Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - Gone in a flash. Hello 2013

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly 12 months can go by and this year is no exception. In fact, for me this year has gone by in particularly fast lightning warp speed. This has everything to do with a full barn of horses to train, students to teach, pony club tests to administer and of course a jam packed competition schedule for Uiver and I. Add to this one dog rehabbing from ACL surgery, another dog needing major dental surgery, and raising one precocious little bird, it is no wonder that I am equally exhausted and broke.

Through the whirlwind that 2012 has been I have so enjoyed and valued being able to share my thoughts with all of you. The readers, and my fellow writers, on this blog seem to be kindred spirits. We all come from the common bond of loving our horses and others pets as well as our appreciation for the written word. My contribution to this blog has nourished my creative juices, helped my discipline as a writer and at times has been great therapy. All of you have allowed me to share the ups, downs, frustrations and triumphs of this year and you have shared with me your experiences, advice, support and kindness. For this I am truly grateful.

I have tried throughout this year to acknowledge and be grateful for the many blessings I have been given and to try to find some meaning and growth from the hard times. This is often easier said than done but I will continue to resolve to be as positive as I can because nothing good ever comes from negative energy.

As for my other resolutions for 2013 – well my number 1 resolution is to slow down and better concentrate my energies on my priorities and not everyone else’s. I spend way too much of my time doing too much for too many people and then I am left feeling used and worn out. I like doing things for others but too much has just become “expected” and not fully appreciated so 2013 is going to be more about my priorities, realistic expectations and setting boundaries.

I want to spend more time just hanging out with the 4 legged and 2 legged treasures in my life without worrying about being productive. I keep telling myself that I am the age now when I don’t have to work so hard and I don’t need to worry so much about pleasing others. I also want to plan another trip to Africa and maybe one to Australia.

I hope that everyone had a fabulous Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I wish for all of you nothing but happiness and prosperity. I wish for the world, Peace, Love and more random acts of kindness rather than random acts of violence.

Uiver sends his greetings as well.

Ok I look hot. Bet none of Santa's reindeer know how to passage.

So do these antlers make my ears look big?

OK so I am over this. You can stop laughing now.
Don't you people know I am an FEI Dressage Horse.

Did someone say more cookies?
I'll keep the antlers on, no problem. 

How about all of you? How was your holiday and what are your resolutions for the new year?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Since the New Year is just around the corner, I thought I would talk about beginnings in today's post. 2012 brought many new beginnings for me: a new dog (Ziggy), a new passion (antiques and two booths), one new book published (American Girl BOUND FOR SNOW), two new books to research and write, a daughter who graduated college, a son who got a new job (tree climbing), and a passel of new students to inspire and teach.

When I look back, I realize how fortunate I am that these new things were all positive. I didn't have to deal with difficult family, health or financial issues. No giant storms like Hurricane Sandy hit our area. Our recent snow is icy but easily dealt with by humans and horses. No unexpected catastrophes. What new adventures will 2013 bring? Will the positives again win out? Or will bad luck hit us?

Only time will tell as 2013 begins and rushes into 2014. (Does the year go by fast for you, too?) But I also want to talk about different kinds of beginnings: how to start a story, chapter or novel. First lines and scenes must hook a reader/editor. Many editors today won't read past the first page. Some new writers struggle with this; others have no problem.

Usually I can't start a new book or chapter until I have mulled over (and over) in my mind the opening line and scene. Only then do I sit down and write.
For anyone who has problems with those first lines, here are some tips and examples that I have gathered after writing over a hundred new story, article and book beginnings:

Hook your reader with a single, bold statement, usually one that has some shock value.
“He should never have taken that shortcut.” (Michael Crichton, Timeline)

Hook your reader with a problem. This often takes more than a single sentence, but it sets up the story’s problem immediately, thrusting a character into trouble.
One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone. There. Gone. No 'poof.' No flash of light. No explosion.” (Michael Grant Gone)  

Hook your reader with immediate action:
"Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen." (Philip Pullman The Golden Compass)

Hook your reader with dialogue:
"I do," she said, and only then allowed herself to wonder what she'd done. (Edith Layton To Wed a Stranger)

Hook your reader with sensory images:
“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” (Scott Westerfeld Uglies)

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” (Tolkien The Hobbit)

Hook your reader with a compelling character:
“Billy Ray Cobb was the younger and small of the two rednecks. At twenty-three he was already a three-year veteran of the state penitentiary at Parchman. Possession, with intent to sell.” (John Grisham  A Time To Kill.)

"I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things." (Lisa Yee Millicent Min, Girl Genius)

 Happy New Year, ya'll! And let me know what new beginnings you will toast to at midnight (or earlier if you're like me), whether they're on paper or in your life! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


                                                by Laura Crum

            As 2012 draws to a close, I want to post some images I’ve taken in the past year that remind me of the magic in this world. Things can be very hard and very sad. Beauty and magic are present, too. Sometimes this is no comfort (I know), but it remains true. Today I am going to take a minute to show what magic looks like to me.

                                 Surreally beautiful moment at the beach in November.

                                           December sunrise from my porch.

                                         Wild cyclamen under my oak trees in November.

                                                                 Pure magic.

                                                Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

                                                    Apples from my Fuji tree.
                                              Pricked ears at dawn in the Glass Mountains.
      We are tiny horsemen in a big landscape (thanks Bill Crum for this image, taken near your home in the Glass Mountains).

                                                     Young deer near our house.

                                                 Bobcat kitten outside my window.
                                                          Crossing Aptos Creek.
                                                  Dahlia and yarrow from my garden.

                                                    Riding through fields of color.

                                                Abundance of roses on the porch in May.
                                                                     Winter light.

                                               A magical view of this sweet old world.
My wish for the new year is that we all be granted many such magical moments. And may the magic bring love in its train. Love is the only answer. Happy New Year!—Laura

PS—To all those who sent good wishes to my 32 year old horse, Gunner, he is recovering well (and this in itself seems magical to me). Thank you so much for your thoughts and support.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Just galloping by to wish a Merry Christmas and Joyous Holiday Season to you and all of your critters - from our barn to yours!

From Laura Crum - Wishing everyone brighter days and a happy new year!

From Linda Benson - Have a wonderful holiday season, and don't forget to hug your horse!

From Alison Hart - Have a horse and book-filled holiday! Keep riding and reading!
And from all of us here at Equestrian Ink:
Laura Crum, Linda Benson, Alison Hart, Jami Davenport, Francesca Prescott, Natalie Keller Reinert, Michele Scott, and Terri Rocovich
- we wish you a year filled with riding, reading, and fun with horses!
We so appreciate all of you who enjoy reading this blog!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hard Days

                                                by Laura Crum

            The midwinter solstice always seems to be a difficult time. This is when old things die, be they dogs, horses or people. At least, that’s been my experience. It’s when troubles come and critters get sick. It’s when the weather (at least here in the northern hemisphere) is the most unforgiving. It’s when people get depressed. So I’m not totally surprised that I’ve been having some struggle.
            My old horse, Gunner, who will be 33 this spring (I have owned him since he was three), got cast this last week. I have pipe corrals and he isn’t in a stall, but he lay down in his shed with his back to the fence and got stuck in a hollow (dug by the previous occupant of this corral) with his feet uphill from his body and his back wedged up against the fence. He wasn’t caught in the bars, so a solid wall wouldn’t have made a difference. It was the slope of the ground that got him. I found him at morning feeding, and I think he had been down for several hours, judging by the appearance of things. He wasn’t struggling, but I could see at a glance that I wasn’t going to be able to get him up from that position.
            I called some friends and though we rolled him over and then dismantled the corral, we still couldn’t manage to get him in a position where he could get up. Finally the vet arrived (he’d been off on another call), and with his help we were able to roll and tug Gunner onto a slope that allowed him to get up. And he did. All this took two hours and Gunner was in really sad shape. He never struggled, but being down that long was very hard on him. I was pretty sure I should put him down, judging by how stressed he looked when he finally got up.
            But the vet checked him out and said no, he thought the horse had a good chance of recovering.
            “At 32?” I said. “Should I really put him through this?”
            The vet said that he had seen other old horses come back from this and do OK. My only experience of the sort was when my last old horse, Burt, went down at 35 years. We tried to get him up, but he seemed very out of it, and was having seizures. So I chose to euthanise him. I said as much to the vet.
            “This horse got up by himself,” the vet said. “And he’s eating.” (I had put some senior food in a bucket and Gunner was gobbling it, despite being shaky).
            I looked at Gunner, and it was true. He did not seem like he wanted to give up. So we took our first steps down the path that we’re currently on.
            The next day was worse. Gunner was very sore, despite lots of pain med, and had little appetite. He kept restlessly moving, constantly turning in circles to the right, we think because his left hind leg was/is so sore. He had a big swelling on that side. I walked him several times during the day, and hand grazed him. He would nibble a bit. I was very worried that he was just in too much pain. The vet told me this would be the worst day and said I could up the pain med a little. And at least it was sunny.
            The next day Gunner looked a little perkier and had more appetite. I had the vet out to check him over and all vital signs were good, lungs clear, he was peeing and pooping normally and eating and drinking. He moved pretty well, considering. But he was still pretty uncomfortable. And then it started to rain.
            I had Gunner blanketed, of course, but I couldn’t lock him up in a stall. My biggest worry was he would get down again and be unable to get up, so I had him in the biggest, flattest corral I have (about 100 by 100). It has a small shelter, but Gunner wasn’t choosing to stand there. But he needed (and needs) to move and I just had to let him be out in the rain. I checked him often and he was warm and dry under his blanket.
            That night it poured. Though Gunner was warm under the blanket and not shivering, by morning the blanket was wet through. I swapped it for a dry blanket and gave Gunner pain meds and took him for a walk and to graze. He seemed, all things considered, pretty perky, and grazed with enthusiasm. But…he is still only eating maybe a quarter of what he was eating before he got cast. He  nibbles his equine senior feed (if I hand feed it to him). He nibbles his hay. I graze him three or four times a day. Its not enough food.
            So here is this poor old horse standing in the pouring rain, eating very little. He’s not in distress, but still, I feel terrible. The vet says that as long as Gunner keeps improving, even if it’s little by little, its OK. He isn’t terribly concerned if the horse wants to stand in the rain as long as he has a blanket. And Gunner has looked a little better every day. Every day he eats a little more.
            But me, I look at my old horse in the rain (and the mud) and feel awful. I take him for walks three or four times a day and let him graze as much as he wants to, but still…At the same time, I don’t want to put him down if he wants to go on. I only want to do for him what it is that his own heart wants. And he still marches out to graze with some zip. He looks at spooky things with his ears up (he was always a big spook) and strikes up a trot to get away. He goes after that green grass like he wants it. And though obviously body sore on the left side, he can march up my long hill of a driveway pretty freely.
            So what can I do?
            My only conclusion is to take it one day at a time. As long as Gunner wants to go on, we’ll go on. If he looks like he’s had enough, then I will put him down. It’s perfectly possible that in a week or so it will be sunny and Gunner will be almost back to normal. Before he got cast he was sound and in good flesh. Here’s a photo from last summer.

            Anyway, many others have suffered far greater grief than I am having, so I don’t mean to complain. But for sure owning horses, or any critters-- well, OK, loving any living thing-- opens the door to many sad moments and some very difficult choices. I have been there many times before, so, of course, I knew this. But it strikes hard every time.
            I know that every single morning when I walked down to feed and saw the horses looking at me, bright-eyed, everybody fine (as it has been for the last four years), that I said a small thankful prayer. Because I knew that one morning it wouldn’t be like that (this is inevitable). So when I saw Gunner down last week (he was so still that I thought he was dead), I felt both acceptance as well as grief. This is the way it is to own horses.
            As it turns out I wasn’t faced with a dead horse, but I am now on this tenuous path of trying to decide if Gunner’s quality of life is good enough to persevere. So far we’re persevering. But it is not easy for me to watch him stand in the rain, favoring that sore left hind, with little appetite. I know the rest of you will understand. I can only hope that tomorrow will be better.

And on a brighter note—we’ve passed the darkest day of the year. In a certain sense, tomorrow WILL be better. So happy whatever you celebrate, and many good wishes for the new year. Cheers--Laura

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bad News and Good News

                                                by Laura Crum

            After Terri’s sad post yesterday, and the very sad news last week, my own bad news seems pretty minor. But I’m hoping that telling this story may help someone else. So here goes.
 I posted a while ago about the little horse near the school playground. See my post on this problem here. Some of you asked for updates. I do have an update, but I’m afraid it isn’t good.
            The last I had heard, the SPCA had been called by a “do-gooder” who felt the horse was too thin. When I came back to the school, five days later (our program only meets twice a week), the horse was gone. I asked our teacher what had happened; she didn’t know. So I asked the school secretary and the yard duty supervisor. The yard duty supervisor said that he had seen someone taking photos of the horse and the shed last week. The horse was gone when he came to school this week. He didn’t know more than that. Uh-oh, I thought.
            At a guess the photo-taking person was SPCA. And then the horse disappeared.
            I asked the school secretary. She said she didn’t know much, but one of the neighbors—not the neighbor with the horse—had said that they had seen a horse trailer pull into the property on the weekend. They did not see the horse leave in the trailer. But now the horse is certainly gone. No one at the school knew more than that.
            My heart just sank. It is possible the horse went to a rescue or was re-homed—but it’s  pretty unlikely, given the circumstances. Maybe he was euthanised. I don’t like to think about the other alternative, which is the most likely, unfortunately.
            I don’t like to think about it, but I’m going to spell it out here, in case it helps some other little horse somewhere. Here is what I said in my previous post:

“I have been around in the horse business for a long time. I know the conventional wisdom is to call and report a horse that is too thin. I also know that this course is as likely to do harm as it is good. Having watched this horse lead a reasonably contented life for the past eight years, I certainly would NOT have reported it to the local SPCA.
            There are a number of reasons why I feel this way. First off, I have known of a good many cases like this where the owner, who never was all that invested in the horse, simply gets rid of it after the complaint. Trust me, these horses almost NEVER end up going to a better place. At best they get euthanised. At worst they end up on a truck. It’s possible that once in awhile the owner takes it as a wake-up call and buys better feed for the horse. And its possible that one in awhile the horse is re-homed to a better home. Its possible—but I haven’t seen it that often. Especially with an older horse.”

            Now, I don’t know for sure what actually happened, and the only way I could find out would be to knock on the door of complete strangers who have already made their decision (whatever it was) and probably (and justifiably) feel pretty hostile towards anyone from the school right now. But from long experience in the horse world, I can tell you what probably happened.
            To begin with, I can’t know if these people were truly fond of this horse, but I never saw anyone with him, ever—in eight years. Still, I was only there on weekday mornings. If the people worked, they wouldn’t have been home then. Perhaps they lavished attention on him in the evenings and on weekends. In any case, the horse always looked reasonably content in his small falling-down pasture and the school kids regularly fed him apples. He wasn’t suffering. Yes, this fall he was a touch too thin. NOT starving.  You could see a shadow of ribs if you stared hard. His ribs did not stand out, his hip bones did not stick up, his fuzzy winter coat had some shine to it. He was a LONG way from distress. I know he was being fed, because I saw him eating hay in his shed. As I pointed out in my previous post, he would undoubtedly have gained weight when the grass came on strong in the spring.
 Now my guess is that the people who owned the horse weren’t very invested in him (judging by the run-down pasture…etc). Still, the horse was leading a decent life. I know. I watched him for eight years. The do-gooder who reported him to the SPCA initiated a predictable chain of events. It probably went something like this. The SPCA hassled the owners-- who weren’t wanting to be hassled, and the owners most likely called around until they found someone who was willing to take the horse off their hands. And I’m sorry to say it, but that person most likely hauled the horse to a livestock auction for the small amount of money to be made.
            From the auction the horse was very likely shipped to slaughter. It makes me very sad.
            I wish I could have done something about this, and I was gearing up to try going to the door of the house and asking if I could help (as some readers suggested). But the horse was gone by the time I got back to school. And I will admit that I was struggling with the question of what I should do or say.
            You see the last two times I interfered in such a situation, I was told that the person could not afford to feed the horse any more, and would I take said horse. And both times I took the horse. However, I can no longer take any more horses. My corrals are full and I am maxed out with seven horses that I am committed to caring for for the rest of their lives. I had decided that I could offer to buy some senior food for the horse—but even this was problematic. I could buy a dozen sacks, sure. But I couldn’t afford to support that horse for the rest of his life…and the feed needed as a horse gets older can be very expensive. (Believe me, I know.) Wasn’t I just prolonging the inevitable? Still, if the horse put on a little weight now, and then the green grass kicked in, he might have another pleasant year.
            Anyway, I never had the chance to offer anything. Things happened faster than I was prepared for. But to be realistic, if the people had already made their choice, there might not have been anything I could do about it if I had gotten there earlier.
            And here’s my message. Stop and think before you interfere by calling “the authorities.” If a horse is truly starving that may be the best course of action. But be aware that when you report a horse like the little horse near our school, you may be sending that horse to slaughter—as a direct result of your “do-gooder” action. It might be best to try to determine if the horse has a decent quality of life FIRST, before you decide to drag in officialdom.
            As a case in point, last fall we euthanised two of our own older rescue horses mostly because we felt they were too thin. These horses were on free choice hay and a good pasture and we supplemented with lots of equine senior feed. The horses had been hard keepers all their lives and we had kept them in decent shape for many years by pouring LOTS of expensive food to them. But there came a day when even this wasn’t working any more, and we felt that they were too thin going into winter. They were 31 and 25 years, respectively. If you had driven by this pasture and seen that these two looked ribby, sure you could have called the SPCA. And what good would it have done?
            Such a well meaning do gooder would have no idea that we were pouring tons of money into expensive feed for these horses (and yes, regular worming) and agonizing over what was the best and most ethical thing to do. We monitored the horses carefully, checking to see that they both still seemed to be enjoying life and feeding them all they would clean up. We shed tears when we decided that euthanasia was the right option. We did our best to do right by those horses. We darn sure didn’t need some do-gooder deciding that we were “abusing” them.
            Again, I, too, would report a horse under certain circumstances. But I would try to find out the circumstances first. People who won’t buy feed when horses are starving need to be reported. But its best to be sure that the situation that the horses are in is WORSE than what may happen to them once you report them. We all need to be clear on that.
            OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. As I said in the original post, its very hard to know what’s best to do in a situation like this. But “reporting” the horse very often leads to the outcome I just described. I think many “do-gooders” mistakenly suppose that reporting a thin horse will lead to the horse having a better life. Sometimes this may happen, but very often it doesn’t work like that. And it’s important to understand this going in.

            On to the good news, which is actually pretty minor in comparison. For those of you who are reading my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy (on Kindle), the last four books have been reduced in price—just in time for Xmas. These books have all been previously priced at $10.99, which is pretty expensive for a Kindle edition, in my opinion. Starting today they are $2.99 each. The books (in order) are Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone, and Barnstorming. Click on the titles to find the $2.99 Kindle editions.

            There has been some problem linking the editions (which should soon be fixed), so if you simply type in the titles you may not be able to find these editions. But the links above will take you there; you can also find them if you look for them under Laura Crum in “Kindle store.” 

            These four books are very special to me, and those who read this blog will recognize some familiar equine characters. I hope this lower price makes it possible for folks who are enjoying the series to complete it by reading the last four books.

            Season’s greetings from my family to yours!

Monday, December 17, 2012

A life too short, an impact so great.

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog today and I apologize in advance for putting a damper on the festive mood of the season. But, since so many of you know the tale of Thump, the bird I rescued last March, I felt compelled to let everyone know that he passed away this past Wednesday.

To say that I am devastated is an understatement and I have been in a major funk since. I have pondered with my closest friends why I have been so deeply affected by one little bird. I have certainly lost pets before. We all go through it. But before I spend more time on why this little bird had such a great impact let me share more about what happened.

I have to say that I was not completely surprised when I discovered his body but I had convinced myself that the health issues Thump had been having were manageable and that he would overcome them like he had beaten the odds from the beginning. Thump had been having seizures for the past several weeks and essentially I could not find a vet who would look at him.

When he had his first seizure I heard the commotion in his cage and ran into the room, took him out of the cage and held him being not quite sure what was going on. He was clearly having a seizure but I had no idea why and he came out of it almost as quickly as it had come on. The next morning I started looking for a vet who knew birds to at least consult with. I started with the Wild Animal Park here in San Diego and after several calls I was told by a very pleasant vet tech that they only treat exotic birds that are housed at the zoo or the park but she referred me to Project Wildlife.

I had had one previous, not so fruitful experience with Project Wildlife in the past so I didn't give it much hope but I tried anyway. After wading through a maze of automated messages that rivals any credit card company I was referred to their website. Their website referred me back to their phone number but did list several vets that they work with so I started calling. The first vet was retired (now that is some up-to-date info on their website!) and the second was a vet hospital not too far away from me. When I called I explained the symptoms Thump was having and a very nice tech went to inquire as to whether I should bring him in. From the start of our conversation I had explained that Thump was a European Starling which I had rescued after being pushed out of his nest.

After coming back to the phone the tech explained that I could bring him in but that since it was illegal in the state of California to possess a wild animal that they would not be able to give him back to me. I asked, what they would do with him. (thinking that maybe they would treat him and then house him in a bird rehab - a naive me.) She then told me very plainly that they would euthanize him because Starlings are considered pests in California. Really, did she not just hear that I had raised him by hand and was pretty much his Mother.

I felt like saying, well you know quite a few teenagers can be pests and you don't see their mothers euthanizing them! Needless to say I was appalled but I politely said Thank You and hung up the phone. I hoped that maybe the seizures were a passing event and everything would be OK. But a few days later he had another one so this time I was determined to get through to someone at Project Wildlife thinking that they had to be willing to help. After all their mission is supposed to be about helping wildlife.

Well boy did I get a rude awakening. After several tries I did get through to an actual human being (I use that term loosely) and was told that they don't rehabilitate or treat Starlings because they are pests. Really, so your mission to help wildlife only applies to the ones you like! Really. I contained my disdain and said thank you vowing that this organization would never again get a dime of my charitable funds. (I had donated to them in the past.)

Thumps seizures continued sporadically although he seemed fine in between them but I was still concerned that something bigger was brewing. I called several vets that treat domesticated birds and was told they don't treat wild animals. Poor Thump was clearly like a man without a country and was certainly a bird without any veterinarian willing to treat him.

Now the reality of the situation is that there was very little that a vet could have done for him anyway. In researching the issue on the Internet, most information said seizures in birds were not uncommon but very difficult to diagnose the source and even more difficult to treat. So I deluded myself in thinking that if I just loved him enough and kept a close eye on him that he would be OK.

In trying to console me my equine vet, who is also a dear, dear friend, said that probably what happened was that he may have incurred some brain trauma when he fell from the nest which would leave scare tissue in the brain and this sclerosis became more and more of a problem as he grew. He must of had one final seizure in the night or even a brain bleed that killed him. The day before he died he had been his usual, precocious self, spending much of the day in the flight cage outside and sitting on my shoulder after I brought him into the house. Although I had had this nagging worry since the seizures had begun I just kept hoping I was being a worry wort.

All of my friends have said very kind things like "he would never have had a life without you" and "you gave him a 100 years worth of love in the short time he was with you." In my head I know that this is true but in my heart I just miss him. Never has one little bird had so great an impact. Never has so little a creature so completely monopilized my time and taken over my daily life. I know that I am blessed to have had him at all. I will miss him forever and my household will never be the same without him.

But I don't want to end this blog on a sad note but a positive one. I always try to look for the lesson and meaning in things and I think that for Thump it is this. If one little bird can bring such joy and happiness, so too can we and if one little bird can leave such a lasting impression then we should live everyday to do the same.

I realize that the average person would think I was a candidate for the loony bin but I know the readers of this blog would understand.

Rest in Peace my little Thump.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Merry Horse-Filled Christmas

Winter has been filled with horses for me. Not because I am doing a lot of riding; like Laura, the weather is not favorable, and as I mentioned in my last post, when it is nice out, I have been busy with book deadlines, teaching and retailing. So this Christmas, horses have filled me in a different way -- through my three booths at antique malls.

Last week I bought a 62 horse Breyer collection from a dealer who wanted to concentrate on holiday wares. 62 horses! Sounds crazy unless you are another horse person who has loved Breyer since she could say "horsie." Fortunately, the dealer threw in her Breyer Animal Collector's Guide. Since I started this 'business' last winter, I have discovered that with every new treasure I buy, I need to learn a whole new vocabulary and wealth of information. As many of you know, Breyer has been creating models since the 1950s. They come in different sizes, colors and shapes that use over 350 molds. They are exquisitely hand-painted with life-like detail. The Chinese are reproducing them, but so far, they are far inferior and easy to distinguish from the real thing.

What am I going to do with 62 horses? Enjoy them, first. Then research and sell them on Ebay. This should take me, oh, about a year. Let's face it, I am still cataloging an Indian pottery collection I bought three months ago, so I am getting more realistic about the time and energy needed for Ebay.
So if anyone has a Breyer model you have been dying for, let me know. I just might have it!

The neat thing about my 'antiquing' is I find horses wherever I go, and not just Breyer models. I recently got to glean through a postcard collection and found three (out of about 2,000) horse postcards from the early 1900s. The art and colors are still so beautiful, I couldn't help but fall in love with them, just like I do the ceramic figurines, the cute horse planters, the paintings, the books--you get the idea. One find was a 1903 Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. It's not worth much to sell because of the condition, but I treasure it! So I'll wish all of you at Equestrian Ink a horse-filled holiday with this photo of a wonderful 1930s postcard.

Happy Holidays to you, your family and all your critters!  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You Never Know


                                       by Laura Crum

            I will admit it. I spend a good part of winter either watching it rain, or looking morosely at the mud and thinking it’s too muddy to ride. We get plenty of rain here in coastal California in the winter. (It is raining as I type this.) And I am a weather wimp. I do not ride in the rain. I do not ride if it’s below 50 degrees (or above 80 for that matter). I don’t ride if it’s very windy. Yes,  I’m a weather wimp. Go ahead and make fun of me, you tougher sorts who live in more challenging climates
            However, one of the good things about coastal central California is we have a Mediterranean climate here. This means that though it rains, it almost never snows. It rarely gets down into the 20’s, very, very rarely into the teens. And we gets LOTS of sunny winter days in the 60’s and even 70’s. And these days are perhaps the best riding weather of the year.
            So I do ride quite a bit in the winter. Often we ride on the beach, as we did on Monday. The beach is always good footing. And often it looks like this.

            Yes, that is the view from the cliff top where we began our ride. Pretty idyllic, don’t you think? And yes, I think I live in Paradise. Despite the rainy days.
            The thing about riding on the beach is that you need to schedule your ride for low tide, so there is lots of firm wet sand to ride on. And I prefer days when the surf is not high—its so much more peaceful. And then, as I said, I’m a weather wimp. The temp has to be in the 60’s or 70’s or I don’t want to go. And there is one more thing about riding on the beach…or riding “outside” in general. You never know what you will meet. And sometimes it can be quite surprising/alarming.
 So this last Monday we had a very low tide in the afternoon with low surf and the temp was about 70. Needless to say, we headed for the beach.


            Interestingly, the very low tide had created many tidepools in the beach sand, and, of course, everybody wanted to wade through them. At least, the people did.

            The horses will wade if we insist, but they don’t exactly volunteer to go in the water. Nonetheless, we waded. I don’t have any pictures of Sunny wading, because I am required to pay attention as I urge him into the water, and I am also very thoughtful about the “bottom” as I once rode into just such an innocuous tide pool stream and found it to be a form of quicksand—my horse sunk almost to the shoulder and had a hard time getting out. So I pay attention and focus on my horse and surroundings rather than taking photos. But here is Sunny watching Twister get wet.

            We don’t usually insist that they go in the surf, because the waves going in and out have the effect of making many horses dizzy. Having had horses stagger and nearly go down in the breakers (Wally had one that did go down), I am thoughtful about this. But the tide pools were much like streams, and the horses waded through them easily enough.

            Then we trotted and loped down the beach for a bit, until we’d had enough. It was a bright, pretty day and there were a few people about, even though this is a private,  secluded beach. We saw some very active dogs chasing shorebirds, joggers—one of whom wanted to take our picture-- a mountain biker…etc. The horses were not bothered by any of this, and seemed to be enjoying the ride as much as we were.
            Eventually we turned around and headed back. It really was a lovely day.

            Not five minutes after I took this photo, a small single person aircraft thingy—what we call a flying lawnmower—appeared, flying along the shore, oh, about forty feet overhead. My son and Wally were quite excited. Being the worry wart I am, I was instantly concerned that the horses wouldn’t care for it. However, I am smart enough not to share my worry with either my kid or my horse. While thinking, shit, I hope these horses don’t freak out, I kept my legs loose, my body relaxed and consciously did not tighten up the reins. I said, in a chipper tone of voice, “Yeah, I see it, how cool,” to my kid, adding calmly, “just be sure you have a hold of the horn.” And then, to my dismay, the thing proceeded to land right next to us. OK, not RIGHT next to us, but close enough.
            And no, I have no pictures. My heart was racing. I was thinking about avoiding a disaster, not taking photos. I remained outwardly relaxed and cheerful, but I kept an eagle eye on Sunny and Henry, looking for any signs of panic. But I was the only one who was nervous. All the horses regarded the flying lawnmower with mild interest, including watching it take back off, to the sound of much angry buzzing. Whew.
            I know our horses are steady and experienced, but still, I would have expected more reaction. Anyway, it ended up being another lovely day, along with giving me a small reminder that you never know what you’ll stumble upon. And I bet many of you have equally interesting stories about stuff you’ve met on the trail. I think our scariest moment was facing two huge, very low-flying helicopters at the beach. How about you?


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Guest Post from Milt Toby

Our guest post today is from Milt Toby, an author and attorney who has been writing about Thoroughbred racing for some forty years. His six previous books include Dancer's Image: The Forgotten Story of the 1968 Kentucky Derby, which won the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award as the best book about Thoroughbred racing published in 2011 and an American Horse Publications Editorial Award for the best equine book of 2011. Milt is a director of American Horse Publications and a former chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section.


Milt has a brand new book out called Noor: A Champion Thoroughbred's Unlikely Journey from California to Kentucky.




Here's the blurb from Amazon:


While Seabiscuit is perhaps the best-known Thoroughbred in history, Charles S. Howard owned another remarkable racehorse that should never be forgotten. Irish-bred Noor dominated the 1950 racing season, setting world records in victories over Citation and winning the Hollywood Gold Cup by defeating a Triple Crown winner, the Horse of the Year and the previous year's Kentucky Derby winner. Sadly, that fame faded as he failed to sire champions, and Noor was buried in an unmarked grave in Northern California decades later. Veteran turf writer Milt Toby recounts Noor's colorful career and the inspiring story of racing enthusiast Charlotte Farmer's personal mission to exhume the Thoroughbred's remains for reburial in central Kentucky years after the horse was inducted into the hall of fame. 

Today, Milt shares his perspective on the writing process.

Keep Trying ‘Til You Get It Right

by Milt Toby

It’s a well-documented malady associated with writing: falling in love with a clever turn of phrase, or paragraph, or scene, and then steadfastly refusing to cut it out of the final draft.  It’s one of the things that I struggle with in all of my writing.  If you’ve nurtured a favorite scene and now don’t have the heart to do away with it, even if you know that it needs to go, take a lesson from Ernest Hemingway.

I finished rereading A Farewell to Arms a few days ago and as always I came away in awe of Hemingway’s genius with words.  The version I read was the new Hemingway Library Edition, and what made it special was this: Hemingway often said that he rewrote the ending 39 times to be certain that he got the words right, and this edition assembles—apparently for the first time—all of those alternative endings.  A few of the endings that Hemingway tried but ultimately rejected are very similar to the final version, with only a word changed here and there, the literary equivalent of fine-tuning for maximum effect.  Others are radical departures from the published ending, including three versions that take a fundamental part of the conclusion and twist it 180 degrees.

The book also includes excerpts from some of the early drafts of the novel, many handwritten, others typed, with Hemingway’s edits included.  A Farewell to Arms is worth reading and rereading on its own merits.  The special treat of this edition is being able to flip to the appendices and get a feel for Hemingway’s thinking as he crafted the final manuscript.

Of all the possible endings, the one I liked best happened to be one that Hemingway didn’t choose, and that’s another important lesson: It’s a fact of life that not everyone is going to like what you write, or how you write it.  Listen to criticism from members of your writing group, or your mentor, or your spouse, but always remember that your inner critic is the most important voice of all.  If it takes 39 drafts to get it right, that’s how many it takes.  

Milt Toby lives in Central Kentucky with his wife, Roberta, two dogs and two cats. This is a stop on Milt's tour with Walker Author Tours. For more about his book Noor, or any of his other books, you can read more here:

Thank you so much for stopping by, Milt, and sharing your thoughts. Your books look fascinating and informative!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Do You Say?

                                                by Laura Crum

            So the other day I had someone ask me a question that confused me. I didn’t know what the right answer was. So I’m going to put this out to you fellow horse people—because it concerns a horse. A horse that may or may not need help.
            The story goes like this. I have been volunteering as an aide at my son’s homeschool program for the past eight years. The program is through the public school system and we meet twice a week with the other kids in our group to have a school day at a small local school. This school is in the country, and next door to the kid’s playground is a small pasture with a horse. This horse has been in the pasture for the entire eight years I’ve been at the school. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure the horse has never left the pasture in these last eight years.
            The horse is pretty much your cliché backyard horse. I very much doubt any one rides it. In eight years I have never seen anyone catch it or handle it. The pasture where it lives is maybe two or three acres and parceled out in several falling down sections—with tons of non-approved horse features—I won’t go into detail, but I’m sure you get the picture. Nonetheless, there is plenty of grazing in green grass season, there is a shed for shelter, and I see the horse eating hay in the shed from time to time. For many years there was a pot belly pig in this field with the horse, but I haven’t seen the pig lately. I can only suppose it died.
            This horse did not look young when I first saw it, eight years ago—I suppose he (it’s a gelding) to be at least twenty by now. The homeschool teacher says the horse has been in the pasture ever since she remembers—and she’s been at the school twenty years. So this horse may be close to thirty. He looks like an Arab type—and has never been stout looking. But he moves sound, and I have never seen a cut on him, despite his circumstances. He always seems pretty settled and content. To tell the truth, I am used to him being there and though I always glance at him when I see him, as I do all horses, I sort of take him for granted. I have looked at the house he “belongs” to, when I pass it on the road—it is a ramshackle sort of place with junk everywhere—just like the pasture. Ok, then.
            So the other day our homeschool teacher asked me if I had looked at this horse lately. I said no, not really, and asked what was up.
            Apparently they had a teachers’ conference at the school and some teachers who had never been to the school before were at the conference. Including one teacher who had a horse. This teacher saw the backyard horse in the neighboring field and became irate. She said the horse was way too thin and she actually called the local SPCA to report it. Our homeschool teacher felt badly, and asked me if the horse was really in that bad a shape, and if we should have done something ourselves. So I walked back out in the playground to have a look at the horse. And what I saw just plain left me confused.
            Because yes, this horse is a little too thin. Bearing in mine he’s a slim built sort of horse and all, and he doesn’t look all that different from how he’s looked for the past eight years. Yes, you can maybe see a shadow of ribs if you stare really hard. No, his hip bones don’t stick up or his ribs stand out. His fuzzy winter coat has some shine to it. He’s a long ways from starving. If he were mine, I would certainly want him a little plumper. But…
            I have been around in the horse business for a long time. I know the conventional wisdom is to call and report a horse that is too thin. I also know that this course is as likely to do harm as it is good. Having watched this horse lead a reasonably contented life for the past eight years, I certainly would NOT have reported it to the local SPCA.
            There are a number of reasons why I feel this way. First off, I have known of a good many cases like this where the owner, who never was all that invested in the horse, simply gets rid of it after the complaint. Trust me, these horses almost NEVER end up going to a better place. At best they get euthanised. At worst they end up on a truck. It’s possible that once in awhile the owner takes it as a wake-up call and buys better feed for the horse. And its possible that one in awhile the horse is re-homed to a better home. Its possible—but I haven’t seen it that often. Especially with an older horse.
            And secondly, this is the time of year when pastured horses get thin (in this part of California). Having had pastured horses for many years, I know all about this. Yes, we always fed hay when the horses got a little too thin this time of year. No, we did not worry over much about it. We knew the horses would be too fat by May. If they got way TOO fat they were at risk of foundering in May. It was best to let them get a little thin in November/December, so they’d be able to use all the pounds they’d be putting on in March, April and May. These are some of the logistical problems in keeping horses on year round pasture. It is also nature’s way with wild horses—for those lovely folks who absolutely deify wild horses but would call the owner of pastured horses inhumane if those horses are allowed to get lean in the fall. Think about it.
            So yes, I think this little horse is a bit too thin. No, I would not call the SPCA. I am willing to bet major money that the teacher who did call the SPCA keeps her horse in a padded stall and feeds it lots of grain and fancy supplements. It is probably sleek, shiny and blanketed this time of year. Maybe it gets out of its stall for an hour a day at best. Is it happier than the slightly thin little old gelding in his two or three acre pasture? Hard to say. I know which life I’d choose if it were me. I’d darn sure be the horse in the pasture.
            And this is what I told our teacher. For all the good it will do. But I have to admit, I still feel a bit confused. I think it is likely that the folks who own this horse are not very knowledgeable. The horse is probably a little too thin because he is getting older and the hay and pasture that were enough nutrition for many years are not enough now. He probably needs some supplemental food to stay at his best weight—and it’s likely his owners don’t realize this. But, judging by their home and pasture, even if they did realize it, they might not be willing/able to afford it. So what is the best course of action here?
 It’s easy to say that one ought to talk to the horse owner, but in my overall experience, this seldom works if the owner is a stranger, and can cause very bad feelings. Reporting said owner to the SPCA usually does not result in a better outcome for the horse. In this case, I do not believe the horse is suffering, but if, in a month or so, he is much thinner, something should be done. The question is what.
So how about you? Faced with this situation, what would you do?

PS—And since it is the “shopping season,” I would like to remind everyone that the first two books in my mystery series, Cutter and Hoofprints are on special as Kindle editions right now. Just 99 cents each. These books are accurate and entertaining for any horse lover who enjoys mysteries and reading on Kindle and together would make a great gift for just shy of two dollars. And my fictional horse vet actually deals with a couple of similar cases of questionable horse “abuse.” You might be surprised at her course of action. Click on the titles to order or learn more about the books.