Monday, August 31, 2009

The Horse that Taught me to Train

I am very pleased to announce the newest member of Equestrian Ink: Terri Rocovich. Terri is an amazing horse woman, trainer and also a dear friend. she is also an awesome writer, and I think you are going to enjoy reading her stories here on Mondays. Here is a little more info about who Terri is and what she is about:

Terri Rocovich is a Level IV (through A level) USPC National Examiner for Traditional and Dressage Specialty ratings and has served as the RIC for the Southern California region. She currently serves on the USPC National Testing Committee and has been a Pony Club instructor, Examiner and Prep clinician for nearly 20 years. Terri currently serves as the Head Instructor for the Rainbow Pony Club as well as an instructor for the Poway Valley Pony Club in San Diego County. She is a respected clinician for numerous pony clubs throughout the United States and has successfully prepped students up through the HA and A level.

A rider and competitor for over 40 years, Terri has competed successfully in Dressage up through 4th Level and Eventing up through Preliminary. Her experience as a rider, trainer and manager encompasses Western and English plus many other aspects of the horse industry. Growing up on a race horse breeding ranch, Terri worked with racehorses, breeding, foaling, and breaking young horses. She also competed in gymkhana and enjoyed a successful run barrel racing on the professional rodeo circuit earning CBRA Rookie of the Year in 1982.

Terri owns and operates the Rocking Horse Training and Care Center, a boarding, training and rehabilitation facility in Ramona, California. She continues to compete on her own and client’s horses at CDS/USDF recognized shows and USEA Horse Trials as well as coach juniors and adult amateurs in Dressage and Eventing. She still enjoys breaking several young horses each year and at times takes in rescue horse for training and rehabilitation. Working closely with several veterinarians, her facility also handles post injury and post surgical rehab cases. In addition to her equestrian pursuits, Terri holds advanced degrees in Marketing, Public Relations and Journalism and currently works as a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Terri is currently writing her first novel set in the world of three day eventing about three women whose lives intersect with one another, setting them on journey filled with life lessons.

Please welcome Terri to Equestriain Ink:

As a career writer, I come from a slightly different background than many of the published authors on this blog. I have ridden and competed in various disciplines my entire life, but my writing has been more in the corporate/marketing realm rather than fiction. Although I have been working on producing the great American novel for nearly a decade, most of my writing energy has been spent on the development of brochures, seminar material, grant proposals and website text which, of course, is a more reliable source of income. For the first 20 plus years of my professional life, I worked in politics and corporate America in various marketing roles and would ride, train and compete my horses in my spare time. My thought was always that I needed a “real job” to support myself and my horse habit. But in 2000, I took the leap of faith into self-employment, and made teaching and training horses my primary job and writing my extra source of income. It’s a decision I have not regretted for a second and my career as a trainer took flight without a single look back.

With that said I decided to make my first blog entry about the horse that taught me to train. As a life-long equestrian (I started riding as age 3, unless you count my Mom riding when she was pregnant) I have learned that every horse we encounter teaches us something. I have been blessed with many special horses in my life and one of the most extraordinary was a little quarter horse mare named Carrie.

It was a brisk morning toward the end of December that I awoke and meandered to the kitchen only to find it empty. All I found was a card that said “this is Birthday note #1; proceed to Birthday note #2”. This led me through a series of notes to a half a dozen spots on my family’s southern California ranch, finally ending up in the barn where before me was an amazing site. In the first stall stood a scrawny bay yearling filly with a huge red bow around her neck surrounded by my sisters and parents. My dumbfounded reaction was to ask “Is she mine?” To which my sister’s response was “of course stupid, it is your Birthday.” This was the beginning of a partnership that would span nearly 32 years.

Months before this eventful day I had declared that all I wanted for my birthday was a young horse that I could train and, most importantly, would not have to share with my siblings. As the youngest of 3 horse crazy girls, my previous mounts had been an array of equine hand-me-downs that were aging and half broken down by the time they were passed to me. Even then, at age 16, I was fascinated with the process of training young horses. I loved the bond it created as well as solving the puzzle of the best means of communicating what you wanted to the horse. So I wanted a young horse all my own to train, but in reality Carrie taught me far more than I ever taught her. Carrie’s gentle trusting nature, her willingness and tolerance taught me to be kind, consistent and patient in my training. Her incredible athleticism helped me learn the aids for gaits, leads and changes as well as how, by listening to her, my body could tell her when to turn, when to speed up, when to stop and keep us both in balance.

Like many of my fellow contributors to this site, I enjoyed a childhood filled with horse play, long trail rides, and horse shows. Carrie was incredibly sensible for a young horse, especially considering I had little clue of what I was doing. We were figuring it out together as we went along. After a year and a half of treating her like she was a dog, leading her everywhere, grooming her endlessly and on one occasion trying to sneak her into the house, breaking her consisted of simply climbing onto a fence one day and slipping onto her bare back and trotting off with nothing more than a halter on. Boy do I wish the thoroughbreds and warmbloods that I break today were as amiable.

Carrie also gave me my first taste of competitive success. Believe it or not, that scrawny little filly purchased at auction for a whopping $200, turned out to be one of the best barrel horses in our area winning a decent amount of money on the pro-rodeo circuit. Who would of thought? Many of my friends and fellow competitors used to joke, “Hey lady, I’ll give you double what you paid for the horse”.

But there was no parting me from that amazing mare. We were soul mates in every sense of the word and even though I have been blessed with a couple of incredible equine partners since, she will always be the first and most special. Carrie spent 31 of her 32 years of life with me and even today, her remains reside in a beautiful oak urn sitting in a place of honor in my living room. Perhaps I would have had my life long passion for horses even without her friendship and perhaps I would have still become a professional trainer even without the skills she taught me. But I don’t think I would have become as good as one and I don’t think that without her guidance, I would have the same respect and understanding for what horses teach us.

I know that without question Carrie was more than a 16th Birthday present; she was a gift from above perhaps intended to set me on my eventual path.

What have your horses or other pets taught you? What are your favorite lessons learned from animals over the years?
I look forward to reading your comments!
Terri Rocovich

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Horse Personalities--Part 2

By Laura Crum

Jami posted about horse personalities and it got me thinking about the horses I have known and ridden and how different they are/were from one another. When a novice asks a question about what horses are “like”, I’m always stumped. Because horses are as individual as humans, and its pretty hard to generalize about their abilities and quirks. After reading Jami’s post, I was going to comment about the horses who have been my main mounts over the years and their very different personalities, and it got to be too long for a comment, so here it is as a post.

The first horse I owned who really became “my horse” was Burt, a bright bay QH gelding that I bought as a five-year-old with thirty days on him. Burt was a kind, willing animal, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but also not inclined to bucking or being spooky. Burt did, however, have the constant impulse to jig. I never cured him of it, and many rides were executed in his prancing walk. He was always completely under control—nonetheless, much as I loved Burt, this trait drove me nuts, and I vowed I would only own horses in the future who could proceed at the flat-footed walk.

My next steady mount was Gunner, a well bred cowhorse that I bought as a three-year-old with thirty days on him. Gunner had no inclination to jig. Or to buck. Gunner was a spook. He did not bolt or do more than make one jump, but the jumps were amazing—absolutely sudden, twenty foot sideways leaps with no warning at all. One either grabbed the saddle horn or was left sitting on air. I got good at grabbing the horn. I was in my twenties and early thirties when I rode Gunner, and he never dropped me. He did, however, find something worth spooking at on virtually every ride. His spooking was a pain in the butt, but it didn’t threaten me at that time. I’ll be the first to say that I couldn’t ride a horse like that today. But Gunner was in every other way a good-hearted, reliable horse that I won on at reined cowhorse, cutting, and team roping, as well as a mount that carried me on many gathers, pack trips and trail rides. I was very happy with him.

When I retired Gunner, I began riding Flanigan. Flanigan was a seven-year-old broke team roping horse when I first got on him. He was neither inclined to prance nor particularly spooky. He inclined toward being lazy. But…Flanigan was cinchy, and if a certain careful protocol was not followed in his saddling and warm-up, he would buck. I owned Flanigan in partnership with my friend and team roping partner, Wally, and Flanigan bucked Wally off numerous times. Being a cautious sort, I was always careful with Flanigan’s warm-up, and though the horse bucked with me occasionally, he never bucked me off. Flanigan was a superficially grouchy, aloof critter, prone to pinning his ears and acting hard to catch. Underneath this unpreposessing surface, however, the horse had a heart of gold. I competed on him successfully for many years at ropings, and crossed the Sierra Nevada Mts on him numerous times on pack trips. I took my baby for his first ride on Flanigan. There never was a better horse.

When Flanigan died at the age of 21 (and I still miss him), Plumber became my main mount. I had known Plumber since he was a foal; I bought him as an unbroken three year old and broke him myself. When I started using him regularly he was about eight years old. I’d trained him to be a decent team roping horse and trail horse, and I enjoyed riding him. Plumber had no huge holes, other than the fact that he wasn’t very athletic. He was also more of a puppy dog than your average horse, nickering whenever he saw me. He was willing to do anything I asked, but he was also a big baby. He didn’t spook like Gunner (he wasn’t athletic enough) or jig constantly like Burt, but he was frequently a little spooky and jiggy. He got anxious easily, and needed a lot of patience and reassurance. Nevertheless he was a reliable horse. For several years I rode everywhere with my toddler in front of me in the saddle and Plumber took very good care of us.

Plumber is now twenty years old and semi-retired. He’s still sound, if a little stiff, and I ride him lightly one or two days a week. My main mount for the last two years has been Sunny, the little palomino gelding shown in the sidebar. Sunny was a middle-aged horse when I got him and settled in his ways. Of all my horses, he most resembles Flanigan. But there are differences. Sunny is no puppy dog, but he is much more overtly interested in me and my doings than Flanigan ever was. Sunny also has not much inclination to pin his ears. He is not the least bit cinchy. But, like Flanigan, he is more inclined to lazieness than other vices. Sunny is neither jiggy or spooky. He doesn’t buck…a small crowhop is the extent of it. Sunny’s big deal is testing in small ways for dominance. He assays a gesture at a nip or a kick, or tries to crowd my space or balks as if he will refuse to go…etc. I have no trouble straightening him out, and I find this quirk more amusing than annoying, but I quite understand that I will not train it out of him. Sunny will always test me. As long as I remain dominant (and I intend to), Sunny and I will get along fine. On the trails, that is. I bought Sunny because he was a good trail horse, and he is a real delight to ride outside, steady, solid, reliable, tough. You can go anywhere in perfect confidence on this horse. The arena is a different story. You can darn sure walk, trot and lope around, and/or chase or rope a cow, but Sunny is too clunky and lazy to be much fun in the arena. I try to use Plumber on my arena days.

So, what do my five main lifetime mounts have in common? Not much. They’re all horses, but they sure are different. I enjoyed and enjoy every single one of them (and I kept or am keeping all five until the end of their days); I would have a hard time picking a favorite. I guess I just don’t run to one type, because I liked each of these horses for their own unique traits. I also rode many other horses during the last thirty-five years, and each of them was as uniquely different as the five I've written about here. I will say that I’m very happy to be on steady little Sunny these days, as my chief goal is pleasant trail rides, either by myself or with my son.
Any one else have any stories to share about the different personality-types of their favorite horses? I know I enjoyed this topic. Thanks, Jami.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Horse Personalities

Years ago when I was a horse lover but not a horse owner, I didn't realize that horses could have such distinctive personalities. Oh, I'd grown up on Black Stallion books and any other horse books I could get my hands on. Truthfully, though, I don't recall that The Black had that much of a personality, at least not those little quirks that make a character in a book, animal or human, more real.

I rode my friend's horses every chance I could get. They had so many horses that you never really got to know one particular animal. My first horse didn't seem to have much of a personality either. She was just a stubborn, spoiled horse and incredibly barn sour.

It wasn't until my 2nd or 3rd horse that I began to see how different individual horses were, not just in how easy or hard they are to ride, but in how they approach their world. Certain characteristics were consistent across breeds, but of course didn't always hold true.

I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise to me that horses were so unique in their personalities. But it did.

My old horse, Moses, was a great guy. He went with the flow and didn't make much of a wave while in pursuit of not working too hard. You could do anything with him, though not exactly well. He checked out every person who ever got on his back and treated them according to his assessment of their riding skills.

Then I bought my current horse, and once again, I was caught off gaurd. Not only was she a mare, but she was my first warmblood. People warned me that warmbloods were different, but I didn't really believe it.

They are different in how they react to their environments (at least my mare is). The first thing that struck me about her was how she handled a scary situation. Instead of jumping sideways, whirling around, and getting the heck out of Dodge, she'd stop dead. Then she'd get down really low like a cutting horse. That alone on a 17-1 hand tank of a horse seemed incredible. She got down so low, I could have stepped off of her. Then very slowed she'd rise to her full height and even higher. As if she was standing on tiptoes. Then she'd stalk toward the offending object with great purpose and false bravado, snorting all the way.

I'd never had a horse do that before. Then there was the problem with loading in the trailer. I've mentioned this in detail in another blog post so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say my mare would rather die than go into that trailer. Nothing was changing her mind. I'd never dealt with such a stubborn animal.

Of course, she has a sweet side. The side that charms everyone who meets her as she bats her big brown eyes and begs for treats. She's loaded with personality and quirks. I think that's what makes me love her so much. She's unlike any horse I've ever encountered. I suspect its a combination of warmblood and mare. Yet, I've never had a mare that was like this.

Now I enjoy getting to know the different personalities and quirks of the individual horses around the barn. I'd love to hear about your favorite horse personality.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fiction and Horses

By Laura Crum

Recently a friend gave me a mystery, saying that she knew it wasn’t my sort of thing, but she thought I might enjoy it, and “it has horses in it.” I read the book. I did enjoy it. It wasn’t my “sort of thing”, being one of those mysteries that has much to do with the inner workings of the police department in a big city, a subject that usually bores me. However, this author had a light touch, and was wonderful at dialogue, and I thought her book was quite entertaining. And it did, indeed, have horses in it. And there was the rub.

Because these horses, which belonged to the protagonist in the story, behaved as no real horses would ever do. The protagonist behaved as no real horse person would ever behave. The climactic scene featured a particularly unbelievable bit of horsey action. I was left rolling my eyes.

It was still an enjoyable book. But it would have been much better from a horse person’s point of view if the horses had behaved realistically. For the first two thirds of the story, the protagonist feeds them and hangs out with them and the whole thing seemed fine. She described the horses as becoming very agitated whenever a stranger drove in, which seemed unlikely but possible, and I didn’t think much about it. It was only late in the book, when she decides to go on a trail ride with two friends, one an “experienced” rider, one a complete novice, that I got the first inkling. The experienced rider decides that his horse’s wish to hurry home for dinner is a good reason to let the horse take off and go home at his own pace. We are left to imagine said horse bolting home at the out of control gallop. This horse is described as “spirited”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone describe a horse who is acting up as “spirited”, I immediately assume this person knows nothing about horses. So, strike one.

The protagonist is left walking home with the beginner, who is riding one of the protagonist’s horses. The horse is described as grazing and walking, alternately, “heaven for horse and rider”. Uhmmm….more like hell for a rider, actually. No horse person with much skill lets a horse graze under saddle. It’s a terribly difficult vice to break, and it will make a trail ride H E double hockey sticks for the poor rider who constantly has to tug the horse’s head back up. The protagonist in the book seems to condone this annoying behavior, rather than addressing it in some form or another (in the same situation, I’d put the horse on a pony rope and make him come along, if the beginner couldn’t control him). Strike two.

It was the climactic scene that really got to me, though. The protagonist is attacked in her home by the villian, in classic mystery form. So far, so good. But what does the protagonist decide to do? Run for the horse corrals. Well, at first it didn’t seem like a bad idea. She might be able to disappear into the dark; people who don’t know horses are frequently afraid of them. Maybe she can lose the bad guy. So, I’m completely on board so far. Protagonist runs into horse corral with bad guy pursuing her. Horses are agitated and start charging around. That’s believable. But then, horse number one attacks the bad guy, rearing up and lashing out at him with his front feet. Uhm, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly. Horses are prey animals. They don’t attack intruders to protect their owner.

I have seen horses “attack” someone in their pasture, but the reasons were pretty specific. Herd aggression at feeding time and not wanting to be caught being possible causes. I’ve seen a horse attack a dog that came into his corral. But never have I seen or heard of a horse attacking a human intruder in defense of his/her master. Not to mention domesticated horses rarely rear and strike at humans—a possible exception being a nasty stallion (as I wrote about in my 9th book, Moonblind).

OK, so maybe it’s a freak thing. But then, horse number two dashes up, turns its butt and kicks bad guy in the head, knocking him out cold. So now we have two attack horses. It’s a bit much.

I’ve used the device of a horse kicking a human in the head and knocking said human out. By itself, that’s believable. I’ve been kicked in the head by a horse and knocked out. I can attest to the truth of that concept. But, again, horses do these things for certain reasons. Protecting their owner from an intruder isn’t one of them.
At this point I’ve decided that the author of this book doesn’t know much about horses. Did it ruin the story for me? Not really. Just made me think the conclusion was a little silly. Readers who are not horse people will never know the difference.

But it got me thinking. I, too, have manufactured a great many climactic scenes involving horses. In books number three, five, six, seven, eight, ten and eleven of my mystery series, my heroine gallops across rough country, either being pursued by or pursuing a villain. In three of these chase scenes, she is bareback. Is this believable?
Well, kind of. I have galloped cross country popping over small jumps bareback myself, in my younger days. Gail McCarthy, the protagonist in my series, starts out in Cutter as a thirty-one year old woman who had horses in her youth, gave them up in her twenties while she is off getting an education, and has just acquired a three-year-old green broke colt. She learns to team rope in books number three and four. Its just barely believable that she could survive such bareback chase scenes. I do have her fall off in book number ten. Score one for realism.

The truth is that my horseback scenes are believable (if they are) because every single one of them is based on an experience I have had, or a friend of mine has had. Ditto for the horses. Everything that happens involving a horse (in my mystery series) is based on something that actually happened to me and my horses or to someone I know. Thus real life is the basis for all the exciting and dramatic horse scenes, which lends them a bit of credibility. When Gail gallops through a rainstorm in my forthcoming book, its based on my own experiences. And no, I haven’t galloped across country in a downpour pursued by a villain with a gun. But I have galloped flat out through the pouring rain in pursuit of another racing critter (I entered a team roping contest that didn’t get finished before a storm broke, and our final runs were completed in a drenching, blowing downpour), and I have ridden cross country through the rain many times on mountain pack trips. So I have enough experience of the reality to write the scene.
Anyway, for those of us who write fiction involving horses, the issue of making the horses believable comes up a lot. I’d love to hear about how others keep their fictional horses credible, or hear examples of books where the horses’ behavior parted company with reality and what effect that had on you as a reader.

Cheers—Laura Crum

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Goodbye to Janet and Jody

It is with great sadness that the writers at Equestrian Ink say goodbye to Janet Huntington (Mugwump) and Jody Jaffe. We've enjoyed having both of them as part of our group, but time constraints have required that they bow out for now. We hope they'll come back from time to time as guest bloggers. Of course, we'll still be Mugwump Chronicles' biggest fans.

On the horizon, we hope to have some new equestrian writers joining us soon. Stay tuned for the details!

Jami, Laura, Michele, and Mary

Monday, August 17, 2009


As a writer we face many cross-road in out career (well, as a human we face many cross-roads), but for today's blog I wanted to write about a recent cross-road (writer-wise) that I've had to face and what I decided to do about it (and yes, it does involve the horses).

I started writing as a kid. I knew from the time I was about nine-years-old that I wanted to be a writer. The dream stuck and I wrote my first full length manuscript when I was in my early twenties. That book didn't sell, and neither did the next several. Looking back I realize now that I was writing to try and sell what was out there selling (big thrillers). It took me some time to realize that I wasn't able to compete with John Grisham. Fast forward twelve years later and I finally did sell my first series through a literary agent. It was the Wine Lover's Mystery series, which I have just turned in book 6 (A Toast to Murder)--the final installment in the series. After selling the wine lover's, I really wanted to write a mystery series involving horses and that's where the horse lover's mysteries came in. Horses are something I know better than wines, and I am far more passionate about the horses than wine. However, I loved writing both series and was sad when the horse mysteries were cancelled after the third book.

In between contracts I wrote a women's fiction piece that is out on submission now, and another mystery proposal for a new series. I get really nervous being out of contract usually, and this last time was no different. I tend to scramble and come up with a ton of new ideas sending them off to my agent for her opinion. Then, I took a step back and I asked myself this question, "What do I wnat to write?" Not, "What is selling right now and how can I write what is selling, and therefore sell more books?" That question sort of takes the fun out of it, doesn't it? Now, I knew that asking myself what I wanted to write might not mean that it would sell. But guess what, the other question gives the same answer as "It might not sell." Knowing that and understanding that writing/publishing books is sort of like playing the lottery, I changed my focus/attitude and decided that I wanted to go back to writing something that involved horses. This scared me a bit because of the cancellation of the horse mysteries. I realize that writing what I want to write could be a "longshot."

However, I took my questioning a step further and asked myself, "Who do you want to be as a writer?" Who I want to be as a writer or what I want to be known as writer-wise is the writer who writes horse-related fiction. Just like Grisham writes legal thrillers, I want to write horses. For me, that doesn't always mean that a horse(s) take center stage, but it does mean that in some way they make an appearance. Like in the women's fiction I finished last year titled "Happy Hour," one of the women (Jamie) has lost her husband. Her daughter Maddie is nine-years old. Jamie is having financial problems but Maddie has finally found a connection and something she loves, which happens to be horses. Jamie struggles to pay for riding lessons for Maddie. Eventually Jamie starts taking lessons herself in trade for volunteering on Saturdays at the ranch for handicaped riders. She finds herself healing from the death of her husband through the handicapped children she works with and the horses that work with the kids as well. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Maddie's and Jamie's riding instructor is a hot cowboy type (had to throw that in). So, you see where I'm going? Horses will somehow play a part in what I write in some way.

Asking myself the tough questions, also guided me into writing a Young Adult piece that because I am superstitious and because there is some interest in, I am keeping mum about (I think it's a writer thing). I can tell you that the horses in this book make more than just cameos. They are characters.

Being clear now on who I want to be as a writer and what I want to write has given me some breathing room. I may not sell, another book, but I am happy I feel as if I've found my niche. Writing isn't about selling, although it is great to have your book on the shelves and know people are reading it. Writing is about growth as a human being and writer. I think writing allows us to discover who we are and who we want to be. It enables us to look at human nature and for those of us at Equestrian Ink, horse nature as well. And, I think we can all agree that horses have a lot to teach us.

If you write (for fun or for a career): What are you writing? What do you want to write? Is there a niche that you want to tackle, but are possibly afraid to do so? Why do you write and what do you get out of it?

I'd love to read writers/riders responses.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hi Everybody!

Well, looks like I won't be resuming my riding career right away. The physical therapy on my back didn't quite do the job so they sent me for an MRI and now have a new plan in place that hopefully will get me 100%. In the meantime, I'm grounded.

I was still able to go on vacation with my family to Chicago. Yeah! It was desperately needed. Besides three times a week PT my daughter has reached the age of 'I need to be an adult' regardless of the fact that she's seven. Two days before we left for Chicago she wanted to sit in the front seat. I calmly explained that this was not safe (or legal). She complied, but grumbled on the way to the back of the minivan "I thought this was a free country." Definitely time for a vacation for Mom.

My kids generally very well behaved, although when we first arrived at the hotel my daughter climbed on the low counter next to where I was checking us in. I asked her to get down, explaining that seven year olds know better. Whereupon my three year old jumped up there and shouted to everyone in the lobby "I'm only three so I'm not supposed to know better." To a background of everyone's uproarious laughter I managed to get him down and check us in while my husband and an erstwhile hotel employee struggled with the mountain of luggage traveling with three small children invariably entails.

It's been a whirlwind of double decker bus tours, Shedd Aquarium, Sears Tower (I hung back quietly so as not to share my slight fear of heights with the next generation), and Navy Pier. We have two exhausted adults and three elated children!Even with all the fun and distraction, I'm still missing being around horses. After a morning of shopping at American Girl Place and The Disney Store while my husband stayed at the hotel with one of the kids who wasn't feeling well,(I think my credit card is still sizzling, by the way), I staggered out onto Michigan Avenue laden down with packages & wondered how I was going to heft them and still hang onto my bouncing brood. In a moment of inspiration (probably born of desperation), I suggested a carriage ride.

I was rescued from further back problems from the weight of my childrens' purchases by a lovely man named Gus and his grey Syd. My rescuers came complete with a white carriage with red velvet seats. After I thankfully climbed aboard, I relaxed back and contentedly listened to the wonderful sound of hooves against the pavement. Syd thoughtfully took us all the way to the door of our hotel (my hero). When we disembarked from our lovely carriage I gave the driver a handsome tip, then added three more dollars and asked him to buy some carrots since I didn't have any with me. Happily, he agreed to honor this horse crazy lady's request.

I resisted the urge to throw my arms around Syd just to inhale that wonderful scent of horse and took my kids inside. If there's such a thing as equine withdrawl, I have it, but a terrific vacation is a great balm.

Hope everyone's having a terrific August.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

A First Time for Everything

My husband and I spent a beautiful four days in the San Juans Islands last week. We came back on Wednesday. Needless to say, I hadn't been on my horse in about a week.

Thursday I readied for my lesson, fully intending to tell my instructor that I was going to try showing next year if my mare stayed sound. So I'm riding around the arena, starting my lesson and waiting for the appropriate time to tell her my plans. We move into a canter and work on half-halts from a school canter to a walk and back again. Gailey was dull and lugging, not really into working hard. We circle at 20 meters in this slow collected canter. Just as we come back to the rail, Gailey leaps sideways and shies. Now, my mare is NOT talented when it comes to shying. She's too big and too slow to unseat anyone.

Until now.

She goes one way. I go the other. All of this plays out in slow motion while I fly through the air. Funny how moments like this slow down time. As I'm approaching the ground, my first thought is "I hope I don't hear a snap." For those of you that have followed my posts, you know my mare is 17-1 hands and a long way to fall. I slam onto my side into the hard-packed arena sand near the rail. My hip hits first then my right arm as I jam my elbow into the ground.

No snap.

But pain. Lots of pain washes over me. Darn.

I sit up and flex my arm. No bones grate against bones. Just the pain. I get to my feet as my instructor catches my horse, who was more suprised by me landing on the ground next to her than I was. She's never had anyone fall off of her before and had no clue what it meant other than she might be in trouble.

I feel my arm. Nothing appears to be broken, but it hurts. I sit in the arena veiwing arena while my instructor jumps on the mare to make sure she doesn't attempt a repeat performance. She didn't. Meanwhile, I'm sweating like crazy and feeling pretty sick to my stomach. Then I find I have trouble breathing. I've never had that happen before, but I guess I now know what asthma must feel like. Shock, I guess.

My trainer calls my husband to pick me up. He breaks all speed records getting there. One of the boarders cools out my horse and puts her away (thanks, Kim).

The next day, I'm better, but then yesterday, it seems to hurt more. Plus, the swelling has migrated down into my wrist. I finally concede defeat and see a doctor. She used to ride, too, and has had lots of falls. They take x-rays. Nothing is broken, but I've sprained my wrist and elbow. I probably shouldn't even be typing this.

I feel lucky to have fallen off at that speed from that height and escaped with only sprains. I'm anxious to get back on my mare and get going again, but it appears it'll be a few weeks before that happens.

I guess it goes to show that things happen, especially with horses, that you can never predict. In the 11 years I've owned this horse, no one has ever come off of her, including me.

There's a first time for everything. So tell us about one of your firsts!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The One That Got Away

By Laura Crum

How many of us can think of a horse like that? One we wish we had bought, or worse yet, wish we hadn’t sold. A horse that, if we had it to do over again, we would still own. Or have kept until he/she died. Fugly has created a website where horse owners can find these horses, and I would be using it myself, except that the horse that got away from me is certainly dead. She was my riding horse when I was fourteen, and she was in her teens then. I’m fifty two now. I think we can all do the math.

Ramona was her name—a little pinto pony mare. She stood somewhere shy of fourteen hands, a big pony/small horse. She had the sturdy pony build and the slightly fuzzy pony mane. She also had the wide flat back and smooth gaits so essential for riding bareback. It wasn’t until I bought another similar pony for my son and started riding him, that I realized these traits were common in ponies. Like Ramona, I could sit Toby very comfortably bareback at the trot, something that has not been true of very many horses I’ve owned.

Ramona was always ridden bareback. She didn’t even have a saddle. She belonged to my friend Kristie, who kept her at a small barn that was walking distance from my house. At fourteen, I was a horse crazy girl who desperately wanted a horse of my own. I was allowed to ride my uncle’s horses out at the family ranch, but since I couldn’t drive, I only got out to the ranch when my parents would take me. And that was once a week. Not enough.

Kristie came to the rescue. She had recently bought a fancy QH gelding that she intended to run barrels on. She wasn’t interested in Ramona any more and offered to let me use her if I would pay for Ramona’s feed. I took the little mare for a few rides and found her to be an absolutely reliable trail horse. She would go anywhere you asked her. She was sure-footed, with smooth gaits, including a sweet little rocking chair lope. She had the slightly stubborn pony personality, but no vices. She was perfect. I accepted Kristie’s offer.

For the next year I rode Ramona everywhere—through the neighborhood, on solitary trails through the mountains, across the river where we had to swim, down to the local pool to show off to the other kids. You name it, I did it. Mostly by myself. Kristie had moved her fancy gelding to a proper training barn with an arena and didn’t ride with me any more. Ramona never put a foot wrong.

And then, when I was fifteen, my parents decided to let me buy a horse of my own. Of course, I thought of buying Ramona. I figured Kristie would sell her to me if I asked. However, my advisor was my uncle, a team roper who raised Quarter Horses. My uncle was not willing to give me one of his horses, no. I was buying a horse with my own hard-earned money. But my uncle thought I should buy a proper QH type horse that he, Todd, could potentially use as a practice team roping horse. A useful horse. Useful to my uncle Todd that is. My uncle did not think much of the humble pinto pony, good only for trail riding. And a mare besides. He advised against buying her and said he would help me find a better horse.

I listened. Why wouldn’t I? My uncle was my hero. I continued to ride Ramona while we shopped for a horse I could afford and my uncle approved of. And eventually my uncle picked out Jackson, a fifteen-three bay gelding who was priced cheap, seemed reasonably gentle, and did, indeed, look like a team roping horse. I bought him.

Unfortunately, Jackson was not the kid’s horse Ramona was. Though superficially gentle, he was a lazy, uncooperative beast who was quite willing to rear in a vertical manner when he didn’t care for the look of a trail and also willing to kick hard enough that the horseshoer, another tough old cowboy, refused to put back shoes on him.

Jackson kicked me in the head one day when I was saddling him—knocked me out cold. I was finding it impossible to take him out for trail rides, he simply stopped and reared when he didn’t want to go. Ramona was still at the stable where I kept Jackson, and I took to riding her instead. It was a lot more fun.

Finally my uncle decided that he’d better help me sort Jackson out. He came up to the little barn where I kept Jackson and went for a ride with me. I rode Ramona. When Jackson balked and reared, Uncle Todd pulled him around and beat the crap out of him. Jackson was a smart beast. He gave up the rearing pronto. Todd put me on Jackson to be sure I could convince the horse that I was now in charge. I got it done. And Todd and I went for a ride. We loped up the little hills, Todd riding Ramona bareback, me on Jackson. And when we got back to the barn, Todd slid off Ramona and said, “This is a pretty nice horse.”

I think that’s when it dawned on me. I should have bought Ramona. Ramona was the perfect horse for what I wanted to do. Ramona fit me. I had allowed my uncle to convince me to buy a horse that fit him. Not me.

But I was young and I wanted to please my cowboy uncle, who remained my hero. I kept Jackson. When I was sixteen and could drive, I moved Jackson out to the family ranch and my uncle turned him into a practice team roping horse. Jackson remained a stubborn, uncooperative horse, prone to rearing. And I never knew what became of Ramona.

Kristie was fond of her and said she would retire her. But I didn’t keep track of her. I wish I had. I can still see her little pinto pony face in my mind. I remember the fun I had with her and how safe I felt on her. When I bought Toby for my son and began riding him, it all came back to me. Toby was very like Ramona.

To this day I wish I had bought Ramona and kept her until she died. I did keep Toby until his death, and I feel he was a great gift both to me and my son. And now I have Sunny, my little trail horse, who looks something like a pony crossed on a Quarter Horse. He has that pony personality, and the surefooted, go anywhere pony ability. I love riding him on the trail. Sometimes I ride him bareback (he has the wide flat back, too). It takes me right back to my youth, and Ramona—the one that got away.