Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Heart Horses and Breakaway

by Laura Crum

First off, I have to confess, I don’t really know what the term “Heart Horse” means. I hear it used a lot, and I take it to refer to those special horses that come along in one’s life—the ones who own a piece of your heart. When I was young there was an old cowboy saying about how you “only got one special horse” in your lifetime, but I find that isn’t true. I’ve had five “special” horses in my life—and each one brought me some unique gifts. Three of these horses are still with me—two of them I kept until the end of their lives and they are buried here. So today I’d like to talk about my “heart horses” and show you some photos, and maybe hear your stories about yours.

I sometimes wonder how many special horses will come my way in my lifetime. I’m going to be 55 this year, and I’ve owned horses pretty much non-stop since I was 15. That’s forty straight years of horse ownership. I don’t know whether to be proud of this fact or sort of embarrassed. It kind of reminds me of an AA meeting. “My name is Laura and I’m a horseaholic.” Only I’m still doing it. Sort of like going to the AA meeting and then heading out to the bar afterward for a few cocktails. Cause I am still drawn to acquiring more horses—though I know that’s not particularly reasonable. But I am deeply grateful for the five forever horses that have come my way.

I’ve owned many horses in my life, but plenty of them did not really work out for me, and I either sold them or gave them to an appropriate home. When I was young, I longed to have a horse that WOULD work out, would be a forever horse, but I just didn’t know how to make this happen. I eventually found out that you don’t MAKE it happen—you follow where you’re led. Not one of my heart horses came to me in a “normal” fashion. You know, where you set out to buy a horse, try lots of them, pick one you like and buy him, and hey presto, he’s your forever horse. No, every time I tried this approach, I ended up with a horse that did NOT work out.

My first forever horse came along while I was in college. I had previously owned three different horses that I never established much of a bond with; I was busy with school; I had horses I could borrow/ride and had determined I didn’t need to own a horse at that time. But not a month after I sold a little sorrel gelding that I’d trained, I went with a friend to look at some Queensland heeler pups—and saw Burt.

It really was love at first sight. I got out of that truck and ignored the puppies, just walked straight to the corral where this bright bay gelding was trotting up and down. Burt was exactly the horse I’d imagined. My favorite color and size (bright bay, 15.3), and he had the brightest look in his eyes. “Is that your horse?” I asked the guy with the pups.

Turned out he was boarding the horse for a friend—who wanted to sell him. Burt was five years old—and had had thirty days put on him when he was three. That was it. He was said to be gentle—but obviously green as a grass. I’ll make a long story short. A couple of months later Burt was my horse. And he stayed my horse for thirty years. Burt was my first forever horse, or heart horse, I guess. He died at thirty-five years of age—and was trotting about as bright-eyed as ever two hours before we had to put him down (due to a major stroke).

The photo below shows Burt in his prime—he was about seven or eight.

Next came Gunner. Once again, I wasn’t looking for a horse. I owned Burt, and another horse named Ready (who ultimately did not work out). I could not afford a third horse. And I particularly could not afford Gunner.

At the time I was riding for a well known cowhorse trainer as his assistant. I was learning a lot, and I got to ride a lot of really nice horses. I also saw a whole lot of very abusive stuff. Gunner was a just turned three year old for sale, who was placed in my string for me to put some training on him. Gunner had had thirty days when he was two. Like Burt when I bought him, Gunner was green as grass.

But unlike Burt, Gunner was a royally bred cowhorse prospect, and an immensely talented colt. He was also sweet, friendly, and willing. After three months of riding him I was desperately in love with him. I could not stand the thought that he would be bought by some tough cowhorse guy who would torture him to try to win the Snaffle Bit Futurity. No matter that I had no clue how I could afford his expensive purchase price, I took out a loan and bought Gunner. Best choice I ever made. We competed at many events over the years, won some buckles and awards, and shared many good times together. Almost thirty years later, he is still my horse, and he’ll be with me until he dies.

Below you see Gunner and me fifteen years ago—Gunner is seventeen years old and mostly retired—I just used him for light riding at that time.

Next we have Flanigan. Once again, I was not looking for a horse (do you see a pattern here?) Flanigan belonged to my friend, Wally, and he was a horse I did not much care for—until I borrowed him to rope on when I retired Gunner due to arthritic issues. Once again, I fell in love. I have told Flanigan’s story before on this blog, so will simply say that both Wally and I feel he was the best horse either he or I ever rode. I bought a half interest in Flanigan, and took care of/rode this horse until he died—of an inoperable colic at 21 years of age. Below you see us together when Flanigan was in his prime as a rope horse—I’m turning a steer for my friend Sue Crocker on Pistol.

And then there was Plumber. This time I WAS looking for a horse (shock). Gunner and Burt were retired, Flanigan was getting older, and I wanted to buy a young horse to train. But Plumber was not the horse I wanted. I had known this colt since he was born, and when my uncle decided to sell him as an unbroken three-year-old, I took the colt to the round pen to see how he moved. Well…I got Plumber trotting and stepped to his head to turn him—the horse promptly tangled up his front feet and stumbled. I got him going again and again went to turn him—this time he tangled up and fell down. I shook my head in disgust. This was not an athletic colt.

My uncle was of the same opinion—the price on Plumber went lower and lower, as no one bought him. Eventually my uncle made a deal to sell him to the local horse trader. I couldn’t stand it. I had known this sweet little horse since he was born and I knew him to be kind and cooperative. I bought him, determined that he would be my “mind over matter” horse. I told my disbelieving friends that I would prove that a good mind could triumph over a lack of athletic ability.

Plumber was truly a klutz. He disunited if asked to go faster than a lope. He could not make three turns in a row while following a cow without tangling up his feet. It took me five years to get him solid enough at team roping that you could compete on him. But when he was nine years old he was a competitive heel horse. He’s won at least half a dozen saddles, as many buckles, and thousands of dollars in a ten year career. We triumphed; my little mind over matter horse was a winner.

I still have Plumber—he is twenty-three and retired. He nickers every time he sees me.

Below you see Plumber at seventeen years, packing me and my kid.

And now there is Sunny. Once again, I was not looking for a horse. I had quit roping, and the only riding I was doing was with my kid. I had recently bought my little boy a solid horse (Henry) and we were starting to go out on trail rides. I was riding Plumber, recently retired from roping and plenty sound enough for the trail riding I wanted to do. I had no intentions of buying another horse.

But Plumber didn’t like being a trail horse. He’d been a team roping horse for my friend Wally for the last seven or eight years, and hadn’t been out on the trails much during that time, though I’d ridden him outside a bunch when he was younger. For whatever reason (and I suspect he was kind of stiff), Plumber protested when asked to walk downhill and spooked dramatically at every little rustle in the bushes. I was not afraid that he’d dump me, but I didn’t enjoy riding a horse that clearly didn’t want to be there, and I did want to keep my entire focus on my kid, which required that I have a solid bombproof horse of my own.

I had known that Sunny was for sale (in fact I’d tried him and rejected him as a horse for my son—too stubborn), and I knew he was a good trail horse. On a whim, I called the owner and asked if she’d sold him. No, she hadn’t. Many people had tried him, a few had come close to buying him, but he was still with her. Waiting for me, I think.

Anyway, I picked Sunny up on New Year’s Eve 2007, and the rest you know, since I write about him often enough on the blog. Here’s one of my favorite photos of Sunny, taken a couple of years ago. I think it shows the magical quality this little mutt of a horse has—at least for me.

And finally, my sixth book, Breakaway, is now up on Kindle for 99 cents. This is a funny book. People either like it or hate it. I’ve had quite a few folks tell me it is their favorite title in the series. But my then editor told me she never should have agreed to the book, that it didn’t fit my series and was outside the range of “cozy”. It is certainly my darkest book. But my books are pretty light in general, so a dark one isn’t all that creepy compared to lots of what’s out there. In any case, Breakaway deals with depression, which some people relate to, and some people don’t. People who’ve been through depression usually like this book. People who haven’t often find it “depressing.” The crime around which the plot turns is a little weird (OK, very weird)—though it is based on something which I encountered in real life, as are most of the crimes I use to create my mysteries. Anyway, I really like this book, but don’t say I didn’t warn you it’s a little “different.” Here is the link to buy it on Kindle.

If any one would like to talk about their own heart horses—or review Breakaway—I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, if anyone would like a free copy of my most recent book, “Barnstorming”—a paper copy—email my publisher, Susan Daniel at and ask for your free review copy. You must send her your snail mail address, and your only obligation is to post a short review—can be two or three sentences—on Amazon or on your blog.


Linda said...

When you say "heart-horse" I know exactly what that means. I use the term often about Cowboy. There's some horses that get into your heart--deep. I've had and have others, but Cowboy takes the cake. I think it's because he did so much more for me--went the extra mile--and our personalities clicked. Multiply that by TIME together and you've got a heart connection.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--Yeah that "going the extra mile"--that resonates for me. Burt was the first horse I had who always gave that extra mile--and after that I learned to recognize a horse that was always there for me.

Susan said...

Most horses touch me in some way. My first horse was absolutely the best. I've ridden and owned many good ones since, but as far as overall awesome-ness, Snowball will never be beat.

Hope you sell many copies of Breakaway.

Laura Crum said...

Susan--You posted a photo of Snowball once on your blog and the horse had a special look that I never forgot. I was also amused by the black horse named Snowball(!)

horsegenes said...

I do think that each one brings something special - but just like people they all can touch us in a unique way. I haven't ever owned a horse that I was attached to as much as I am attached to Semper. I don't know if HE is special or he just came along at the right time for both of us. My obsession with him is beyond normal, I know it and I don't care what anyone thinks. I have other horses that I care for (physically) as well as I do Semper but I am not as emotionally invested I guess. My little red horse is getting to me though... he is another one that just tugs on my heart. He is such a brat - but there is just something about him that draws me to him.

If anyone is interested in reading about how I came to be the proud owner of the big white horse it is here on my blog

Laura Crum said...

I read that post, kel, and I totally think Semper is a "heart horse" for you. I love hearing about other people's special horses.

Dom said...

It sounds like you've been blessed with some truly amazing horses. I think a heart horse is one whose memory you will keep forever, whose connection with you is unparalleled by the others that may come along. I do NOT think it's one heart horse per lifetime. <3

Laura Crum said...

Dom--I think you've said it best.

Kris H. said...

Nonchalant was my heart horse. He was a 17.2H TB that would jump the moon if I asked. Not one to enjoy being fussed with but always quick to nicker when he saw me. I had to retire him at 14 due to arthritis and a bone chip, had to find a new home for him at 16 when I moved and couldn't take him, and magically got him back at 18. I was all set to have him forever...until he broke a leg and I had to put him down. His loss took me to a dark place for many months and I wasn't sure I would ever regain my horse passion again. It is back, although there is still a chip out of it...Nonnie was the best and I miss him, even 8 years later.

Laura Crum said...

Kris H--I hear you--I still miss Flanigan--though my other horses are a comfort.

Funder said...

I dunno, I often feel like I haven't had horses long enough to have a "heart horse." I love(d) Dixie and Champ immensely, and I was just fond of my other two. They were good horses, but Champ and Dixie are truly special.

I finished Breakaway the other day and I really liked it! I don't want to spoiler it for people who haven't read it, but you made some really interesting choices with Gail's character development. Well done. Also, the central mystery - ICK. Nuff said!

Laura Crum said...

Funder--I know its not for me to say, but Champ and Dixie definitely both seem like your heart horses to me--whatever the term may mean. I can feel from here that they are both really special to you.

Glad you liked Breakaway--people either like it or hate it--there doesn't seem to be any in-between.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

I've found that a great horse grows on me. I bought the stallion Doru as a working draught horses and only started riding him after a year getting to know him in harness. He proved to be a good and faithful companion, now retired. Brena and I had a quite turbulent first few months which included breaking my back in a wreck, and now we get on wonderfully. In the beginning I saw something in her, I'm not quite sure what. In part that purchase was like an arranged marriage, feeling OK to me but trusting knowledgeable friends too. It's a bit like human partnerships. Once upon a time I married an intriguing, beatiful woman who was a great rider. It took three months from meeting her to be hitched and the union lasted all of eighteen months. Life with a horse can be like that too. One can be attracted to a fine horse but not hit it off. That said, my ex taught me to ride properly and more besides. There is no ill feeling. All part of growing up.

Laura Crum said...

white horse pilgrim-I've had some horses that I really wanted to like and hit it off with--but we just weren't a good match. And then there was Flanigan--that I wasn't initially attracted to at all--but after riding him for awhile he just grew on me. And he became as special to me as any horse I will ever have. You're so right that the path is different every time.

Midnight Mustang Series said...

Your bond with the wonderful horses in your life is amazing. I like to hear about other people's experiences with horses because it gives you motivation to do things with your horses and for me, lots of inspiration for my stories.
I have been writing a book series and you may be interested in it. Please look around and enjoy yourself.

Your blog is very nice. I'm pretty sure that i'll be following you. :-)

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Midnight Mustang--I appreciate the comment.