Thursday, May 31, 2012

Look, No Hands!

Mention alternative medicine in a conversation and you’re bound to get reactions all over the spectrum. Many people will be ambivalent on the subject, taking the “whatever floats your boat” approach, albeit often with a glimmer of disdain in their eyes.  The less diplomatic ones will tell you that you’re the ultimate nincompoop for believing that a couple of indiscernible traces of a highly centrifuged molecule in a glass of water could possibly have an effect on a headache, or a sore throat, or a cyst on your ovary. Edge the discussion towards slightly more woo-woo stuff, such as a blocked meridian or a dysfunctional chakra and chances are they’ll scoff loudly and derisively, turn on their heels and walk away. There’s someone like this at my stables; I know better than to broach the subject with her!

Not that I’m an alternative medicine fanatic. When it comes to medicine, I swing both ways. I’d say I originally belonged to the ambivalent clan, but that, over the years, personal experience has opened my mind to the powers of homeopathic medicine, essential oils, naturopathy, etc. About ten years ago I suddenly developed intense day-long headaches on a daily basis which I was convinced were triggered by a short, ill-advised stint with a contraceptive pill. I’ve always had bad reactions to the pill, didn’t want to take it, but my gynaecologist assured me that contraceptive medicine had come a long way, baby. Err…sorry doctor, but as far as I’m concerned, clearly not! I quit the pill within days of the headaches appearing, but months later, I was still suffering. I saw various doctors, had an MRI to rule out anything serious, but nobody could tell me what was wrong. I was living on pain-killers, and I hated it. One day, a week or so prior to attending a writer’s workshop in London, a lady at my Pilates class suggested I go and see her naturopath. She told me she saw him every couple of months to keep her energies centred and her meridians in order, and that he had incredible results with all kinds of ailments.

Somewhat sceptical but pretty darn desperate, I made an appointment with Dr. Garcia. He checked my pulse Chinese style, examined my irises, and told me what I’d suspected all along, that I’d been poisoned (by the pill). He then lay me down, ran his “remote control” over me (I call it a remote control; it’s really some sort of meridian detecting device), tried various remedies on me via muscle testing (you hold a remedy between two fingers, he tries to pry your fingers open and if your body needs this particular remedy your fingers won’t open. How much of the remedy you need is determined by how much resistance your fingers offer. Yes, it’s mega woo-woo, but it works, as things you don’t need just slip straight through your fingers. I promise.). He told me to avoid certain foods (anything acidic), to stay away from alcohol, and wrote a prescription for all kinds of obscure detoxifying drops (including a snake poison), which I filled at a nearby specialised pharmacy.

 Within forty-eight hours I no longer had a headache. Dr. Garcia became my hero, and from then on I consulted him for all kinds of problems. One of the most off the wall effects his healing powers had on me occurred after a visit for extreme fatigue and fuzzy-thinking. He performed some cranio-sacral therapy, fixed my meridians with his remote control and gave me some flower remedies.  I went home so energised that I felt compelled to go and run for an hour. I hadn’t run in decades prior to this visit, and I haven’t run since! Is that weird, or what?!
Of course, I also recommended him to family and friends. Dr. Garcia cured my mother’s tinnitus when all the ear specialists in Geneva told her there was nothing anybody could do. He helped my father with a multitude of aches and pains. Sure, there are certain things that Dr. Garcia hasn’t has mind-blowing results with, but in my experience the positive has definitely out-weighed the negative.

So, what does Dr. Garcia have to do with horses?  Well, nothing, really. But his positive results opened my mind, and one day last week while I was saddling up Qrac, I noticed a man working on a horse in the stall opposite the tacking-up area. The man was floating his hands up and down and from side to side, inches above the horse’s body. The horse, usually relatively hyper in his stable, looked sleepy and kind of out of it. I remembered that I’d heard about this man before from various people at my stable who swore by his amazing results. Intrigued, I watched more closely and once he’d finished, I went over, introduced myself and asked him some questions.

Mr. Merz is a “magnétiseur” who specialises in horses, although he also told me that he sometimes works on people, too. From what I understood, he manipulates horses similarly to an osteopath, but without touching them. He struck me as a good person, both gentle and friendly, and before I knew it I’d asked him whether he might be able to look at Qrac one of these days, not because I thought there was anything particularly wrong with Qrac, but to defuse any tensions or muscle blockages that might lead to problems later on. Of course, I didn’t mention that earlier in the week, Qrac ‘s left hind pastern had been a little hot and very slightly swollen, and that consequently I hadn’t worked him for a day or two until the heat and swelling disappeared, but that, nevertheless, when I’d resumed work he’d felt unusually negative, cranky, and “against me”. All I did was ask whether I might make an appointment with him, and I admit that it was more out of curiosity than concern. I should add that when I’d mentioned Qrac’s moodiness to my trainer over the phone she said it might do him good to see an osteopath. The problem is, the only osteopath she and I really like is virtually impossible to get hold of. So when I ran into Mr. Merz, I figured it was worth a shot.

As it happened, I was in luck; Mr. Merz was scheduled to return to my stables the following day to work on another horse, and could spare an hour for Qrac. He arrived on time (which is always a plus!) and I took him into my horse’s stall. I slipped on the halter and held Qrac’s head while Mr. Merz began to float his hands above my horse’s body, starting with his neck on the right hand side. I watched intently, stunned at the way my horse’s skin twitched and rippled as Mr. Merz’s hands scanned his body without ever touching him. Qrac’s eyes became sleepy, he yawned, made chewing noises, the extent of his relaxation altering depending on the area the man worked on. Mr. Merz detected some tension under the saddle area on the right hand side, and had me go and fetch my saddle to see whether it fitted properly. It did, and I told him it had been made to measure for Qrac last summer, but that I’d had to have it refitted recently because my horse had built up a lot of muscle. Mr. Merz thought the tension might be residual from before the modifications, or even come from an ill-fitting saddle before I bought him.

It was when he moved over to the left side that things became really interesting. Mr. Merz detected some tension in the lower part of Qrac’s neck, and once again, some slight tension in the saddle area. But when he moved to Qrac’s left hip he “hmmed” loudly, turned to me and said “Now we’re at the heart of the problem. There’s quite a lot of tension here. It’s nothing serious, but you probably have problems with the connection between the hind-legs and the mouth, especially when working on the right rein, and particularly in the canter.”
I’m pretty certain my mouth dropped. He had just described in a nutshell the problems my trainer and I have been working on for an entire year. Mr. Merz went on to tell me that Qrac probably has problems stretching into the contact because there’s a point in his body where something bothers him, making him wary of going long and low, so he’s inclined to evade the contact by making himself hollow. Mr. Merz kept his hands hovering over Qrac’s right hip in a big “V” shape, concentrating so much that beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. My seriously sleepy horse’s skin rippled and twitched, until all of a sudden he jumped, as if he’d had an electric shock, and then relaxed again completely. I heard a distinct cracking sound in his hip area.

Mr. Merz exhaled, smiling. “Voila, manipulation,” he said, mopping his brow and unzipping his jacket. I could see the heat oozing from his body. For a few minutes he seemed drained of all energy.

Could he really have manipulated Qrac without even touching him? From what I saw, it definitely looked that way.

Mr. Merz advised me to rub arnica on the affected areas for a few days, to give Qrac the following day off and simply turn him out, and to work him long and low, getting him to stretch into the contact as much as possible during the next few riding sessions. He said I may or may not feel a big difference in the way he moved, but that if by chance he felt amazing the next time I rode him to remember to not overdo it. Then he got into his car and went off to treat another horse.

Have I noticed any huge changes since Mr. Merz worked on Qrac? He’s definitely a lot more relaxed, both in his body and his mind, and when I worked with my trainer on Monday, seemed more willing to stretch into the contact. The crankyness and negativity of the previous week are gone. Of course, this could be due to all sorts of other factors: as my riding, my moods, the weather, a temporary glitch between us, his moods, sleeping in a funny position, or bumping himself. Who knows!

 What I do know is that Mr. Merz definitely had an immediate and intense physical effect on Qrac without touching him, and that I was fascinated. I’ve since learnt that, last year, another trainer I’ve recently started working with had Mr. Merz come and treat her horse when it went lame and none of the regular vets could do anything to help. Thanks to Mr. Merz her horse has made a full recovery and is now competing at Grand Prix level dressage.

Of course, had Qrac’s left hind pastern been seriously swollen, or had he been lame, I wouldn’t have immediately sought alternative solutions; I’d simply have called my vet. As it happened, meeting Mr. Merz and having him work on my horse was entirely coincidental; my approach was preventative rather than remedial, and I figured that as he wasn’t going to touch him, he couldn’t do him any harm. All I had to lose was a little money. And judging from how my horse feels beneath me this week, it was money well spent.

How do you feel about alternative medicine and healers? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Staying On

                                               by Laura Crum

            The other day I read a critical review of my latest book, “Barnstorming.” The reviewer took exception to some remarks by the protagonist of the story (Gail McCarthy) in which Gail displays a less than admiring attitude toward “natural horsemanship.” Reviewer spent most of the review talking about herself and what a great horseman she was and how she’d learned more from a couple of natural horsemanship clinics than most traditional horsemen learn in a lifetime of working with horses. Based on our disagreement on this topic, she didn’t care for the protagonist and was pretty darn sure she’d dislike me, too. She barely mentioned the book, except to say that despite this glaring flaw, it was a pretty good story. Well, OK then.
This review prompts me to write about the subject of “natural horsemanship” for today’s post. After all, it’s been awhile since I took on a controversial topic. As always, feel free to give your own take in the comments. I welcome dissenting opinions.
To begin, for many years I never knew what natural horsemanship really was. It sounded OK. The name makes you like it, right? For a long time I paid no attention to this movement other than to suppose it was a benign thing. I learned to train horses back when Pat Parelli was still showing bridleless mules at the Snaffle Bit Futurity (and he was pretty damn impressive doing that, by the way—I watched him the first year he put on a show there)—he hadn’t yet made much of a name for himself and “natural horsemanship” just didn’t really exist as a term.
            I knew Tom Dorrance. I showed cutting horses with his wife. I absorbed some of what he knew, and I also learned a lot by just paying attention to the horses I rode and trained. But the trainers I worked for in my twenties were traditional horsemen. I saw a lot of skillful riding and training. I saw a lot of abuse. And I learned how to train a horse. I’ve taken at least 50 horses from unbroken colts to good, broke riding horses, and helped train well over a hundred others. That’s not a lot, from a lifetime professional trainer’s point of view, but I was never a true professional trainer. Merely an assistant to a few. When I trained horses on my own, it was for myself and for friends. Still, I learned to get the job done and I’m proud of the horses I trained—two of whom are still with me today (Gunner and Plumber).
            Here’s Gunner at 32—taken last weekend. Doesn’t he look great?

            I quit training and breaking horses when I turned forty and I really only started hearing what natural horsemanship was after that. It had caught on, and folks were buying it in droves (and shelling out a lot of money, by the way). A horse trainer friend of mine mentioned to me what a bad deal it was. Why, I asked. I mean, it sounded fine. What’s not to like about a “natural horseman”? The little I knew of Pat Parelli (just watching him show a bridleless mule at the Snaffle Bit, many years earlier), he looked pretty handy.
            The horse trainer friend just laughed. “They play all these games with a horse on the ground,” he said. “Most of them don’t really know how to ride. And every horse I’ve ever seen that came from a natural horsemanship trainer was ill-broke and cranky. The horses get sick of the silly games.”
            Now I knew this horse trainer well. He can really ride a horse, and he comes to the practice roping where I ride a couple of times a week. Not too long after this he showed up with a good looking strawberry roan gelding. He said this horse was five. And that the horse’s previous experience had been with a well known (in this area) natural horsemanship trainer (a student of Pat Parelli). And he said that this trainer had LOVED the horse and thought he was doing great. But the owner took him home and felt that the horse couldn’t do much of anything. Couldn’t take a gait on command, or lope in the correct lead. Wouldn’t stop when asked to do so, or go where he was pointed without resistance. And the horse was cranky. My friend rode this horse that day and I saw exactly what he meant. The horse was ill broke indeed (after a year of training). And he pinned his ears and switched his tail when asked to do pretty much anything.
            After this experience, I kept my eyes open when I was around people who were said to follow natural horsemanship methods. And I saw a lot more ill broke horses. Horses that just basically wouldn’t obey their riders/handlers. And I began to see what I thought was the root of the problem. Its called “get off.”
            To put it simply, when a horse didn’t do as he was told, or misbehaved in some way, these people got off of the horse. They then began some sort of “game” on the ground that I didn’t really have a clue about, but for the purposes of this discussion, the game isn’t important. What’s important is the getting off.
            I’m gonna cut to the chase here. Whether you’re a fan of natural horsemanship or some other method, getting off is not usually the best approach. I don’t blame people who get off cause they think a horse is going to seriously hurt them, and I, too, have taken a frisky colt to the round pen to warm him up a bit before I got on him. But if you find, day in and day out, that you are spending as much or more time on the ground than you are on the horse’s back, than I think you have the wrong method (or the wrong horse). That is if your goal is a well broke riding horse.
            I learned to train horses from people who could really ride. If a horse misbehaved they sat up there and rode him. If he was scared they ignored it until the horse figured out the skeery thing was no big deal, and if he was rebelling they let him know that wouldn’t work, in no uncertain terms. They could ride one that bucked or spooked or bolted, and regain control and keep the horse going. And those horses got broke. They became riding horses that would do much more than just maintain a gait or take a lead. They would perform at a high level in a demanding event. If they did misbehave, no one got off and dinked around with them. They were just made to work harder. This was how I was taught to train horses.
            Yes, we took our green colts to the round pen and worked with them on the ground. There’s some very useful things that can be accomplished that way. But as our horses progressed in their training, pretty much everything was done on their back. Yes, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. But that’s what they are—exceptions to the rule.
            Now I’m not claiming to be the greatest rider that ever lived. Far from it. But when I was riding colts, if a colt gave me grief, I stayed on him and worked it out. If I found that I couldn’t stay on him (and this happened—I did occasionally get dumped), I usually found that colt a more competent rider. Not so much because I was afraid to ride the horse—though sometimes I was—but because it does a horse no good to dump his rider—or to have his rider get off when the horse pitches some kind of fit. It simply reinforces that behavior.
            I think most people who have ridden green horses already know this, but I’ll say it for the benefit of the rest of you. If a horse dumps his rider on purpose, by bucking, say, or rearing, the horse is VERY likely to try that particular stunt again. In his mind, it worked. He didn’t want to do something, he resisted and threw his rider and he got out of doing that thing (at least for the moment). In my opinion, it does very little good to “work” the horse on the ground after he has misbehaved. The same principle applies if you get off BEFORE the horse dumps you—at the moment he begins misbehaving. The horse has won the argument the moment you come off, whether you get dumped or you climb off on purpose. And no amount of making the horse sweat with ground work of any sort will change this.
            This rule also applies if a horse has dumped you by accident (usually by spooking). If you can get right back on and act like its no big deal and go back to what you are doing, it will usually be OK. But in my experience, if you don’t get right back on, for whatever reason, the horse takes a pretty strong imprint of the experience, and he is apt to be FAR more spooky after that. He didn’t mean to dump you, but suddenly the whole experience of riding is underscored by the possibility that the rider could come off. The horse may find this frightening or full of potential opportunities—depends on his personality. But he will darn sure remember it.
            Believe it or not, a horse I knew (belonged to my best friend) actually began to fall down after he dumped his rider by falling in the course of a roping run. He dropped his shoulder two more times after that and did a roll. My friend and I were completely amazed that he would do this—we couldn’t believe it was purposeful, but at the same time he kept repeating that same move that had caused him to fall the first time. My friend began getting after him pretty sharply when she felt that shoulder drop, and the behavior went away and he never fell again. Its interesting.
            For whatever its worth, its been my experience that most of the time we need to stay on our horses when they misbehave and work them through it, or we will find ourselves with worse problems in the future. And this is the one clear place where I find I differ with many people. The answer to a less than cooperative horse, for these folks, is round penning or lunging or some sort of game—played from the ground. That’s fine if your goal is working with the horse on the ground, but if your goal is a riding horse, than its my opinion that you will do better to stay on the horse and keep riding him. If you can’t handle what the horse is dishing out, then its best if you find someone who can, and who will stay on the horse and ride him through his hissy fit.
            I well remember a correspondence with a horse blogger who at the time was still training horses. She had bought a horse for a client and the horse turned out to have a problem with bucking. I can still remember her telling me all the things she was doing to fix the problem—from the ground. I tried to say what I thought gently, but I could tell she didn’t want to hear it. But I did tell her, “You know, this kind of horse can mostly be fixed only by someone who can sit up there and ride it when it bucks. And if you’re not that person and the client’s not that person then you might do well to look for someone who is.” Of course, she didn’t want to hear that, being as she was a horse trainer and all. And the last I heard that horse was still pitching a bucking fit whenever it got in the mood to do so.
            If you get your ego out of the way, the logic of what I’m saying is pretty clear. But there are innumerable people who want to believe that they DON’T have to do the scary thing of staying on the horse when it misbehaves. They LOVE these methods that tell you to get off and work with the horse from the ground. Well, why not? Its darn sure safer for you. It just doesn’t make well broke horses.
            There is not (and there pretty much has never been) a horse in my barn that once past the “green” stage ever had to have his rider dismount because the horse was misbehaving. We don’t train horses like that and our horses don’t behave like that. Are there exceptions? Of course. I can think of two times that I’ve dismounted from my broke horse to get him through something—two times in the last thirty years. In both cases (different horses) my solid horse was afraid of a truly scary bridge that he had never been over. In both cases, rather than risk a potentially life threatening slip and fall off the bank, I led my horse over the bridge. And I rode him over it on the way back, and every time thereafter.
            I want to point out that I’m talking about “getting off” because a horse is misbehaving, not getting off to give the horse a break, as endurance riders do, or hand walking a horse that is rehabbing, or teaching a horse to show “in hand”, or starting an unbroken colt with some round pen work, or all the other ways/reasons we work a horse from the ground. What I’m getting at here is this getting off rather than riding a horse through his misbehavior. Whether the behavior is fear related or strictly rebellious, or a mix of the two, most of the time the answer lies in riding the horse through it. Not always. But most of the time.
            So, I’m going to conclude by saying that the biggest problem with “natural horsemanship” as I see it, is this emphasis on playing games from the ground rather than an emphasis on learning to really ride. There are people who call themselves “trainers” in this group and who actually teach other people, without being able to ride very well themselves. In my view, you are not a trainer unless you can really ride a horse. As in spending years taking lessons and then (usually) years working as an assistant to a professional trainer. We’re talking MANY years of riding lots of different horses, learning to break colts and ride green horses and horses with “issues”. I did all this. I know how long it takes to become a truly proficient rider. You are not gonna learn this in a couple of weekend clinics, no matter how skilled the clinician. It takes long hours in the saddle. A real trainer can ride a horse when the horse doesn’t want to behave. He/she does not need to get off.
            Do I think you have to be a professional trainer to train a horse and do a good job? No, I don’t. I have known many relatively “ignorant” people who took green/unbroken horses and made good, broke horses out of them. The main thing they had in common? They all rode and rode and rode those horses. They put in lots of hours on the horse’s backs, NOT dinking around on the ground. Again, I’m not saying that you can’t accomplish some very real progress with a green horse using ground work techniques in the round pen. You definitely can. But the bulk of a riding horse’s training needs to be with a rider. A rider who sticks it out and keeps riding when the horse says, “I don’t wanna.” And several folks I know who don’t have a lot of horse training experience, were able-- through guts, and asking questions of knowledgeable people, and sheer persistence, and oh, did I mention LOTS of hours in the saddle-- to make good riding horses out of their green horses, who often had a few issues to work through.
            So that’s my main point of difference with “natural horsemanship” or any other form of training that implies that you can make a good riding horse through constantly playing games on the ground. From what I’ve seen so far, it doesn’t work very well. The horses I personally have turned out using traditional methods and not “getting off”, but rather staying on and riding the horse through his issues, whatever they are, are all better broke than any horse I’ve seen so far that came from a natural horsemanship background. And by better broke I simply mean more obedient—especially when the chips are down. Which is when the horse (for whatever reason) doesn’t “wanna.” The well broke horse does what’s he’s asked, despite being scared, or tired of this activity, or mad. That’s well broke.
            Anyway, you natural horsemanship people feel free to tell me where I’m wrong here. Maybe I just haven’t seen enough natural horsemanship trained horses. Maybe there are some really well-broke ones out there. Let me know.
            Mind you, if you are a fan of natural horsemanship and you like playing games on the ground with your horse and you and the horse are both happy, even if he is not a well broke riding horse by my standards, that’s fine. I have no problem with it. What I would have a problem with is “you” asserting that your training methods WERE creating a well broke horse. Even if “you” for instance, can’t make your horse pick up a gait on command, or walk by an obstacle he doesn’t like the look of—without you climbing off. To me, that is not a well broke riding horse.
            Oh, and I would also like to add, that a horse who does what you ask delightfully on a good day is all very well, but it doesn’t mean much. All horses, trained with reasonable kindness and firmness (and at least a minimal amount of skill), are happy to cooperate on a good day. What counts is how much you can get the horse to do on a “bad day”, when he doesn’t feel like doing it. That’s what separates the broke from the not-broke. The same can be said for “cueing” just right. Its all well and good but the truth is that a well broke horse will try to do what you’re asking even when you don’t do a perfect job with the cue. That’s what makes a good horse. We don’t aim to be perfect with the cues every time (because that is SO not gonna happen). We aim to teach our horse to do his best no matter how poorly we cue him. And a well broke horse can and DOES do this. I know. I’ve ridden lots of em. Gunner, in the earlier photo, is one.
            And finally, I know some very nice people who take great care of their horses who are also followers of natural horsemanship. I may not agree with the training methods, but I like these people very much, and they seem quite happy with their horse life. So if its working for you, and you and your horse are happy, and you’re not interested in my definition of a well broke horse or my notions about horse training, well, I can honestly say that I admire every horseman, no matter how different their methods are from mine, who takes consistent, responsible care of their horses and retires them when they get old. If you’re staying safe and happy, and your horse is, too, then you are doing a good job in the most important sense.
            I’m happy to hear your opinions on this subject. Fire away.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trustworthy--Or Not?

                                                by Laura Crum

            I’ve written a lot on this blog about going trail riding with my son on our supremely trustworthy trail horses, Henry and Sunny. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to call these horses “bombproof.” And by my standards, they are. They pretty much don’t spook at much of anything, let alone buck or bolt…etc. They have consistently been good, steady, confident trail horses—for hundreds of rides in many different places, for over four years. It’s wonderful to own such horses. But there is another sort of trustworthy horse.
            This other sort of horse is much harder to describe/define, and only other horsemen are likely to recognize what I am saying. To a non-horseman, what I’m about to say will sound simply silly. But its still true. Some very flighty horses, with more than a few behavioral issues, can also be trustworthy. Take Twister, for instance.
            Twister is a middle-aged (15 years) gray QH gelding who belongs to my friend, Wally. Wally boards Twister with me, so I take care of this horse. I was also the one who convinced Wally to buy Twister, back when the horse was six. Wally uses Twister for team roping and trail riding, and Twister is light years away from what most folks would call a bombproof horse. I wouldn’t call him a bombproof horse, either. Twister is spooky, touchy, prone to pulling back, and cinchy. He’s also ampy in the box, where he does a lot of dancing around and mini-rears. He’s hyper sensitive and requires a very light hand or he freaks out. No spurs. You can’t hit him—ever. You can’t even yell at him. And this can be very aggravating when Twister is doing something you wish he wouldn’t do, like grabbing for grass, or refusing to approach the chute at the roping arena, because its “skeery.” And lots and lots of things strike Twister as scary. In short, not a bombproof horse. But, as he proved the other day, a horse worthy of our trust.
            In order to understand this story, you need to understand that most of the other ropers think Twister is a flake. They don’t ride him, so they don’t know what he “feels” like, and he does look like a flake. He humps his back when saddled and acts very “high” in the heeler’s box; he isn’t terribly well-broke (Ok, not at all well-broke), and frequently has his head right up against the tie-down. Lots of the ropers think Wally (who is 79 this summer) is crazy to ride such a horse. I know differently, but that’s because I’ve ridden him. Despite what he appears to be, Twister gives you a really good “feel” when you are on his back. You feel safe on him. And in nine years of riding/roping on Twister, Wally has never once hit the ground from Twister’s back. Or been hurt in any way. That’s a pretty good track record. And last week, Twister made it even better.
            The first I heard of it was when Wally pulled his truck and trailer into my barnyard, home from the local roping. He unloaded Twister, gave him a pat, and said to me, “This horse saved my life today.”
            Well. There’s a story here, I figured. And yep, Wally was eager to tell it.
            Apparently it had been an ordinary sort of day at the roping, when all of a sudden the unexpected happened. (I think all you horse people are familiar with this type of scenario). Wally had heeled a steer by two feet and the ropes came tight. In the same instant the tether that attaches the back cinch to the front cinch broke. And the back cinch immediately swung back and “flanked” Twister.
            For those who don’t know, flanking is how bucking horses are encouraged to buck. The flank cinch is pulled tight right around the horse’s (you guessed it) flanks. MOST horses will buck if this is done, even truly gentle horses. A good many horses will buck really, really hard. And now Twister, the goofy, ultra-sensitive, cinchy horse, had just been flanked. Wally thought his life was over. Actually the specific thought he had was “This horse is going to buck me off and my roping career will be over.” Wally knows good and well that he wouldn’t likely come back from hitting the ground hard at his age. Never mind that I would have been worried about my life being over. We’ve all got our priorities. Wally lives to rope.
            So there he was, sitting on what felt like a time bomb. Twister was shaking like a leaf in the wind, every muscle tensed and quivering, but he still hadn’t actually exploded. Wally was scared to dismount, as that action might trigger the explosion, and the moment of swinging a leg over the horse makes the rider most vulnerable. But Wally found that the trembling Twister was actually willing to take a couple of steps at his urging, and he was able to guide him with the bridle.
            Wally encouraged the horse up to another rider, who very gently steadied Twister’s head—and Wally was able to get off and loosen the back cinch, with a huge sigh of relief and a heartfelt “Thank you” to the horse. And all the other ropers grinned with him.
            It doesn’t sound like much, written down. But you horse people will understand how overwhelming the impulse would have been to buck, especially for a sensitive horse like Twister. Why didn’t he buck? How did he manage to hold it together despite being flanked, and continue to obey his rider? I think I know, but it’s obviously just a guess.
            Despite all his goofy behaviors, Twister is, at heart, a horse who means well. He wants to do what is right. This is what struck me about him when I first saw him as a six-year-old. The horse was green as grass. He had had thirty days as a four-year-old with not-very-handy ranch cowboy who didn’t care for him. As a five year old, a rope horse trainer had made a ninety-day-wonder out of him (this means teaching a horse to be a rope horse in three months—trust me, this is VERY stressful on the horse). In his whole entire life, nobody had ever thought much of him. His current owner just wanted out of him and had him priced cheap so he would sell. But I watched the horse make run after run with a tough young cowboy and I thought that green as he was, Twister was trying hard. And I turned to Wally, who was looking for a horse, and said, “Buy that gray horse.” And Wally, who liked the horse, too, made the deal that day.
            Yes, Twister was ill-broke. He had no idea how to give his head. He couldn’t lope a circle. He didn’t even know how to hold a gait. And he was high-headed, flighty, and prone to pulling back. And yet, oddly enough, both Wally and I felt safe on his back. It’s a hard thing to describe, cause its just a feeling, but if you’ve ridden enough horses, you’ll know what I mean. Twister gave you a good “feel.”
            Anyway, over the years, Wally grew to trust Twister, and Twister grew to trust Wally. Twister likes to be rubbed on, and we rub on him a lot. We don’t scare him—we tolerate his little pulling back incidents, we walk him until the hump is out of his back after we saddle him. And Twister has never once dumped, or even come close to dumping, his rider, despite covering hundreds of miles on the trail and competing every week at the rather exciting and unpredictable sport of team roping.
            What I think happened that day Twister was flanked is the horse’s deep trust in his rider caused him to resist the overwhelming urge to buck. Despite the fact that he was shaking with strain, Twister honored the partnership with Wally that he trusted in. What’s certainly true is that this very touchy, cinchy horse DID resist the urge to buck and let Wally climb off and uncinch him. I think Twister knew that it was “wrong” to buck Wally off and put all his effort into NOT bucking and tried to trust that his rider would work this very scary situation out. He continued to listen to Wally and did as he was asked to do.
            Twister honored the horse human partnership, even when he was put in a pretty much intolerable position. What more can a horse do than that? No, he’s not bombproof, and most of the other ropers are afraid to ride him, but Twister IS trustworthy. And Wally and I will honor our half of that bargain.
            Wally has told me (and he’s a man of his word) that he will retire Twister when the horse is ready for that, and keep him until he dies. And if Wally dies first his will states that Twister is mine, and I will honor that promise. Because Twister has put his trust in the right people. Just as he has come through for us, we will come through for him. And you can call me naïve if you want, but I think that horses really do sort of understand this bottom line, and a flighty little horse like Twister, who never knew a human that cared about him before Wally, has recognized at some deep level that this is a partnership worth throwing in with. And he has truly thrown in. And I honestly feel that it is partly our honorable commitment to being trustworthy for a horse that makes a horse choose to be trustworthy for us. Or am I simply daydreaming, having read “Black Beauty” once too many times? Feel free to give your own take on it.
            Wally and Twister in February of this year.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Thinking about the 'good old days' reminds me how much my life has changed. From the age of five, I was obsessed with horses. Steiff, Breyer and ceramic horses filled my bedroom. A pony was always first on the Christmas list. Fortunately, my father also liked horses, so by the age of eight, when we moved to a house that had a small lot, I had my first pony, Ted.

I have never been without a horse since then. I fox hunted, showed hunt seat, competed in low-level dressage, raised two foals, belonged to a trail riding club, broke and trained several horses and wrote over thirty-five horse books (fiction.) Through college, graduate school, marriage, several careers and moves, and two children, I managed to keep horses--and the barns/land they require--in my life.

Today my obsession has cooled to a quiet love. Relish and I don't do anything spectacular to write about on Equestrian Ink. We amble about the pastures and hay fields, schooling occasionally (so neither of us forgets what leg aids are for) and rarely going faster than a trot. Horse care is pared to the basics, yet both Relish and his chubby pasture mate Belle are glossy and healthy.  So now, not having horses as the focus of my days suits me just fine.

What has also changed is my obsession for writing horse books.  It's just gone. I am under contract for two books for Peachtree Publishers, but both are about dogs, and I will not be sad if I never write another book about horses. Why this huge change? I have no idea.  It's not that I am empty of ideas--I just am not interested in turning them into queries, proposals and first drafts.  This is a giant life switch for me, and it took some analyzing, deep thinking, depression and time for me to accept this change

That doesn't mean horses don't loom large in my life. Lately, I have been having fun with my horse obsession in a different way. In my thrifting and antiquing I am once again in touch with the ceramic and Breyer horses from my past.  Finding a vintage Napcoware or Robert Simmons' ceramic horse at an auction or flea market gives me goosebumps. Especially if there are no broken legs or chipped ears! And yesterday, I found three Breyers from the 1970s in the original boxes at an antique fair. The guy wouldn't deal, but as I went from booth to booth, I could not get them out of my mind. I had never seen ones in the old boxes and after borrowing money from my sister, I went back and bought all three: Man O' War, Silky Sullivan (another race horse), and my favorite, Western Pony.

The details on each horse are incredible, which is why Breyers are so collectible today.  But the weird thing is, these will not sit on my shelf to be admired. I will sell them in my booth or on Ebay. I know, I know. How can I?  Because a big part of my new passion is the "hunt." I love and appreciate each Breyer or ceramic horse that I "discover" and enjoy researching them to find their age and value, but I am then happy to find them good homes with horse lovers who are obsessed with adding them to their collections.

Equestrian Ink is for people who are passionate about horses in many different ways. What big changes have you dealt with surrounding your love of horses, and how have you handled those changes?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Driving back from the stables earlier today, I suddenly found myself overcome by an intense feeling of joy. I got a warm and wooshy sensation in my solar plexus, my eyes welled up, and for about ten kilometres or so I just couldn’t stop smiling. As an old friend used to say, I felt “lucky-lucky-lucky”, blessed on so many levels. Wow, I thought, I have a wonderful family, live in a lovely house with a big flower-filled garden in a beautiful part of the world, and every morning I get up and organise my day around riding my beautiful horse. What more could I want?

The feeling was so overwhelming that I’ve been feeling utterly blissed out ever since, despite having done laundry, cleaned the house, been grocery shopping, and taken my car to the garage to have my winter tires replaced by my summer tires. Even now, hours later, I’m still diamond-eyed and sparkly inside.

It’s not that I’m usually pottering around, mullen-mouthed and all woe-is-me, because woe-certainly isn’t me. Nor do I waft through life with a beatific smile plastered across my face, blowing kisses. Normally, I’m just, well, normal happy. You know, coasting along contentedly. The thing is, if I bobbed about keeping count of my blessings twenty-four-seven I don’t think I’d ever have the right to complain about anything, but, from what I’ve observed, normal people don’t operate like that, and those who do (or pretend to) tend to be annoying, don’t you think? Besides, there’d be drawbacks to living in a perpetual state of intense joy, such as streaky mascara, and a tendency to yawn a lot (maybe I’m weird, but when my solar plexus throbs it triggers my yawning mechanism). 

What brought on this abnormally joyous woosh? Frankly, I’m not sure, but it’s probably linked to spending time with Qrac, my Lusitano. Just thinking about him makes me happy. Oddly, today’s lesson with my trainer, Marie-Valentine, didn’t go wow-ishly well. Nor did it go badly. It was kind of standard, really. Qrac and I are improving steadily, it was a good, positive lesson, but there was no major breakthrough that might have triggered my sudden bliss: our trot-to-canter transitions still tend to be a little croupe-high, or croupe-out, or wiggle-wiggle-go-against-the- leg-to-escape-and-just-trot-faster. When I ask for canter, I’m still never a hundred percent certain I’m going to get canter, although Qrac’s positive responses to my canter requests are definitely increasing. The greatest improvement in the last few months is in the right lead canter: Qrac used to hate the right lead canter and would switch leads at the slightest excuse. This hardly ever happens any more, and there are days when I feel we’re both more comfortable on the right lead canter than on the left.  We can extend and come back into a collected canter without losing our balance, and we can super-collect the canter and sustain it for far longer than we could a month ago. Qrac’s muscles are building up week by week; I recently had to have his eight-month-old custom-made saddle refitted to suit his badass bulges.

Maybe what got my gooey going today was the fact that we worked on a dressage program for the first time. I’ve mentioned umpteen times on this blog that I’ve never been particularly fond of competing, that my nerves tend to get the better of me, that I spend the entire pre-show night tossing and turning in a state of hyperventilative-sweatiness. So show-shy am I that I tend to need the bathroom just browsing the Internet for listings of potential dressage events that Qrac and I could attend. But lately, the topsy-turvy feeling I get in my stomach while browsing dressage competitions is beginning to feel a little more like excitement than just dreaded Draino-gut. And although I know we’re nowhere near ready to dazzle the judges with perfect circles (we’re brilliant at random sized egg shapes!), laser letter precision or flashy elevation, all of a sudden I just want to get out there and see what happens when I put Qrac in the show ring. So yesterday afternoon I printed out one of the lower level dressage programs and, this morning, handed it to Marie-Valentine.

After warming up and working on the usual basics, we did the program. I hadn’t had the chance to learn it by heart, so Marie-Valentine read it out loud, and Qrac and I did our best to follow her instructions. And you know what? It wasn’t too bad. Sure, we’re going to have to work on shooting straight down the centreline instead of wiggling a little bit to the left and a little bit to the right, and we’re going to have to improve our trot extensions (Qrac doesn’t have a natural extension in trot, so those diagonals are particularly challenging), and strive to ride ten metre circles and not giant eggs, and try to strike off our canter precisely at A and at C. And so on and so on and so on. I imagine it takes a fellow-dressage rider to fully understand how difficult training these simple things can be. I’m guessing that only a dressage rider can grasp the satisfaction of riding your first perfectly round eight-metre circle (I rode one about two weeks ago and was so delighted that once it was done I dropped the reins and pumped the air like I’d won the World Championships! Pff!)

When will be going to our first show (uh-oh, did I just feel a quiver of Draino-gut?!)? I’m aiming for early July, as there’s a nice one not too far from where Qrac lives, and I’ve been there before with my now retired schoolmaster, Kwintus, so I know my way around. After that I’ve jotted down a couple of potential follow up shows that will take us comfortably (?!) into the autumn, and hopefully get us used to going out and competing. Maybe competition nerves are a state of mind; if I decide competing is no big deal, maybe it could become my reality. Maybe competing could become fun…
Anyway, today, in the cosy afterglow of my blissful euphoria, nothing seems like a big deal, anything seems possible. All is right in my little corner of the world. I’m lucky-lucky-lucky.

How about you? What triggers your bliss? Have you felt lucky-lucky-lucky lately?

(photos by Olivia Bossert

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reviews--Or I Love/Hate Your Book

                                    by Laura Crum

            Like most authors, I think, I have mixed feelings about reviews. It can be very gratifying (and I have had this experience) when a major reviewer, like Publisher’s Weekly, praises your latest book. And it is pleasant to check your new release’s page on Amazon (as I did the other day) and find all five star reviews. But there is a flip side to this coin. My first novel, Cutter, was harshly criticized by the big reviewer, Kirkus, and as a new author, I found this very discouraging. Not to mention the very real annoyance I felt when I discovered that a long time fan of the series, who had emailed me often to tell me how much she LOVED my books, so disliked my ninth title that she posted a scathing review on Amazon. Why, what a nice thing to do to an author whose work you’ve mostly enjoyed.
            Now I don’t expect that any one will absolutely love every book I ever wrote. And I don’t mind fair criticism at all. But I know exactly why this one fan disliked my ninth book so much. The book is about my equine vet becoming pregnant and taking time away from work. It’s a fairly introspective book, as pregnancy tends to be an introspective time, and I try to portray the ups and downs that can happen to a pregnant woman honestly (as I try to portray most every thing I write about). Because this pregnant woman must also solve a trying/close-to-home murder, the story is a lot darker than your average pregnancy would probably be. And I would not fault any one who pointed out that the story has these aspects. But my one fan hated the book for a personal reason.
            She had written to me for many years and made it plain she was an active, assertive career woman who basically despised women who put their careers on hold to become mothers. She herself had never had a child and didn’t intend to. Thus she found Gail’s choice to take a leave of absence from her work in order to be a mama a personal betrayal. My former fan didn’t just not enjoy the concept of the book, she was deeply (and personally) upset by it. And though I might understand that (and I certainly did not expect that all my readers would like this book), I did find it quite annoying that this one woman needed to grind her ax loudly on Amazon.
            So this is the bad side of reviews. Sometimes someone hates your book because it touches a nerve in him or her. Its not about the book, its about the reviewer. And this is too bad. But it happens, as I think all authors know.
            However, though fulsome praise is fun—and useful for selling books-- and hostile criticism is no fun—particularly when it seems to be more about the reviewer’s state of mind than the book-- there is another sort of review. And its this third sort that is my favorite. Sometimes a reviewer hits the nail on the head exactly—and really gets the point you were trying to make. Maybe they don’t just LOVE the book. Maybe they enjoyed some aspects and didn’t care for others. But they are able to accurately convey (both in their perceptions and in the skill of their own writing) something that you were trying very hard to get across. These reviews just make me smile.
            Here’s an example from Funder, who reviewed my book, Slickrock, which is a mystery set in the midst of a horse packing trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Funder reviewed Slickrock on her blog, “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”. And listen to this: “And her place descriptions are amazing! Having read Slickrock I desperately want to learn to pack. She really captures the beautiful, remote, terrifying, captivating reality of the mountains. (I could do without all the calamities that befell Gail!)”
            See, when I set out to write Slickrock there was one thing I really wanted to do. And Funder has actually found better words to describe this goal than I ever had. I really wanted to capture the beautiful, remote, terrifying, captivating reality of those mountains. I’ve spent a lot of time camping there with my horses and many of the descriptive passages were taken verbatim from my journals. I deeply hoped that readers would feel I’d brought the Sierras to life on the page, and when I read that statement on Funder’s blog, I just grinned from ear to ear. I felt like I did it—I accomplished the goal. (And yeah, it’s a good story, too, but I must admit that bringing the mountains to life was what I was after.)
            Also, my mysteries are about horses, and I’ve spent my whole life owning, riding and training horses. I know that non-horsemen may find all the horse detail trying, and I accept that. But it really touches my heart when a fellow horseperson appreciates how accurate my books are. Like this review from kel (who shows cowhorses and writes the blog, Horse Genes; kel knows the western horse world I write about as well or better than I do).
“I have been reading the Gail McCarthy series of mystery books by Laura Crum for the last 3 or 4 years. Barnstorming is the 12th in the series and Laura says it is her last. I surely hope not. Gail hasn't reached "armchair" status yet. She is still a vibrant character with lots of life and possibilities left. The series starts with the book Cutter and introduces you to Gail and her life as a new veterinarian. I was hooked immediately. Gail ages with the series and each book presents a new life challenge for her. Very identifiable to the reader. I love books with solid, strong, believable characters and a surrounding story that is based in fact and not "guessed at" or "made up" details. Laura does a beautiful job blending the facts of horsemanship and equestrians and the fiction of murder and mayhem.
I thought back to all the books before writing this post to see if one stood out for me, but each book offers a part of her life that is important and integral to the set. I couldn't have just one favorite. Each book brings something to the reader that makes it a favorite. Another positive aspect of the books is that Laura doesn't go overboard with graphic details or strong language in her descriptions of the murders. When she writes of the area she is riding in the detail is so clear that you can see it. When she describes how a horse is moving you can feel it. And when someone dies, they die. She didn't feel the need to shock the reader so that all you remember is how horrific of a murder scene it was. Even though you know the book is going to have a killer and a victim - you would be willing to ride along with Gail on her adventure.
Barnstorming was another installment in Gail's life. She is at a crossroads and needs to see where the next phase will take her. We have all been there. She spends time riding alone on her favorite horse trying to work things out. Boy, haven't we all been there? Then Laura works her magic and starts setting the scene for the mystery, murder and mayhem.”

            I do try to make all the details in my books accurate. In Hayburner, for instance, I was writing about an arsonist, and I spent a lot of time talking to the local fire investigator to be sure I got the details right. So it tickles me that Mrs Mom, who is a horsewoman and also used to be a firefighter (and writes the blog “Oh Horse Feathers”) thought I did a good job. Here’s quote from her review of Hayburner.

“It all came rushing back to me- the heavy choking smell of smoke, feeling the heat of the intense flames, the noise-- fires are NOISY. And when you add in bawling of cattle and screaming horses, well.. they tend to get even noisier. I read the first few pages and had to get up and go outside to kiss the ponies here. After shaking off the shock of the memories though, I could NOT put the book down. Once again, Laura skillfully weaves a tale that draws the reader in. Because her equine knowledge is so true, and she has such a strong ability to put into words what we horse people see day in and day out with our own horses, dogs, cats, and the world around us, Laura's books are SO easy to get lost in. There is no where that the reader needs to stop and shake their head over made up bull squeeze that is just plain WRONG. You can just continue to gallop along through the book, enjoying every stride. In HAYBURNER, not only did Laura use her incredible equine and animal knowledge in general, she also did a bang up job on talking about fire fighting, arson and the tendencies of arsonists. For me, it was an *awesome* read. And the best part? Even though this book is out of print, you can read it too for .99 on Kindle. How stinkin cool is THAT?? Do yourself a favor and catch up with Gail McCarthy and see how she battles blazes in more ways than one.”

            Sometimes, of course, the reviewer is not a horse person. And some of these folks probably get tired of all the horse detail in my books. But…sometimes one of them gets the point I’m trying to make. Along these lines the other day I read another review of my latest book, Barnstorming, that I really enjoyed. The reviewer doesn’t say she loves the book. But she does give what I think are some very accurate insights about it, and this tickled me.
            I don’t know this reviewer—neither did the publisher send her a review copy. She reviews books on Dorothy L, which is not a site I’m familiar with, but I believe it caters to mystery lovers. My editor saw the review and forwarded it to me, with the message that this woman was a fairly critical reviewer and didn’t always like books and any praise from her was praise indeed. I read the review and was struck by the fact that the reviewer noticed what I meant the book to be about. Well, halleluiah. It doesn’t sound as if she thought it was the greatest mystery of all time, but that’s OK. I’m happy that she got my point.
            Here’s her review—perhaps you can see why it pleased me.
Lesa Holstine on Dorothy L :  
“Laura Crum's twelfth mystery to feature equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, *
Barnstorming,* is a mystery involving horses and murder. But, it's also a
story about mid-life decisions, and having the courage to face life

At fifty, Gail McCarthy has decisions to make. She tells her own story in
first person, present tense. She was once an equine veterinarian with a
passion for work. But, she took ten years off to raise and homeschool her
son, Mac. Now that her husband, Blue, has inherited enough money for them
to live on, she has a tough decision. What does she want to do with her
life? Blue retired happily. Does she want to go back to her job as a vet?
Does she want to just enjoy life with her husband, son, and horses? Or is
there something else?

For Gail, those decisions can be reached on horseback as she rides the
trails near her house. But, those trails have not been so friendly to
riders lately. One man sics his dog on them. Someone is blocking the
trails. And, some of the residents in the new subdivision near the woods
have made it plain they don't like horses or riders in the backyards. And,
when one of Gail's acquaintances is shot out in the woods, soon after Gail
met her on the trails, the woods and trails seem more dangerous than ever.
Did someone target Jane, or is someone targeting women riding their horses
on the trails?

Gail turns all her information over to the investigating police officer. As
a former vet with numerous friends in the local horse community, Gail
uncovers a great deal of information that she passes on. She's afraid.
She's angry. She loves those trails and her horses. And, she's resolved to
take a stand. "I'm not standing still for this evil. I'm fighting."

For those not interested in horses or the trails through the woods, *
Barnstorming* might feel as if it drags. Others will find an engrossing
story of an evil that invades a close-knit community, and a woman
determined to fight back, not allowing fear to rule her life.

Laura Crum's Author's Note in this story is fascinating in itself. She
informs readers that it's quite possible this will be the last book in the
series. She discusses the relationship between Gail and the author, the
similarities in their lives, and the differences. The author, like her
character, may be moving on to another stage in life after fifty. She
allows the readers to observe some of that thinking process in the course
of the mystery. And, that process makes* Barnstorming *a richer, deeper
story than it would be if it was just a mystery involving horses.”

            From my point of view, this woman has grasped what I set out to write about in “Barnstorming”. It doesn’t sound as if she’s a horsewoman herself. Maybe she found that the trail riding passages dragged—I’m not sure. But she fully understood the way I tried to weave a meditation on “life as one grows older” into the story, and it pleases me that I was able—in this one case, anyway—to convey the message I sought to convey. Isn’t that what writing’s all about?

            A big thank you to everyone who has reviewed my books on their blogs and on Amazon. I couldn’t quote all of your reviews here, and I’m sure there are a few I missed seeing. But I really do appreciate your taking the time and trouble to mention that you read my book and what you thought of it.
            And finally, just to show that I know whereof I speak when it comes to trail riding (and because they’re so pretty), here are a couple of photos I took on a recent ride. May is just the prettiest month (!)
            Here we are in the redwood forest. Sunny’s ears are partly pointed at what’s ahead and partly paying attention to me.

            And here we are crossing the creek. See the water drops from Sunny’s front hooves hitting the surface? And the reflection is lovely. Such a lucky shot. I couldn’t have done it on purpose if I’d tried.

            Any thoughts on reviews? Or on trail riding in May?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Horse Magazines and the Digital Age

For the majority of my adult life, one of life's simple joys revolved around waiting for the mailman to deliver my horse magazines in the mail.

As soon as they arrived, Id read them voraciously within a few days. Afterwards, I was bummed because I'd need to wait another month for the next one. If I was going on vacation, Id stockpile them and wouldn't let myself read them until we drove out of the driveway. 

Over the years, Ive subscribed to several horse magazines. I kept them, catalogued them, and put them in binders. Id refer to them when I needed to go back and find a particular article or series on horse care or riding. I had the first issue of Equus, several years of Dressage and CT, and the complete set of Dressage Today. 

Yes, I loved magazines, not just horse magazine, but I subscribed to Better Homes & Gardens, Home Magazine, Home and Garden, and Sunset.  

Even more incredible, I actually read them. 

Over the past few years, I noticed a change in my reading habits. I bought a Nook, a Kindle Fire, and an iPod. Shortly after purchasing my first Nook three years ago, I quit buying paperback books. But I still had my magazines.  

Last fall I started cleaning out the attic and the upstairs bedrooms. Those years of magazines went out the door, given to a friend to read. After which shed pass them on to the local 4-H group. 

This past year when my subscriptions to three different horse magazines came up for renewal, I thought long and hard. Several months of these magazines sat around the house, unopened and unread. Even though each magazine company offered a better and better deal as the day loomed closer, for once I resisted. I let my subscriptions lapse on those three magazines for the first time in more than a decade. In fact, one of the magazine companies actually called me trying to convince to continue my subscription, which I declined. 

Calling subscribers? Thatd never happened to me before.  

It had me wondering how desperate for subscribers magazine publishers are becoming. Are we at the end of an era, not just for paperback books but also for magazines? How do I feel about that? 

I cant imagine a world without either, yet I rarely buy reading material in paper form. The only current magazine subscription I have is Sunset Magazine.  

Over the years, Ive watched magazines fold. The ones which survived have gotten smaller and smaller. The articles seem to scrape the surface of an issue but not go deeper. Are magazines in danger of fading away into the past, just as newspapers are? 

How do you feel about that?  

I feel sad because the next generation will never know the excitement of waiting for that next magazine, skimming through the pages, and delighting in the articles inside. Have you, too, succumbed to the digital age and the instant gratification of the Internet or eBooks and emagazines? Will magazines survive the digital age and morph into a new format to be read on tablets? 

I guess only the future will tell.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Meet Angelia Almos

Today we have a guest post from one of our regular readers - Angelia Almos. She formed a lifelong passion for horses at the age of five when she talked her parents into riding lessons. Horses often play a prominent role in her young adult fantasy books. She also write horsey nonfiction and space opera. She lives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, two cats, and one pony (she often thinks of bumping that number up to two).

Angelia has a brand new book out called Unicorn Keep, and it's billed as young adult fantasy.
 To learn more about it, you can visit her website:


Horsey Characters
by Angelia Almos
One of the cool things about writing young adult fantasy and horsey fiction is getting to put some of my beloved horses into the stories I’m telling.

My first young adult fantasy, Horse Charmer, featured my show horse from my teenage years. Kristy and I probably had the strongest relationship and bond out of all of the horses who have been a part of my life. I changed her name for the book, but the way she looked and behaved was exactly how I would have imagined Kristy if she could talk as Kali in Horse Charmer can.

My upcoming romantic suspense novel under my Angie Derek pen name will feature a cameo from the very first horse I took lessons on when I was five years old. Old Ben snuck into the book without me consciously choosing for him to be there, but once I remembered I had named him the same as that gentle bay gelding who started me on my path of horsiness, I knew the name was perfect. Made me want to give him a bigger part in the book.

When I came up with the idea for Unicorn Keep, I wanted to include another one of the many horses who had touched my life. Ginger, my family’s Shetland pony, had to be put down earlier in the year. She had been a part of my life off and on since I was fourteen years old, and we later purchased her for my own daughter. After her passing, she was in my thoughts a lot so it only seemed natural to put a spunky and sassy pony into Unicorn Keep. She kept her name, but I made Ginger larger than her true ten hands since my heroine was a teenager and needed to ride her through most of the book. Ginger got to shoot up two hands to the average Welsh pony height which I think she would have liked. Ginger’s personality was always bigger than her size.

Some of my favorite horse books growing up were the ones where the horses were just as much a main character as the hero/heroine. Battlecry in Battlecry Forever and Flame in the Island Stallion series come to mind when I think of a horse as being a major character. But horse stars aren’t limited to the printed page. The Black was popular enough to have two movies and a TV show made about him. Maximus from Tangled is probably one of the funniest horses on screen. I could go on and on naming horse after horse, but I’ll stop there.

Who are some of your favorite horse characters in print and on screen?