Monday, January 31, 2011

An Editor's Job

By Verna Dresibach

Since its publication, I have been asked a number of questions related to the anthology, Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives. Many writers are either creating a collection of their own, or hoping to get published by submitting their work to any number of anthologies. Some writers (and readers) believe that editing an essay collection is relatively easy. If you’re solely choosing stories and sticking them together in a book, then sure, that’s easy. I doubt it will bring much success or positive reviews, so I’d advise against it. An editor’s job is tedious and time consuming. One of my primary goals was to make sure that the stories I chose were diverse and unique enough for an entire collection,
one that would keep the reader entertained and not feeling as if they’ve read the same story over and over again, 27 times. I had an innumerable amount of “first horse” stories and stories about horses that helped their owner through a traumatic event such as an injury or health issue. An editor is also at the mercy of the stories that are submitted. Because there were so many similar stories, I had to search out stories for a greater variety. Unfortunately, this is typically at the end of the submission period when an editor discovers that there might not be enough of a variety. And, if there’s a deadline to the publishing company, it can be a stressful time.

Of equal importance is to choose stories that are written well. As an editor, we have the option to include a wonderful story that isn’t written as well as it could and take a greater role in the writing of that particular story. An editor can’t do that for every story. There just isn’t enough time. I had to balance my time between those that needed very little editorial help, with those that I would have to ghost write myself. Only a few were submitted in near perfect condition. I did happen to have two writers who refused to make any changes to their stories and subsequently, they were not included in the publication. I didn’t feel as though they had gone deep enough into their story, lacking that necessary connection that would make enough of an impact on the reader. We can all enjoy our horses, but I was looking for the stories about the horses that helped shape us as women – helped to change the way we looked at the people and the world around us. As you can imagine, my job as an editor is far easier when I’m working with writers who are willing to revise and edit their pieces. And, my job as an editor is to work in conjunction with the writer so that they feel they’ve maintained the scope, purpose and voice of the story intact throughout the revision process – if it’s a major revision. All of the writers in the collection who worked with me and made the revisions themselves believe that they walked away from the experience with a stronger story. It is truly a collaborative effort and I enjoyed the experience immensely. I also believe I walked away from the experience a much stronger editor. I am grateful to the many women I worked with on this project.

Thank you!

If you missed the opportunity to submit to Why We Ride, you do have the opportunity to participate in the second annual Why We Ride contest sponsored by the San Mateo County Fair literary arts division.


Sponsored by Verna Dreisbach


$100.00 for the winning piece

Special Note: Verna Dreisbach is an author, educator, and literary agent. She is the editor of the Seal Press anthology, Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horse in their Lives.

Eligibility: Submit between 2,000 (minimum) and 3500 words (maximum). Open to all writers. Share an inspirational, funny or touching story that speaks from the heart and demonstrates our unique bond with horses. Submit according to the same entry guidelines for the general writing contests, using standard manuscript formatting, 12 pt. font, double-spaced; include word count.

Note: If you are new to writing, please review Why We Ride or other anthologies and literary journals to get a sense of the type of work that is being published. Website: and Blog

Here is the latest link for the literary section: They are in the process of building a new and much better web site that promises to be user friendly. The catalog is being printed and as soon as that is complete, they will also post the actual entry requirements online. The deadline for entries is April 29th, no exception. I am told that submissions are accepted electronically, as long as they are also mailed in hard copy to the fair office, or “walk in” until 7 pm on April 29.

Here is the address:

San Mateo County Event Center

2495 S. Delaware St, San Mateo, CA 94403

650 574-3247

Good luck. I look forward to reading your stories!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Verna Dreisbach and WHY WE RIDE

Meet Horsewoman Verna Dreisbach: Verna Dreisbach is an author, educator and literary agent. Her stories have been published in EQUUS Magazine, Bernie Siegel’s Faith, Hope and Healing and Calaveras Station literary journal. She is the founder and president of Capitol City Young Writers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and inspiration of young writers. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in English with honors from Phi Kappa Phi and Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. Verna lives in California with her husband, three kids, and myriad animals.

Verna and Chicklet

Verna's most recent project has been as author and editor of the book WHY WE RIDE: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives (Seal Press/Perseus 2010.) Here's a description:

Women and their horses — a symbiotic relationship based on trust, camaraderie, friendship, and love. In Why We Ride, Verna Dreisbach collects the stories of women who ride, sharing their personal emotions and accounts of the most important animals in their lives — horses. This collection of 27 stories includes the heartfelt thoughts of a range of women — those who rode as children, those who spent their girlhood years dreaming of owning a pony, and those who have made a lifelong hobby or career out of riding. Each story reveals how horses have made a difference — and an impact — in the lives of these women. The bonds formed, the paths ridden, and the hills climbed all combine in this provocative, compelling anthology. With a foreword by best-selling novelist Jane Smiley, Why We Ride offers a reflective view on the relationships between women and horses.

Here's an excerpt from the book - to whet your appetite:

I have been in love with horses since I can remember. And I know I’m not alone as I remember images of that first glimpse, sensations of that first touch, and ultimately the exhilaration of that first riding lesson. As a young girl - I was hooked. But it wasn’t until junior high that I found my true love.

Like dog owners who profess their breed of dog as the only one they’ll ever own for reasons ranging from loyalty to intelligence, personality or “just because of the way he makes me feel,” horse owners are no different. We choose a horse for her beauty, her ability, or for what we see of ourselves, reflected in her. I found beauty in the racehorse, the thoroughbred racehorse - a beauty that captured my heart long before a boy ever did. Enticed by their long, slender legs and narrow faces – I treasured the climb upon their back, the long view down from above, and the effortless movement of their long strides, the sensation of the ground passing under us as if Pegasus had taken flight. But mostly, I love their passion to run and how their sweaty bodies glisten in the sun, sweat dripping from their bellies to the ground - a passion so intense that it seeps through every bead of sweat that tickles their skin, in every muscle that twitches. The prancing, the inability to stand still, the glaze in their eyes as they near the racetrack – that reveals their spirit. That tells their story.

Wow. Can anybody relate to that? I know I can. To learn more about Verna, please visit her website We hope to hear more from her in the future, and in the meantime, try and find a copy of WHY WE RIDE. Sounds like a winner!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Controversial Subject

by Laura Crum

Today’s post is on a controversial subject in many ways, be warned. A lot of you may have strong feelings about this topic. I want to bring it up because its something I think about and wonder what the best answer is. I don’t have a simple solution, but I do have some ideas. And I think they’re worth talking about.

First off, I want to say that one reason I think about this topic as much as I do is because I occasionally read the blog, “Fugly Horse of the Day”. Its listed on the sidebar for those who wish to check it out. And, in fact, I have been reading this blog (and others) more often lately because I am in the midst of churning out my twelfth novel. I am in that particular stage, familiar to all authors, where I must simply generate the bulk of the material. I have a plot and characters and an outline; I have written the oh-so-enjoyable first few chapters. I am about halfway through the book and now I must steadily pour out reams and reams of story (or so it seems to me right now). Those who write novels will understand that this is not always a delightful, joyous, creative occupation. Sometimes it feels like trudging up a steep hill—with a long way to climb ahead. But I must persevere, because I have a deadline looming. So I spend many hours, nose to grindstone, or rather keyboard, typing away. And when I get stuck, or need a break, I have a tendency to click around reading horse blogs. And often, I read the fugly blog.

Now, Fugly is a controversial subject in and of herself. Many of the “horse bloggers” hate her, others love her. Me, I neither hate nor love Cathy, the blogger, nor her blog. I think she does a good job getting a lot of important info out to the public and she is a clever writer—and I also think her heart’s in the right place. This last means I think she is doing her best to reduce the suffering that goes on in the lives of horses and all animals. That said, I disagree with her on many points and I’m not always nuts about her attitude. However, guess what? Its that very attitude that has made her so successful as a blogger—that’s what people read her blog for. They like to hear her bash people. And she’s smart enough to know that. And one of the things that Cathy/Fugly is vehement about is being anti-slaughter.

Since reading the fugly blog I’ve learned a lot about what the slaughter business amounts to right now, and it is all horrific. I am totally anti-slaughter, too, as it exists today. But I think the underlying problem is deeper than Cathy or others who are simply anti-slaughter are willing to consider, and I’d like to put my views forth here and see what you all think.

First off, I am a person who does her best to treat all animals with respect and love. I retire my old horses and euthanise them when their time comes; I am aghast when folks I know take their horses to the sale (to potentially end up going to slaughter), and I tell them so. I have been known to rescue other people’s retirees and give them a home. I love all my animals, and I will allow no harm to be done to the wild animals on my property, including the troublesome ones. So I guess you could say I’m totally on the same page as the anti-slaughter people when it comes to wanting to prevent animal suffering.

I raise my own beef—partly because I want to know I’m eating healthy meat, and partly because I want to know that the steer I’m eating had a good life and a peaceful death. And I do ensure this. My steers live to be 5-7 years old in a big pasture. They are never penned up; they are killed by a professional ranch killer as they stand there grazing. One moment alive, the next gone. No hauling, no feedlot. No suffering.

Now I have had vegetarians tell me that I am evil for killing these steers, and I am a bit puzzled by this. The steers will die in the end. We all do. Death cannot be avoided. Suffering can be avoided—not death. I did not bring the steers into the world—I don’t raise either cattle or horses. By buying these steers, I saved them from a short life and a nasty end. If I let them live a great deal longer, they would simply be faced with the various maladies of old age. Why is it wrong of me to give them a peaceful end to a very good life and eat their meat? I think its win/win. And I honestly think that the best answer to the horse slaughter conundrum is not to ban slaughter but to create a program that is in some ways like the program I have for my steers.

The problem with saying that horse slaughter should disappear and that everyone who no longer wishes to keep a horse and can’t find a buyer should cough up the money to euthanize the horse, or at least shoot it, is that many, many people do not regard horses as pets. Very many people regard horses as livestock, and they do not consider livestock to have any feelings worth considering. I’m not defending this point of view; I’m just saying that its pretty common. Fugly has said that in this society horses are pet animals and should be treated as such, and I think that’s a gray area. We might wish this were so, but historically, in this society, horses were not very often pet animals. They were a means of transport and then a means of making money (racing, horseshows/horse training, trading…etc), and having fun (horse as sporting equipment). It has always been the exception rather than the rule that a horse owner loved his/her animal and took care of them when their working days were done. Given this situation, I think it makes more sense to find a solution that incorporates the point of view that horses are livestock like cattle—something to make money on—rather than pets.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with that view. I love horses and I don’t want to see them suffer. But I know tons and tons of people who do treat horses as if they were cattle, just something to make money on (or sporting equipment—to be got rid of when it doesn’t work any more), and who don’t think that either horses or cattle have “feelings”. The fact that I believe these people are totally wrong (or fugly believes that, or any of us) doesn’t change the way such folks think. And by the way, from their point of view, I treat my cattle as if they were horses.

What if we all just agreed that an unwanted horse is better off dead than suffering and that there is no harm in using his flesh, as long as he is killed humanely. What if there were pastures and ranch killers set aside for this purpose, and there were strict rules as to how the procedures could be done. What if “horse killers” could thus raise “clean” meat such as I raise my steers (by keeping the horses on good pasture and hay for several months) and then sell the humanely killed horses for top dollar to the markets that want such meat. What if they could make a good profit this way?

I think that the horror in horse slaughter comes from the dreadful hauling conditions and feedlot conditions and the equally horrible way in which these horses are killed. There is no horror in a quick painless death while grazing, such as I give my steers. In actual fact, it’s a more reliably peaceful death than euthanasia, when executed by a competent professional. There is no horror in using the meat for food.

So I want to suggest that rather than taking up the somewhat unrealistic position that everyone should regard horses as pets, that all horsemen adopt the position of trying to create a truly humane way to “process” unwanted horses. One that is good for both the horses and the people involved.

And yes, I agree that it’s a shame to kill a young horse that has never had a chance, and if someone can give that horse a chance, more power to them. But starving backyard horses are not getting a life that’s preferable to my proposed slaughter program, in my opinion.

Also, I have not touched at all on the other aspects of this subject, such as people breeding horses for which there is no market, and the harm done by failing to have young horses trained such that they are capable of a useful working life. At the moment, I’m just trying to focus on the one problem. There are many unwanted horses who suffer and their current end through the slaughter industry is horrible. I think we should try to make a positive change and I think my idea makes more sense than banning slaughter. Well, we did ban slaughter and what came of it was just as bad. Horses hauled further, to die in worse conditions. It isn’t working. Lets try something different.

Ok—there’s my ideas on this subject—I’d welcome hearing yours.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Have a Little Patience

So I went to England for a few days, but didn’t see any horses. The video of the pretty liver chestnut I fell in love last week with didn’t impress my trainer, and when I looked again with a slightly cooler head I could see where she was coming from. Yes, it’s a pretty horse, with pretty paces, but for the price demanded, and the level of training stated, the video didn’t show nearly enough. Not by a mile. Also, the horse is apparently mega whip shy, to the extent where it doesn’t even like the rider to carry a whip, which turns me off somewhat. Not that I’m a heavy handed, whip wielding horse thrasher. Not at all! But I do like to carry one to encourage a haphazard hind leg, or to make a point once in a while. Nevertheless, I’ve asked for more footage, so we’ll see. Patience is a virtue, right? As Take That say in their wonderful song: “have a little patience”. I’m playing that song a lot lately. Not sure it’s helping!

I’ve seen a few more videos from Holland and selected a couple of contenders. Both are mares. I’m not sure I want a mare, as I’ve had one and they can be a bit of a pain, don’t you think? Mine was a grouch. I loved her to bits, but she was definitely a grouch. She didn’t like to be fussed over, didn’t like to be saddled up, didn’t like to be blanketed, and had strong opinions about the most trivial things. Of course, not all mares are like that, but experience has made me mare-wary. I mean, I know what hormones do to me, so I can relate. We’ll see. Have a little patience.

Which brings me to a non-equestrian topic. I actually wasn’t going to London to look at horses, at least not in the first place. I went to see a concert, and I took my Mama. She’s 72, it was her first pop concert, and she loved it! We saw Gary Barlow, the lead singer of Take That, at a small venue in Shepherd’s Bush, packed with two thousand love-struck, ultra-dedicated Gary fans. But what made this concert super special was the fact that it was a public celebration of Gary’s fortieth birthday, so you can imagine the atmosphere!

The evening was one long exhilarating sing-along from the moment the party boy came on stage. There were special guests, too, including an endearingly shy Chris Martin (Coldplay) who accompanied Gary in the massive Take That hit “Back for Good”, then ran offstage like he had tummy ache or something. Midge Ure (remember the Eighties group, “Ultravox”?!) was also invited, singing his heart out to a new Take That song inspired by his stratospheric hit, “Vienna”. Brilliant! The rest of the “Thatters” were there too (Jason, Mark and Howard, gotta love them!), singing and dancing up a storm, apart from the fickle-faced Robbie Williams (who recently rejoined the group after causing mayhem for them back in the Nineties) who contributed by sending Gary a video-taped, bare-bottomed birthday greeting from Los Angeles. Personally, I found this a little OTT, but that’s just me. I guess Robbie will always be Robbie. Pff!

Anyway, as concerts go, this one was one of the best I’ve seen as far as the feel-good factor is concerned. There’s something intensely satisfying about belting out one great song after another with two thousand other people, while doing all the accompanying moves. It’s fun! It’s uplifting! And I don’t care about the snide remarks I get from the musical snobs in my entourage, they can diss Gary Barlow as much as they want. He writes great, melodic pop songs, with tunes you can sing, not just repetitive risqué lyrics with boom-boom-pow thunderous bass lines orchestrated for bottom wiggling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for wiggling my bottom to the risqué boom-boom-pow stuff when bottom wiggling is called for, but there’s something to be said for a great melody and nice, romantic lyrics, don’t you think?

Besides, Gary Barlow’s “Patience” really speaks to me at the moment. It’s a song about a embarking on a new relationship after losing a very special one. Horse-wise, I’m there. So thanks, Gary, for a wonderful evening.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New Horse Bug

Earlier this week, a fellow rider posted an ad for a horse for sale on our barn Yahoo loop. For the heck of it, I clicked on the Craig's List link. That was my first mistake. Now, I'm not really an Arabian person, but this handsome fellow looked like a small warmblood with a quality head, nice big body, and was about 16 hands. He'd had some professional dressage training (very little, but some). He'd been shown at Arabian regionals in various classes and done well. Even better, he was only $3000. A major bargain for the bucks. But then, in this economy, there are most likely tons of bargains.

I fell in love. In fact, I fantasized over having a sound horse again. For the first time in 13 years, I got the new horse bug. I mentioned my by now future horse to a co-worker of mine, who is constantly trolling Dream Horse and Craig's List for horses. She knew exactly the horse I mentioned then proceeded to burst my new horse bubble. Unintentionally, of course. It seems I overlooked one very large fact. He's ten years old.

Maybe that doesn't sold too old for many people, but for me, it was the deal breaker, not that I'd even seen the horse to make a deal on him. Especially considering he'd really not been trained in dressage so he was probably 4-5 years behind the curve for his age. Nope, not going to work for me.

A few days later, I had a lesson on Gailey. She was stiff and felt a little off. Not enough to quit riding her, but enough to know she isn't ever going to recover enough to do upper level dressage, even at home. I talked to my trainer (who is also a long-time friend) and mentioned I'd actually considering the Arabian posted by one of her students earlier in the week.

We talked at length, since the lesson after mine had cancelled. We discussed what I'd do with Gailey if I bought another horse. I have options. One is to bring her home, but then I'd need an additional animal to keep her company, and I really don't want to take care of two horses. Another was offer her as a lease to someone who might be interested in breeding her. Even my trainer said she might toy with the idea herself as Gailey is such a nice mare.

Then she told me about a fellow student of hers who is having a "fire sale" because of a divorce. She has a well-broke five year old going 2nd level I might be able to get for cheap or at least on payments. I immediately went to the student's website and looked at a video and fell in love again (I know, I'm fickle). Here, I made another mistake. Instead of calling on the horse, I emailed about it. A few days later, I received an email back stating two others were already looking at the mare, and she'd let me know if it didn't work out.

I'm pretty sure I lost out on the chance. :(

I can't decide if it's a message from a higher being to forget the new horse for now or if I should keep plugging along. It's really bad timing for my hubbie and I. He has recently found out that he may possibly have a debilitating disease. We'll know more next month when he goes to Seattle for 2 days of tests. Our kids have asked for our help in buying a house for their growing family, so any cash we have will be tied up in that, which we're more than happy to do. Is it really the time for me to be horse hunting?

I've avoided looking at Craig's List or Dream Horse or the local horse magazine, Flying Changes. I fear if I do, I'll be obsessed with purchasing a new horse even though I have no money to buy one.

I'm trying to convince myself I'd be better off buying some Arthri-Eze to help Gailey with her arthritis and ride the horse I have. Such is my life right now.

Yet, for a brief moment in time, I got excited about riding again, about showing, about giving all of this another shot. If nothing else comes out of my brief foray into purchasing a new horse, at least, I now realize the horse bug is still alive and well inside me. I'll just have to live through Francesa for now as she hunts for a her next dream horse.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Horses as Children

My horses are basically my four-legged children. I spend 6 days a week with them along with the majority of my paycheck. People often think I'm crazy for doing this. When bills get tight or paying the mortgage comes into question, I'm asked why don't I sell one horse. I reply with, "Would you sell one of your kids?" In my eyes they are two in the same. My horses are now a permanent part of my family and selling them isn't an option now or ever. I make daily sacrifices, my back might be on fire but you can be assured my horses can have their regular chiropractic sessions. But I'm happy to make these sacrifices because my horses bring me more joy than anyone can imagine. They comfort me when I'm sad, never say the wrong thing, and make me feel loved always. How are horse viewed in your family? Do you have fuzzy children?

Also a reminder that all my books (except the Wine Lover's Mystery Series) will be available on Kindle for 0.99 cents for a limited time.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On the Beach

by Laura Crum

The above photos show my son riding down the beach on his horse, Henry, along with our friend/boarder, Wally, on his horse, Twister. I’m not exactly in the photos because I was taking pictures from Sunny’s back (see the tip of his ear in the lower left of the first photo). The photos were taken last Friday, when we hauled our horses to the beach. We had, all in all, a lovely ride. The weather was in the 60’s, it was low tide (so much firm sand to ride on), and we watched great “rafts” of sea lions floating out beyond the surf break. We even saw a sea lion surfing. We rode down the beach for half an hour, headed in the direction of Monterey, and saw maybe half a dozen people the whole time. The horses were quiet and relaxed, even though they’ve only been ridden two or three times in the last month, due to bad weather. We mostly walked, did a little trotting and loping. I did not want to stress the horses after so much time off, and I have known many horses that have injured tendons in the beach sand. Both our horses cracked a light sweat: neither was really tired. So far, so good.

Then we turned around to come home. Now I have written quite a bit about my little “bombproof” trail horse, Sunny. And, apart from his steady, calm confidence outside, the other thing I have discussed is his need to play little dominance games. This trait has improved over the three years I’ve owned him, and Sunny rarely “tries” me any more. But on this day, after almost a month off, feeling good, on the beach, Sunny decided to test me a little.

Sunny’s “testing”, when I am on his back, usually takes the form of a certain signature move. I have a hard time describing this move, perhaps some of you may be able to tell me what the horse is actually doing. I have never been sure. I would call it a crowhop, except that his head, which is normally carried very low, comes up when he makes his move. He jumps forward, as if he were attempting to bolt, but at the same time, he hops his back end up in the air. The end result is as if your horse had just turned into a pogo stick. He bounces. Normally Sunny does this once, and then perhaps skitters a little, expecting my reprimand.

On Friday, however, as we turned around to head back down the beach, I had my camera held up to my face, trying to get another photo of my son. So my ability to correct Sunny was about nil. Sunny’s “crowhop” caught me by surprise, and for a few seconds my focus was not on the horse, but rather on getting my camera stuffed back in my pocket so I didn’t drop it. During the time it took me to accomplish this, Sunny essayed a few more hops.

By my reaction, you can judge that Sunny’s hops are not particularly unsettling, and, indeed, when my camera was back in my pocket, I addressed my bouncing horse with more annoyance than concern. “Knock it off, you little jackass,” I told him.

Sunny skittered sideways, expecting a reprimand. He knows quite well that he’s not supposed to behave this way. I gave him a good solid one rein jerk and he stopped bouncing. But he bowed his neck up and jigged.

Sunny is not a jigger, in general, but lets face it, he was feeling pretty good. I would love to have sent him back down the beach at the lope until he was really tired, but I did not want to hurt him. Also, we were supposed to get back at a certain time. So, I simply made Sunny travel through the deep sand. It took all of one minute for him to quit jigging and return to the walk. Way too much work to jig in deep sand. Sunny is not a stupid horse. Nor was he remotely upset or anxious. And we proceeded the rest of the way back down the beach in a long walk on a loose rein (on the hard packed sand), both of us relaxed and enjoying the scenery.

Henry, by the way, behaved perfectly the whole trip. All horses should be like Henry.

Anyway, I was patting myself on the back, thinking I had handled Sunny’s minor tantrum quite adroitly, when, just as we struck the trail through the dunes back to the parking lot, he spooked suddenly at a man sitting on a log. Nothing scary about the guy, particularly.

Now, Sunny does not spook often. In the whole three years I’ve owned him, he has spooked maybe half a dozen times. But when he does spook, it’s a pretty sudden, hard move. I had no trouble staying with him, but to tell the truth, it made me mad. I had the pretty clear conviction that the horse was not scared, just testing me again. When he made as if to dash away from the scary man, I gave him another good solid one rein reprimand. And he immediately dropped the “scared” behavior and marched on by.

In retrospect, I wonder if I should have punished the horse for spooking. Its not something I would normally do. However Sunny has a history of throwing in a bit of “testing” behavior right at the end of a ride. He also has a history of needing me to reprimand him, and prove I’m the alpha every so often. In the three years I’ve owned him, his behavior has gotten better and better overall, and about the only thing I have done is get after him when he tries something.

I don’t pick on Sunny; I don’t train on him. I’m not trying to teach him anything. I treat him kindly, and the “work” I have for him is both not stressful, and mostly to his taste. He knows how to do his job, and usually does it very well. I accept the fact that for some reason he needs me to beat him up a little from time to time and prove I’m boss. And that seems to make him happy, oddly enough. He has gone from being standoffish and hard to catch when I first bought him to meeting me at the gate and sticking his head in the halter these days.

For the record, I would never reprimand my sensitive, anxious horse, Plumber, the way I do Sunny. My responses to Sunny are geared to him and what he seems to need. I have written several blog posts on this subject, so won’t belabor it here.

In any case, we marched the rest of the way back to the trailer calmly, and both horses were their usual well-behaved selves for unsaddling and loading and hauling. I drove home grateful to have had one more pleasant, drama free ride with my son. My kid and I agreed that Henry was the best horse ever.

So here’s my question. I’m not particularly annoyed with my little yellow mule for his behavior, given he’d had a month off. It didn’t threaten me at all. I see it as testing behavior, and that he was looking for a reprimand, in order to feel that I was in charge. But I’m curious. Many of you are more accomplished horsemen than me. How would you have handled this behavior? More reprimands? No reprimands? Different reprimands? I’m curious. Do others of you have a good solid horse that likes to test you at times, and how do you handle this?

Monday, January 17, 2011

New year updates

After reading that last several blogs and all the wonderful comments, it is clear that we, writers and readers, are all cut from the same cloth. If our common passion for our horses and other animals is a disease, than we are all terminal cases.

That is why I love this Blog. I realize I have not been as consistent of a participant as I would like, but it makes me smile to log on, read and know that I have many kindred souls out there in cyberland whom I have never met in person but with whom I share a very strong common bond. How cool is that!

With that said, I thought that with this being my first blog of the new year that I would catch everyone up with the 4 legged residents of Rocking Horse Ranch. There are currently 17 members to our little herd, 15 of which are long term residents. I won't go into detail on everyone, only the biggest characters and yes they will all eventually be material for a book.

The king of the ranch is Pete who I have written about before (my thoroughbred related to Secretariat). Pete is my soon to be 22 year old Dressage schoolmaster who has been with me since he was 9. Pete knows that he has #1 status but he is a benevolent monarch as long he is first to get treats and attention when I walk into the barn. Pete feels and often acts more like 2 than 22. He entertains us regularly with his acrobatics in the turn out (although I generally cringe fearing a pulled shoe or an injury) and with all the breaks from the December rains I had to temporarily stop letting my students ride him because he was so full of himself with pent up energy he almost launched them and even came close to bucking me off. He is not mean about it, he just feels good and forgets you are up there sometimes. Pete is my equine soul mate and will be hard if not impossible to replace. Like Francesca, I am looking for a new competition horse and am finding the task both daunting and intimidating. But that will be another blog and Francesca you and I will have to compare notes.

My other equine children are Hank (who is the paint pictured on the blog), Tahoe and newcommer Hershey. Hank has been rehabbing from a suspensory strain and sidebone issues and may be headed to surgery (also the subject of a future blog) to cut the nerve in his foot in order for him to be pain free from the sidebone. I am struggling with the moral implications and have not 100% made the decision but he is unhappy being out of work and watches me every minute that I am in the barn as if to say "why aren't you riding me?" It makes me feel horrible and even though Hank is walked and groomed daily, I don't think it is not enough for him. Tahoe will be 28 this year and like a good watch, he just keeps on ticking. He is a bit "creaky" but still the kid's favorite and he relishes being the center of attention when the kids are around.

Hershey is the newbie. He is a thoroughbred, just turned 3 with the new year and was given to me by a TB breeding farm that had fallen on hard times when the owner died. I needed another horse like a hole in the head, but he was headed to a horrible "horse dealer" had I not taken him. He was dubbed Hershey (His registered name is Black Mountain) because he is a chocolate brown, very sweet and likes to give kisses. Hershey is the picture of wide-eyed innocence and often looks at Pete and Tahoe as if they are Yoda, the Karate master and Merrilegs combined. He is in the process of being broke and I think he will be a great pony club or event horse someday.

Then, as many of you know, Michele Scott keeps her horses with me. Monty, Michele's daughter's pony has turned out to be an incredible schoolmaster for Kaitlin. Monty is only 10 (same age as Kaitlin) so they have many more years together. Monty is the clown of the barn and is known to through his feed bucket around or kick the stall door if he is not fed breakfast on his schedule which is about 4:30 or 5 am. Monty also LOVES to jump and luckily so does Kaitlin, but in Eventing they also have to do Dressage which they both approach with about the same enthusiasm as a kid eating brussel sprouts.

Michele's other 2 horses are Krissy and Will, who she now leases. Michele recently blogged about Krissy's retirement but this has not stopped Krissy from being the "hot Momma" of the herd. Before she settled on a committed love affair with Will when he came to live at my place she previously had "cougaresk" relationships with horses far younger than she including my Hershey. Leave it to say, everyone always knows where Krissy stands on her opposite sex relationships. She is quite content in her retirement as long as her men are near.

Cami is a mare that is a bit of a Jeckel/Hyde pony that belongs to one of my students. She is deviously smart and quite lazy and thinks she gets opinion on everything. She is a good little jumper though and is teaching Lexie to be a strong little rider out of self defense if nothing else.

I will blog more about the other horses on another day but a quick run down is Maxim -who is gorgeous but is a "special needs child", Chief - the prankster with a heart of gold, Max - who is the laziest former winning racehorse I have ever known, Mason - very sweet but "rides the short bus", Memo - well lets just say she has "issues", Honey - heart of gold very tolerant mare and last but not least Jake - (Honey's son) who is only 4, very kind but has a little bit of the devil in him.

Well that is the update for now, I hope I have not bored everybody but I just find each of the horses individuality one of those simple joys of living around horses. Like those little things that Laura wrote about. How are all of your herds doing? I hope that the new year brings joy in the little things and prosperity and success in the big ones.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Authors and Artists

In my loooong writing career, I've had the pleasure of working with many professionals in the book business: editors, copy editors, illustrators, bookstore managers, librarians etc. Because most publishers want to control the art/covers of books, authors don't usually work directly with artists. Fortunately, I've often had input in my book covers, even if it's simply the editor asking my opinion. Because of this, and because a friend of mine is also an artist, I have developed huge respect for artists. Their job is often tougher and less celebrated than the writer's.

Fortunately, Ruth Sanderson, the artist illustrating the "Horse Diaries" series, has received much-deserved kudos from reviewers. I absolutely love her art, and the cover of my book Risky Chance the seventh book in the series is gorgeous.

Ruth has illustrated all the books in the series, including Bell's Star, book two, (written by me as well although there are many different authors), and I am convinced her art is a major reason the series is selling like hotcakes. She has a blog where she explains in detail how she creates the covers and inside art. It is quite a job involving models, period clothing, horses and photos before the initial drawings are begun. It's a fun and informative blog for anyone interested in art/horses/writing.

I was honored to meet Ruth, discuss the books with her, and send resources back and forth, especially for Risky Chance, which is set in the 1930s when Seabiscuit and thoroughbred racing reigned supreme. I had to do a lot of research, which I passed on to her, so I feel as if I have had some input into the book's art, but I know well that Ruth has done all the hard work. I'll have to wait until fall 2011 to see the interior illustrations, and I can't wait!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Horse Who Leads Me

I am definitely an animal person. I think that either you are or you aren’t and each side probably does not understand the other. I have always had animals in my life—dogs, cats, horses. There was never not a time when I didn’t have an animal around me. As a kid I was known to bring home strays—cats and dogs. I now bring home horses, and I seemed to have passed on my stray traits as my oldest son who is nineteen just brought home a puppy “from the side of the road.” Hmmmm…questionable.

Anyway, I would have to say that hands down my favorite animal is the horse. I have had horses in my life since I was five-years-old and I can’t imagine a life without them. It’s interesting because in the horse world there are two types of horse owners. There are the owners who see the horses as a business and that is their right. I have a family member who has a horse business and she doesn’t allow herself to get attached to them because it is her business. And then there are the suckers like me. I only jokingly refer to myself as a sucker but many would say that I am because facts are that horses are not cheap to keep. I have had to work some creative financing over the years during rough times to be sure the horses are well fed and taken care of. I view my horses like I do family. They are part of our family. When I make a commitment to a horse that animal has a home for life.

A couple of years ago, I made the decision to start showing again and really involving myself in the equestrian world as my little girl had taken a keen interest in riding and showing as well. I wasn’t actively looking for a horse for myself at that time, but I was for my daughter. But you know how when you’re not looking for something, it just tends to put itself right in front of you? This is exactly what happened. Through a friend I heard about a mare who needed a new home. She was a grey
Thoroughbred who had done her rounds on the show jumping circuit and who needed an amateur adult rider. I decided to take a look and of course when I saw her I fell in love. She was all they said that she was—sweet, beautiful, willing, smart and honest. I was super excited to get her home and work with her and plan out our show season.

However, it wasn’t long after I brought her home that I noticed she was off. Neither the vet, the trainer or myself could tell where the lameness was coming from exactly. The vet blocked her, we ran tests, we tried acupuncture, chiropractic, etceteras. I babied her and she seemed to get better and we started back on a slow course to work. Then she went lame again. We started the stall rest, easy program to work another time. It finally appeared that she was going to be okay. I set out to ride her one day and when I put her in the round pen for a little exercise I noticed her begin to weave like a drunk. It scared me so badly. Terri (best trainer and friend ever—yes I’m a brown noser) took a look and we thought maybe she had EPM. I prayed for her issue to be EPM because I knew the alternative wasn’t great.

It turned out that Krissy was indeed afflicted with the alternative, which is a neurological disorder called “Wobblers Disease.” Wobblers can be hereditary or caused by some kind of accident, which I am inclined to think was the real reason for the disease. When a horse develops Wobblers Disease, the symptoms are created by what is called stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal. A horse with Wobblers Disease has vertebra that are not shaped correctly, and pressure is exerted on the spine from these odd-shaped bones.

What this meant for Krissy and me was that my sweet mare was not going to ever be able to ridden again unless I was willing to let her go through an expensive and risky surgery. I had some people tell me to put her down. I asked the vet what were the implications of this mare living with this disease. The vet told me that the disease isn’t painful but that the negative is that she may become frightened and confused because she is feeling unstable. That was a year ago and I still have Krissy. She does not seem to be afraid or confused in the least. In fact, she seems pretty darn happy. She gets turned out daily and she has an ongoing love affair with her very handsome neighbor “Will,” who lucky me is now riding. She knickers when she hears my voice and she is only slightly spoiled with lots of treats, grooming and whispers from me on what a special horse she is. Yes, I know that some people say that I am crazy. Trust me, I’m fine with that.

I have been asked by a few people about the expense and why I would maintain it and not have her put to sleep. This just aggravates me and actually really makes me pretty darn angry. I don’t think of Krissy as an expense. She is family. Interestingly and ironically enough, at about the same time Krissy was diagnosed with “Wobblers,” my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. And in some strange round-about-way, my mare has helped teach me more about empathy, appreciation and patience when it concerns both my father and her, and frankly, everyone around me. My dad’s and mare’s diseases are similar as they both have instability and balance issues and because I learn daily from my equine partners I have been able to take what Krissy has taught me about her disease in her own language (and believe me, horses have their own language and are quite intelligent) and look at what my dad is going through in a way that I am not sure I would have without my horse leading me. I am thankful for my big beautiful girl everyday and all she brings into my life.

Animals can and do teach us so much and for me, my animals are an extension of my family and friends. Sometimes to comprehend what they want us to know, all we have to do is pay attention.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just Haven't Met You Yet!

I've got the green light, the search is on. It’s official; I’m looking for a new horse to ride and I’m SO excited!

My husband’s blessing probably had to something to do with my wistful sighs (and occasional tears) while flicking through photograph albums dedicated to my recently retired ultra-wonderful Kwintus’. He probably also picked up a subliminal message or two from the old dog-eared copies of “Dressage Today” strewn randomly around the house. I’m also guessing he noticed my obsessive compulsive trawling through dozens of “Horses for Sale” sites on the Internet like a woman possessed. In fact, the way I’ve been carrying on, the webmasters of British “Horse and Hound Online” probably think they have a stalker. Over the past few weeks I must have viewed hundreds of adverts boasting the likes of “Superstar in the Making”, “Stunning All Rounder”, “Dream Ride”, “Eye-catching Performance Horse”, or “Impressive Talent”. I’ve read them all, studied the photographs, viewed the videos on You Tube over and over and over, checking out hind leg action, sussing out attitude, mulling over suitability, and converting British Pounds into Swiss Francs. Which is silly really, not to mention a complete waste of time as my new horse is most likely to come from Holland or Germany seeing as that’s where my trainer has her contacts. But I don’t speak German, so can’t read their equivalent of “Horse and Hound”. Bummer.

With Michael Bublé’s “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” stuck in my mind, I’ve spent hours day-dreaming, thinking, trying to pin-point what I’m looking for in my next horse, which is probably also totally pointless as my heart will recognize “the one” the minute he or she appears in the arena. Who I bring back will also depend on the vet check. But what can I say? I’m like a kid waiting for Father Christmas! In fact, it’s all I can I do stop myself from cantering around the garden, hands holding imaginary reins, like I did when I was about six. Well, yes, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.

So what do I want? Let’s see. I don’t want a youngster. I’ve been there, done that, fallen off, hurt myself. If I had the financial resources to have my trainer come over several times a week, and if the infrastructure of my riding stables were more enclosed (talk about the great wide open!), I might possibly maybe perhaps consider buying a four-year-old, as someone I know is selling a gorgeous German warmblood. But that’s not the case, so case closed. And please place me in restraints if, over the next few weeks, I give the slightest indication of caving for a baby. Actually, I’m pretty sure my trainer would talk me out of such bubbled-headed behavior, so not to worry.

Obviously, it's going to be a Warmblood. Ideally, I’d like an eight-year-old. But then, everyone wants eight-year-olds. Eight-year-olds are often perfect; they’ve come out of that silly adolescent stage, and are ready to settle down. Eight-year olds also tend to be the most expensive, so I may have to up the age counter a little. Or maybe I’ll have to down the age counter a little. A six or seven-year-old with a nice, easy character could be manageable. Also, I figure I don’t need a horse with a big, extravagant movement as I’m not a competition aficionado. I’d like a comfy trot, and a round, rolling canter. I’d like something big, preferably over 16.3 as I’m tall, big boned, with long legs. I’d like a horse with a quiet mind (as Laura so wonderfully put it in one of her recent blogs), not a wiggly worrier. I’d like a horse that enjoys working, but also enjoys a quiet ride through the country. I’d like a friendly, inquisitive, people-horse, one that likes to be groomed and stroked and fussed over. And I’d kind of like a nice thick tail so I can play Barbie-horse!

Coming back to the age issue, I’d rather not go into double figures as the years really do zip by, and I’m hoping for a long-term riding relationship. In fact, last week, just before my daughter went back to England for University, I suddenly had a disturbing revelation: I’m going to be 50 at the end of this year, so this could well be the last “somewhat prancy” horse I ever buy! I mean, I know that the great thing about riding is that people can do it well into their golden years, but still. Will I really be considering a somewhat “prancy” horse when I’m 65? Maybe I will, but right now I don’t know, and the realization came like a blow to my stomach. When I mentioned this to my daughter she rolled her eyes and tutted, and gave me the “oh mama!” treatment, but I was so perturbed by this that I talked it over with one of my best friends, Ian, also turning 50 at the end of the year, when he called me out of the blue from London the other day.

Amusingly, Ian described a similar brain-slap while shopping in a high-end shoe shop last week with his ten-year-old son. There he was, trying on a pair of expensive, good quality shoes, mulling over whether or not to buy them, when his son said to him “You know what, Daddy? These shoes will probably last you for the rest of your life. In fact, they might be the last pair of shoes you ever buy.” Ian and I giggled about it, and then proceeded to reassure one another that we’ll be buying plenty more shoes and horses in the coming decades, but still… Good grief! The time is always now, but suddenly it seems like my almost fifty-year-old "now" is even more now-ish.

What do you think? If you were setting out on a search for your perfect horse, what would you look for?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Little Things

by Laura Crum

Horses can be frustrating. I’ve only ridden two or three times in the last month. It rained most of December, and promptly on New Year’s Day, I got sick with the flu and felt really lousy for a week—when, of course, it was sunny. So, if you think of horses as being about riding, it was pretty much a wasted month. The thing is, I didn’t find it so.

We’ve had a few blogs here about not riding and writing as much as we used to, and being more ample than we used to be, and all these things can be said of me, too. And I will admit to those moments of wishing I didn’t have any horses when the corrals are full of mud and its raining once again. I think we all have moments like that. But for me, the big answer has come in the little things.

If I evaluated the joy I get out of horses solely on how much I ride, this last month would have been pretty joyless. But, in fact, there were lots and lots of moments when I felt tremendous joy and happiness with my horses and they were all about very small things.

Horses are, as I think Kel pointed out, far more about doing chores than about riding—at least for most of us. But what exactly is a chore and what is a pleasure? Take feeding the horses, which I do every day. (When I was the sickest, my husband fed for two days, and let me tell you, it was very hard for me to admit that I felt too sick to go down to the barn.) During one of the rainy spells (before I got sick), I fed everyone their flake one evening and then sat in my chair under the haybarn roof, watching the horses munch their hay as dusk gathered in the stormy sky. The horses munched rythmically, the rain rattled on the metal roof, the breeze made the oak trees creak. I sat and watched the leaves flutter down while the horses chomped contentedly and I felt perfectly happy. What could be nicer than such a moment?

I guess you could argue that I’m having more fun during those times when I’m trail riding a lot, and maybe I am. But I’m really not sure. Depends how you define fun. These quieter moments can be every bit as lovely and joyful. Chores can be as much fun as fun.

Another example: during the winter storms I blanket my thirty-one year old gelding, Gunner, who lives in a pasture about ten/fifteen minutes from my house. Since it stormed so much in December, I was out there all the time, blanketing Gunner and then taking the blanket off so he could enjoy the sunshine. Some would call this tedious—and yes, in the midst of an already busy day, its one more chore. But once I had made time to do it, I inevitably took much joy in rubbing on my old friend, either tucking him into his “blankie” so he’d be cozy, or getting him out of it and watching him roll in the green grass. Gunner really seemed to enjoy all the attention I was giving him, and the pleasure we both felt in connecting like that means just as much to me as the trophies I won competing on him.

I think it all depends on how you look at it. If you think you OUGHT to be riding four days a week, and turning out a published book a year and weighing less than a certain amount, then you’re going to be unhappy if its not happening. But what if you just look at what is without judgement? Maybe its pretty good.

As for me, I don’t so much mind being ample, and I’ve written plenty of books for one lifetime, even if the upcoming one is the last. I love to ride, but I love to do the chores, too. And I love wandering around the garden and the barnyard just watching things. Perhaps I love this best of all. Seeing what flowers are blooming, spotting a buck or a bobcat, just watching the light change on the opposite ridge. Watching the horses be horses. Its magical.

I am grateful every single day that I have horses living here with me. When I was a child, the perfect life that I imagined having some day was defined by one main thing. I would live in a place where I could have horses. And now I do. I can look out my window and see Sunny’s bright gold shape as I type. This, by itself, is a huge blessing. I am living my dream. In a way, this is not a little thing—it’s an enormous thing. When I think of it this way, riding/not riding, writing/not writing pales in comparison.

When I was sick with the flu and did not feel up to even handgrazing the horses, I still walked down to the barnyard in the sunshine in the middle of the day just to look at them. Sunny greeted me with a nicker and went to his gate, clearly wanting me to catch him. I greeted him, but told him he wasn’t getting out today. I know horses don’t speak English, but he looked me right in the eye and tossed his head and snorted. My little boy was with me and we both laughed at this. And then Sunny began trotting and loping around his big corral, spinning and crowhopping, snorting and even hitting the dead run for a few laps. My kid and I laughed and laughed as Sunny put on a show for several minutes. When he was done, he came back to the gate and snorted again, as if saying, “OK, how was that? I exercised myself.”

In the end, for me, all this is great fun, and though I like to ride and will continue riding, it ain’t the be all and end all. For me the joy is in the many, many little moments I share with my horses, including moments on their backs and moments doing the “chores”. And perhaps, most of all, moments just being with them and watching them.

So today I want to ask if others feel this way. And, also, if there are those who feel they wouldn’t have horses if they couldn’t ride. I’m interested in how you guys evaluate your life with horses.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Miracle of Birth - via Webcam

I spent the last week, along with thousands of other people all over the world, worrying and waiting anxiously for a little mini-mare named Chantilly, quite overdue, to foal.

Chantilly and Snowflake, with her little blanket on.

Is it my mare? No. But after I started watching, I became absorbed in the wait for this sweet little mare to foal. She's on a farm in South Carolina, currently covered in snow and ice, and as if it's not bad enough worrying about your own livestock, now, through the power of the internet, you can fret, worry, and comment about animals all the way across the country ;-)

In fact, with the power of the internet and social networking, I was able to share the birth of this foal with relatives and friends from California to New York, all of us commenting, ooh and awing with delight and wonder.

Here is the link to the live WebCam:

but be forewarned, this site is very addictive! ;-)

At the moment, Chantilly and Snowflake, the foal born Sunday evening, 1/9/11 are featured, but I believe it will change as other mares become close to foaling. (And also, right now there is a link to a replay of Snowflake's birth.)

Also, if you go to the main page and click on "Due Dates" at the top, you'll go to a calendar with several more farms and animals due to foal. Then you'll never get anything done!

But as much as I'm making light of this, it was truly an awesome experience to be able to share the birth of a foal via the internet, because birth, no matter how many times you may have seen it, is always a miracle to me.
Have any of you used a Webcam or other camera to watch your horses? Did anyone else watch this birth?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Planning for the New Year

Equestrian Ink's first post was on 2/22/08. Since then we've grown in leaps and bounds thanks to our loyal readers.

The regular contributors to Equestrian Ink belong to a loop so we can communicate with each other. In the past few days, we've been organizing our new year, dicussing ideas, and working on a new schedule so we don't go more than a few days without a post.

As a result, I'd like to ask our readers to participate in our direction for 2011. Please take a moment to comment and offer your suggestions to make this blog better.
  • Are there particular topics you'd like to see covered or covered in more detail? Such as:
    • More or less about writing equestrian fiction, how to get published, what publishers publish equestrian fiction.
    • More riding-related topics.
    • More horse-care related topics.
    • More personal accounts of our horses or our horse experiences.
  • Do you have any ideas for guest bloggers? If you'd like to guest blog, contact one of our members, and they'll help you out.
  • Do you have any suggestions for items to be added to our sidebar? Such as:
    • Links to other blogs.
    • Useful links to websites.
    • Links to interesting horse videos.
  • Anything other suggestions you might have.
We'd love to hear from you. This is your blog, too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

On Writing

I've noticed that the blog posts that elicit the most comments are usually about riding and horses. Since I really do nothing exciting with my horses in the cold weather except slog through mud and snow to care for them, I tend to be more interested in the subject of writing. And not writing. Because as most writers know and as Jami, Laura and Linda and I have discussed here before, being an author is fraught with emotional ups and downs.

I mentioned that I have been reading a book called "Unstuck." The book discusses why the creative act of writing is so difficult even for those who love it passionately. (Sort of like relationships.) I recommend it to every writer who has ever encountered block. Some of the information is repetitive, but I gained insights from each chapter. Fortunately, when the emotional blocks are overcome and the writing flows, it is an incredible feeling. Unfortunately, after that story or novel is carefully crafted and polished, it is subjected to the 'slaps in the face' that go hand in hand with publishing. Unless a writer is self-publishing, rejections by agents, editors and reviewers are a given. For me, these rejections create a different kind of writers block that is just as devastating.

My first story was published in 1984 in Highlights magazine. Since then my career has had more ups and downs than a posting trot. Why did I persevere through all the downs? I have been asked that question often. German stubbornness is one explanation. But I think "because I can NOT write" is the only explanation that makes sense since too many times, writing and publishing is like hitting myself in the head. But even after the worst downs, even after I vowed that I was through with writing, I would one day feel a kernel of an idea forming in my brain. The kernel would stick and a character would grow, and then . . .
You get the idea.
What gets you over the 'downs'? What keeps you writing? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


by Laura Crum

Awhile ago I wrote about a woman named “Nancy” who had asked me for advice on finding a family horse for her daughters. Nancy knew nothing about horses and was very timid. I introduced her to a competent young trainer I know named Bill. Bill had a horse he thought might fit her—a gelding in his teens named Walt. I watched Nancy and her daughters try the horse and Walt seemed suitable. However, it was clear that the horse wasn’t totally sound—no bob, but an awkwardness in the hind leg action. I thought, and Bill agreed, that Walt had something going on high up in the rear end. Still, he was servicably sound as a kid’s horse and quite gentle.

Anyway, Nancy passed on the horse and did not choose to use Bill as a helper. I left on vacation shortly after that, and when I saw Nancy again several months later, she had bought a horse and a pony—sans advice. She seemed quite happy with them and had chosen to board them with a woman, I’ll call her Sally, who had agreed to “help” her. Well, I knew of Sally by reputation, and I didn’t think she was a terribly competent helper, but, as I pointed out in my last blog post on this subject, I also didn’t think it would be all that useful to Nancy if I chimed in with some unasked for advice at this point. Nancy was happy with the situation—I felt it best to keep my thoughts to myself.

OK. Fast forward six months. Nancy’s daughters are in my homeschool group and I heard them talking about how their pony had bit and kicked at them. This alarmed me and I asked Nancy how it was going. I’m sure you all can guess what had happened.

In the intervening six months, the pony had gone from perfect manners to offering to bite and kick. Sally had done nothing to help them, just pointed out that the pony was having issues. The horse had had soundness issues. And, to top it off, Nancy could no longer afford to board the two animals with Sally and was looking for some place cheaper and closer to home—so far with no luck.

I have to admit, I stared at the woman in consternation. I like Nancy. I love her daughters. I wish only the best for them. But the number of problems contained in this five minute blast of information struck me as pretty much impossible to solve. Why had she chosen to buy TWO horses when she couldn’t afford the board bill? Why had she elected not to work with the competent person that I had steered her to but instead chosen Sally, who was charging her a very high board and lived an hour from her? Why had she selected her animals without the advice of an experienced helper?

Once again, I recommended to Nancy that she get a competent helper. At this point Nancy had decided for herself that Sally wasn’t much help, and seemed open to this suggestion. But now Nancy was also looking for cheap board, and I knew Bill would not be interested in this. So I recommended another woman I know who is a good horseman and teaches a lot of beginners. Unfortunately, I don’t think she offers cheap board either. And to make matters worse, this was a month ago, and since then it has rained pretty much non-stop. All horse people in the area are impacted by this. Experienced horse people with good situations struggle with mud. What in the world is going to happen to Nancy’s poor horse and pony? With an owner who has no experience and essentially no place to keep them.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and solve this problem. But I can’t. I told Nancy to feel free to come to me with questions, but I could neither board her horses nor help with their training. I am happy to advise her the best I can, but I think she’s put herself in a tough spot. Even if she wanted to get rid of the horses, nobody’s buying right now.

So, in the interests of preventing someone else from landing in a similar predicament, I’d like to offer some preventitive advice. If you are new to horses and think you’d like to buy one, select a competent horseman to help you. Ask your friends who have horses for advice on who to choose as a helper. Offer to pay said helper by the hour. Try to avoid a helper who makes a commision on the horse you buy or who only wants to sell you a horse. Don’t get into horse ownership without carefully considering where you will keep the horse and what this will cost.

In Nancy’s case, she had originally told me that she meant to keep her horse at her home. And she does have some land. However, when I asked her the specific question: “Do you have a fenced horse setup?” she said that she “meant to build a fence”. When I asked her what kind of fence, she clearly had no idea. I gave her some suggestions, and she declined them, saying they were “too expensive”. And, so far, it appears that she hasn’t built anything.

So, build the corral first—before you get the horse. If you can’t afford to build the corral, you can’t afford the horse. Or, line up the place where you will board. Make sure you can afford it and that its close enough to be workable. If you can’t find a suitable place then you’re not ready to buy a horse.

Consider the pitfalls of horse ownership. They are many and expensive. I love my horses dearly, but almost the first thing I say to a prospective new horse owner is “Are you sure you can handle this? It’s a lot of work and very expensive and you will need to work with a competent helper--at least for awhile.”

I don’t mean to discourage prospective new horse owners, but I have had a lifetime of experience learning how to deal with horses. It is totally impossible for me or anyone else to simply hand you this body of knowledge. It will take you many years to acquire it. And even then, there will be fences to build and vet bills and many other expenses that you didn’t know would be so high, as well as mistakes made—and yes, we experienced horseman make plenty of mistakes, too. I guess the big difference is that we more or less expect that we’ll have to deal with some expensive pitfalls. That’s the horse business.

So my advice to new horse owners would be to expect the unexpected. And expect it to be expensive. What advice would you offer?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Blog for Jami and the Rest of Us

Jamie's blog could have been written by me, and it sounds as if others feel many of the same thoughts. For Christmas, I gave myself the book "Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer's Block" by Jane Anne Staw because I was very aware that for the past several months I was indeed stuck with my writing. It has helped--I have two pages of a prospective novel (That I avoided writing by researching forever) finally on paper-but reading the book wasn't the only thing I needed to do to help me move more forcefully into 2011. Like Jamie, the first thing I had to do was express my thoughts and fears. What was keeping me frozen? What had happened to my passion for writing? What had happened to that energetic 'me' who juggled job, kids, household, creative demands, rode regularly and volunteered? Well, the truth is, that person has gotten older.
Linda has blogged many times about enjoying a quieter and more contemplative life with horses. Her thoughts and introspections have resonated with me. Part of me has enjoyed this more peaceful pace--today my daughter (who will soon head back to college) and I spent an hour watching the birds at the feeder. But the other part mourns the disappearance of that person who had limitless energy and resolve, and I often feel sad as well as fearful that somehow I have lost 'me.'
Jamie, perhaps some of what I have been going through makes sense for you, too. Do you see some parallels between you and Gailey? The two of you have been partners for a long time. Now that relationship has changed, and maybe you are mourning that loss of athletic and competitive energy you both had. Sometimes we have to work through that sadness before moving on. I hope in time you can find a new way to exercise that gives you joy because as every magazine article states, exercise is key to keeping up your spirits and health. For me, religiously walking my dogs twice a day (rain or shine)has helped keep me moving, plus I continue to enjoy trail riding when the weather and footing cooperate.
Now, back to the writer's block. "Unstuck" made me dig deep and think about the anxieties and fears that plague me. It might be a worthwhile read for you, I don't know. I also have "The Writers Book of Hope" on my bedside table. I do know that I have lost that 'hunger' and drive I had when I first started writing. I also continue to lose heart when I get a bad review or rejection from an editor. (Even after publishing 60 books. Sheesh, you'd think I'd be over that touchiness that by now.) Does it help that you and I are not alone? That all authors have a tough time moving beyond those hurts and anxieties? Probably not. But I hope you find a way to conquer your own worries and 'stucks'--writing them down and sharing them was a great first step!

Of Writing and Ridng--Regaining My Passion

With the coming of the New Year, I’m attempting to recommit to my riding and my writing. Over the past couple years, I’ve struggled with finding time for my riding and my writing.

Even though I completed and submitted two books before the end of 2010, it took almost two years to finish the one book and the other was only 25,000 words. There was a time when I could write a 100,000 words in a month. I’d write like I was on fire, so full of ideas they just raced onto the page. I haven’t been able to re-capture the passion of writing in the past couple years.

It seems I come home from my day job and am too exhausted to do something which requires mental energy. In fact, once I finish dinner and deal with other demands on my time, I find myself sitting on the couch reading or watching TV. Even when I try to write, most of what I write is forced. This is not like me.

In order to regain my passion for writing, I actually chose a topic which doesn’t sell well but is a definite interest of mine: football. My next romance novel features a football hero. While I did fall in love with the hero and heroine, the writing still didn’t come easily. Currently, I’m writing the sequel and struggling to find the words to put on paper. I even added a cat character and a few horses, hoping they’d give me incentive. So far, it’s not working.

When I write, I like to crawl into the characters’ heads and lose myself. I become the characters and get lost in the zone. I’ll be constantly imagining scenes in my head while commuting to work or merely sitting around watching TV. So far, that’s not happening. Not like I want it to happen.

Which brings me to riding as I believe the two are related. My passion for riding has waned along with my passion for writing. I’ve barely ridden in the past two years. I might ride a few times a week when Gailey is sound. I can count on one hand the times I’ve managed to ride 4 days a week in the past couple years. As a result, I have put in about 10 pounds per year. Riding has always been my preferred workout method. Without it, I’ve packed on the pounds. I’m appalled when I see pictures of myself.

I’m constantly feeling guilty because I’ll stop by the barn but not ride. It’s quite easy anymore for me to talk myself out of riding:

It’s too hot. It’s too cold. I’m too tired. There’re too many people in the arena. There’s no one in the arena.

Last month Gailey came up lame in her front leg this time. I’m to start bringing her back slowly. Slow is not a problem. Bringing her back is a problem. So far, I haven’t put a saddle on her or taken her out of her stall.

Somehow, I need to find the ambition and energy to regain my passion for riding and writing. I’m always better under pressure. I’m hoping I can find a way to put pressure on myself to increase my consistency.

For one, my new publisher won’t put my series name on my first book unless they have the 2nd book in the series in hand. This makes perfect sense as many publishers get burned by authors submitting book 1 of a series and no subsequent books. The publication date for Fourth and Goal is May. I would most likely need to have book 2 submitted by April 1 or sooner. Now that’s pressure. Whether it’s enough. I haven’t a clue.

On to the riding part of the equation. I’m not showing anymore, which was the incentive I used to ride in the past. I need to lose weight, yet so far that incentive hasn’t worked for me. In fact, I cringe every time I ride by the arena mirrors and glance at my fat body bouncing around on the back of my mare. I used to be one of the thinnest people at the barn, now I’m the opposite.

I’m at a loss as to how to motivate myself for riding. Possible weight loss isn’t doing it. Showing is pretty much out of the question based on Gailey’s soundness issues, but also not an option financially.

I want my passion back. I want to look forward to going to the barn every day. I want to think about how much fun it will be to get on the back of my horse and learn something new. I want to feel those feelings again. I haven’t been making riding a priority, as it once was in my life. Everything else takes priority, even watching TV.

I don’t know how to get my passion back? Can you force passion? Can a person force themselves into a writing and riding routine, create a habit of doing both, and in the process re-create the passion? Or will it make me resent the time away from other things? Quitting is not an option; and believe me, I’ve considered it. Books and horses have been a part of my life since I was old enough to walk. I cannot picture a life without them, yet I seem to be at a loss as to how to fit them into my current life. I’m too busy, and most likely too stressed with day-to-day obligations and chores. By the time I get off work at night, I just want to crash.

Maybe I need to look into supplements or vitamins and approach my lack of ambition from a physical point of view.

I know we all struggle with priorities and finding time in our busy lives. What’s worked for some of you? How do you juggle your day job, your family obligations, and still leave room for your passions, your hobbies, yourself? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.