Sunday, November 30, 2008

Which Comes First the Puller or the Pullee? and Weekly Update

First of all, the publishing industry like everything else is in dire straits. Please consider giving books for Christmas. There are tons of great horse books out there for your horsey friends or yourself. In fact, I'm going to start a post next weekend which lists great horse books to give as gifts. I'd like all of you to post a comment with at least one suggestion. So be thinking about it.

Oh, man, I am not doing well in the weight loss department. I know I've put on a few pounds this week. Maybe I should be grateful it's only a few. I'm going to continue in the New Year because I'm determined to get this fat off.

In the riding department, I also sucked this week. I only rode once and that was in a lesson, though I had the return of an epiphany. It was the best ride I've had on that horse in a long time. The shying is pretty much gone, and I can now concentrate on my riding again rather than getting her in the corner.

In the writing department, I finished a first draft of Fourth and Goal by writing 16,000 words this week!!! Yahoo!!! The writing is why I haven't reached my other two goals. I've been sitting on my butt trying the finish the darn book.

Now about my revelation. I am a puller. My horse is a puller. My trainer says the mare was inherently predispositioned to be a puller so it isn't entirely on me. Unfortunately, I, too, am instinctually a puller. Since I've been concentrating on the shying for the past two months, all my bad riding habits have returned full-force. I'm guessing because I've been in reactionary mode. For one, I'm hauling on the left rein when going to the right so hard that my poor horse can't turn a circle. Worst of all, I'm pulling and Gailey's pulling.

I've been so frustrated with all of it, that I truly considered retiring the horse and myself from dressage, but I'm not a quitter. So I kept at it, often dreading getting on her back. In my last lesson, we worked on my pulling. I wasn't allowed to pull. At first, that was Gailey's cue to fall on her forehand and go faster, her favorite evasion (even more than shying). So we did leg yeilds, haunches-in, shoulder-in, transitions, and half-passes everywhere in the arena. When I'm doing that stuff, I ride better. I acutally ride both sides of the horse and use my legs, seat, and hands; instead of just hands. After about 20 minutes of this, the first ten being very frustrating, I felt a connection. Tenuous, it came and went, but it was there.



And when it was there, it was the greatest feeling on earth. To have a horse light and listening and totally connected to its rider is the reason I do dressage. I'm so glad that I had a little reminder that all is not lost, and I can do this despite the setbacks.

So happy winter riding everyone! And next week, I'm back in the saddle.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Current Goals

By Laura Crum

Lately some of my fellow authors on this site have been posting about their goals. Losing weight, getting fit, getting their horses ridden regularly, getting their next book written. All great goals. People write in the comments here about their goals; I read mugwump’s blog and hear about all the goals people have with their horses. I am impressed. I wonder, what are my goals?

Uhmm…I’d like to lose weight, sure. Am I willing to diet? No. I’m way too much of a hedonist to diet. I love good food and drink. (Margaritas, anyone?) I do try to exercise regularly by hiking the trails as often as I ride them, but this is a goal I don’t often achieve. Last week I rode five times and hiked once. Hmmm.. My horse is getting fit, anyway. No, I can’t exactly call getting fit a goal. At least not a goal that I’m doing much to achieve.

How about writing my next book? Yep, I am writing my next book. I really am. Sometimes. And then I hear my fellow authors talking about how many pages they wrote last week. Oh dear. Some weeks I get a chapter done. Lots of weeks I get nothing written at all. I’m not a very disciplined writer. As the deadline approaches, I crank it out. That’s my pattern. I hope it works this time.

But yes, it is a goal of mine to finish book #11 in my mystery series and turn it in at the specified deadline. I’m just not motivated to do it in a methodical fashion. I guess this counts as a goal.
As for the horses, when I say I rode five times last week, you might think I was pretty goal oriented there. The unfortunate truth is that I ride when I feel like it, and the weather was beautiful last week so I felt like riding. And what sort of riding are we talking about? Nothing too demanding. My current riding is limited to cruising my little plug of a trail horse through the hills or along the beach in the company of my eight year old son. When you consider that I used to show cutting horses and compete at team roping, it sounds pretty tame.

Yep, that’s me in the above photos. Winning the cutting at the county fair on Gunner, a horse I trained myself, and turning a steer for my good friend Sue Crocker on Flanigan, one of the best rope horses I ever had the privilege to ride. (Sue is on Pistol, another great horse.) Those of you who have read my mystery series may recognize these horses; they’ve all become characters in my books.

This next photo was taken last week. We had an 80 degree November day and took the horses down for a ride on the beach. Big fun for me and my son, but not exactly in the same league as what I used to do with my horses. My goals with my horses these days? Use what’s left of my (much diminished) riding skills to have fun with my kid. Cruise through the landscape on a steady horse and enjoy it. That’s it. Not too ambitious.

The truth is that I really am fine with my relatively unambitious lifestyle, but every now and then, listening to others, I wonder that I seem so unmotivated these days. Am I content and tranquil? A zen horsewoman/ enlightened mama/ relaxed author? Or am I just lazy? I really don’t know.

I can remember the effort and energy I used to put into my riding and writing; I was pushing and striving, trying hard all the time. I’m much happier now. At this point all my pursuits flow relatively easily and naturally….but I’m sure not getting as much done. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I think my current goal is just to be grateful for what I have. My family, my animals, including my reliable little trail horse, my home, my pasture, my career as a mystery author, which still engages me, even my relatively healthy, if slightly too ample body….all these are things I am thankful for every day. Maybe I don’t need to worry about what I don’t have, seeing as I have so much.

You tell me….
Happy Thanksgiving!

Laura Crum

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Mystery Mare

I've written before about my mare Krissy. She's a 16 hand TB/Warmblood cross and has been jumped a ton. She's twelve and my goal with her is to become a better rider and just enjoy her. I wouldn't mind doing some hunter shows next year, but we'll see, because Krissy is a mystery.

She goes great for a few weeks and then winds up lame on the left hind usually at about a 3. The vet has blocked her all the way up to the stifle and we still have not figured this thing out. Nothing shows up. We've also considered that she had a pelvic break but her muscling would be different than it is. I can't seem to get a hold of any old vet records, because she was a rescue horse. We're considering possible arthritis in the fetlock. She has been injected in her hocks, but when we blocked the fetlock she doesn't show much difference--there is a little bit though. I'm thinking of going ahead and starting her on a protocol of monthly IV Legend. Right now, the expense is hurting me, but I think you can all relate that our horses are much like our children. We'd go to pretty much any lengths to make them comfortable and happy. Krissy has such a sweet disposition and is a hard and honest worker that I hate not to find the answer here. I wish she could talk! How may of you have ever said that?!? It seriously would make a horse owner's life much easier.

I think one of the most difficult things about having a horse with some chronic issue (like a lameness) is the emotional toll it takes on the owner. This has been such an up and down ride. As I mentioned she goes great for weeks and then pulls up stiff and off. When she's great, she is really great and happy, but when she isn't it's hard. It happened again on Saturday. For the past two weeks we were moving ahead and only doing flat work, got her into the arena this past weekend, and once I pushed her up into the trot, it was very obvious something was brewing again. My heart sank, but I am determined to figure this out with her and the vet.

Have any of you had any chronic issues with your horse(s) that was a mystery or remained a mystery? If so, I'd love to hear how you handled it. And, if you have any inkling as to what my horse has going on, please--I'm open to all suggestions.


P.S. New releases out in February are: Corked by Cabernet and under my psuedonym M.K. Scott (for children's books,;ages 7-12) Zamora's Ultimate Challenge. Check out excerpts on my site.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Shying Mare

First, my update. I did ride 3 times this week, and my trainer rode twice. I also lost a pound. Not great but an improvement. How's everyone else doing?

Another thing, the publishing industry is in dire straits right now (as is most of the country). Consider giving books for Christmas. They're great gifts, travel well, last a long time, and there's something for everyone.

I mentioned in a previous post that my mare is driving me NUTS with her shying. This happens every year in the winter. The rest of the year, she's fine. She picks a corner and absolutely freaks over it. It's not always the same corner either. This year my barn added muck buckets and manure forks to each corner so we could clean up our poop when we finish riding. I knew I was in deep do-do when I saw those in the corners. I was right. For the past month, I have spent a good portion of each ride working on getting my mare in the corners, or even the end of the arena. I was losing patience. My trainer was losing patience. We haven't been able to work on anything other than that. So much for flying changes or half passes. I can't even ge the %^$$^ mare in the corners.

Believe me, we tried everything. I even tried a suggestion from my friend who does natural horsemanship. Back up every time she balks in the corner and keep backing. Well, it made sense because backing is harder than going forward. Not with this mare. She'll back around the entire arena all day long.

Finally, Kari, my trainer, suggested a possible solution she's used before. I hung a bucket in the "shying" corner and put grain in it. Every few times we went by that corner, I'd half pass her to the bucket and let her have a taste of grain. My mare is a PIG. Loves her grain. Needless to say, she's no longer shying in the corner. She wants to go in the corner and is now actually going too deep in the corners.

Today she gets clipped for the winter, which actually makes her unsually hot and forward thinking. I guess I'd better remember to hang on.

What odd solutions have any of you used for an on-going problem?

Friday, November 21, 2008

If you don't go to the party... Guest Blogger--Francesca Prescott

It gives me great pleasure to introduce a dear friend of mine, who is a fellow horsewoman and and debut writer, Francesa Prescott.

If you don’t go to the party, you don’t get a balloon!

My niece Flaminia once said, “If you don’t go to the party, you don’t get a balloon.” She was only about seven or eight at the time (she’s twelve now), and I doubt she realized how profound her words actually were. But her spontaneous words of wisdom reflect her personality. Flaminia is a clever, determined little girl who doesn’t just rise to challenges, she creates them. And when she goes to parties, she comes home with fistfuls of balloons.

I like balloons too. The trouble is: I’m a chicken crossed with a scaredy cat. Put me in a challenging, unfamiliar situation and I feel the fear. My half-Italian origins erupt in my armpits, my pulse risks a speed ticket, my bladder becomes super demanding. My instincts urge me to never say boo to a sparrow, let alone a goose. My list of favorite things read like that annoying song in The Sound of Music (which is now going to be stuck in my head all day… grrrr).

But life isn’t all whiskers on kittens and when the tough gets going, retail therapy doesn’t provide any answers. As my dressage teacher says (when Kwintus, my horse, has personal opinions that clash with mine), “Push him through it.” Five hundred kilos of equines opinions can be daunting, but when the argument ceases and harmony prevails, there’s no feeling like it.

“You should enter Kwintus in the competition this weekend,” said Pam, my dressage teacher’s daughter, shortly after having seen me enjoying a particularly harmonious equestrian moment. “He’s going really well. It would be a pity not to.”

My heart skipped the country and raced off along a German motorway (German motorways have no speed limits). My bladder threatened to pull the plug. What? Me? Compete? No! I suck! I don’t know the dressage program. And even if by some miracle I manage to learn it, I’ll get inside the arena and forget it. I’ll fall off. I’ll throw up in front of the judges. Besides, I’ve gained weight and my white jodhpurs won’t fit me. I need new ones (retail therapy!), but the shop closes in an hour and they probably won’t have my size anyway.

Pam raised an eyebrow and gave me one of her sly smiles. She’s not a chicken crossed with a scaredy cat. She’s one hundred percent lioness.

“Sure you can! Come on! Just learn the program and leave the rest up to Kwintus. He’s a pro. He’ll take care of you,” she said, striding off in her shiny boots.

My heartbeat stayed on the German autobahn. I was torn. Half of me wanted to rise to the challenge, to show the world what a fabulous horse I have. The other half wanted to hide in a soft cozy place until the horsey weekend was over and it was safe to practice my flying changes incognito again.

But Kwintus nuzzled me. I looked into his kind, brown eyes, stroked his soft, cozy nose and decided he deserved to show off the smooth moves he’d been so generously sharing with me. With my heartbeat still powering towards Hamburg and my body as floppy as a soft toy, I staggered off to find Pam and stammered something about being up for it. Then I hopped into my car and rushed off to the horse equipment shop to buy new jodhpurs.

They didn’t have my size.

Oh well! Never mind. That’s that, then! I cruised home, certain that I’d never get into my old ones. I’d just have to phone Pam and tell her I couldn’t ride the competition. Saved by excess blubber!

The old ones fit perfectly.

Panic set in again. I printed out a copy of the dressage program and started prancing around an imaginary arena in the garden while my husband looked on, shaking his head and laughing his pert little bottom off. I ignored him and continued to prance, stopping only when I was I’d been brainwashed to enter at A, halt at X, etc… I didn’t sleep well and was a basket case throughout Saturday. Heck, I couldn’t even breathe properly. All I could think about was how terrified I was about riding Kwint in front of the judges first thing Sunday morning.

But when I woke up Sunday morning, something inside me felt different. My heart had given up speeding and was gradually cruising home. I was ready to go to the party. And I really fancied a balloon…

“I can do this,” I repeated over and over to myself, driving towards the stables at the crack of dawn.

And I did. I held it together. I didn’t suck. I didn’t vomit. I didn’t fall off. And people actually cheered and clapped when I made my final salute. I dropped my reins and gave my horse a hug. I even gave him a kiss. He deserved it. And what do you know? We finished in third place, coming away with more than just a balloon.

I’m not going to wax lyrical on the moral of this story; it’s not exactly a psychological breakthrough. Nike said it all in their famous slogan: “Just do it!”

All I’m saying is that some challenges are worth getting hot and flustered for. Winning my husband’s heart and raising a family together are obvious examples. Getting my first book, Mucho Caliente!, published is another example that springs to mind. I may be a chicken crossed with a scaredy cat but, increasingly, I realize I have a quiet resilience that can get me through tough moments and frustrating situations. Not only do I dare to dream, I also dare to do. It’s exhilarating, though no less terrifying. My half Italian origins will always erupt in my armpits. So what? I’ll just buy extra strength deodorant! My bladder will continue to make unreasonable demands. Pff! I’ll engage my pelvic floor! Dealing with my speed buff heart will be more of a challenge, but I’m pretty sure that, sooner or later, the German government will impose speed restrictions on its motorways. And when it does, my pulse won’t have any more reason to skip the border, and will instead cruise calmly ever after along our radar infested Swiss motorways. I hope so, because it would certainly take the edge off bringing balloons home from parties.

Francesca Prescott

I live in Switzerland, in a small village just outside Geneva, with my husband, two teenage children, a giant Yorkshire Terrier, and a gluttonous Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Kwintus, my horse, lives about fifteen minutes away. I started writing about ten years ago when a friend of mine launched a magazine aimed at Geneva’s ex-pat community and asked me whether I’d like to contribute. I’d always enjoyed writing, so I wrote a couple of articles and sent them in. Not only were they accepted, but when they were published I began to receive fan mail. I must be the only author on the planet whose first paycheck for a published piece was a voucher for a pedicure from a fan!

"MUCHO CALIENTE! - Wish upon a Latino Superstar"
Available from BookStrand

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Crunch Time

Hi Everyone,

I'm delighted to say I've been sticking to my diet and exercise plan and (drum roll, please) have lost 2 pounds. I do miss my old starve yourself for two weeks and it's all over diet, but I'm sticking to the 'have patience and keep it off' plan.

Right now the urge to a) not diet and b) chuck work and go for a nice autumn hack are knocking at the back of my mind, mostly because it's crunch time with my next book coming out December 3. Before I became a published author I thought you wrote the book, sold it to a publisher and voila, people bought it.

Oh, I was so wrong. Writing the book was the easy part. Of course, when I'm writing a book about horses my imagination takes over and it's a joyous adventure unfolding on the pages. This book, NEVER TRUST A MATCHMAKING WITCH, was especially fun to write because I including magic and comedy in the mix. My witch is an accomplished horsewoman whose hobby is matchmaking for her mortal friends and she's very good at it. She's also extremely wealthy and I had a lot of fun creating the barn of my dreams. The horses in NEVER TRUST A MATCHMAKING WITCH live in an equine version of The Ritz.

Now for the hard part. After polishing a book to a gleam and selling it, the next steps is editing. The book you love comes back covered in requests for changes and improvements. When I received this part I had to put it aside for a day until my heart stopped racing at the amount of work I needed to do in a short time span. I got through this phase with much hair pulling and exhaustion and sent it off with the kind of relief I used to feel in college after finals were over.

Ah, peace. Nope, here come the galleys. Now is the time to go through the book, page by page, looking for any little typo, misspelled word, anything at all that is less than perfect. No pressure here, though. This is also where the author prays no larger errors are found, because changing them at this point is a risky move. It has to go into production very soon.

While all this is going on, there's also promotion. In my fantasy world as an unpublished author I thought one went to some book signings and that was about it. In my real world there is a long list of interviews, online chats, and a plethora of other time-consuming activities an author must do to advertise each release.

Still, even with all this, I absolutely love writing fiction, especially fiction about the horse world. I have a genuine affection for the characters, both magical and mortal, in NEVER TRUST A MATCHMAKING WITCH. I hope you enjoy them as well.

Ah, well, the autumn hack will have to wait. I may indulge in a long, hot bubble bath when today is done with a book by one of my Equestrian Ink buddies!


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Girls . . .

by Kit Ehrman

As I reflect on the last two horses that I had the privilege of owning, my post touches on an earlier subject: geldings versus mares.

My first horses were geldings, the last two mares. When I went looking for my third horse, I was well aware of the “rumor” that mares were annoyingly temperamental, but I decided that I’d give them a try. If my future mare was injured and could no longer be ridden, at least I’d have the option of breeding her.

I must admit, now that I’m better educated on the issues of horse slaughter and equine overproduction, I would not have that mindset today if I were looking for a horse. Breeding a horse is a huge responsibility. You need to be certain that there’s a high demand for the resultant offspring, and you need to be willing and able to socialize and train the colt so that he grows up to be a desirable mount or the horse runs the risk of being unwanted and unsalable.

Okay, I can see I’m all over the place topic-wise tonight, but after researching for my next book, the whole, ugly slaughter issue is on my mind. As I look out my window, at my neighbor’s pasture, I’m reminded of the importance of breeding wisely. They have seven “miniature” horses—a concept I have a hard time understanding--and an unknown (to me) number of horses, and they are rarely handled. I never see a vet’s truck and can’t remember the last time I saw a farrier visit the farm. But they had a miniature stud, and for that very reason, they felt compelled to breed their stock. But where will those unschooled and poorly cared for animals end up if they’re sold? They’d have to be extremely lucky not to find themselves in an auctioneer’s lot.

So, if you’re going to breed your mare, please make sure that she’s a quality, highly-sought after animal, and be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into the foal.

Okay, off my soapbox and on to my lovely mares. My first one was a delicate, dark bay thoroughbred who’d raced but was none too fast. She was a little grumpy and didn’t much care for being groomed, but I had some wonderful rides on her. When she was in the mood, she was like driving a Ferrari. Soft mouth, round back, nice easy gait. I swear, I just had to “think” the move, and she’d do it. When she was relaxed like that, she was a dream to ride. Other days, she’d swish her tail and grind her teeth and generally be a pain in the ass to ride.

So, Missy supported the temperamental myth, all right, but I didn’t care. She was special to me. I know some friends couldn’t see what I “saw” in her, but that was okay. Next time, I’ll tell you about my Appendix Quarter horse mare.

Happy reading and riding,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two-Week Update

I am so sorry. I've been really, really bad. First of all two weeks ago I came down with a nasty cold. Then a week ago last Friday, my hubby and I took a 4-day weekend to the San Juan Islands (See the picture above). As a result of being sick, eating out four days straight, and still not feeling great, I've not achieved any goals, except writing. Plus, I forgot to post my update last Sunday. I've only ridden twice in two weeks, and I couldn't muster up the energy to reply to any of your comments.

I promise you, this is so out of character for me. Usually when I decide to do something, I go
after it with single-minded dedication. So starting tomorrow, I'm going to rededicate myself to this weight loss thing and to my riding.

I did write 32 pages last week, not bad considering that I felt too lousy to write for a few days.

BTW, I'm want to say hi to the two people from my area who posted that they were at the Buck clinic a few weeks ago. It's really fun to find out that we have readers nearby. Maybe next time one of you would like to volunteer to do a guest blog on the clinic? Hint, hint!

I did have a lesson on Thursday. My mare is testing my patience, let me tell you. For as long as I've owned her (10 years), she has had this thing in the winter where she shies consistently in one corner of the arena. Not always the same corner either. This year she's picked two corners that are too scary to go into. Over and over we work on this until at the end of the ride she's not shying. Then, the next day, I get to start al over again. This has been going on for about 2 months this time around. I am truly fed up, but I know losing my temper won't get me anywhere. I'm going to chalk it up to that stubburn German breeding. My trainer has a new idea to perhaps cure her. I'm going to give it a shot this week. I'll let you know if it works.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Guest Blogger--Mary Caelsto--Frosted Poines

Hi, everyone, I'd like to welcome guest blogger and fellow author, Mary Caelsto, talking about why she loves winter and horses.

Mary Caelsto indulges her love of intriguing new worlds and spirituality by writing science fiction, fantasy, and metaphyiscal non-fiction. She currently runs Jupiter Gardens, LLC and its publishing division Jupiter Gardens Press, where she hopes to share her love of the spiritual and the fantastic through books and products designed to nurture people’s inner worlds. In addition, she’s created Equus Manifest for people to get together and discuss all aspects of horses and equestrian activity.

Being a lifelong Iowan, I’m not ashamed to admit that winter is my favorite season. Sure, it could be because that’s three months out of the year that my allergies don’t bother me. Or it could be the stark beauty of the season. I may fuss over my pasture boarded mare, concerned that she’s not warm enough. And yet, I long to see her, and her pasture-mates in the morning with frost on their backs and whiskers. Really, is there anything truly more heartwarming than throwing your arms around a fuzzy winter-coated horse and just holding on tight?

Because my mare is a companion animal, and she’s pasture boarded, she’s kept as natural as possible. I trim her feet, but she goes barefoot. I curry her thick, winter coat, and brush out her tail (and the inevitable burrs from August to October). She doesn’t require a lycra horse hood or two layers of blankets. Pressed in with her buddies, tucked into the corner of her shelter, she’s nice and warm. It is truly amazing, after all, how well horses are built for the winter weather. Their hooves insulate them from the ground and their thick coat protects from most anything
mother nature throws at them.

With a whicker and a plume of frosty hay-scented breath, my mare greets me when I go out to the stable. I hang onto her when the ground is slippery; she has four feet and I skate around on two. She looks at me like “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be leading.” I always reply that it’s her job to hold me up. Considering that she’s an “easy keeper”, she’s a lot sturdier than I am when it comes to making our way into the barn.

Wearing full-length coveralls. Banging the ice out of buckets or sloshing chilly well water on your boots. Frozen thighs and the inevitable mud, mud, mud that comes with spring. For just one glimpse of frosted ponies, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

When you’re a horse owner, every season is beautiful, but I think winter is the most beautiful season of all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Creating a Novel

Or, What I Ought To Be Doing

By Laura Crum

Creating a novel is what I ought to be doing—not writing this post. I’ve decided that “books not blogs” needs to become my mantra. I have enjoyed this whole blog thing so much that I am procrastinating way too much on getting my 11th mystery written. Instead I put a few comments on someone’s blog, or go check out what mugwump has written lately. Blogging is fun. I like it that it’s a form of dialogue. Its addictive.

So, what about my next mystery? Aren’t mysteries fun to write, too, you ask. Or I am imagining that you ask. The answer is that I thought mysteries were wonderfully fun to write for many years. I delighted in painting word pictures, in telling stories, in giving my view of the world through my books. Being an author is in some ways very narcissistic (whether we’re talking blogs or books). This is how I see it, this is my take on it, this is my voice singing my song. It can be pretty; in a great writer (not me), it can be thrilling. But it is a certainly a form of ego.

Nothing wrong with that, really. We all have egos; we all like to sing our songs. But after writing ten books, I am finding it harder to get engaged by this form of self expression. I tend to like the blogging because people answer back, people argue, you bounce your thoughts off the wide cyberworld. Its interesting. So now I have to start reminding myself of all the things I’ve loved so much about creating novels over the years; I need to talk myself into telling one more story, singing another little song.

For me, the most interesting part of creating a novel is writing about things I truly love. Writing about the horses, the landscape, the seasons and weather, the plants and animals, Gail’s life changes, her family…this stuff engages me. The only problem? These are supposed to be mysteries. Somebody has to die.

Yep, I confess, I am bored with killing people. I begin each novel (including #11) knowing who gets killed and why and by whom, and then I let the plot evolve as I write. Frequently I find I need to kill someone else midway through the book or everything starts to drag (to paraphrase Dashiell Hammit, when the plot bogs down, I “bring in a man with a gun”). I find myself reluctant to describe all these murders; this is nothing that I feel drawn to, for heaven’s sake. I begin wondering how I ever got into the mystery business. It doesn’t help that I realize that many/most successful mystery authors do a very good job of keeping the reader gripped with their scary/horrible descriptions of the murder scene. Obviously, I am falling down at my job. I keep wanting to write about horses…and not about anything bad happening to them, either. Needles to say, this is a drawback in a mystery writer.

Then, as the book comes to a close, I have to invent a suitably exciting climactic scene, which in my case usually involves a “thrilling” horseback chase, something I’ve become known for. Hopefully these are thrilling to read. They used to be pretty fun to write. But at this point I almost feel like quoting large sections from previous books…how many ways can I describe galloping along being chased or chasing someone? I try every time to find freshness, to use some new approach. I bring to mind my most exciting horseback moments. Every wreck I ever had or saw is fodder for my poor protagonist’s adventures. By basing the horse scenes on things that have really happened, I try to keep them believable.

In each of my books I endeavor to use a different plot line than any I’ve used before. I try to bring some new changes into my protagonist’s life. I try to write about some aspect of the horse biz that I haven’t addressed. I try to create a different central crime. I really strive to stay engaged with what I’m writing. Sometimes this doesn’t work in my favor. Some readers would rather I wrote a “new version” of some of my past books that were favorites, rather than moving in a truly new direction (Slickrock is often mentioned in this context; “couldn’t I just do another one like that?”). But I keep changing what I’m doing (at least slightly) from book to book, so that I don’t become so bored with the character that I can’t write about her any more. The perennial struggle of a series author.

Anyway, I’m putting this out there in the hopes that you all, authors, readers, and bloggers, will give feedback on your own writing/reading issues. What do you like to read? What don’t you like? What are your writing/creating struggles? Maybe I can draw some inspiration from your thoughts and get motivated to finish this book. I hope so. The deadline will be here in a few months. I’ve never missed a deadline yet. If this becomes the first time, I’m gonna blame it on the blogs. (Do you think my editor will buy this excuse?)

Happy reading and writing!
Laura Crum

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pony Club

Our little girl Kaitlin started Pony Club a little over a month ago. She loves it and I love it. Already in a short amount of time, Kaitlin's riding has improved a ton along with her knowledge and she's making new friends. It got me thinking that why is there not a "Pony Club," for adults? We could call it Horse Club, I suppose. I seriously think there is a need and how much fun would that be?

I grew up having horses and it was purely the backyard horseperson experience. I loved it, but I sure didn't learn very much. I learned how to stay onthe horse, muck corrals and feed, but what my kid is learning now at 7 versus what I was doing at 7 is night and day. She's learning all about different types of feed, how to bandage, how to load horses, various ailments, etceras. Thank God I can read the book with her! I think I'm living vicariously through Kaitlin.

I brought up the horse club idea at my barn and a lot of people thought it was a great idea. The thing with great ideas is that you need great organizers and I am not one of those types. In fact, my organization skills are seriously lacking. My plate is pretty full as it is--books due, second grade room mom, pony club fun club mom, and two other kids. Not sure if I could manage another position right now, but I am thinking that if I could get enough people on board that maybe, just maybe we could put Horse Club together. I couldn't tell my husband though, because he's already a bit irritated that most of my weekends and evenings are spent out with the horses. What can I say? They don't talk back!

I'm curious if any of our readers or writers out there belong to a horse club similiar to that of pony club. If so, how does it work and do you find it a positive experience? I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks and Happy Trails,


Friday, November 7, 2008

The Gift Horse and Random Stuff

First of all, thanks for all the comments on my last post. I'm sorry I didn't comment back, but I've been sick and didn't feel much like being online. So for everyone who commented, I'm sorry I didn't get back to you. I'm still a little under the weather.

Latigo Liz, yes, you're right, it wasn't really a "beginner" class that Buck was teaching in the morning. My friend kept calling it that, so I just picked up on that terminology. What horse were you riding? I didn't go back on Sunday, but my friend did and really enjoyed it, even more than the day before.
I did want to share my new cover and blurb with all of you for my book coming out in February. BTW, the horse on the cover is my very own, sweet but opinionated, mare, who's been featured in many of my posts. Photo courtesty of Carolynn Bunch Photography.

Never look a Gift Horse in the mouth?

CARSON REYNOLDS would dispute that statement. After all, it was a gift horse that got him into this mess in the first place. Carson has never backed down from a challenge, but he’s never faced a challenge like this one. It’s the project nobody wants. It’s doomed to fail from Day One because of lack of money, lack of planning, and no lack of a difficult, interfering sister. Carson’s mission is to transform a run-down horse farm into THE premium horse training facility in the Pacific Northwest and transform the disorganized resident horse trainer with a penchant for self-sabotage into a confident, professional equestrian of international caliber. Unfortunately, City Boy Carson doesn’t know one end of a horse from the other, and the large creatures scare the heck out of him. His situation is compounded by a love-sick, 1500-pound mare with a crush on him , his growing attraction to the grungy horse trainer, a disruptive sister who insists the trainer be fired, and a demanding father who has lost faith in his son’s abilities.

Tired of running from herself for six years, SAMANTHA MACINTYRE has returned to the scene of a horrific barn fire allegedly caused by her carelessness. She accepts the head trainer position at that run-down facility with the hope of defeating her demons, proving her innocence, and earning a permanent position at the new equestrian center. With lofty aspirations, but no money and no horse, Sam will do anything to ride the talented, though difficult, horse Carson received as a birthday gift from his family. But first, she must pass the test: compete the horse for one season, impress Carson, and best his sister’s preferred trainer.

As Sam gets closer to the truth regarding the cause of that long-ago fire, small mishaps begin to escalate into larger, more serious, accidents. Carson’s horse knows the real perpetrator, if only those dimwitted humans would listen. With no where else to turn, Sam confides in Carson and together they delve into the actual cause of the fire. With the help of an opinionated equine, they face a surprising reality--that love is more important than ambition, money, or blue ribbons.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How To Stay Dedicated and the Art of Rationalization

Hi Everybody,

Well, the time has come. My twins are three now and I have no excuses left for the (gulp!) fifteen pounds of baby weight I'm still carrying around. Besides, carrying my post partum weight on top of twin toddlers who together weigh 75 pounds is more than I can manage.

So I'm officially joining the ranks of those working on losing weight. My first order of business was to examine what I did differently before kids. Ah, this was easy. I rode six days a week. Two days were lessons and the other four I work rode doing a combination of basic dressage, working over ground poles, and riding sans stirrups.

At the time my focus was on improving my riding and staying in the saddle the highest possible percentage of the time. Little did I realize lack of cellulite and flat abs were a gift from my two horses.

After bedrest with twins and a 57 pound weight gain, this is no longer the case. (Picture a pumpkin with sticks thrust in it for arms and legs and you'll have a mental picture of me in my third trimester.) Still, the most important goal was realized. Beautiful, healthy twin boys. Now it's time to do something about Mom.

Okay, add up three kids, house, husband, and a career that I love and returning to riding six days a week doesn't fit into the equation (sadly). Unless, of course, there's a Powerball ticket in my future, but in my waking hours I don't count on that option.

So here's the dilemma. How to replace the wonderful health benefits of daily riding? Well, the therapeutic value of being around horses gets handled with horse mom duties and occasional rides. Still, I could think of no exercise plan I could tolerate which would equal the benefits of a lifetime in the saddle.

Next up, I decided to get some help. I started working with a personal trainer. Not the horse kind, mind you. This gentleman, who is very good and takes his job as a fitness instructor very seriously, is a former body builder and football player.

Apparently, my legs, abs and back still retain some strength from riding. However, as my horse trainer had always told me, if I used my arms for balance or strength against a half-ton horse I would a) lose and b) not be a good partner to my horse. It would seem I took this advice to heart, because my arms and shoulders have about as much strength in them as a wet noodle. I thought lifting bales of hay, tack, and all the other tasks common in the horse world would have helped, but apparently not anywhere close to the development of the muscles used in riding.

The personal trainer designed an exercise program to address this problem. When I'm working on the upper body, about 10% of the time he has to put his hand under mine and push for me to be able to lift the weights he's assigned me (which is totally embarrassing), but hey, I have to start somewhere. Looks like years of riding are paying off everywhere else, though. Unfortunately, since the muscle is there he keeps increasing the weight!

One advantage of having ridden with a hunter/jumper trainer for so many years is that I'm used to a trainer setting goals for me and following orders, even if I'm gritting my teeth with pain. Yes, it hurt to jump without reins or stirrups, especially when I landed on the ground, but it felt great when my balance was right there and I was sailing over the fence with my horse. Somehow, doing sets of 15 reps with my scrawny arms just doesn't give the same sense of satisfaction.

My guess is that up in heaven somewhere my beloved equine partners Topper and Spencer are cheering me on saying 'Come on, you can do it, Mom.' Of course, they may be cheering on the personal trainer in the gym instead. They do know from years of experience that Mom is basically a chicken.

I consulted with a nutritionist, too. She suggested burning my old diet book from the 1980s that I pulled out to show her. Instead she put me on a sensible diet. We'll see how it goes!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's the Little Things that Get You to the Big Things


I didn't lose any weight this week. Darn. Then I've had company all weekend (my primary writing time) so I'm way behind on my pages count with 22. I will achieve my riding goal. I've ridden three times and am off to the barn this AM for my fourth. So not too bad, I guess.

It's the little things...

As I mentioned I have a guest this weekend. My long-time friend and former college roommate came to stay the weekend because she wanted to audit a Buck Brannaman clinic about 30 miles away. So instead of writing and riding I went with her.

I have mixed feelings about natural horsemanship trainers, having worked with many in the past, but I'm going to avoid that topic and save it for another post down the road. As a friend of mine often says: Beware of cowboys with websites! (Sounds like a good title for future post.)

Regardless, I've read two of Buck's books, The Faraway Horses and Believe. I thoroughly enjoyed them and would recommend them even if you're not into natural horsemanship. I have a lot of respect for the message he conveys in those books.

The auditing fee for this clinic was $25 a day, not exactly cheap, even for someone like me who's used to doing dressage and paying the outrageous fees some dressage trainers charge. The clinic in the AM was for beginners. The afternoon clinic was for advanced horses with some rope work, etc., in it.

So, here I am, sitting for six hours in a clammy cold arena, getting a sore butt, and feeling guilty because I'm not riding my horse or working on my book. I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around some of his training methods because some are in direct opposition to what I've learned in 25-plus years of dressage instruction, some are exactly the same with different terminology. But hey, there are many different right ways to get results from horses. Most of his cues were invisible, and I can appreciate good horsemanship, so I found that part fascinating. Buck, himself, is charming and entertaining with his western drawl and no-nonsense advice on horsemanship, not to mention his sense of humor.

But I'm rambling, again. As all the things I should be doing are running through my mind, including writing this column, I realize that this week's topic is sitting on his horse in the arena. I start writing down Buck's quotes and cowboy wisdom. Granted, most of it is common sense and so obvious that we tend to miss it as we over-analyze things. But here are my quotes from Buck's clinic:

  • Every day I hope your horse will make you a little bit better rider.
  • It's the little things that get you to the big things.
  • When it works, get out.
  • Don't ask questions of your horse that you don't already know the answer to. Prepare.
  • If you aren't willing to do the work to fix it, then live with it.
  • These clinics are my laboratory. I learn something from every horse.
  • If I'd only had experience with good horses, I couldn't be doing this for a living.
  • Most people do just enough to be annoying to the horse, but not effective.
  • A rider with presence has feel coming through them to the horse.
  • If you don't ride enough then nothing you do is going to make a difference, no matter how correct it is.

Have a great week everyone and ride that horse!!!!