Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Stories of 2011

It's New Year's Eve and the local paper is filled with the top ten stories of the year both locally and globally. The earthquake in Japan, the civil wars in the Middle East, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the US economy were all top stories. I cringingly have to admit that though all of these emotionally and mentally engaged me when I read about or heard about them in the news, my family and I were affected by none of these huge incidents. Virginia had a teeny earthquake and a teenier drought. My husband and I both have secure jobs, and my family and animals are all healthy. How are so many of us lucky enough to escape the world's turmoil? It is a question that puzzles me when I see photos of starving children and tsunamis engulfing a town.

One of the issues that didn't make the top ten was Congress lifting the ban on horse slaughter in the US. I uploaded this image because it depicts horses that were rescued before they went to Mexican slaughterhouse. In 2010, 138,000 horses were shipped to Mexico and Canada. I did not research this site/blog where the image came from, but I do know that the photos represent the many healthy horses being auctioned and sold for slaughter. The topic is a hot one and elicits much debate with pros and cons on both sides. An article in my local paper on December 11, quotes a woman in my area who wants to be able to butcher old, injured or troublesome horses in order to feed her dogs. The Virginia Horse Council feels that it is better to slaughter horses locally where the process can be regulated instead of shipping them long distances. The organization is also in favor because it hears stories of too many abandoned horses and livestock traders "locking up their trailers at auctions lest they find unwanted horses when they return." Hay prices have doubled in many areas due to drought, and the poor economy, which has made many jobless, has forced people to make a decision about their animals. A healthy, well-trained horse might find a good home. But what about older, less attractive prospects? Euthanizing a horse in VA costs about $200; laws forbid burying your horse on your property so there is then a disposal fee. Even PETA supported the repeal of the ban for slaughter in the US though many animal rights groups are pushing for a total ban on slaughter of horses here and in foreign countries.

I am on the fence. Dogs and cats continue to be abused and abandoned and then put to sleep at shelters because of owners who do not take responsibility, so it is naive to think that if there is a ban on horse slaughter, humans will stop breeding unwanted horses. I know this blog is not the place to discuss any of the top ten issues, nor do I want to get in a huge argument. But in the context of my life, I know I am blessed and lucky to be able to teach, ride, volunteer, garden, read, write and raise a healthy and happy family of humans and animals while too many are not so fortunate.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grateful



by Laura Crum

As the year draws to a close, I always think about what I’m grateful for. And lots of it is obvious. My family, our home, our animals, my happy life. But I will admit, I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking my happy life is a bit, well, boring. I contrast my life with others, who seem to be doing much more, and I think that my own life, while peaceful and pleasant, is dull.

So today I really started to think of all that I have done in 2011. I started going through my photos. And I have to admit, it really opened my eyes. Suddenly it seemed as though I’d seen and done many memorable things. Maybe my life isn’t terribly exciting, but its beautiful.

In this post, I want to show you some of the lovely things I’ve been doing in the last year. I’m very grateful that these things have come my way. And I would encourage all of you to stop and look at your own photos and really take stock of what the year has brought you. Sometimes its pretty cool.

Here, in no particular order, are some things I did this year.

Swam in Lake Michigan at sunset.

Camped in the Valley of the Gods (and other lovely places in the Four Corners area) with my family.

Rafted down the Poudre River in eastern Colorado with my family.

Adopted a terrier Chihuahua cross puppy from the animal shelter.

Took many happy trail rides with my son on the trails near our home.

Listened to my husband play the bagpipes in various settings (here at our local cemetery on Memorial Day).

Looked at lots of petroglyphs with my husband and son (These are in the Ute Tribal Park, in the Four Corners Area, near the place we were allowed to camp, miles from anyone else.)

Rode on the beach with my kid and our friend, Wally.

Rode to the Lookout—two miles from our place, overlooking the Monterey Bay.


Visited the fields where my husband grows begonias.


Spent many happy hours looking at the world past my horse’s ears.

So there you have it. The list is far from complete, but it still makes me smile. Maybe my life isn’t so boring after all. Maybe my life is just perfect (for me). I hope you enjoyed the photos—I realize this is kind of a narcissistic blog post. But try this exercise yourself; you might like it. And I’d love to see the images you choose to represent your year.

Happy New Year’s Everyone! I have really enjoyed your comments and reading your blogs. Thank you to all of those who have connected with me over the past year. I wish you and yours all the best in the year to come.--Laura

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Year on the Ground

Well, this is it.

My longest drought since I got into the game.

People ask me how I manage.

"I stay busy," I reply.

Christmas Day marked 365 days since I was on the back of a horse, and I can hardly believe it. Not in a where did the time go? kind of faux-nostalgic way, because years are long, and the only reason why people think they are short is because they don't want to admit that they put off their Christmas shopping until the last week of December again (you know who you are).

Years are long.

Especially when you haven't been on a horse.

But I stay busy, as I say. I don't want to go so far as to say that 2011 was my best year ever because I didn't get on a horse, but then again, my knees, ankles, lower back, and ring fingers are all simply thrilled with this turn of events, so there is that. My middle-section was less than enthusiastic about the sudden lack of exercise, sparking my decision to go on a diet which I never would have considered were I still flinging manure and posting trot for miles on end, and since said diet has left me healthier than I have ever been in my life ever, there is that, as well.

Now, this isn't too say that I don't  think about horses. I think about horses roughly 75% of the time. I just think about them differently. More abstractly.

Instead of puzzling over Gelding A's mysterious lameness and Mare B's chronic rain rot from hell and Colt C's addiction to biting, I think about horses in the plural. Hundreds of thousands of horses. I worry over them. I research them. I write about them. I obsess over the horses of the world much the same way I used to obsess over the horses in my field.

I'll always be a horsewoman. You can't take that out of a person. But we all have different ways of contributing to the horse world. For me, right now, it's to spend my days at a desk, puzzling out how to turn retired racehorses into gold medalist Olympians. I spend so much time on Retired Racehorse Blog, I have to figure out a blogging schedule that will stop it from interfering with my fiction writing. In fact, when I have weeks like last week (ten thousand page views as the whole Thoroughbred world came to back up my post "Show Jumping's Wake Up Call") it's hard to think how else I could be of use to horses.

And I have to admit, I like the hours I'm keeping much better now. I never was a morning person. As Robert B. Parker once wrote, "Racehorses get up early as hell." Like, right around my preferred bed-time.

This year's goal, though: get on a horse. A couple of times. Maybe once a month. Dressage lessons in Prospect Park would suit me just fine. It's going to take a few more book sales to make that happen, though. So I guess I better get back to my novel.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What a Kid with a Horse Learns About Life

This was up on Eventing Nation not too long ago, and I loved it so much I wanted to share it here. It is how my Dad felt about getting me a horse as a kid, and why he started in on me about making sure our daughter had a horse (he started in on me when she was a baby).

If there are any parents out there contemplating buying a horse for your kid(s), then read this.

Happy Holidays!

Michele

A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children


My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future.

As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem.

The parents of these same girls have asked me why I "waste" the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I'm told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation's "slacker" label on my child. I don't think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no "days off" just because you don't feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don't matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn't care if you're wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it. -

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren't produced is not to breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and trying to out-smart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see, as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to "read" her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regard- less of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day. When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven't "wasted" a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Panicked

by Laura Crum

First of all, happy holidays to all on this winter solstice. From now on, the days get longer. Yippee!

And second, I am posting this from my ancient computer (thirteen years old, uses Windows 95), as the new one gave up and is in the shop. For some reason, I can’t seem to comment on posts, so if I don’t reply to something you say, its because I can’t (and on my previous post, too—I would like to thank all of you who gave me such insightful comments—and White Horse Pilgrim, I really appreciate your thoughts and your blog). I do read and very much enjoy all comments, and hopefully will get myself back in working order here soon. And really, such minor setbacks as computer woes are a small thing when you think about it. My family and critters are thriving, and I’m very grateful for this. My 12th mystery novel comes out in the spring, allowing me to achieve the goal I set for myself many years ago—to write a dozen published books in my series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy. I’m actually pretty amazed that I did it. And I recently accepted a job teaching at our local community college, so overall, things are going just great. I can handle a few computer woes.

I had in mind to do a sort of year end wrap up post with lots of photos, but this computer would pass out if asked to post a photo, so instead I thought I’d tell you about my latest equine adventure. I’m hoping this small story may help someone else avoid a similar problem.

So, anyway, we’ve been riding two or three days a week and all has gone very smoothly. My son has been teaching Henry to pop over (very) small jumps. Big fun. But most of my energy lately has been going into fixing-up-the-place type projects. I’ve been living here--and keeping horses here—for twenty years, and some things are starting to wear out or get overgrown. I replaced some feeders that were falling apart last week and decided to cut down a euchalyptus tree that was in the wrong place on the ridge above the corrals and barn. Euchalyptus are an invasive, non-native species here and they grow very fast. If I had left this one in place it would soon be towering over my barn in a threatening manner (they come down very easily in storms). So I asked my neighbor, who is a tree trimmer by trade, if he would cut it down for me.

Well, he was glad to, and refused to take my money; he said he’d “drop by some day; it will only take ten minutes.” Okey-dokey. I bet some of you can see where this is going already.

Sure enough, my neighbor came by with his chainsaw one afternoon last week. I pointed out the tree on the ridge above the corrals. Not being a complete idiot, I said, “Let me catch the horse that’s closest to the tree before you start.” And I headed down to the barn to catch Twister, my boarder, whose corral is nearest the tree. And my neighbor headed up the ridge toward the euchalyptus.

By the time I got to the barn it was already too late. Twister, who can be a very flighty horse, was already in full panic mode, just from hearing my neighbor crashing through the brush above the barn. He couldn’t actually see what was making the noise, which was intensifying his fear. All the other horses had their ears up but were calm. Twister was bouncing off the fence panels like a pinball, and I could tell from his demeanor that he was going to try to jump the fence pretty soon.

Instantly my mind flashed back to the last time I had seen a horse do this particular thing. Fifteen or twenty years ago we had four two-year-olds in a round corral on a hot June day. Not a breeze was stirring. One of the horses began to act the way Twister was acting now. We all stared at this gelding in consternation, not understanding what could be wrong. The other three two-year-olds stared at him. This went on for a minute or two. And then, simultaneously, two separate things happened. The wacked out young horse tried to jump the fence and essentially went right through a pipe panel, destroying it in the process, and a big oak tree that overhung the corral went crashing to the ground.

The other two-year-olds followed the first one through the wreckage of the panel in a panic and we all stared at the oak tree that had suddenly given up the ghost in amazement. Shaking our heads, we agreed that the one colt must have heard tiny noises that warned him the tree was about to fall. And we all desperately hoped that none of the young horses was badly injured. Eventually we got the colts caught and found that scrapes were the worst of it, which was incredibly lucky. It would have been very easy for the broken pipes to have done some serious damage to the horses. And I knew I was looking at the same possibility here with Twister.

I can’t tell you how fast my heart went to the pit of my stomach when I saw the blind panic in that horse’s eyes. I hollered at my neighbor to freeze, even as I tried to get Twister’s attention, just get him to acknowledge my presence. No go on either front. My neighbor, not a horseman, shouted cheerfully back that he wouldn’t start the chainsaw until he heard from me…and kept on crashing through the brush toward the tree. Twister kept bouncing madly off the fences, his eyes bugging out in panic, his nostrils as wide as they could get. Great. Just great.

I stepped into the corral, thinking to myself that I was going to be seriously pissed off if this horse ran me down and hurt me. I don’t have time to be hurt. I’ve organized my horse life for many years such that it is very low risk. And here I was, about to catch (or try to catch) a horse that was out of his mind with fear.

Once again, I yelled at my neighbor to please freeze, hold absolutely still. This time he heard me, thank God. “Oh,” he said, “You want me to hold still.”

When the crashing in the brush stopped, Twister eventually paused in his frantic charging about. For the first time, he looked at me. He was still mighty scared, shaking all over, but he was looking at me.

OK then. I talked to him and moved steadily toward him. He stayed where he was, looking at me. I could tell he was taking some reassurance from me. I got my hand on his neck and patted him, told him what a silly critter he was, and reached up to get the halter over his nose. This was not a pleasant moment. Twister is high headed at the best of times (and this was not the best of times), and I am short. I had to stand right under him to get the halter on him. I felt like I was catching a wild giraffe. I crossed my fingers he would not choose this moment to panic again and charge over the top of me—and that my neighbor would keep on holding still.

I got the halter fastened. Now I just had to lead the beast away from here. It was a lot like leading a kite on a string on a windy day. Twister bounced around on the end of the leadrope, as skittish as a barely halter broke colt. But he knew enough not to try to drag me, and I got him over to a place where he could see what was going on, but wasn’t too close to it. He could also see the other four horses—who were not panicked. It wasn’t going to get any better than this. Tying Twister up was not an option—he’s known to pull back--hard. I just needed to hang on to him. I told my neighbor to go ahead.

One thing I can tell you for sure. Horses do not like the sound of trees crashing to the ground. Something deep in their DNA warns them that this is a danger. Not one of my horses, including Twister, batted an eye at the sound of the chainsaw. But the sound of the tree crashing down (and it was a multi-trunked tree, so this happened maybe a dozen times) did not go over well. My calm horses ran about a little, not panicked, just alarmed. Twister’s eyes bugged out again and he thought hard about leaving. I talked to him and kept a hand on him, while I watched to be sure no other horse looked like freaking out. I successfully kept Twister from departing the scene. He was scared but held it together. We did OK. Eventually the tree was down. We all heaved a huge sigh of relief. No harm done.

But…if I ever have more trees dropped, I am darn sure going to be prepared and have all the horses where they are not too close to the action (and by the way, they were all perfectly safe in reality—the felled tree came nowhere near the fence or barn, as I had known it would not), and I am going to make sure Wally is there to supervise his spooky gray gelding. The main thought that went through my head the whole time is “I am never going to forgive myself if this horse gets hurt on my watch” (and because of my dumb decision). Fortunately it didn’t happen. But I’ll remember to take felling trees a little more thoughtfully in the future. Always something new to learn.

Hope you all are having a happy holiday season. Cheers--Laura

Monday, December 19, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Horse!

I recently posted this photo (which was used on a long ago Christmas card to benefit Brooke, a charity for retired horses) on my Whirlwind Facebook page with the question: Who wants a horse under their Christmas tree? I received more comments to this photo than any I've posted all year. There were 100 likes, 32 comments, and 20 shares. Most commenters simply wrote "Meeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!" or "I doooooooo!!" And I totally understood. I have been loving horses since I was four-years-old and can't imagine a life without them.

However . . . a life with horses is not without challenges (as every horse owner knows and which makes for wonderful blogs!) especially financial ones. So what would the reality be if you DID find your dream horse under the tree? Hopefully, you would also find all the necessary tack and equipment wrapped and ready; otherwise, you'll be spending some big bucks. I am still using tack from a decade ago, so I hadn't priced saddles and bridles in ages. Saddles from the Stateline online catalog ranged from $400 to $2,000. These weren't custom made or custom fit, so if Santa brought you a horse with an odd back, you'll be spending even more. Bridles ranged from $30 to $180.00 (most without the bits) Helmets went from $40 to $130. Then there're halter and lead rope, brushes, hoof picks, and buckets. Those are the absolutely necessary items if you are going to ride a horse. That doesn't include board.

I've pared down my horses' needs to a minimum. We have seven acres of grass, reasonably priced and easy to get hay, and two easy-keepers. Both get a small amount of grain, but Relish gets an expensive supplement for his hooves since I keep him barefoot (which keeps farrier costs down to $65.00 every six weeks for two.) BUT we had to invest in a barn--$25,000 ten years ago--granted it's large enough to house our tractor, which is important for mowing those seven acres, and my husband's car parts and equipment--as well as good fencing--$5,000.

Are you adding this up all you "wishing for a horse" folks? That's the price tag if you keep a horse in your backyard. I live in a rural area, and the nearby barn with indoor arena charges $250 a month IF your horse can be used for occasional lessons. I know it is much higher in urban areas. Ouch. If you go for riding in a big way there's also trailering, lessons, show gear, entry fees . . . And don't worry, your horse WILL need a vet, even if it's just for yearly immunizations, which run about $175 per horse in my area.

On top of financial realities, there are also huge time and energy commitments. Horses need at least twice a day care. If you are doing it by yourself, it is a responsibilty that can not be forgotten EVER. If you are paying someone to care for your horse, see the above price tag. And lastly, when you ride horses, note that "helmet hair" was not a description coined by soldiers, and that you will always have manure on your boot soles and hay clinging to your clothes.

Now: Who wants a horse under their Christmas tree? If you are still screaming "I do!!!!" you are one of us--the truly horse-obsessed!

Merry Christmas and may you find the gift of love and laughter under your tree this year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book Review: Keeping Secrets by Maggie Dana

When Maggie Dana contacted me a few weeks ago and asked me to do a review of her horse novel written for young girls, I didn't hesitate. Growing up, I gobbled up every horse book I could find. I still hold a soft sport for this particular type of book. So as far as I was concerned, reading a book like this gave me an excuse to return to my childhood. Also since it's Christmastime, I figured our readers might be interested in this book as a gift for a young girl.


Keeping Secrets (Book 1: Timber Ridge Riders)

Ages: 8-12

A valuable horse is dead, and it’s all her fault, which is why 14-year-old Kate McGregor has put horses and riding out of her life. Forever! But her new summer job as a companion to Holly Chapman, a former riding star who’s now confined to a wheelchair, takes her back to the barn where she’s forced to confront her guilt. 

Can Kate keep her terrible secret from Holly, who is fast becoming her best friend? And, more important, can she keep her secret from Angela Dean who lives for only two things: winning ribbons and causing trouble?


* * * *
I loved this book, and I plan to read the rest in the series. It's one of those rare books in which the characters stick with you long after you've finished the book. In fact, it's even inspired me to consider writing my own young adult horse series, an idea I've toyed with in the past.

I fell in love with the two main characters, Kate McGregor and Holly Chapman. Kate believes she is responsible for the death of a beloved horse. As a result, she cannot bear to be around horses. Holly survived a terrible accident in which her father was killed. She's been unable to walk since and is in a wheelchair. When Kate takes a summer job as Holly's companion, she never planned on the job including horses, but it does. Holly's mom is a riding instructor who is readying her team for a big competition. When one of the girls sustains an injury and can't ride, Kate finds herself taking her place. The villain of the story, Angela, pulls out all the stops to keep Kate from winning during the competition.

The ending left me wanting to read more about Holly and Kate. I immediately checked Amazon to see if the next book in the series was available. Sadly, it's not out yet.

This is a book about the healing love of horses and the developing friendship between two girls. If you have a pre-teen girl on your gift-buying list (or a horse lover who enjoys a trip back to her childhood), I strongly recommend Keeping Secrets.

* * * *

Maggie Dana's first riding lesson, at the age of five, was less than wonderful. In fact, she hated it so much, she didn't try again for another three years. But all it took was the right instructor and the right horse and she was hooked for life.
Born and raised in England, Maggie now makes her home on the Connecticut shoreline, where she divides her time between hanging out with the family's horses and writing her next book in the Timber Ridge Riders series. She also writes women's fiction and her first novel, Beachcombing, was published in 2009 by Macmillan, UK.
Visit her web site at www.maggiedana.com.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Qrac and Me: A Work in Progress




It’s amazing what a difference a good indoor arena makes. Until I moved Qrac to my new stables, miles and miles away from my house (I’m putting a thousand kilometers per week on my car, which is a bit of a drag), I’d never worked him in a proper rectangular arena as both arenas at our previous yard were oval. Consequently, Qrac and I had never worked corners properly, because even when you improvise corners, or imagine “pretend” corners, it’s simply not the same. So I’m loving the four corners of our new, massive, wonderful indoor!


Not that Qrac and I have become corner experts in the six weeks we’ve been there; I still have a hard time pushing him into them. However, they’re fantastically useful for working on shoulder fore, especially in canter. I’m currently obsessed with shoulder fore as it’s really improved the quality of the canter. I’m able to collect him more and he’s more rounded, more springy, especially on the left lead, which is the one he prefers. Working shoulder fore on the right lead canter is still ultra-tentative; although he’s seriously improved and no longer feels like he’s falling onto his inside shoulder, I still have to be ultra concentrated, totally focused on where I’m sitting and where my inside leg is, making sure he stays in my outside rein, keeping him bent around my inside leg. Transitioning into canter is also still tricky; if I use my outside leg too much he’ll tend to stick to it and buck into canter, so my trainer is really working on getting me to work the transitions using my inside hip. Getting the timing right is really hard, but when Qrac and I get it right our transitions are really harmonious. I like to use my voice to help him understand the subtle shift in my position (“Qraaaaac, gaaaalop!”).

The more I get to know my horse, the more I’m amazed by how generous and willing to work he is. Qrac really tries, sometimes making me smile with his funny little effort-grunts! I think he sometimes gets frustrated with himself, trying really hard yet not quite managing to do what he knows he’s supposed to be doing. For example, during a lesson with my trainer about two weeks ago, we worked on medium trot for the first time, and Qrac found it really difficult to stay in a constant rhythm and got a little flustered and agitated (it was like he was saying, “for goodness sake, I should be able to do this!”), but I could tell he was trying extremely hard and was thrilled with the three or four nice strong strides he gave me. Like most Iberian horses, Qrac doesn’t have a fabulously expressive trot, but we’re working towards developing it as much as possible, slowing down the rhythm, getting him to reach for the bit and get him more active behind without rushing in front. To build a little more expression in his trot I’m working on the idea of passage, slowing him with my seat and getting him to work more upwards by thinking “up” with my ribcage. Maybe it sounds a little strange described this way, but it definitely helps. Until recently, Qrac’s trot tended to get quite rushy after the canter, and even now there is the odd day when he works himself into a bit of a state, becoming somewhat sewing-machine-ish, making himself hollow. By using the idea of passage I can now usually get him back into a slow, rhythmic trot again. If this doesn’t work, I just bring him back to walk, and do a gazillion half-halts until he’s attentive and relaxed enough to resume work.


Basically, since we moved to this new place we’ve been really been able to challenge ourselves and work on all sorts of things. We’ve done miles and miles of leg yield to get him to take more contact on the outside rein, and we’ve really improved our shoulder-in. Even the trot half-passes are beginning to come together, although I tend to be a little too timid with my outside leg, concentrating too much on the shoulder-in part of the exercise and not daring ask for too much (I’m so nice!). But when I do, he’s a natural-born half-passer!


I’m so thrilled with his progress that I’m beginning to consider the remote faraway potential possibility of entering him in some shows next season, which is really saying something since I’ve never been a big fan of shows, always getting way too nervous. Of course, neither of us is ready yet; we need to be more rhythmically steady in all three gaits, better our transitions and really improve the canter before contemplating going out in public. I don’t know how it is in other countries, but Swiss dressage judges tend not to like Iberian horses, so chances are we won’t get very far. However, I love my horse so much, find him so jaw-droppingly beautiful and am so proud of him that I’d like him to show everyone that Iberians can be just as good as northern European Warmbloods. I told Qrac about all this the other day after I’d dismounted, while we were pottering around the indoor, picking up pooh. He nuzzled my shoulder and gazed at me lovingly with his almond shaped eyes. Maybe he wants to show those Swiss judges, too!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Virtual Horse Friends

by Laura Crum

My blog post last week about a very sad experience I had in the world of horse bloggers (“Is This a Good Idea?”) generated some insightful comments and really got me studying on the whole issue in a more general sense. So today I’d like to pose some questions about “virtual relationships” and see what others think. Because I suppose you all engage in this sort of thing, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

My own experience of virtual horse friends began when I first started writing for this blog. Previous to that all my email correspondence was with people I had actually met, or it was nuts and bolts business type stuff. I had never had a friend that I “met” online. People did write to me to say they liked my books (or didn’t like them), but none of these very brief correspondences ever developed into an online friendship. To tell the truth, I was wary about this. I felt a little uncomfortable writing to people I didn’t really know and kept the notes brief and polite, never shared much about myself. Then came blogging.

I started blogging with the simple idea that I would do it to publicize my books. I don’t do book tours, and it seemed like an easy way to reach new readers. I doubt I would have thought of it on my own, because I wasn’t in the habit of poking around on the internet. I didn’t read blogs, or do facebook or anything like that. But Jami invited me to join Equestrianink, and my publisher begged me to do it. What harm could it do, I reasoned. I could do it from home. Well… I never would have predicted what actually happened.

When I first started blogging, I clicked around on various horse blogs just to see what blogging amounted to. I learned a lot right away. I started commenting on blogs I thought were interesting. In a very short time I was no longer blogging solely as a way to reach new potential readers for my books. I was interested in the horse bloggers I had “met” and enjoyed reading their blogs and discussing things with them. I began corresponding with some of them. And I struck up a pretty regular correspondence with one that I admired immensely. For the very first time in my life I had a “virtual friend”, someone I’d never met in real life, that I only knew through our internet correspondence.

Now if you read my previous post you know that this relationship did not work out, and I don’t want to belabor the details. But I do want to explore the parameters in a general way and think about what is and isn’t possible with virtual horse friends, people we meet through the blogosphere. Because I engaged in my first friendship in a completely well motivated but very na├»ve way. I thought that I had found a “magical friend”, and I guess I sort of believed that we could go beyond the boundaries of “regular” friendship. We weren’t limited by needing to take time to go for coffee. We could talk many times a day while we did the things we needed to do in between. It seemed like our minds were directly in touch. And there was something very seductive about the physical distance. We could share things we would probably never have felt comfortable sharing face to face unless we’d known each other for years. And that’s exactly what we did. We shared a ton of stuff with each other. I thought it was amazing that I’d found such a wonderful thing. Like I said, it was magic.

Without going into the details of why the relationship failed, I want to point out that we never met each other. We never even talked on the phone. I never had the experience of feeling her “energy” in person. I’d never even heard her voice. In the end our communication broke down and I became very confused as to why this was happening. What I think now is that it had a lot to do with the medium. Just how truly close is it possible to be with a virtual friend? Is it necessary in some way to be in a person’s physical presence to know them? When you only connect in cyberspace, even if everyone is being as honest as they can be, isn’t some essential piece of who we are missing?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but after writing last week’s blog post, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about them. I’ve come up with some ideas, which I’d like to share, and hopefully some of you will give me your insights. Because more and more now, virtual friendships are becoming the norm. And I for one think it is very worthwhile to explore what this really amounts to and how it does and doesn’t differ from in-person friendships.

One thing I did learn. After my first internet friend wrote me off, I saw a video she posted that showed her talking and interacting with friends. It was a huge eye-opener for me. Suddenly, in a small way, I could feel her energy (if you will) and I knew right away that if I’d ever met her or talked to her earlier in our relationship I would have been much less trusting. Lets just say that she reminded me very much of another horsewoman I know who is a perfectly nice woman but whom I would never choose for a close friend. The energy I felt on that video made me uncomfortable. It was nothing like the energy I thought I had felt coming from her through typing away on our keyboards.

But….that said, there is a kind of energetic “footprint” that comes across through email and such. I recognize the particular tone that each of my blogging friends has. They wouldn’t have to sign their emails or comments—I know who’s talking. So what is that that I feel? It isn’t the same energy or aura that I feel when I’m in the room with someone. That’s composed of body language, tone of voice, physical appearance, conversation and something indefinable…just the basic energy of that mind/body/spirit. I feel it like I see colors or smell scents. I can’t explain it but I feel it very strongly. What comes across on the internet is different. My first friend had a very different “energy” talking to her real life friends than the “energy” that came across to me through her emails and posts. But the “personality” I felt through cyberspace was a definite thing. So what is that thing?

This is the mystery I’m interested in. If the persona we connect with online is not the “real” person, it is still a definite persona. I think at times it may be VERY different to the real in-person person. And maybe sometimes its pretty similar. But either way, what the heck goes on? What is it I’m connecting with when I connect with someone online? Is it just the pure mind, divorced from the energy of body and spirit?

I got very curious about this after my first online friendship ended. I had several other horse bloggers I corresponded with and I became quite a bit closer to one of them due to sharing some similar family issues we were having. This time I was much more careful in what I said, having learned a lesson from ex-friend (with whom I was very open and unguarded), and this second connection was a very different person. Not touchy at all. Truly kind and unaffected. No conflict ever arose between us. It was an entirely positive relationship. But my curiosity really went to what it would be like to meet her in person. Would she be anything like I imagined her? Would she seem like or unlike the energetic footprint I felt when I corresponded with her?

Eventually the opportunity arose, and I took my courage in hand and made the effort. She and I had talked about how different people were in person from what they’d appeared to be online, and she had had this experience before. I wondered if she’d be disappointed in what I was like in “real life”. I wondered if she’d be anything like the way I sort of imagined her to be. I’d seen her photos online so I knew what she looked like. I have to admit I was pretty nervous. I think she was a little nervous, too. But we went ahead and met. And it was good.

Her home and critters were exactly as I had envisioned them from reading her blog. And she was different. Prettier, younger looking, with a lighter, sweeter voice and energy than I had somehow imagined. And at the same time I could feel that she was my same online friend. Nonetheless, her energy in real life, though I found it very pleasant, was not exactly the same persona I felt through blogs and email. I’ve got to admit, I was fascinated. I felt like I was exploring a whole new dimension to human interactions.

Anyway, our visit was short due to time constraints, and when we were both safely home and facing our computers, I asked her what she had felt and asked her to be frank. I’d gotten comfortable enough with her (online anyway) to trust we could be frank and it would be OK.

Turns out she had felt that I, too, was both different and the same as I was online. My voice was lower, she said. For me, the voice thing was big. She said she felt a little uncomfortable, thinking of all those intimate things we shared, and here I was, and in person, so to speak, we were strangers. But overall she was comfortable with me and sensed that I was an OK person. We both agreed that a brief hour-long visit was not enough time to loosen up and really get to know each other face to face.

The whole encounter was interesting and pleasant and our online friendship continues. I learned that you can meet people online and they can be consistently who they seem to be and be very nice in real life, too. But I didn’t have enough time with her to sense whether we could have become “real life” friends. And she felt this, too. So, interesting, a positive experience, but inconclusive.

Then I turned it around. I took my real life best friend, who is a lovely person, and tried chatting with her online. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t like it. The things I love so much about her did not come through online at all. You could tell she was a nice, upbeat person, but she sounded sort of superficial. Which she isn’t. So that was enlightening, too.

So far I’m still concluding that the persona we connect with online, though “it” has a distinct personal flavor, is not the same thing as our true human personality. And I’m still wondering what it is we connect with online if its not the real, complete person. Can we change this phenomena? I’m thinking not. I think it’s a function of the medium. I’m guessing that the more straight forward someone is in real life, the more they will be who they seem to be online. People who are withdrawn and who somewhat hide their thoughts/feelings in reality, will be very hard to “know” online.

I’ve valued many of the people I’ve met online and would like to believe that we can become true friends “virtually”, just as we can in person. I love chatting about horses with my blogging friends. I love hearing about their adventures. And they’ve offered so much kindness and support. And yet I remain puzzled, no stymied, when I try to work out what is and isn’t possible when it comes to forming real, lasting friendships (such as I have with quite a few people in “real life”) with folks I’ve only met online. Perhaps my one very bad experience has made me unduly careful. I don’t know. Does anybody else have any thoughts on this subject? Can one truly know another online? Or is that impossible? Did anybody else besides me ever try to forge a close friendship online? Did it work out? And do some of you think that making friends online is no different to making friends face to face—the same problems and pitfalls apply? Or are there unspoken rules that apply especially to virtual friendships? If so, does anybody know what they are?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Horse Ornament

If you are like me, your horse-crazy gene has carried over into the decorations of your house. I have equine pictures, equine sculpture, equine pillows, equine statues everywhere. I've read so many equine books, my Goodreads Page even has its own section for horse books.

This time of year, when our house looks like the Christmas hurricane has hit, filled with wrapping paper, sacks of bows, and decorations to put up, I lovingly bring out my boxes of ornaments to decorate the tree. (Ours is fresh cut, soaking up water in a stand in the garage, and we'll probably bring it inside the house later today.)

My ornaments consist of a motley collection passed down through generations, including some that my daughter made in school, some I remember hanging on our family tree when I was a child, and of course, an entire box marked "Horse Ornaments."

Here are some of my favorites:

The Rocking Horse Collection.

The White Horse Collection.


The Stained Glass Horse.

The Engraved Horse Ornaments.

One of our contributors, Natalie Reinert, even makes personalized ornaments - some with horses on them. Here's a link to her Etsy page: http://www.etsy.com/shop/nataliegallops?ref=si_shop

Do you decorate your tree, your house, and your life with horses?

Tell us about it. And Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 12, 2011

And the Winner is . . . .

TBA you are the winner of the Great Holiday Book Giveaway! Please email me at alisonatalisonhartbooks.com (please place the @ sign in the email) so I can get your address and which book you have chosen for under your tree!
And don't forget horse lovers, support reading and books! I was excited to host this giveaway because I truly believe that books make the best presents for everyone on your list. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmases Past

I grew up horse crazy since the day I was born. I can't remember a moment in my life that I wasn't crazy about horses. Unfortunately, my family did not have money for a horse, and we lived in town. I had to get my horse fix on friends' horses and with surrogate horses--Breyer models.

Of course, my Christmas wishes revolved around a real horse. Even though I knew I'd never get a pony for Christmas, I did have an over-active imagination. So every Christmas eve, I'd fall asleep dreaming of a pony in my front yard when I woke up on Christmas morning with a big bow in his mane. I hoped for a rich golden palomino with a luxurious cream-colored mane and tail--which I knew wasn't going to happen--so I asked for the next best thing.

When Christmas morning came around, I shook boxes and ripped open packages, hoping among hopes that I'd get the latest and greatest Breyer horse models.

Breyer horses dominated my bedroom shelves. I cut up cardboard and made fences on the floor of my bedroom, used boxes for stables, and green rugs for pastures. At one time, my herd numbered over one hundred horses. They all had names. In order to remember them all, I actually put masking tape on their bellies with their names. My all-time favorite was the Man o' War model. Man o'War was my horse idol. I read everything I could get on him. I had C. W. Anderson prints of him and his progeny on my bedroom walls.

I remember getting the Walter Farley book on "Man o' War" for one Christmas and how I loved that book. I also devoured The Black Stallion series. To this day I have every Black Stallion book Walter Farley ever wrote.

To me the perfect Christmas growing up involved a couple Walter Farley books and some new Breyer models. Clothes and dolls were an immense disappointment when it came to gifts. All I wanted was horses, horses, horses.

Over the years, the Breyer horses have been replaced by real horses, but my ideal Christmas gift still revolves around horses. I've never been one to want jewelry. Give me a new bridle, saddle pad, or breeches, maybe a pair of riding boots, and I'll be the happiest woman on earth. Give me diamonds, and I'll pretend to love the jewels. In the end, they'll be in my jewelry box collecting dust because jewelry just isn't practical around horses.

What were your favorite Christmas gifts?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Friend, Valentino

Please enjoy this guest post from Lisa Wysocky, therapeutic horse trainer and consultant, about a horse that is very special to her.

Horse lovers know all horses are special. We also know sometimes a horse comes along that is more extraordinary than the others. Valentino is one of those horses.

 I first saw Valentino as a three-year-old. He was a black Tennessee Walking Horse cross, 13.2, skin and bones, pacing back and forth with his nose raised above the top rail of a round pen. Valentino’s human “family” had moved away when he was a yearling and abandoned him. Neighbors threw hay when they could, but Vali might have starved to death had he not been rescued by Knoxville’s Horse Haven of Tennessee when he was three.


At the time, I was the equine trainer at a therapeutic riding center near Nashville. Several of our instructors visited Valentino at a horse fair where he was in a trailering demonstration. Next thing I know I was turning this neglected rescue into a therapy horse.


Having lived entirely on his own during his formative years, Valentino did not know how to relate to people or to other horses. I called several veterinary schools that suggested I put him in a paddock by himself where he could watch people and horses interact. Done.



In the meantime, center volunteers and I began to teach Valentino to lead, tie, pick up his feet, and accept a saddle and bridle. I also began a desensitization process, for here was a horse that had never experienced much of anything.



Over the next months I became amazed at the intelligence of this horse. He was often fearful (of entering a strange building, of people he didn’t know, of things he had never seen, such as a carriage) but he rarely backed away. Instead, he’d visibly shake as he carefully smelled the person or object and then slowly let out a deep breath. Over and over, Vali became comfortable with new objects and people and I watched his confidence grow.



Eight months after his arrival, Valentino was turned out with an older gelding whose paddock bordered Vali’s. They became good friends. A month later he was turned out with several other horses. By this time our thoughtful little horse had gained several hundred pounds and grown four inches.


Before I knew it Valentino had begun therapy lessons. About a year later I had the opportunity to adopt Valentino, and I included him in demonstrations in several clinics. He is a featured horse in my book and DVD, My Horse, My Partner: Teamwork on the Ground, and has a chapter in Cheryl Dudley’s book, Horses That Save Lives. Other trainers requested him for clinics and videos but I knew Valentino was a born therapy horse. He has now, at age nine, been at Therapeutic Animal Partners for more than four years.


I become angry when I think how Valentino’s original family threw him away. How could anyone do that? Yet it happens all the time. I have now come to trust Valentino implicitly in lessons. He is the first to let me know a rider is off balance. He also knows if a rider needs help following a set of instructions, which he carries out on his own, or if the rider needs to work for it. We helped one rider visually by throwing a Frisbee and having the rider ride to it. Once there, Vali would drop his head and pick the Frisbee up in his mouth. Comic relief can go a long way.


  Valentino’s story does not end here. I, with the help of staff, volunteers, and riders at Therapeutic Animal Partners, nominated Valentino for PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International Equine of the Year. On November 12, at an international awards banquet in Lexington, Kentucky, it was announced that our little rescue horse, Valentino, had won this prestigious honor.

Every day, Valentino inspires me. If he can survive abandonment, then I, too, can survive difficult things. If he can overcome his fears, then so can I. And, so can everyone who is inspired by Valentino and his story.

Wow. Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing Valentino's story with us! Amazing. To learn more about Lisa, as well as her brand new novel called THE OPIUM EQUATION, please visit her website at http://www.lisawysocky.com./

Friday, December 9, 2011

Baby Blankies

I am no trainer by any stretch of the imagination. I grew up with five horses in the back yard of our one acre property. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who took a group of us kids on regular trail rides. I wanted to show horses, but at the time my parents didn't have any extra money, as they were investing everything into a little company they were growing as my dad continued to work his "day job." If you ever wnat to learn a little more about their story, here is a link. My parents are truly American Dreamers who were able to live the dream. http://www.profchoice.com/our-story/our-beginning/

Anyway, back to my little story here. As I said, I am no trainer. My dad used to tell me that you need to be compassionate, you need to listen, and you need to set boundaries with them. They are a lot like people but usually better than most of their human counterparts." In my opinion, my dad has turned out to be right on all of those thoughts.

To be a bit more exact, horses are a lot like kids. Each one with their quirks and unique personalities. Having three almost three-year-olds I have been slowly educated a bit more over the past two years just by the fillies alone (and, of course Terri). Each filly is her own self. Kaia is my little grey who is easy going and will allow me to basically do whatever I want to her. Bronte is my chestnut who was somewhat timid for a time but after living with an old gelding who has taught her some lessons she has turned out to be a very special girl. And then there is Mia my big bay filly. Well, she would be my toddler who crosses her arms and says, "No!"

The past two weeks as the weather has grown cold and has even gotten down into the low 30's at night (I know all you East coasters are shaking your heads right now) I decided that since they were coming three it was time to do winter blankets. (Last year we decided to let them build some immunity). Kaia was easy. Tossed some treats into her feeder and the blanket was on in five minutes. She immediately fell in love with it and now my ten-year-old daughter blankets her. Bronte was my next victim. She took some time (2 days). I rubbed her with the blanket, let her sniff it, chew it (I know--bad mom) and just check the thing out. I rubbed it on her face, neck and finally smoothed it down her back. Five minutes later it was fastened and the next morning it was still on and she seemed pretty pleased and warm while her sister Mia was cold. Mia continued to be cold for another week. I tried the same tactics as I had with Bronte. We would get close but when it came down to it, she would simply say, "no." I would leave the barn and yell back, "Fine, be cold! Ask your smart sisters what they think."

Then two nights ago, I knew this game had to end. I was done allowing Mia to win the game, which is sort of what it had become. I put the halter on her, started with the usual tactics and then made a decision to get it on her. See for yourself. Here are the results:

I hate you! I look like a donkey
Hey look at you! You got one, too.
Oh fine since it looks like you're gonna feed me!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Michele

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kwintus Moves to Burgundy




If you read my last post you might recall that, just over two weeks ago, totally out of the blue, I was informed that Kwintus, my sweet old retired dressage schoolmaster, could no longer live out the rest of his days in the company of his friend Coconut. Go figure why two dignified old gentlemen needed to be split up when there were no logistics problems involved, and they weren’t doing anyone any harm. I was devastated, hated having to break the news to my daughter Olivia (Kwintus is really her horse) who is at university in England, hated hearing her sobbing on the other end of the phone. Angry and upset, I decided I needed to find Kwintus a nice new home and get him out of there as soon as possible. My friend Maya (who owns a tack shop I seem to practically live at) recommended I call her friend Nathalie, who owns Domaine des Hugaux, a centre for retired horses in Burgundy, about a two and a half hour drive from Geneva. Maya’s old horse retired there earlier this year; she says he’s loving it.

With my heart in my mouth, I called Nathalie to see if she had space for Kwintus. Most nice retirement places for horses tend to be permanently full in this part of the world, but when I explained the situation and mentioned I’d got her number through Maya, Nathalie told me she could work something out. Of course, I wanted to visit the place before I made a decision and decided to drive down to visit on Thursday.

My mother was kind enough to come down with me, patiently listening to my mental dilly-dallyings about whether or not it was a good idea to take Kwintus somewhere so far away. It took us longer than expected to get there as my GPS (sat nav) was clearly off its trolley, booting us off the highway far too early and sending us through minuscule picturesque villages blanketed in thick fog. I worried and fussed; surely I could find somewhere closer suitable for Kwintus?


My misgivings began to melt into the mist the second we turned into Nathalie’s driveway. The property is straight out of a movie-set. Set on the top of a hillside, the old stone house overlooks miles and miles of rolling hills. Dozens of horses graze contentedly in endless pastures edged by hedgerows. Both sets of stable block (one old, the other brand new) are immaculate. Nathalie and her friend Monika bought the 32 hectare property two years ago, completely underestimating how fast their retirement home for horses would take off simply by word of mouth. They now provide a home for 25 horses, most of them OAPs, but also a couple of brood mares, two donkeys and a Shetland pony. There are also four mismatched, very friendly dogs, a couple of cats, and loads of chickens, geese and turkeys. Nathalie gave us the grand tour while Monika kindly prepared lunch, and I knew Kwintus would be fine here. I sent my daughter some photographs, spoke to her on the phone, assured her the place was perfect, and made arrangements to bring Kwintus three days later.


My friend Heike from my new stables (where Qrac now lives) said she’d keep me company during the drive down on Sunday, which was mega kind as she lives about an hour from my house and would have to wake up super early so that we could load Kwint around 9.15 a.m in order to make it to Nathalie and Monika’s in time for lunch.

Kwint’s friend Coconut was out in the field when we arrived at my old stables, clearly anxious having been turned out without his best buddy. I prepared Kwintus for transport, fitting him with leg protections, telling him we were going to a really nice place where he’d make lots of new friends. I felt terrible as I lead Kwint down the hill towards my trailer. Coconut watched, whinnying repeatedly as Kwint walked into my trailer like an old pro. I hauled back tears, said a quick goodbye to S. and drove away with a hole in my stomach. I was glad to have Heike’s company as she soon started chatting about this and that, which helped take my mind off all the horse drama. I also had to really concentrate on the road as insanely thick fog made a large part of the drive seriously hairy. Thankfully, after a couple of hours the visibility increased, and although it wasn’t a bright sunny day, at least Heike - who’d never been to this area of France - was able to enjoy the gorgeous countryside.

It took us just under four hours to get to the Domaine des Hugaux. We’d have been there earlier if my GPS hadn’t gone psycho on me again and sent me straight through the centre of a small but bustling town on market day! I so hate maneuvering my trailer through narrow cobbled streets, and almost gave myself a hernia sucking in my tummy. I don’t know why but I always suck my tummy in and clench my buttocks when I have to squeeze my car and trailer through narrow spaces! Do you do that too?

When we finally arrived, Kwintus carefully backed out of the van and looked around, wondering where he was. Nathalie suggested I take him straight to his stable so he could have a pee, and sure enough, he relieved himself immediately and settled down, chomping on a mountain of hay. I chatted to him for a while, relieved that he didn’t seem too perturbed by his new surroundings. We left him to relax for a while, and after about half an hour Nathalie suggested we put him out in a pasture by himself, next to another pasture with five horses.

Kwintus ambled around his field, casually grazing, making his way nonchalantly towards the horses in the field next to him, but not too bothered about making contact. When they squealed and pulled faces at him and showed him their bottoms and back feet he just ambled away, nonplussed, far more interested in sampling the Burgundy grass. Maybe grass is like wine, with better varieties in different areas of the world. If that’s the case, Kwintus should be in luck!


Heike and I had lunch with Nathalie and Monika along with some other people who had come down from Geneva for the weekend to visit their horses. The food was delicious (salad, home-made lasagna followed by a massive plate of cheeses, then stewed apples and pears infused with a vanilla pod) and the atmosphere lovely and warm. There was plenty of horsey talk of course, which is always nice. I love how horsey people are quick to whip out photographs of their horses at the slightest excuse!


This being France our meal went on for quite some time, so I excused myself during coffee and went out to check on Kwintus who was still peacefully sampling the local green delicacies. I called him and he lifted his head and ambled up to me immediately. I scratched his neck and kissed his soft velvety nose and told him I loved him, and that he was going to live happily ever after in this beautiful tranquil place.

Night was falling as Heike and I got back into the car and headed home. I felt tired, but surprisingly calm and at peace. When I spoke to Nathalie the following day she told me that Kwintus had been very relaxed in his stable overnight and had even lain down to sleep, which was most reassuring. I called her a few times over the next couple of days to see how he was doing and was a little upset to hear that he hadn’t yet made any friends. There was also an incident where he came face to face with a couple of donkeys and a Shetland pony and got totally freaked out, galloping around the field at top speed until Nathalie finally managed to catch him and calm him down. But over the last couple of days Nathalie tells me he’s made friends with a gentle old skinny gelding who arrived there a month or two ago virtually a skeleton and who is slowly gaining weight, gradually returning to the land of the living. I pray those two will really click and that Kwintus will find a “new Coconut” to share his life with. He deserves to be happy. All horses do.

My daughter is coming home for the Christmas holidays this Saturday, and she and I will drive down to visit Kwintus over the next couple of weeks, staying overnight in one of Nathalie and Monika’s pretty guest rooms. I stopped by Maya’s tack shop again this afternoon (Qrac put a foot through his reins this morning and broke his bridle) and she suggested she and I go down to Nathalie’s in the spring time for a nice relaxed girlie weekend. Although distance makes it difficult to visit Kwintus as often as before, the fact that Nathalie and Monika also offer bed and breakfast (and lunch and dinner too!) in lovely surroundings turns a weekend visit into a mini-holiday. And although my husband isn’t particularly fussed about horses, he does enjoy pleasant surroundings and good wine. If I can sell him visiting Kwintus as a romantic, wine-tasting getaway in Burgundy maybe we could go there every couple of months.

Quite frankly, the most important thing for me is that Kwintus is well looked after, and, from what I’ve seen, I’m confident this will be the case. Chances are his life in Burgundy will be more comfortable than his life was with Coconut; Nathalie has more land, more horses, and Kwint will definitely get more exercise, pottering up and down all those rolling hills day after day. Everything happens for a reason, so I guess I’ll just have to wait to find out the real reasons behind this emotional upheaval.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is This a Good Thing?


by Laura Crum

Warning—there is a rant ahead. If you don’t want to hear me whine and pose some difficult questions about horse blog land, please click on the x.

We’ve been riding on the beach. The photo shows my son on Henry and Wally on Twister and the tip of Sunny’s ear in the lower left corner. Riding on the beach is a good thing My old horse, Gunner, is home and doing well. That’s a good thing. My kid and I are having lots of fun with our horses. That’s a good thing, too. The horses themselves have been rockstars of steady reliability. Sunny even walked calmly down a very LONG, narrow, funky wooden bridge through the sand dunes. And the one thing Sunny doesn’t care for is funky, narrow, wooden bridges. That was a very good thing. Things are going very well in general. However, I recently had a really sad and negative thing happen in blog world. Someone who was once my friend and who turned against me years ago, refusing my every effort to heal the breach (and I did everything I could do), has finally forced me to realize that she simply is not the kind, compassionate person I always hoped and believed she truly was at heart. It has really given me a negative feeling about what kind of friendship/knowing is possible over the internet. I obviously never knew this woman…because I would have sworn on a stack of bibles that she would never treat anyone in the cold, unkind way she has behaved toward me. And now I’m wondering whether reading horse blogs is such a good thing. Maybe you all can help me sort it out.

First off, I’m not a person who has chosen to be sitting in front of a screen much. I don’t own a TV and haven’t ever owned one. I don’t do facebook or Twitter. I’ve never sent a text in my life. My cell phone resides in my car and is used strictly for problems—I probably make ten calls on it a year. You get the picture. But…

As a writer, I’ve learned to type my manuscripts on the computer. Yes, I used to write them longhand, but have finally caved in to the obvious reality that it makes more sense and is far more efficient to type that first draft into the computer. Then, for years now, many/most people prefer email to phone, so I’ve learned the routine of checking email a couple of times a day and communicating with many folks through this medium. Finally, roughly fours years ago I was invited to join the newly formed equestrian ink blog and learned (slowly) about the connected community of horse bloggers. And this has proved to be a two-edged sword.

I really like reading horse blogs. I like it in a way I never liked TV. Yes, I’m still sitting in front of a screen, but in many ways it’s the opposite of TV. TV is big business trying to program us, blogging is the little individual able to bring his/her personal voice/opinions to the world. It really tickles me to hear the thoughts of folks from different places and different disciplines.

And horses are the common ground with horse bloggers. We all love horses. Most of us own horses. But those who don’t, still love horses and are endlessly interested in them. As one blogger said to me, you meet a better class of woman when you hang around with horsewomen. I find that’s true, both in real life and on the internet.

There are some blogs that almost always make me smile, and others where I feel such sympathy for what the blogger is going through. There are bloggers who seem to lead wonderful horse lives or live in wonderfully exotic places (to me) and I am mildly envious, but also very much enjoying their tales. There are training blogs that make my hair stand right up as I feel they are advising absolutely the wrong thing, and training blogs that are (in my view) very insightful and helpful. There are blogs that are entertaining and well written, though I may not agree with the point of view. I like reading them all. In fact, I’m addicted to reading them.

I’ve learned a lot from reading horse blogs, and quiet moments in my day have often been filled with some interest because of them. I’ve corresponded with several bloggers and found them to be really delightful. I also had the bad experience that I referenced earlier of a long correspondence (hundreds of emails over more than a year) that blew up in my face, with the blogger, who I believed was my friend, refusing to “speak” to me again, despite my efforts to somehow mend the breach. This left me sad and also sort of bitter. I felt for awhile that perhaps everyone I “met” in the blogosphere might prove as dramatically different from the person they appeared to be on their blog as this one blogger had proven herself to be. Because call me simple, but I thought she WAS the wise, compassionate persona she presented on her blog, despite much evidence in her emails that this wasn’t the case. The whole experience left me very disillusioned, and I felt that perhaps horse blog world was not the pleasant place it had once appeared to be. However, I kept on reading horse blogs, because… well, I don’t know why exactly.

Because I’m addicted to this form of entertainment, maybe? Because I was/am sincerely interested in the different horse bloggers out there and their horses and adventures? Because I have connected with some neat people and have had some wonderful and rewarding correspondences that have restored my faith in folks I might meet through the blogosphere? Because I appreciate good writing? Because I’ve learned a lot? Because I love horses? Because I love talking about horses with fellow horse people? Because I hope some horse bloggers might try my books?

I guess you could say that all these things are true. It’s the addiction aspect that bugs me, though. If I have a moment, I’ll wander over to the computer and see if one of my favorite bloggers has posted something new. Or if something interesting has been said in the comments. Oh, the comments. Don’t even get me started. I love responding to comments, but, of course, it takes time. I enjoy commenting on others’ blogs, but, of course, that takes time, too. I get confused. I’m spending a lot of time at this. Should I be doing this at all? Wouldn’t I be better off outside?

Yes, I ride several times a week, I homeschool my kid, I volunteer at his homeschool program, I am teaching a class at the local community college, my 12th mystery novel will be released this coming spring. Its not like I’m just sitting at the computer reading horse blogs. But still…I probably spend an hour a day feeding my “addiction.” Is this a good thing?

I know, I know, it isn’t black or white. There are aspects of positive and negative here, and I recognize that. I’m just not sure how to sort it all out. I feel very conflicted, which is telling me that there is something I need to work on. Because I’m not conflicted in other parts of my life. I feel clear about what I want to do (with my horses, for instance) and am able to get it done and am satisfied with it. Not so with the blogging world.

I enjoy writing posts and responding to comments and if I just stuck to that, I’d probably be fine. But I am sincerely interested in others and so I read their blogs and often am moved to comment and all of a sudden I’ve been at the computer an hour and the dishes aren’t done. And the inescapable thought arises—I would have been better off to do those dishes.

The worst of it is when I feel frustrated because I’ve tried to interact in horseblog world and it hasn’t worked out as I hoped. Maybe I’ve pissed someone off by being too direct (my big failing), though I only meant well, or maybe someone has (probably unintentionally) hurt my feelings by their response or lack of response to something I “said”. And then I began to wish I wasn’t involved with this at all.

Of course, far more frequently I have those moments of connection with fellow horse people all over the world and I think that this is just a wonderful community and I’m tickled to be a part of it. And then I sit at the computer another half hour typing comments and replying to emails. When I finally do get up and go do something else, I wonder if the positive emotional content outweighs the negativity (in my mind) of all that time spent facing a screen. I just don’t know (can you hear me wailing here?).

Because though I know that all of you are just as real as I am, and I really do take pleasure in your joy and mourn your sorrows and feel connected to you and your horses, time spent “with” you equals time spent facing that impersonal screen. And I’m still not sure if this is a good thing.

Does anybody else go through this? Do you have suggestions, insights, a path that works for you? Because I am truly confused.

I do realize that this is a very minor problem in the big scheme of things. My life is good and peaceful, I love my family, my critters, my home, the things I do every day. I am a very lucky woman and I realize this. I am truly grateful for my life. A little confusion and angst over how to relate to the blogosphere is not a big deal. But I also know that whenever this feeling of discomfort nags at me it is trying to tell me to look at something. I felt it when I was ready to give up competing on my horses; I felt it at many other times when I needed to make a change. And I’m feeling it now. But what is the change to be?

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I have had very many pleasant and enlightening moments because of horse blogs and horse bloggers. I feel connected to many of you, not least the authors who write for equestrianink. But I am still conflicted about my “addiction”. In many ways I feel conflicted about the whole concept of social networking via the internet. Life seems to be changing so fast. I actively dislike facebook. And yet, I feel as if I know many of my fellow horse bloggers that I’ve never met in person and I’ve learned so much and found so much support.

And then there has been this one woman who I was once so fond of who has treated me in a way that I wouldn’t treat anyone. She’s a very charming, plausible, much loved blogger who is an extremely talented writer. She advocates many things that I agree with on her blog. I first became friends with her because I admired her so much. In many ways I still do. I certainly admire her writing skills and think she sticks up for some good things. And yet I have had one of the most negative encounters of my entire life with her…despite the dozens of emails I have in my files where she thanked me profusely for my friendship and support. Not to mention all the emails confiding her darker feelings and stories. I’ve kept all these things secret for a very long time, because I only meant her good. Since the end of our friendship I have tried very patiently to let her know that even if we were unsuited for close friendship (which we were), there is no reason not to be kind, polite and supportive toward one another, and I am totally willing to do my part. The only response I ever got was one of the coldest, nastiest pieces of work I’ve ever seen. And yes, I snapped at her the other day when she bragged about her kindness toward all. I guess I’ve just had enough of the hypocrisy. And no, a clean, if sarcastic, comment representing a disagreement with what this blogger said about herself does not make me a spammer. Just sayin.

Do I sound bitter? I guess I am. At least a little. What I’m really doing is putting it out there because I’m tired of inwardly holding the hope that some day I could at least have a cordial relationship with this gal. I wanted to believe in her basic personal decency in the worst way. At one time, we seemed to have such a great connection. But she has a long history of writing folks off and never speaking to them again, so I suppose I should have known that it would inevitably happen with me. As a person who has never done this (there is absolutely no one, in the blogosphere or in my real day to day life that I have ever written off and not spoken to again, nor has anyone else—except this one woman—ever acted this way toward me), I simply don’t understand this behavior. I haven’t talked about it before on this blog because I had hoped that it would eventually mend, at least to the degree that we could be polite and cordial in some way. I had no illusions that we would ever be close correspondents again, nor would I want this. But keeping the whole thing to myself is just increasing the sadness I feel. What a sad, ridiculous business. And completely unnecessary. Will somebody please explain to me what could possibly be bad about my wanting us to be polite and kind to each other? Cause I really don’t get it.

(In the interest of fairness I would like to add that I made a HUGE mistake in this relationship. This woman was my very first internet friend and I went completely overboard. I thought she was wonderful. We had so much in common. I believed we could have this special, honest, intimate friendship that was solely founded on truth. Now, she “seemed” to be on the same page, confiding her life story, writing me many times a day, asking that I always keep writing to her…etc, and I’d still like to believe we were honestly very fond of each other at this point. The only thing I can be sure of is that I was sincere. But there were a lot of red flags in her emails, and I wouldn’t heed them. The worst problem was that we were very different people; I am completely open and I don’t mind disagreeing. I don’t mind being told that something I did didn’t work for someone else. I’ll do my best to work through it. This woman described herself as “not an open person”. In the end she found my desire for an open, direct sort of to and fro very threatening, or so I think. What I failed to understand was that internet friendships, in general, won’t hold up to such intensity, and that this person, in particular, couldn’t handle it. I wish I had understood this then and perhaps we’d still be sort of friends. But in fairness to myself, my mistake was in wanting us to be as fine a thing as we could be, which to me meant openness, honesty and trust. My motivation was entirely positive, but we both (in the end) found the other’s way of communicating very frustrating. Once she decided she didn’t want to be friends any more (and to be frank, I did not want that relationship any more as it was), the only thing I ever asked of her was that we be polite, kind and supportive of each other. As in, you know, the occasional brief email saying “I enjoyed your post; hope you’re doing well,” and “Thanks, you, too.” And her response to this request was extremely hostile.)

And finally, I would like to say that if this gal ever replies to this post on her own blog, which I doubt, I can faithfully predict that it will be in the form of the “high road putdown”, which is her specialty. “I’m the good guy, you’re the bad guy,” is the gist of it, very cold and quasi-polite, and she’s very clever at evading the actual issue and putting forth that agenda. As in those who disagree with her and don’t care for her attitude are mean girls and “malcontents”. She will imply that I am bashing her or some such thing. The truth is that if I could have just one wish of her it would be that she would write and say, “OK, let’s be kind.” And you know what? Despite everything, I’d be happy to write back, “Yes. Let’s be kind. I wish you the best.” I’d love to think she really does have kindness in her, just as she always claims.

As for me, I’m perfectly willing to forgive and forget and move on. In honor of the many, many happy afternoons we passed writing our thoughts to each other, if nothing else. And I still hope she has the success that her writing deserves. What I don’t understand is holding a grudge. How does this fit with kindness and sympathy toward all? How is this a good thing? Particularly when you’re talking about someone who only meant you well, and who isn’t asking anything of you but common politeness—the internet version of a civil handshake. The whole thing makes me feel sad, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there is nothing I can do about it. I’ve tried. I’ve tried very patiently for a long time. Now I’m letting go of it. And I’m letting go of keeping it buried inside me. I think the most important thing for me right now is to acknowledge the truth and move on, unfortunately carrying the knowledge that someone that I cared about feels very bitterly towards me. And this is a hard thing for me to do. I meant her only good and did many things to help her during our long correspondence, and I wanted us to be in a place where we could regard each other in a positive, if distanced way. But I don’t think its gonna happen. So I’m trying to accept that I can’t mend this. If I need to write more about it in order to heal up from it, I will.

This was a very difficult post for me to write, but I think it will help me to move forward. In the meantime, I’m not so sure any more what the best path is through this brave new internet world. Any ideas on a good course to follow? Has anyone else dealt with an extremely negative encounter through horse blog world? Any advice on this subject is welcome

PS—You can feel free to respond to this post with criticism or disagreement; I won’t push the spam button on you.

PPS—If I don’t respond to comments or email, its because my computer has been very problematic lately. I’m not ignoring you.