watching the pair of them.

I’m off to get my daughter ready for her lesson on her new mount. I’ll be armed with my camera & hoping to build lots of new happy memories for her.

Happy Riding!

All the best,


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Night Shift . . .

by Kit Ehrman

I’ve been doing some spring-cleaning (the worst kind, actually: in the garage) and admittedly a little late in the season. Feels more like summer cleaning. Here it’s already June 3rd, technically wrapping up one of my favorite “horse” seasons: breeding and foaling time.

When I worked at a Standardbred breeding farm in Pennsylvania, our last foals would be hitting the ground about now, and generally, we humans were pretty darned happy that the season was coming to an end, what with the constant and seemingly never-ending chores that revolved around getting five-hundred to six-hundred mares in foal: ultrasounds, palpations, teasing the mares to see if they were receptive, and the actual breeding, itself. Even the stallions were probably happy to take a break. But I was always sad to see the season end because foaling-out was my all-time favorite horse job. My record was four foals on one shift.

The schedule was fairly brutal for foal attendants. We worked alone with only two of us splitting the nighttime hours for the season. I worked the midnight-to-seven shift for five days, then work a double shift (six p.m. to seven a.m.) so my counterpart could have off, then I’d have my day off. The day off would occur every weekend, and somewhere in there, I’d usually be awake for 30 hours before I got to bed – every single week.

Despite the difficulty of working when your body thinks it should be asleep, I loved the job more than any other. I loved being the only person on the farm and loved the connection I felt with the mares, the things I learned and observed . . . the wonderful privilege of being with these animals and getting a look into their lives that most people don’t have the opportunity to experience: listening to a mare snoring; watching one dream; feeling the contentment and peace that settles over the barn around two in the morning; watching a light snow fall when most of the world is asleep . . .

I incorporated one of the most touching things I’ve witnessed, when it comes to broodmares, in the following scene from COLD BURN:

Note: Steve has just returned from a rather racy party at a millionaire’s home and is relieving his partner on foal watch:

Maddie sat sideways on a hay bale with her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms clamped around her shins. Her right shoulder and hip leaned into the stall front, and she’d rested her head on her knees. As I walked down barn three’s aisle toward her, at five past midnight Saturday morning, I wondered if she had any idea just how titillating her pose was. To begin with, she wore jeans snug enough to cut off her circulation, but drawing her legs up as she’d done, tightened the denim even more.

I sighed. Then again, maybe it was the mood I was in. I’d always found that lack of sleep triggered some primal need to copulate, and the party had completely messed up my schedule, not to mention the sensory input overload.

I smiled as I remembered Elaine’s reaction to Hadley’s invite and guessed she hadn’t wanted to lose her ride to an orgy of sex and alcohol. She’d been anxious on the drive home, but I’d been thankful for her interjection and told her so. I liked my sex private.

Pulling my gaze away from Maddie, I glanced toward the dark storage area in the back and thought, as private as a horse barn, anyway. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Maddie jerked her head toward the stall as I realized the mare wasn’t standing in plain view. “I think she’ll go tonight. She hasn’t heated up yet, but I bet you’ll have a foal before daybreak.”


“Yeah, well it’s not so cool for me if they’re all gonna start waiting for your shift.”

I grinned and stepped closer so I could see over the bottom half of the stall. As I looked over the edge, the bay mare rolled onto her sternum, touched her muzzle to her belly, and whinnied. “What’s she doing?”

Maddie slipped off the hay bale and stood beside me, her right arm brushing mine. She whispered, “She’s talking to her unborn foal.”

“You’re shitting me, right?”

“Uh-uh. She’s had four or five foals already. She knows exactly what’s going on, and she loves her babies. She’s such a devoted mother, one of the best mares I’ve ever worked with. I’ve foaled her out two years in a row, now, and she’s always talked to them.”

I raised my eyebrows. “But before they’re born?”

“Uh-huh.” Maddie turned toward me and licked her lips. “And now, it looks like you’re gonna have the honor.”


Next post, I’ll tell you about some real-life spooky events on the night shift; one of which triggered the opening to COLD BURN.