Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life With Horses....Now

By Laura Crum

As those of you who have read my posts here and/or my ten mystery novels featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy already know, I’ve spent most of my life with horses. I grew up riding horses on our family ranch, I spent my twenties cowboying on a cattle ranch and training and competing on cutting and reining horses, and my thirties competing at team roping. Along the way I’ve broken and trained many colts (for myself and others), horse packed across the Sierra Nevada Mts numerous times, and hey, even showed jumping horses as a teenager. I’ve owned and loved many good horses in my life; currently I have eleven. So I think I can say with some fairness that although I was never a world caliber rider by any means, I have as much or more experience with horses as many horsemen (or horsewomen) who bill themselves as experts.

Whether these experts are trainers or horse bloggers, clinicians or authors of some kind, they all have opinions, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. While reading a horse blog the other day, I came across the blogger’s description of how to catch a difficult horse. Now I believe this gal is reasonably knowledgeable; nonetheless my first thought was, “that’s sure not how I would do it.” I considered posting a comment to that effect, complete with a description of how I would do it, but then decided, why bother? She has her opinion; I have mine. And more and more, at fifty-one years of age, after a lifetime spent owning and training horses, I do it my own way, with no regard for what anyone else thinks. (And I try to make space for others to do the same—which means not proffering unasked for advice to the lady with the blog about horse catching.)

Yes, that’s me in the photo, which was taken just this last summer. Those of you who read my May post titled “The New Horse” will probably recognize Sunny, the little “palomino plug” I bought to ride the trails with my seven year old son. And in case anybody’s wondering, yes, I ride him in Ugg boots and cargo pants. Very comfortable—not at all PC by horseman’s rules.

I do realize that the boots have no heels and most of the horse world would say it was dangerous to ride in them. Folks, I ride in sandals, sometimes even in flip flops, in the summer. Its not that I don’t know the rules. Having trained horses and competed in contests for so many years, I can’t possibly count up the hours I’ve spent in cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, pressed long-sleeved shirt, cowboy hat…etc And you know what? I’m not planning on going there again.

Today horses are part of my life in a different way. I no longer dress up to “do” horse activities; I don’t drive to my horses in someone else’s barn. I rarely haul them anywhere in my trailer (believe me, after hauling horses around the western United States for twenty years, the trailer does not look very appealing to me)> My horses live with me: I can see their corrals from my front porch. I feed them night and morning (sometimes in a sarong and sandals); I ride them out my front gate and through the hills in whatever comfortable clothes I have on. They graze around me as I work in the garden and nicker to remind me when I’m late with breakfast or dinner.

I don’t mean to heap scorn on the idea of boots and/or hardhats or other items relating to safety. I would never ride a green horse or a rank horse in anything other than proper boots. My son wears a helmet when he rides and has tapaderos on his saddle, which I highly recommend for kids. I definitely believe that its best to err on the side of caution if you are a novice rider, and especially with children. But at this point in my career, I’m perfectly comfortable on/around my broke horses in Ugg boots, sandals… you name it. And I take deep pleasure in how comfortable I am with my horses now. They are part of the fabric of my life in a way that’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it. Those who have will understand.

At a “girl’s night out” not too long ago with two fellow horsewomen who have been at it as long as I have and have reached a similar (but not exactly the same, of course) point in our thinking, the thrust of our conversation was mostly about how enjoyable this stage of life with horses is. Yes, none of us are as good at riding as we once were, all of us have given up competing, two of us are stout, two of us have back problems…the list goes on. But we are all having so much more fun with our horses, now that we aren’t so driven to compete, to improve, to excel…etc.

In short, after a lifetime spent with horses, and a few trophies to prove I was once a decent trainer and competitor in some pretty demanding events, I can honestly say that this is the very best part. Or my favorite part, anyway. My life with horses right now, as a plump fifty-one year old mama riding a little palomino plug down the trail wearing my comfortable Ugg boots, with my son following me on his old, gentle horse, headed back to our small horse ranch where the other equines (and dog, cats, chickens, vegetable garden, not to mention husband) are waiting….this is the life with horses that I want now.
Laura Crum

Campfire Stories....With Horses

by Laura Crum

Reading Mugwump's blog yesterday, her story about hobbles reminded me vividly of some of my horse packing experiences. I told one of my "hobbles stories" in the comments there, and a few people asked about the way I kept my horses in camp on pack trips. This brought so many stories to mind that I thought I'd tell a few here.

First, a little background. I spent a couple of years working at a pack station on Sonora Pass in California's Sierra Nevada Mts in my early twenties. (This would be about thirty years ago.) Then, in my thirties, I spent many summers packing into the mountains with friends. We taught our more phlegmatic horses to carry the pack rigs, and fortunately I had a friend who was good at packing (which is somewhat of an art) and had the gear. Our team roping horses became sure-footed on the rock after a few shorter, easier trips, and we went on to do many longer (two week) trips, crossing numerous passes and visiting many high mountain lakes. These adventures form the basis of my fifth mystery, Slickrock.

As for how we kept the horses in camp, well, as I said on mugwump's blog, some horses will stay in camp (turned loose) and some won't. Unfortunately you often find out who are the trustworthy ones the hard way. Our usual habit was to put half the horses on run lines, or zip lines, and turn the other half loose. Usually this worked well....except for the times it didn't.

I remember one trip when a friend and I had gone in to a favorite meadow. There was a pretty creek and a lot of feed here; a horse could graze his fill. We had two reliable horses and the friend was riding a new horse, a red roan mare named Shiloh. Shiloh hadn't been on any trips that we knew of, but she was a ranch raised horse and gentle and we thought she'd be fine. We were careful, though, and when it came Shiloh's turn to be loose, we tied up both the other horses, so she'd have no excuse to wander far.

Well, we unclipped the lead rope from Shiloh's halter and she looked around the meadow with interest. She studied the creek, and her buddies on the tie lines, and our camp. She looked at the trail. And she put her ears forward and started into a long, swinging walk. Down the trail.

My friend and I looked at each other. This wasn't good. Surely she'll stop and graze, we said. Nope. Shiloh walked in a purposeful, determined way down the trail, across the meadow, and out of our sight. We flipped a coin to see who would go after her.

My friend lost and I stayed in camp with our other horses while he trailed the mare. Fortunately she ran into a party of hikers not a mile down the trail. They were standing there wondering what to do with this roan mare they'd caught when my friend retrieved her. Needless to say we didn't turn that horse loose again.

The funniest "campfire story" concerns a horse we called Lester. This was a lively, restless gelding; I often referred to him as our ADD horse. The first time we turned Lester loose on a pack trip, he looked around, lifted his head, and started out away from camp in the long trot, which quickly escalated to the gallop. My friend and I looked at each other with that "oh no" look on our faces. Lester galloped across the meadow and we waited for him to hit the trail back through the woods. But just as he was almost out of sight, he stopped. Whirling around, he galloped back across the meadow, straight at us.

Our "oh no" looks turned to "what the hell" looks, as that horse proceed to gallop right through the middle of camp, leaping over the fire (I kid you not) and out across the meadow again. On his next pass he went through the woods behind camp, jumping a log that was at least three foot six in diameter. He kept galloping around until he'd had enough (you would have thought he'd be tired after the ride in) and then settled down to graze. And we all gave a big sigh of relief. Turned out this became a routine with this horse. I can't count the number of times he ran through camp, often jumping the fire. We'd yell, "Here he comes!" and get out of the way. But he never once took off on us.

So, a couple of campfire stories for a winter's day. I'll try and post a few more pack trip tales later, for those who are interested.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Okay, everyone, 2 out of 3 isn't bad.

I've lost 2 pounds this week and written 54 pages. Unfortunately, I only rode twice this past week. I was doing well, riding both Monday and Tuesday. Then the arena was closed starting on Wednesday for new footing. I think it reopened this weekend, but I haven't driven in to town to find out.

Let's hope for 3 for 3 next week.

How did everyone else do?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When my hunter decided he was a show jumper


Today I flew into Connecticut to visit my family for the first time in five years. Although I love our home in the Midwest, the years I spent showing were primarily in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York and on the drive from the airport all I could think about was the fantastic shows Topper, Spencer and I went to through the years.

There is a great town near my family’s home, Simsbury, which has a large C rated show every year. When I had only had Spencer about a year and I was still introducing my husband to the wonderful world of horse shows we went to the Simsbury show. Unfortunately, Spencer was very excited to be there and I was still at the beginner/intermediate stage at that time. Undaunted by this less than idea combination, I cheerfully directed my husband Eric onto the show grounds to my barn’s trailer.

Being relatively new to showing I had spent an inordinate amount of time on my tack and show boots getting the gleam my trainer said was absolutely necessary. I lavished attention on Spencer, grooming and tacking him up and went to work on putting myself together. While I was sitting on the back of our SUV totally involved with getting my outfit on I handed Spencer’s reins to Eric and said “just hold him a minute,” which seemed simple enough at the time.

Unfortunately, the weather was very windy and it had poured the night before so mud was everywhere. This in combination with Spencer’s show excitement level had him prancing like he was ten years younger. At the moment I was tugging on my new, excruciatingly tight boots I heard Eric call “He’s standing on my foot.”

Being otherwise occupied, I yelled back “Just shove him off.”

When I emerged a moment later Spencer was snorting wildly with his foot planted on top of Eric’s, stared wild eyed at a nearby truck. Eric had made the mistake of sitting down while holding Spencer’s reins and was at an angle where he couldn’t get any leverage to shove Spencer off. Eric was fine, but I heard about the horseshow shaped bruise he’d had on his foot for years!

Having survived the scary truck we headed over to my first class, a low hunter division. The jumps weren’t too high, maybe two-six to two-nine, but the ring was a sea of mud. Spencer pranced in like he was still competing in Medal/Maclay. Now feeling a little nervous, I started my course. Sensing I didn’t have full mastery of the situation, Spencer decided he needed to take charge for Mom, pulled the bit between his teeth and took off! I guess I’d forgotten to tell him there were no time faults in this division.

Thus, my husband’s first large show experience was watching his wife a total passenger as Spencer leaned almost horizontal into the muddy turns and sailed over each jump with tons of room to spare and me hanging on for dear life! I vaguely heard my trainer’s shouts to slow down, but if she wanted to talk to the boss, she should have been calling to Spencer instead of me.

Needless to say we didn’t win, but Eric had stories to share with our friends for years. Still, being back here during the height of autumn with the leaves so many brilliant colors brings back reminiscences of that day which are filled with laughter and love. (Okay, I’ll admit while I was careening around the course on Spencer my feelings were closer to terror.)

Still, I’m figuring both Topper and Spencer are up in heaven watching me show my daughter the local horse country and saying ‘Remember when, Mom?’

My thanks to everyone who gave me such wonderful advice regarding the more active new horse my daughter’s trainer wanted her to ride. I asked the trainer to let her continue on one of the older, small beginner horses for now and she agreed. My daughter still rode a new pony, but this old girl was as calm as can be and my daughter’s smile was ear to ear. She’s back to thinking about riding only as a joyful activity!

Happy autumn everyone and many happy rides!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Rescue Horse . . .

by Kit Ehrman

During my last post, October 7, 2008, I talked about Stoney, my first horse. I just found a photograph taken a few months after I purchased him.

Stoney--definitely not a rescue horse.

Once I owned my own farm, I was ready for another horse. When I drove out to look at Koby in the spring of ‘85, I didn’t really think of him as a “rescue horse,” but it seems everyone else did. He was extremely thin, but I’d seen horses like him turn around with the right care, so I had full confidence that Koby’s transformation would be no different.

After injuring his left knee on the track, he was sold to a young woman who didn’t have the knowledge or resources to give him the kind of home and care he needed to successfully transition from track to farm life. He was placed in a small, muddy paddock with three other geldings who denied him access to grain and hay as well as the run-in shed. He spent all of that first year off the track suffering under the brutal sun or standing in the freezing rain, scouring the ground for whatever wisps of hay or kernels of grain the other horses might have missed.

Despite the hardships he’d been through, he had a kind temperament, so I had a vet come out to perform a pre-purchase exam which he passed. I had a very strong sense that she was just hoping I would buy him and take him to a better place, especially after she took him into the run-in shed to examine his eyes in a darkened environment. She looked disgusted when she came out. Apparently, the shed was filthy, piled high with a deep layer of manure and crawling with maggots.

A couple of days later, he settled into my barn with my first horse, Stoney. Both horses had roomy stalls that opened to private paddocks, and after the two horses got used to each other over the fence, and Koby became accustomed to eating grass again, I turned them out each day in a ten-acre field.

Routine vaccinations and regular deworming, along with a gradual increase of grain and occasional beet pulp hot mashes, not to mention getting his teeth floated, all combined to put the weigh on and his coat blossomed. So did his personality.

I guess I never really realized just how emaciated he was until, several months later, when my farrier commented on how good he looked and confessed that he thought the horse wouldn’t make it when he first came out to trim his hooves. Here was a guy with undoubtedly lots of horse experience, and he thought Koby would not survive.

But survive, he did. In fact, once he regained his weigh, he was an incredibly easy keeper, and I actually had to watch his diet. He was a broad, bay horse with lovely conformation (this was especially evident once he filled out) and at 16.2 hh, he was an impressive horse. Way too big for me, I might add.

By fall, he'd picked up quite a bit of weight, though his coat wouldn't look healthy until he shed out.

I did wonder if he’d become difficult under saddle once he began to feel better, but except for a little testing early on, he developed into a wonderful mount. What I do love about ex-racehorses is that they are acclimated to a wide variety of sights and sounds and activities from their time on the track. He was easy to load and handle and was generally a levelheaded horse.

Koby being ridden by my instructor.

I used to load him by myself and trailer him to my instructor’s farm where I took dressage lessons in her indoor. He didn’t even blink when he went into the arena the first time, and I could leg him over to the wall to get a drink and he would stand so quietly. One of the nicest compliments my instructor gave me was when she said something like, “Why don’t I find nice horses like him.”

I remember the first time I took him on a long trail ride with some neighbors. Up until that point, all he knew was the track and my riding arena, but he just took it all in and was so full of confidence. The only thing he did not like, and never became accustomed to, was a herd of Holsteins that we had to pass to get home. He never could get used to the sight of those black-and-white cows.

When I moved to Indiana and had children, I often did not get around to riding until about midnight. This worked out especially well in the hot summer months, but I’d ride in the winter then, too. It was my time to just fool around, with no pressure or distractions. I’d put some music on, and we’d be out in the lighted outdoor arena, just the two of us. And sometimes the snow would come down, spiraling past the sodium vapor lights, and I just loved those nights. Often a herd of eight or ten deer would walk past in the neighboring field, and we’d stop and watch them. They had no fear of us and took their time.

I’m happy that our paths crossed and that we both enriched each other’s lives.

Happy reading and riding,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Things aren't always as they seem

First of all. I'm doing lousy on my challenge. Darn it! I'm actually putting on weight, and I only rode three times last week. I do have one good excuse. The chiropractor worked on my mare so I had to give her a few days off. This week won't be much better as the arena is getting new footing and will be closed for a few days.

I hope everyone else is doing better than me. Let me know.

Here's the post I promised for this this week.

I’m not a brave rider, though most people look at the shear bulk and size of my mare and can’t believe it, but it is true. I’ve had a 10-year history with this particular horse. I bought her as a barely-broke three year old. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know some of the trials and tribulations I’ve been through over the years with her. I can honestly say that for the past several years, she’s been a very safe horse to ride. She’s never had a buck or a rear in her—too much work. Though as a greenie, she did have a balk. The worst think she does is shy. I’m not talking about the leap out from under you and whirl around shying—again, too much work. But she does her “cutting horse” thing where she gets down low until her belly is about a foot off the ground—a sight to see from a 17-hand warmblood. Then she does a slow motion pivot and lumbers the other direction.

My trainer rode her on Monday, so I was looking forward to a good ride on Tuesday. She started out being her usual self, trying to get out of work by shying in a particular corner. I now know that if I wave the whip in front of her shoulder that she’ll go into that corner with minimal fuss. Again, too much work to fight it and get in trouble.

Well she starts getting really fussy. Not unusual considering she’s in heat. So I’m trying to post rather than sit. We head to the spooky corner, she plants all four feet and stops. I try a shoulder-in to get her by the corner. She started backing up, slamming her big butt into the metal arena gate and refusing to budge. She bends the gate. At this point, I realize that the gate is no match for her 1500 pounds. All I care about is safety and survival (not necessarily in that order). She is in a major snit. Normally, I’d turn her in a tight circle to get her moving again. But I can’t. Her butt is plastered on the gate. I try to maneuver her away from the gate. Not a good idea. She starts backing up against the flimsy railing of the small stands in the arena. If she busts through that she’s going to break right through those first set of bleachers. Damn. I have a problem.

I give her a good smack on the butt. She goes up (about a foot, not much). Okay, more smacks. After all, I’m worried about her safety and mine. Now is not the time to be delicate. I get her going forward again. She plants her feet near the corner. Now, she switches tactics. Instead of not wanting to go in this corner, she starts backing into it.


There are over a dozen trotting poles piled vertically in this corner and a mirror. If she backs into them they’re coming down on us not to mention we could break the mirror. Again, I can’t turn her. I am kicking her for all I’m worth. Finally between kicking, cowboying her head around, I manage to drive her forward. We trot a large circle. She’s sucking back every step of the way. She attempts to stop in the corner again and back toward the poles. I’m using everything I’ve got to kick her forward. I throw the reins away. I’m panting, she’s huffing. Two or three more turns around the circle, she’s finally moving forward, fussy as can be, and backing off the bit (never her problem, she prefers leaning). By the fourth circle, she’s feeling pretty good. Forward and powerful and listening and not hesitating when she goes by the spooky corner. She’s still feels funny in the bridle. I let go of the curb rein completely (I’m riding in a double bridle) as she had been known to have fits if you hold onto the curb too tight. You have to be really careful with the curb.

I look down, and see her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth. Halting her, I leap off. A double bridle has two bits, a curb and a snaffle. She’s managed to get her tongue between the curb and snaffle so it’s being pinched. I fix it, get back on, and off we go, as if nothing ever happened.

I felt like a real rat. The poor girl was trying to tell me that something was wrong, and I completely missed the problem. She’d never done that before, so I wasn’t really expecting it. Now I know.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Guest Blogger--Sandy James

First of all, I want to welcome Jody Jaffe as a regular member of EquestrianInk. Jody writes equestrian mysteries, and we are very happy to have her here.

Today, we are pleased to have a guest blogger, Sandy James. Sandy is a writer and races harness horses.

Sandy is a fourteen time finalist in RWA contests who recently signed with Maureen Walters of Curtis Brown, Ltd. She lives in a suburb of Indianapolis where she teaches high school social studies. The James Harness Racing stable races mostly at Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs, but they race horses in Canada as well. Her first book, Turning Thirty-Twelve, will be released by BookStrand in January. Her racing story, Murphy's Law, will be released by BookStrand in March.

Our homebred three-year old won his first race
not too long ago. I’m not sure I’ve ever been prouder of one of my racehorses. Oh, sure, our stable has had horses that have raced faster. We’ve had horses who earned quite a bit of purse money. And there have been some I’ve really become attached to. But Heart’s Prince is unique. Let me tell you why.

My husband, mother, and I owned a racehorse named MyHeartStoodStill. She had the heart of a champion. You never saw Heart give in, and I think she would have raced on three legs if that was all God gave her. She raced well at our home track, Indiana Downs, and when that meet ended, we sent her to a trainer we were working with in Ontario. The trainer did a good job, but Heart seemed to be struggling. When the husband and I went up to Windsor to watch her race, we went back to the paddock after to see her. Things weren’t good. My poor mare was blowing so hard, her nostrils flared almost impossibly large. I wanted to throw my arms around her and make it all better. We sent her to the veterinary school in Guelph.

Poor Heart seemed to have developed a sort of exercise-induced asthma. She wasn’t going to be able to race any longer. I’d made the mistake of getting attached to her, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her ending up pulling some Amish buggy. I put my heads together with another trainer and decided to breed her. A friend near Ladoga, Indiana, had a stud he was standing for only a few mares. Problem was we didn’t have a farm to keep Heart at while she waited out the birth. Problem solved. The breeder said he’d be glad to keep her with his broodmares. Heart only needed to be covered twice before she conceived.

I “saw” Prince before he was born. The breeder brought the ultrasound to the track when one of his horses was racing. All I saw was a big black dot, but I have to admit, it was thrilling to know that a new horse was in my future.

Heart had an easy birth, and my mom and I went to visit the day after Prince was born. We hadn’t decided on a name. I wanted “Midlife Crisis” since owning horses was literally my husband’s midlife crisis. Second choice was “Freudian Slip” because I teach psychology. My mom took one look at that little chestnut colt and said he looked like Bambi. Since the joke in the Disney movie was that Bambi was going to be prince of the forest, mom got it in her head that we should call him Prince. I just rolled my eyes, but she wouldn’t give it up. So we finally settled on Heart’s Prince.

He trained to harness well and we had high hopes for him. He even had a start or two as a two-year old, but we weren’t very encouraged. Prince had a habit of getting rough gaited, and we were starting to wonder if we might just have another saddle horse on our hands. But the little guy has turned his three-year old year into a profitable one, starting with that first win. I had never been prouder walking into that winner’s circle. My colt had won. My colt!

When I write my romances about racing, I try to throw in all the love I have for the animals and the sport. My first story about racing will be released by BookStrand in March. I sure hope the passion I have for standardbreds comes through in Murphy’s Law.

When our horses are ready to retire, my sister adopts them and trains them as saddle horses. We still have MyHeartStoodStill, and she is enjoying her "retirement." Standardbreds make fantastic pleasure horses, and I strongly encourage adopting one when his or her racing career ends.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Life After Tommy

Hello everyone and thanks for inviting me into your group. Though it feels like I've been a journalist since Gutenburg invented the press, I'm new to blogging. So I'll start with an introduction.
My name is Jody Jaffe and I am the author of "Horse of a Different Killer," "Chestnut Mare, Beware," and "In Colt Blood." The three mysteries star Nattie Gold, a sharp-tongued, red-headed fashion writer and her chestnut mare, Brenda Starr.
My kids, Ben and Sam Shepard, call my writing "faction," since most of it's true. Nattie is me, except she hates chocolate and is a far better rider. That's one of the great perks of writing fiction -- you're only limited by your imagination. If I want to ride as well as Margie Goldstein Engle, so be it.
They say "write what you know" and I did. I set my books in the newspaper and hunter show worlds. I was a feature writer for the Charlotte (NC) Observer from 1979 to 1990. During that time, I showed my horse, Brenda Starr (barn name, Tommy) mostly in the adult amateur hunter division. Tommy -- named after her father, the great TB hunter sire Sir Thomson -- was a once-in-a-lifetime horse. I could afford her on a reporter's salary because she supposedly reared over with a previous rider, but she was never anything but perfect for me. She carted me over the jumps even when I wasn't so sure I wanted to jump.
Which brings me to the subject of my first blog: Life after Tommy. She died about 12 years ago, after giving birth to her son, Royal-T, AKA Roy. This little guy slept in my arms the first and second nights of his life, until I could find a nurse mare for him. As a result, he thinks I'm his mom.
It was heartbreaking to lose Tommy; we'd been a team for more than 10 years. So my father -- those who've read my books, know he was "new age" before the term was coined -- paid for a telephone consult with a horse psychic. She told me Tommy was greeted on the other side by a small man named John who'd been a jockey. That got my attention because I'd named Roy in honor of a good friend's husband who'd died earlier that week. His name middle name had been Royal, and yes, he'd been a jockey.
I asked the psychic if Tommy was angry that I'd had her bred, fully expecting happy psychic talk to assuage my guilt. Something along the lines of, "Oh no, she's happy she could leave you with a new, wonderful horse to be your next companion." Wrong.
"She says it wasn't the best idea," the psychic said.
Turns out she was right. Roy has suffered from an alphabet of issues, starting with OCD and continuing on with EPM. He started limping at 18 months from an OCD lesion in his shoulder. I took him to Barbaro's surgeon, Dean Richardson (this was years before Barbaro died), who wasn't optimistic. But that doctor is a magician and he made Roy ride-able.
Though Tommy apparently hadn't been keen on providing me her offspring, I was giddy in my appreciation and love for this boy. He was a dream ride in every way, and far fancier a horse than I could have afforded. Not only does he look just like his mother, but he's got her forgiving and giving nature. Plus, he's a great mover. Tommy could win over fences, but under saddle? All the other horses in the class would have had to be lame for her to get a ribbon.
Then Roy started stumbling and forgetting how to pick up his right lead. It was EPM. Medications fixed him for a while. But flash forward five years to the second time in a week he fell nose first into the dirt with me astride. This was getting dangerous. I took him to Virginia Tech for yet another neuro exam. "Disaster," was the word the vets used and cautioned me to even be careful how I lead him, fearing that he might fall on me. X-rays revealed a narrowing in the neck vertebrae.
So now Roy is fat, still beautiful and retired. He lives on my farm in Lexington, Va., enjoying a commanding view of the Blue Ridge mountains and all the grass he can eat.
I think about Tommy often and over the years have been plugging in "Sir Thomson" on the sire search looking for a filly -- to no avail. Early last spring, I got serious about buying a new horse. Sir Thomson died in 1993, so it was unlikely I'd find any of his offspring. Plus, I wanted to go the warmblood route this time.
I've been riding TBs my whole riding life, and while Tommy was kick-quiet, she wasn't the norm -- at least not given my experiences with TBs. I wasn't ruling out TBs as much as I was focusing on warmbloods. I'm in my 50s and I'm getting too old to hit the ground.
The problem was my wish list and budget didn't coincide. Shallow as it might seem, I'd like to win -- or pin -- in a hack one time before I die. Priced one of those daisy cutters lately? Here's the kind of ad I found on on BigEq:
"Would make an excellent junior or A/O hunter. .... Reasonably priced at 150K."
Reasonable to whom, Donald Trump?
I spent six months surfing the internet, making calls and driving all over Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland looking for my next mare. I say mare, because even after my breeding disasters (yes, there are more), I still want to breed. Crazy, I know, but spend a few minutes with a new-born foal and tell me you're not hooked on those little quivering velvet noses and love-me eyes.
Did I find her? Next blog: What horse shopping and internet dating have in common and why I'm even more thankful that I'm crazy in love with my husband (and new horse). .

Happy trails,

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mugwump / Janet

By Laura Crum

As any of you who have been reading my posts here know, I’m relatively new to blogging. Until the folks who created this site invited me to write a bi-weekly blog for them (and I accepted) back in March of this year, I had never even read a blog. I had no idea what was out there in the blogosphere. But having accepted the invitation to write one, I figured I’d better go find out what it was I was supposed to be writing. So, I looked around and found a veritable army of “horse blogs”, some with many readers, some with very few. It was instructive. I learned what blogging amounted to. But among these blogs, one stood head and shoulders above the rest (in my view), and that was “mugwump chronicles”.

Most of you are probably already fans of mugwump, so I’m preaching to the choir here, but for those of you who haven’t read this blog, mugwump is a horse trainer. She has had a long career training reined cowhorses and she is, in my book, a very talented and savvy trainer. Her blog offers well thought out and very tactful advice (for free) to all who ask—how cool is that?

But even more wonderful (if possible) than her skill as a horse trainer is her talent as a writer. By great good fortune, the day I stumbled upon her blog was the day she posted chapter one of her “Sonita story”, one of the most moving chronicles of training a young horse that I have ever read—anywhere. Like so many others, I became addicted to this story, waiting eagerly for the next installment. And, of course, I wrote to mugwump and told her what a great writer I thought she was/is.

Mugwump wrote back and we discovered we had an amazing number of similarities. We had both trained and shown cowhorses, we were both interested in writing about horses, she loved mysteries, we are the same age, we both went to Catholic school….the list went on and on. Our views about horses and training horses were almost identical. I think we were both blown away by how much we had in common. In the course of this dialogue, mugwump gave me her name and revealed that in her “real life”, get this, she was/is an artist. And she gave me her website address.

So I went to and I was even more astounded. Because this talented horse trainer and writer is an equally talented artist who has illustrated many books, done some wonderful commissioned portraits of people and horses and has an incredibly delightful series of cards for sale. I promptly ordered some Xmas cards for myself and asked mugwump, who I now knew as the artist Janet Huntington, why she didn’t use her popular blog to promote her artwork.

Turns out, as some of you already know, that mugwump/Janet is a modest, private person and she just wasn’t sure if she wanted to go public with her other career, so to speak. So, to make a long story short, I pretty much begged her to do so. I felt that lots of her fans would love her artwork as much as I did, and be just as amazed as I am/was that she is so multi-talented. (I couldn’t draw a decent horse to save my life—this is one thing we don’t have in common.)

In the end, Janet has decided to go public as mugwump, and I know you will all enjoy her artwork as much as I did. And you’ll probably all want Xmas cards, too. So, just for fun, we decided we’d do a joint promotion: the winner of today’s contest will receive a set of Janet Huntington Xmas cards and a signed copy of my first equine mystery, Cutter.

And all of you, please, do yourselves a favor, visit and take a look at what a wonderful artist mugwump is. On top of being a terrific horse trainer and a great writer. It ought to be illegal to have so many talents. (I’m kidding—I’m just jealous.) And for those, if there are any, who haven’t yet found her mugwump chronicles blog, I highly recommend a visit there, too. This is some seriously good writing about horses, and I know that those of you who visit this site are folks who are interested in writing about horses.

And now, drumroll please, for the contest. The first person to answer the question: Where in the blogosphere did mugwump and I first “meet”? and post the correct answer in the comments on this blog will get the cards and book. You will also have to email me your snail mail address so that I can send them to you. I’ll respond in the comments and let you know who won. That person can email me at

The rest of you will have to buy your cards and books, if you want them, and I will shamelessly say that the combo of a Janet Huntington card and a book by any author on this site will make a wonderful Xmas gift for horse lovers you may know.

Here, just to give you a taste, is one of my favorites of her Xmas cards: "Cutting Rudolf"

Have fun.
Laura Crum

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Riding and Weight Loss Challenge--Week 1

Okay, I admit it. I have failed, but only for this week.

I started out great. Lost 1 pound and rode three days in a row. Well, then I went to a writers conference on Friday and just got back. Needless to say, I didn't have a chance to ride 4 times, and I gained weight because I sat on my butt for three days and ate out for three meals a day.

Not a good start.

So I pledge to do better next week.

How about you? Did anyone fare better than I did?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Price of Success


You may recall I blogged awhile back about my daughter having to deal with the reality of the horse she loved needing to retire. I received such wonderful, heartfelt good wishes and advice from Equestrian Ink’s readers I want to thank you again and hope you can give me some further advice.

My daughter did indeed adjust to riding a new horse, who she now also loves, but last week her trainer decided she has advanced to the point she is ready for a new challenge. The new challenge comes in the form of Tomeo, a young horse who arrived at the barn not too long ago. He’s lovely to look at, a palomino, and seems to have a positive, fun-loving nature, but he’s more horse than she’s used to riding.

She’s still very young. She’ll be seven soon, and she’s at the walk, trot, ground poles & half seat stage. The trainer had Tomeo all tacked up and ready for her when she got to the barn last week, so I didn’t have time to prepare her for the change. She cast a few loving (and worried) glances at the horse she’d been riding and falling in love with, an earnest, sweet blood bay about 14 1/2 hands, I think.

Still, she mounted Tomeo, who seems closer to 15 hands, and listened attentively as the trainer told her about him. I was holding my breath as she started off, with a barn staff member walking next to her. I sat in a chair near the ring with my two year old twins in their dual stroller next to me, keeping my eyes glued to my daughter every moment except when I was retrieving fallen toys or sippy cups.

Three different parents stopped by to say hello and mentioned how tiny she looked on Tomeo. Having had the same thought, I have to admit these comments did nothing positive for my blood pressure.

She was doing pretty well, she even backed him, which was no small accomplishment. The defining moment came when they started to trot. Tomeo has a teeth-jarring trot and he’s a lot faster than she’s used to. She stopped and said she was too frightened to trot him again. This was the first time I had ever heard her say she was frightened of anything to do with horses.

She wouldn’t trot him again, but she did her other exercises. She walked through ground poles in her half seat and with someone leading him she balanced with arms out to the side and on top of her head.

I spoke with the trainer after the lesson who told me my daughter really was ready for this, but if she was truly frightened we could switch her back to her previous mount. Relieved, I shared this with my daughter and her answer surprised me. She said she wanted to try Tomeo again. When I pressed a bit on why she wanted to ride him again if she was frightened to trot him she said “Because I want to do better next time.”

I’m proud of her, but I’m wondering if maybe she isn’t a little too young to be testing herself against something that frightens her. I don’t want to discourage her, but I want her to enjoy and love horses, not feel that she needs to succeed at all costs. She’s a determined little thing and already showing signs of being a bit of a perfectionist. (I’d like to say she gets it from her father but, ahem, I’d be lying.)

What do you all think? I want her to feel confident, happy and without fear, but I’m not sure of the best path to get us there.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Favorite Horses . . .

by Kit Ehrman

During my last post, “Favorites . . .” (September 23, 2008) I talked about how writers feel about their books and how difficult it can be to answer: “Which is your favorite?”

It’s even more difficult to pick a favorite when friends want to know: “Of the horses you’ve owned, which was your favorite?”

How can I answer that? Each horse that I’ve had the honor of owning was special in his or her own way, and they were all so different, with varied and unique personalities, quirks . . . moods. Lots of non-horse people don’t really get that, either--the idea that a horse even has a personality! But, boy, do they.

My first horse, Stoney, was a 15.2hh, flea-bitten gray Quarter horse/Arab gelding. To read more about our adventures together, check out the post “Riding Adventures . . .” (March 25, 2008).

Stoney was such a hoot! He was personable and ornery and a veritable bulldozer on trail rides (Quarter horse attribute), but he’d spin me right out of the saddle if he spooked . . . at the sight of a deer, no less! Like he’d never seen them before.

He was my “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde” horse. When he was good, he was very good, and when he was bad, well . . . let’s just say, he was a challenge.

I remember the day I purchased him and took him home to the hunter/jumper farm where I worked at the time. He looked so out of place: at least five-hundred pounds overweight with a roached mane that was growing out and stuck straight up in the air; his Arabian blood hadn’t done anything to refine his head or thick throatlatch; his back was a little too long, or his legs were too short, depending on how you look at it; and to say he had solid legs would be putting it tactfully. But he was mine, and I was thrilled.

And boy; was he an alpha horse. In short order, he moved to second in command in a field of twenty-five to thirty geldings. Second only to Orion, a Thoroughbred/Percheron cross.

Stoney’s rather sheltered life, before I purchased him at age six, made for an interesting transition. Training-wise, he’d gone Western and had just stepped over a few baby fences. I doubt he’d ever been in an indoor arena. There was much he had to learn about his new world. In fact, I don’t even think he’d seen something as commonplace as a chair.

After he settled into his new stall that first day, I took him out to get him acclimated to the farm’s sights and sounds. We happened to approach a black, plastic chair located in the cut-through to the indoor arena. He lowered his head to take a sniff, and as he exhaled, his breath caused a puff of dust to mushroom off the seat. He flew backwards as if he’d been shot from a cannon.

Despite the fact that he wasn’t the best beginner’s horse, and he may have damaged my confidence at times, I loved him very much, and I swear; he knew it. After months of training and lots of work, he began to fit in and even looked the hunter part, albeit still a little chubby.

If Stoney wasn’t hyper on the trail, with some pretend spooks or healthy bucks thrown in--a barn-sour tactic he liked to employ with the hope that we’d go home early (and when he did manage to dump me, he got his wish)--he was just downright lazy. Normally, I worked for everything I got out of him by using my seat and lots of leg, especially when we worked in the ring on the flat. But one ride stands out from the rest. I went on a trail ride with my boss’s daughter. She was riding an adorable gray pony. A mare. Well, apparently, Stoney thought she was adorable, too, because he followed that pony down the trail in the most collected, elevated trot imaginable. Soft mouth, rounded back, no leg needed on my part. A ride made in heaven . . . but most likely born of hormones.

He was a great guy, faults and all.

Rather surprisingly, keeping his barn sour "afraid to be in the woods alone" attitude in mind, he did very well when I took him to some cross country events. He had lots of GO out in the open. I was the one holding us back. Here's an old picture from 1983.

I find myself thinking of him frequently this time of year, because autumn a few years back was his last. He’d grown arthritic to the point that I could no longer keep him comfortable. Even standing for the farrier was an ordeal, and I made the decision to put him down at the age of 31. But he lives on in my heart and in cherished memories, and he shows up in my writing from time to time.

Next time, I’ll tell you about my first rescue horse, Koby.

Happy reading and writing,

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Riding and Weight-Loss Challenge

I'm guilty, as charged.

I've been bad all summer. I normally ride 4-6 days a week. This summer I was lucky to ride 1-2 times a week. That's an all-time worst record for me. So what I now have is an out-of-shape body and an out-of-shape horse. I guess I have some valid excuses, writing half-time and working full-time. Still, I know I can fit riding in if I make it a priority.

Dressage takes a lot of muscle strength on the horse's part. They need to be strong in the hind end and able to carry more weight behind. Building that strength is time-consuming and requires a consistency which I didn't commit to over the summer. Add to that a horse who doesn't hold her fitness unless she's ridden 5-6 days a week.

As a consequence of my laziness, I've put on ten pounds and my horse and I are winded after about 20-30 minutes of work. That is another first for me and one I'm not proud of. I have always prided myself on being able to ride for an entire lesson and never pleading with my instructor for a break. I still haven't done that but, boy, have I wanted to beg for mercy.

In addition, I have never weighed this much in my life. I used to be able to eat anything and never put on weight. Well, welcome to middle-age. It's finally caught up with me.

Non-riders don't understand how much exercise riding can be. I don't think I even understood until I looked back on this summer and how much time I've spend sitting on my butt, writing; instead of sitting on my butt, riding.

So I am turning over a new leaf, and I'm counting on EI to hold me accountable. I'm going to attempt to post a riding and weight loss log every Sunday or every other Sunday. Maybe I'll even include some tips from my instructor and what I'm working on for the week. My goal is to ride a minimum of four days a week and lose a total of 20 pounds.

My goals for December 31, 2008 are:
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Ride 4 days a week minimum (If I miss a week, I have to make it up the next week)

Anyone want to join me? You can post your results in the comments section of my blog post every Sunday. I'd love to have some company. If there's enough interest, maybe I'll even come up with some year-end prizes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learning to Ride / Learning to Write

By Laura Crum

I’m often asked by readers who would like to become published authors how I was able to achieve that goal. I’ve talked about the long trail that culminated in the sale of my equine mysteries to a major New York publisher (St Martin’s Press) on this site (“One Woman’s Path to Publication”—March 2008). Today I’d like to talk about something even more fundamental—the actual writing.

I’ve always been one to learn by doing, both with my writing and my riding. As a child I took lots of riding lessons (anything to get on a horse), but I never felt I learned as much from this as I did from the long unstructured hours of riding (sometimes on quite difficult horses) at my family’s ranch. As a woman in my twenties, I took many lessons from prominent reining and cutting horse trainers, but it wasn’t until I actually went to work for these guys and spent eight hours a day for many years riding horses for them that the stuff they were trying to teach me finally sunk in.

So, who did teach me to ride? (Or to write?) The short answer is that Lad and Tovy taught me to ride and Dick Francis taught me to write.

I was a horse crazy little girl like so many others. Yes, that’s me on the pony, all of two years old and thrilled to be on a horse. That pony’s name was Tarbaby, and though in the photo I may look like a lucky little girl with her own pet pony, the true story is rather different. My uncle, who owned the pony, fancied himself a horse trader, and having bought the critter cheap, was determined to sell it for a handsome profit. Thus the point of the photo was not to show off my small self on a pony, it was to show prospective buyers that Tarbaby was gentle enough for kids. The notation on the back of the photo says nothing about “Laura”; rather the words are “Pony for Sale.”

This gives you something of a frame of reference for the way in which I “grew up” with horses. My uncle always had them, and I was allowed to ride them out at the family ranch, but no one took much interest in me or my progress; certainly I was not allowed to have a horse of my own until (at fourteen), I had saved up enough money to buy one myself. I did ride my uncle’s horses, many of them “trading horses” like Tarbaby, all through my childhood, and, as you can imagine, I had some interesting experiences.

Still, amongst the runaways, broncos, and various other recalcitrant beasts that I struggled with were two horses that my uncle kept to team rope on and never traded off. These two registered Quarter Horse geldings were gentle, well-broke animals who knew their job, and between the two of them I learned to ride pretty well.

Lad and Tovy were their names: Lad was dark brown with a blaze, Tovy a solid sorrel. My cousin and I rode those horses bareback and double, we rode them sitting backwards, we rode them standing up at the trot and slid off over their tails for a dismount. We jumped them over three foot fences (despite the fact that they were team roping horses and this wasn’t their job description) and galloped them along the creek. Not to mention gathered the cattle and did all the ranch chores on them. Yes, Lad and Tovy taught me to ride.

If you’re wondering how, exactly, Dick Francis taught me to write, well, no, he didn’t personally tutor me. Like so many others, I loved his books and read and re-read them constantly. When, at thirty years of age, I decided to use my background training and competing on western cowhorses to create a mystery series, much as Dick Francis had used his background as a steeplechase jockey to create his own books, you can imagine who I modeled my writing on. Yes, every time I got “stuck” at some place in my first manuscript, I would pull out a Dick Francis novel to see how the master did it. (And yes, I’m sure that Cutter, my first novel, has in some ways a very, shall we say, derivative feel.)

In time, of course, I developed more of a sense of my own voice, though I always admired Dick Francis’ work. I was also honored to meet my “teacher” and have a longtime correspondence with him. In the course of these letters he praised several of my mysteries and actually asked to borrow some bits from one (this was Slickrock). My books have been likened to Dick Francis’ novels by many reviewers, something which always pleases me (see the quote on the cover of Chasing Cans, my most recent novel). However at this point in my career I no longer have the impulse or need to imitate another author; I merely tell the story that comes to me, in my own way. Some say that my later books are better written than my earlier ones, and I like to think that’s true. Nonetheless, I will always credit Dick Francis as my original inspiration and am grateful for his support over the years as well as the example that he set.

There are other ways to learn both riding and writing, of course—horseback lessons and writer’s classes, seminars of both sorts—all these things have their place. But I would like to assure those whose path, like mine, is more of a solitary one, that this can be productive, too. Lots of hours spent horseback and lots of time spent reading authors whose work you admire can pay off every bit as much as instruction and critique when it comes to riding and writing, at least in my opinion.

And since the most entertaining part of this blogging is hearing the responses, I’d like to put this question out there to all the horse people and authors (especially bloggers) who read this post. Anybody else have a take on this subject that you’d like to share? What made you a rider? Or a writer? I know mugwump has been big on continuing instruction, at least in her riding career, and I’m always willing to learn from her, talented trainer and writer that she is.

Oh, and for those who commented on my last post about my skinny horse, I’m happy to report that ET is gaining weight steadily and looks much better than he did even two weeks ago. No ribs showing at all. Thanks for all your input.