Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Fever

by Terri Rocovich

Olympic Fever

Like I am sure most of you, I am obsessed with the Olympics and can’t keep up with the recorded coverage on my DVR. I can’t even watch the news for fear that they might announce the results of something I have not watched.

Of course the Eventing coverage has figured prominently in my attention. I am disappointed that the U.S. has not done better, but how about that Mark Todd. He is ageless and is clearly riding as well as he ever has which is saying something since I believe that he is perhaps the greatest Eventer of all time. At 56 years old, London is the sixth Olympic team he has been named to and he remains the only equestrian to ever win back to back Gold Medals on the great horse Charisma in 1984 and 1988.

For me, the other great story is Ingrid Klimke being tied for the lead going into stadium. Ingrid Klimke is the daughter of Reiner Klimke, the most decorated Dressage Olympian of all time with 6 gold and 2 bronze medals. Talk about Olympic equestrian DNA. Actually, it was watching Klimke, senior, at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that first started my fascination with Dressage. I was lucky enough to have front row seats when he won the gold and I was merely feet away when he took his victory lap performing flawless piaffe/passage transitions one-handed while waving to the crowd. I was hooked at that moment. I was amazed and determined that one day I would learn how to do that, so now that Uiver and I are learning piaffe/passage transitions, I think of that moment on occasion.

A sad result from the Eventing Cross Country today was the fall of Hawley Bennett who competes for Canada on a horse named Gin & Juice. I got to know Hawley a little bit last October when I went to the Pan Am games in Mexico with a friend whose horse was being ridden in the games by her Son in Law, James Atkinson. James also competes for Canada so we were all honorary Canadians that week.

 Hawley is a lovely person who cares passionately about the horses and her sport. Even though she is Canadian, she is headquartered in Southern California just about at hour away from me so I often see her riding and coaching at Horse Trials. She never fails to be gracious and kind to fans, especially the kids, and is well respected by other riders. Reports on the internet say that her mount “Juice” is fine and Hawley will be fine but remains in the hospital tonight with a concussion and a stable sacral fracture. I know that Hawley is one tough cookie and that she will bounce back, but I a sure that she is disappointed that things did not go better.

Well, back to the TV I go. I can’t wait for Dressage to start! How about all of you?? What have been your highlights so far?? I am going to be more sleep deprived than usual but I am determined to watch as much as humanly possible.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Meet Ziggy

This spring has been a sad time in our pet family with Dozer, the senior Lab, being put down, Lacey, our very old cat dying under the pool in the big storm, and then on Monday, Jake, our rescue mutt, having to be put down. Jake had changed from an energetic oldster (12) to an ailing oldster in a short amount of time. Initially we thought it was Lyme disease. Even though he had been vaccinated, it is not foolproof, and we began treating him with antibiotics. The vet found no abnormalities in his blood work, but when he sent us home, he said, "Let's hope it's Lyme. If not, it's probably something worse."

It was something worse. Jake quit eating, he began throwing up, and a second trip to the vet showed he had a huge tumor on his spleen. We asked the vet if we could put Jake in the car as if he was going home, and he euthanized him there. He died with his head on my  husband's lap.  Jake's death left a huge hole in the family and my heart. He'd been a challenging rescue, but he'd also been my shadow. Fang, aka princess Chihuahua, was left with no dog buddies, and I knew I better find another dog to share our lives with before school started and we had less time.

Meet Ziggy. Part bat (check out his ears in the photo below), part mini-pin, part Chihuahua. He came from Caring for Creatures, a fabulous rescue organization that plucks dogs and cats from high-kill shelters before they are put down. Ziggy's  time was up. He is only one-year-old, he was at CFC for six weeks, and at least a month at the shelter where he came in as a stray, so I can't imagine what his brief life has been like. Fang and I met him at CFC (above) and although I knew Ziggy would be challenging because he was shy and afraid of men, we brought him home.

It's been four days, and I've learned quickly how to be leader of the pack to help reassure Ziggy that he is safe. Here he is resting after his fifth walk (and it's only lunchtime!) Fortunately, he's smart and learning quickly. Challenges are house-training--I haven't picked up on his "I need to go" cues--despite all the walks, and 'stranger' issues. He's super-sensitive to sounds and sights. I have no idea how he coped at the busy, noisy shelters.  But I am learning what he needs, and he's learning all the rules that I (leader of the pack) have set down, Fang loves playing with him (growls added when he gets too rough), he loves my daughter, and he and my husband are slowly bonding.

Now if he can just find that CAT.

If anyone has a mini-pin, please send ANY suggestions on training. I have read they can be a handful. Ziggy seems to have enough of something "else" in him that he is eager to please, so my fingers are crossed. I do get the feeling he can  never be allowed off-leash (Fang, aka princess, never has to be on a leash so I have been spoiled.). If he spots something moving, he wants to be after it in a flash.

Thank you for letting me share one more depressing "pet death" story, and I hope next post, to have  great news on Ziggy's adjustment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Those Pesky Vaccinations

by Linda Benson

I just got done giving Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Big, my two donkey geldings, their yearly vaccinations. They were angels, both of them, but I always breathe a sigh of relief when this job is done. Even though I've been giving shots to horses, donkeys, cats, and dogs for something like half a century (yes, I'm that old LOL) I still have to psych myself up for the job - every. single. time.

Do you do that, also? Gah! I have a secret fear of needles. In fact, I've almost passed out (well, I have actually passed out) when on the receiving end of shots. But because I've owned lots of animals through the years, and in the interest of saving money and using a vet only when I really need them, I've become used to buying vaccines for dogs, cats, and horses at the feed store, bringing them straight home packed with ice, and doing it myself.

For years I followed a procedure that I'd read about somewhere. Take the needle off, go hit, hit, hit, with the edge of your hand on his neck, and on the final bounce actually stab the horse with the needle. Then, fish the syringe filled with vaccine out of your pocket (or your mouth where you've held it gingerly.) Reattach the syringe to said needle, pull out to make sure you have a muscle and not some artery (or, God forbid, a vein) and then push the syringe in, inserting all of the vaccine in the muscle, while your sweet horse stands perfectly still and does not bat an eye. This is the procedure if all goes right. If Old Blue throws a conniption fit at the stab or the attachment of said syringe, well, good luck. Either run to the feed store, purchase another vaccine and try to whisper Old Blue into the fact that it Really. Won't. Hurt. this time, or give up and call the vet.

After years of varying success with this method (and watching certain vets nonchalantly walk up and "press" the needle in, while the horse barely seems to notice) I finally perfected my method of vaccinating my horses and donkeys. This works well for me, since I usually have to do this all by myself, with No Helpers. First, cut up an apple or two into Lots of small chunks (carrots work well also.) Then (preferably still in the house) prepare your vaccines (which means taking them out of the crinkly plastic wrapper - horses have very good hearing) withdrawing fluid from bottle if needed, and reattaching syringe to needle.) Then (with vaccine hidden in your pocket) walk to the barn humming a happy song. Halter your animal, proceed to feed 1/3 of the apples to him while whispering sweet nothings and brushing his neck.

To desensitize the skin where the shot is going to go, reach over and poke Ol' Blue on the opposite side of the neck with your finger, one-two-three times. Then do the same on the near side of the neck. Feed him another apple or two, do this twice more and realize you are stalling. It's now or never. Feed him an apple, pull the entire syringe/needle combo out of your pocket, take the cap off, and make sure you Do Not Show the needle to Ol' Blue. Then PRESS (not poke or jab) the needle/with syringe still attached, slowly into their skin, all the while humming an old Disney tune, or rock 'n roll, or whatever makes you happiest. Did they move? No, they probably didn't even feel it, until you pull it back a little to check for blood, sing a little louder, and then push the vaccine all the way in. At this point, they've either stood there like good soldiers, or they begin to think something might be amiss. Whereupon you pull the entire needle and syringe out (success) mumble thanks to your creator, put the cap back on the needle, feed the horse/donkey ALL the remaining apples, murmur Good Boy, Good Ol' Blue and give him a BIG HUG. Now go in the house, pour yourself a glass of wine, and realize it's all over until next year.

Disclaimer: I am not a vet and am not giving out veterinary advice. I'm only sharing the method that has worked for me, over the years, by myself. Now, if we are talking twice daily shots of penicillin with huge gauge needles, then all bets are off. You're on your own, darling. I have already fainted, switched to oral antibiotics, or gave up.

So tell me, is giving shots your favorite thing? Do you have a good method to recommend? Any horror stories you'd care to share?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Old Friend

                                                            by Laura Crum

            After posting about my retired horses on Weds, I had a funny experience the other morning. It was sort of a rude awakening. At first light—maybe 4:30 AM, I heard some piteous neighing from my barnyard. The sound of a horse abandoned by his herd—a horse in distress. There was no reason for this. My four horses had all been happily settled in their corrals when I fed the previous evening. My boarder was off at a weekend roping, so absent, but there was no reason for this to upset the other horses. But still the loud calls of distress continued, shrill and insistent.
            I popped out of bed, shoved my feet into sandals, and threw a jacket over my minimal clothing. In five seconds I was out the door and on my way down to the barn. By this time I’d recognized the voice and knew it was my 32 year old horse, Gunner, who was calling. I just couldn’t imagine what had gotten into him.
            As I headed down the hill in the thin early light, I could see Gunner standing at the top of his corral, screaming his head off. He looked fine, and this sort of distressed neighing is not typical of a horse who is sick or hurt, so I was pretty sure this was an emotional issue, not a physical one.
            “Hey, Gunner, what’s the matter?” I called to him.
            Gunner turned toward me at the sound of my voice and pricked his ears in my direction, clearly focusing on my moving figure as I walked down the hill. I looked around for the other horses.
            Aha. The other three horses were all down at the far ends of their respective corrals. Since the corrals are pretty big, the others were a good two hundred feet or so from Gunner and behind some trees. And since Gunner is getting a bit deaf and near-sighted, I was pretty sure he couldn’t see them and thought they were gone. Disappeared, vanished, departed, leaving him all alone. Thus the screams.
            Of course, not one of the other geldings had bothered to respond to the calls, convincing Gunner even more completely that he’d been abandoned. Thanks a lot, guys.
            Gunner quieted as he saw me approach. The other horses saw me, too, and, thinking I might actually be going to feed them this early, all three nickered and came marching up their corrals, ears pricked. Gunner took a look, saw the horses, and his whole body relaxed. Oh. They’re here after all. You could see it on his face.
            I laughed, told them all they could wait until breakfast time, and went back up to the house to make tea and reassure my son that Gunner was just fine. Like me, he had recognized the old horse’s voice.
            Later I thought about how grateful I was that Gunner WAS fine, and about how much joy I get from seeing him every day, and decided that today I’m going to write a post about my old friend, who’s been with me so long. Gunner and I have shared so much, and I am so glad that I have him here with me as a healthy thirty-two year old horse. So today’s post is dedicated to him—and to good old horses everywhere.
            I bought Gunner as a three year old with thirty days on him, and did all of his training myself. Here we are the day he became my horse. I think you can tell how happy and proud I am to have bought the best horse I’d ever owned (I’m 26).

            We competed at the snaffle bit futurity and at various cuttings, winning our share of awards. Here we are winning the cutting at our local county fair.

            When Gunner was eight I tired of the politics involved in judged events, and started team roping, which is timed. Gunner made the transition to team roping head horse—despite the fact that I had never trained a head horse before. That’s what a good horse he was.
            I retired Gunner from competition when he was fourteen because of arthritic issues, but he remained sound for light riding. Here he is at 17 years.

            I kept Gunner turned out in the pasture after he turned twenty, and for many years he lived the life of a pasture horse. He is the blaze-faced horse on the far right. Looks happy, don’t you think?

            Last year I brought him home (he was 31) as I felt I needed to be with him and give him extra attention and feed. Here he is getting some affection from my son. Gunner loves attention and we try to give him a lot. He looks pretty good for 32, I think.

            Today I just want to express my boundless gratitude for the long run Gunner and I have had together and for how happy it’s been. Despite the fact that he was always a spooky, flighty horse, Gunner never once dumped me, or hurt me in any way. Despite the fact that I was at best a very novice horse trainer when I bought him as a very green colt, I was able to train this very kind, talented horse by myself, such that we won awards in cowhorse, cutting and roping. I rode Gunner on many trail rides and gathers, as well. He was always a good, cooperative horse, even though he is a spook to this day. I always loved him and I still do. I am so happy I was able to give him a long, happy life in return for all that he’s given me. I smile every time I see him.
            And when I think of my good old horses, I also have to remember Flanigan, who is buried here. Flanigan died of a severe, inoperable colic at 21 years—he would have been thirty this year. Flanigan was my main mount for team roping, and this experienced head horse helped me rope many steers. Here we are turning a steer for my friend Sue Crocker on Pistol.

Flanigan was also my main mountain horse.  Here’s a photo of Flanigan with me at Wood Lake on Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1990. I am 33. Flanigan carried me on many, many trips through these mountains—and next week I am going back up there with Sunny and Henry to ride and camp.

            So thank you to Gunner and Flanigan and to all good horses everywhere. Feel free to tell me about yours. And cross your fingers I’ll have good fortune on my trip.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


                                                by Laura Crum

            My post  about “Things I Do Wrong” sparked some interesting comments. I was particularly interested in the comments about pasture and keeping horses on pasture (from jenj, I think). Because this has been one of my huge dilemmas. So today I thought I’d write about my “problem” and ask your opinions.
            I own a two and a half acre property here in pleasant Santa Cruz County, California, where we are fortunate enough to have a mild Mediterranean climate. I love where I live. Unfortunately, a lot of other people love it here, too, and thus land is VERY expensive. I could barely afford two and a half acres of raw land. Over a twenty year period, I developed it into a nice little horse property. I am allowed to keep five horses here—and I have five horses on the property (no surprise there, I guess). Each horse has a big corral where he can run and buck and play (corrals average maybe thirty feet by one hundred and fifty feet). There are walk in sheds and plenty of trees. The corrals are on a slight slope and drain well, and the fences are pipe panels. Here is a photo taken from the far end of the corrals, showing the pasture shed in the distance, to give you an idea.

            And another photo taken from the top, looking down.

            My corrals are not fancy, as you can see, but they are big and safe and relatively spacious. But they are not pastures. They aren’t big enough to grow grass if I keep the horses in them. And even when I leave a corral empty for the winter (grass season around here), there is not much grass because the oak trees make too much shade.
            Like most people, I thought/think the ideal situation for a horse is to be turned out on pasture, where he can graze at his own whim and run around as he pleases. And though I was/am able to provide run around space, my horses have no grazing in their corrals.
            I couldn’t afford pasture land on the (very expensive) California coast, so, twenty years ago I bought a sixty acre pasture in the foothills—three hours away from my home. It’s a lovely pasture—see the photo below showing three of my retired horses turned out there.

            When I bought the pasture it was fenced with barbed wire—as are most pastures here in the western United States. I gradually replaced the barbed wire with smooth wire—at no small expense. And for many years I turned my horses out here every winter (grass season here is from November to May in an average year). This worked pretty well—for fifteen years of turnout, we had only one serious problem—when a mare belonging to my friend Wally cut her hock badly, presumably on the smooth wire. My other friend who keeps an eye on the horses caught this within a day, and we hauled the mare home and doctored her and she is a sound horse today. So, so far so good.
            But there is a big downside to having my horses three hours from my home. For one thing “I” couldn’t keep an eye on them. And so I worried endlessly. My friend who looked after them is a great livestock person, and, as I said, we had only one real problem in fifteen years, but he lived maybe five miles from the pasture and could only check on them every other day or so. The horses had free choice pasture, sixty acres to run around on, and a stream in case the water trough failed. The fences were good and tight and reasonably safe. But I still worried.
            And then… the property next door was bought by someone who wanted to “raise” horses and knew nothing about horses. Almost instantly, it seemed, there was a motley herd of skinny mares, babies, and stallions running around in the field next door, breeding indiscriminately and fighting over the fences with my geldings. Even smooth wire is not safe for that. I removed all my horses and started to run cattle in our pasture, in order to raise my own grass fed beef. And my worry quotient went way down.
            But I had more horses that I could keep here at home year round. I ended up getting permission to turn my retired horses out in a pasture maybe ten minutes from my home. The fences were old and partly barbed wire, but the pasture was big and grew year round feed. For awhile it worked well. Despite the bad fences, we only had one serious injury in the ten years I kept horses there—and this was not to my horse, but to the pasture owner’s horse. OK, I was lucky.
            But my retired horse herd got older, and it grew harder and harder to take proper care of them in the pasture. They needed supplemental feed and blankets when it stormed, and again, it made me anxious that I couldn’t keep more of an eye on them. Getting out there once a day was all that was practical, with a young son to raise and a job to do and plenty of critters at home to care for.
            And my old horse, Gunner, just didn’t look happy. I had to keep him in a smaller field by himself in order to supplement him adequately, and though he could see the other horses, he couldn’t touch them. And his sight and hearing were failing, as he reached thirty. I thought that he was feeling too confused and alone. Some of the other horses were starting to fail dramatically as they aged, and we eventually made the decision to euthanise a couple of them and bring Gunner home.
            Today I have my two retired riding horses (Gunner and Plumber) here at home in my corrals, where they get fed three times a day and look really good. They seem happy. Gunner seems much more content than he did in his last few years in the pasture. Plumber seems to be doing fine. And I do turn all the horses out to graze from time to time, though Gunner must be grazed on the leadrope because of his sight and hearing issues.
            Gunner being grazed by my son.

            Here I am getting ready to turn Plumber loose to graze.

            My current riding horse, Sunny, turned out to graze on the property.

            Henry mowing the grass outside the veggie garden.

            But still it bugs me that my retired horses aren’t turned out in a pasture. That was always my idealized version of retirement (and still is, in some ways). I’ve just learned by experience that unless you live where the pasture is, and have good pasture sheds, that being turned out in a pasture isn’t always as pleasant for the horse as you might like to think—and it can cause the owner a great deal of worry.
            My retired horses do seem happy at home with me, and I have made up my mind that I’m not keeping them away from me again. They look better now than they ever did, so something must be right. They seem to enjoy the constant activity and the steady interaction they get here. But I still agonize a bit over the lack of pasture. Of course, I’m a worrier by nature, so maybe, as a friend once told me, I just need something to worry about.
            Has anybody else been through these sorts of choices? Any insights on what has worked best for you? Do others of you worry the way I do over whether you are giving your horses, especially your old horses, the best life you can give them? They’ve done so much for me and I really want to do right by them. When I had them out in the pasture, I worried about them more, and they didn’t overall look happier to me than they do now. But still…Any thoughts?

            Also, I am taking my horses to the mountains next week for a riding vacation, so no Weds post from me. Wish me luck. I’ll post photos when I get back. Cheers--Laura

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Did You Do This Summer?

"What Did You Do This Summer?" could have been a writing prompt for a fourth grade classroom assignment.  Summer is not over, and already I am panicking. Where did the time go and what exactly HAVE I done?

There are only five weeks left until I start back to teaching and my to-do list is only getting longer. We are leaving for a week at the beach August 11th, and then "boom" school starts as soon as I get back. That really only leaves four weeks for summer projects, book research and  'chores.' You know what I mean--all those 'want-to-dos' that you tell yourself will get done during the longer days. My summer has been TOO full with what I am not sure, but I do wonder how I am going to accomplish those lofty goals I set when I dreamed of not teaching this summer (a first for me in um, about forty years.)

What I accomplished is so plebeian that I hate to even mention it.  I did not prep for a show, write a book, speak at conferences or trek in Africa. Mostly I cleaned out a closets, cleaned out a recently deceased relative's house and trucked stuff home, started an Etsy shop, posted dozens of items on Ebay (silver is the only hot seller), moved a daughter, cleaned up after the mega-storm, buried a cat -- well, you get the picture and I will stop before boredom sends you screaming back to Francesca's exciting post.

Oh, did I mention selling at three big yard sales?  When I strapped on a caving helmet and ventured into our dark basement closets and dank garage corners, I was amazed at the heaps of dusty $%^& that I encountered.  It took days to clean, sort and box it all. Then there were the two dozen Avon bottles I bought this spring for the booth, erroneously believing  people still collected Avon, and the boxes of other 'antiques' that turned out to be not so valuable. I didn't bother pricing anything since I have learned that dreams of a $45 price tag on your 1982 'vintage' bike (okay, vintage here means rust) , quickly deteriorates into selling it for $5 to the first interested person.
This summer I have learned lots more since I have joined the hordes selling at flea markets and yard sales. Come early, resist leaving early even if there are only two customers left ( yesterday I sold my daughter's old saddle as I was packing up), bring water and snacks, make friends with the folks on either side of you, always have more change than you need, make sure that what you are selling isn't dirty junk, and don't buy more than you sell. This is a problem for me, since I am always scouting treasures for the booth or Ebay. It's my favorite part of the 'business,' which is in quotes since I am not sure I am making enough money to call what I am doing a legit business even though I am working my tail off. But treasures can still be found.  Yesterday, I bought this adorable L.E.Smith Scottie creamer that was a Post cereal promotion item from a woman who'd once owned an antique booth and had given it up during the economic downturn (and no, her 'message' of doom didn't get through to my brain.)
And I had to have this picture from around the 1930s, buying it for a mere $4.00 because who else at the entire jumbo yard sale was horse and vintage crazy?  The photo doesn't do justice to the soft colors, tramp art style frame and glitter accents. (Yes, glitter, and in my research I discovered that glitter was not invented until 1930. thus dating this no earlier.) I could not decipher the artist or even the medium (I have MUCH to learn about art) and will have a hard time parting with this even though I don't need one more picture in my house.
The Scottie and picture were plopped into my office that is now a jumbled storage unit for all the un-inventoried, 'valuable' items  soon to be listed on Ebay, Etsy or placed into my booth--one day, soon, because summer is flying to an end, this office MUST be cleaned up, I must get to that book research, and sheesh what have I done with my time this summer?

I am interested to find out what projects you have completed (Laura, here is your chance to tell about your new renovation) and what is still on your-to-do list.  Tell, tell.

What Did You Do This Summer

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Le Show!

We didn't do so well...but at least we looked nice!
We did it! Last Sunday afternoon, Qrac and I got all blinged out and competed in our very first dressage competition.

As I mentioned in my post last week, I had no idea as to how Qracy would behave on a showground, how he would react to all the adrenaline gushing through the air, whether he’d get himself into a total tizzy at the sight of all the other horses. As it turns out, he was a total prince, backing calmly out of the trailer, standing quietly for a friend of mine while my daughter and I tacked him up. He didn’t prance, he didn’t dance, and he didn’t shout his head off, despite the crazy antics of a horse seemingly destroying the trailer parked next to us. That in itself was a victory for me!

I climbed onto his back and rode him towards the warm-up arena where my trainer, Marie-Valentine, was waiting for us. He felt a tad tense, but for reasons I can’t even begin to explain (could it have had something to do with the herbal chill-pill I took?!), I felt utterly blissed out, as though my horse and I were wrapped in a cocoon of cotton wool. Marie-Valentine greeted us, her sunny, generous presence reinforcing my calm state of mind. After she’d wired me up to her walkie-talkie machine, I patted Qrac, took a deep breath, and guided him into the warm-up arena.

Within minutes my husband and my son arrived. My husband had only seen Qrac once, last summer, and my son had never seen him at all. With neither of them being horse aficionados, the fact that they’d made the effort to drive all the way out there to watch me meant a lot, especially with our country’s beloved Rodger Federer competing in the Wimbledon final an hour after I was scheduled to ride, giving them little time to get back in the car, race home and turn on the television! Soon afterwards my friend Heike and her husband arrived, having driven all the way from Cologne, Germany (where they’d dropped off their children with Heike’s parents forty-eight hours earlier for the summer holidays)just to make it on time to see my first competition! Seriously! I was totally feeling the love!

Wired up!
Goodness me, the warm-up arena was such a zoo! With two tests taking place simultaneously, there must have been about thirty riders in there, some seemingly clueless as to the basic rules of riding in company. Nevertheless, initially at least, my cotton wool cocoon remained intact. “Have you two been competing in secret?” joked Marie-Valentine in my earpiece, and I turned to smile at her. Seriously, whoever invented those walkie-talkie earpiece thingies deserves an Oscar or something! They are so reassuring.

The warm-up process went smoothly, although little by little I must admit to becoming slightly unnerved by other riders cutting us off right and left. Being far too polite (and far too worried about being ploughed into!) to cut anyone off myself, I remained on full alert, weaving in and out of crazy drivers, slamming on the breaks a number of times to avoid the inconsiderate oafs ignoring our right of way. Qrac, bless his blingy saddle blanket, remained impassive, only spooking once when someone with a big dog slipped and fell onto his bum while running down the embankment on the far side of the arena. Generally speaking, he felt pretty fabulous considering the circumstances, moving nicely forwards and rounded. Granted, I didn’t have as much expression as I can sometimes get at home, and Qrac was definitely sticking to my inside leg on the right rein, but all things considered, I was thrilled.

The test Qrac and I were performing was ridden on a 20 x40 metre arena (tiny! I couldn’t believe how small it was!), which meant that we could enter the cordoned off extra 20 metres of the arena when the rider competing right before us went in to do her test. There again, Qrac was great, trotting around calmly while we waited for our turn. I tried to tune out everything else, mentally going over my test one last time, taking deep breaths. I felt so privileged, so lucky, so intensely happy to be here, riding in a dressage competition on a sunny afternoon on my beautiful horse under the loving, encouraging eyes of friends and family.

The rider before us finished her test, and Qrac and I entered the arena. I trotted him around, ready for him as he spooked at the geraniums and the begonias, feeling him tense as he eyed the judges in their little chalets. Still, he felt good, and I was confident we’d be able to ride the test without too many problems.


It was supposed to be an extended trot!
The bell jingled. I trotted a circle, changed to the left rein and headed towards A. From what I can see from the video, our turn was pretty precise, and it felt as though we rode relatively straight down the centre line, halting more or less squarely at X, although he dropped his right hip at the very last second. I saluted, patted him, and then proceeded towards C at a decent enough working trot with a smile on my face. I turned left and prepared for the extended trot on the diagonal. Within three strides Qrac exploded, shooting forwards and upwards like a rocket, taking me completely by surprise! I have no idea what happened, whether he saw something that spooked him, or whether he just had one of those unexplainable horsey moments. Still smiling (I think I actually laughed!) I closed my legs, rode forwards and more or less got him back before we reached the corner, but after that initial meltdown he was a little rushed, and no longer totally with me. Our turn on the haunches was more of an “okay, screw this, let’s just turn around and go the other way”, our ten metre circle in the left lead canter was a bit of an 18 metre hippety-hoppety head throwing muck-up. As for our walk to canter transition, it was a Qrac super special: he struck off on the wrong leg, switched leads in the air while swinging his haunches to the other side before even landing the wrong lead. Which in my enthusiastic opinion was super skilful, but definitely didn’t impress the judges!

Basically, we didn’t impress the judges at all, and finished with a pretty lowly score. Nevertheless, I rode out of the arena with a massive grin on my face, congratulating Qrac profusely, psyched by the whole experience, proud of not having been paralysed by nerves, proud of having remembered the test, proud of having remained so calm during the program despite Qrac’s numerous mini-meltdowns, proud of having continued to ride forward. We’d done it! We’d ridden our first dressage competition! Yippedy skippedy woohoo!

I was still on a high when I got home, and astonished myself further by having enough energy to actually go straight back out for pizza with my family at the local tennis club, where I drove everyone spare, yapping on and on about how happy I was, and how well Qracy had done, and sending out long, detailed text messages complete with photographs to all my horsey friends.

A couple of days later I signed us up for a show at the end of August, although I’m not a hundred percent certain of being able to take part as my poor son will be having knee surgery the previous day. Nevertheless, simply having signed up gives me something to work towards, and forces me to be a little more organized in my training.  It’s funny, but until now, when people used to tell me that they liked competing because it gave them an idea of where they were at and what they had to work on, I never really got it. As far as I was concerned, going to a show was just one giant, scary stress-out. On Sunday night, when it was all over, I finally understood.

And, guess what, I really enjoyed getting all dressed up and blingy for the occasion!

What do you/did you get out of showing?

 (My amazing daughter took all the photos! Check out her website: She recently had one of her photographs on a massive billboard on Times Square in New York! Yep, I'm proud of her!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Big View

                                                by Laura Crum

            A couple of days ago my son and I rode our “usual loop”. I’ve described this ride many times on the blog so will be brief today. In which we ride out my front gate, cross the busy road, scramble up the sketchy half mile of crooked, narrow, steep, poison oak-draped trail with the head bonker trees (my son says this trail is “radical”), drop over the ridge onto easier trails where we trot briskly through the meadow and up the hill (“It feels like flying” from my kid), and after a breather, climb a few more hills to get to the big view.
We’ve ridden to this place so often, in all seasons, for many years now. We call it the Lookout, and it is a much-loved place for all of us. My husband and I discovered it when we were first together. I took him riding and we explored our local trails. I’d ridden “outside” here a little, but not much, being obsessed with competing at team roping at the time I moved here. I didn’t trail ride much in those days. So despite the fact that I’d lived here awhile, I didn’t even know the Lookout was there.
Imagine our mutual surprise when we rode up a big hill and came upon this dazzling view.
Of course, my horse’s ears weren’t yellow in those days. I was riding Plumber, my little brown horse (still with me but retired), and my husband was riding my beloved Flanigan (who is buried here). I still remember the thrill we both felt at discovering this amazing place, not an hour’s ride from our home. From the beginning, we called it “the Lookout.”
There are no nearby houses visible from the Lookout. Though it is an illusion (because houses are not far away), from this place one appears to be alone in the wild woods, having reached a clearing from which one can see the whole Monterey Bay. I felt as I imagined the early Spaniards felt, arriving here on horseback. I absolutely never tired of riding to the Lookout, and went there in all seasons.
Over the years, as we explored the local trails, the Lookout remained our favorite destination. There were other pretty places to ride to, but none that equaled the drama of this spot. As our son grew older and started to ride the trails with me on his good horse, Henry, the Lookout was the first place I took him. And we have gone on many, many rides to the Lookout since. Here we are, about a year ago, gazing out at the view on Midsummer’s Day.

Gradually we evolved a regular loop ride that we took most often. It led to the Lookout and then home by mostly pretty trails that avoided the houses. And more and more the trails that ran near the houses were being fenced off. There were many places we could no longer ride. It’s sad, but things change.
The Lookout itself has changed, as the trees have grown up and to some degree obscure the view. Looking at the next photo, taken four years ago on a misty winter day, I notice how much more wide open the place seems then than it does now. Below you see my son on Henry, myself on Sunny, and our friend/boarder, Wally, on Twister, at the Lookout. I think the three of us have ridden here literally hundreds of times.
Here’s a recent photo, taken by my son at the Lookout, showing my new (but dusty) riding helmet. The fog is in over the bay (which keeps things nice and cool on the ride), so the view isn’t much, but you can see how the shrubbery has grown. Things change.

I guess in the end, that’s the big view. Things change, and we need to accept that. Sadly, some day someone will probably build a house on the Lookout, and it will be fenced off from us and we won’t be able to ride there any more. Certainly this has been the fate of many of our other rides. And yes, it will make me very sad. But the Lookout will always be part of me, and I hope, part of my son. And nothing stays, everything changes, us included. Clinging to things just doesn’t work out.
These themes and places (including the beloved Lookout and the “radical” trail) have been on my mind for a while now, and I’ve tried to incorporate them into my two most recent books, “Going, Gone” and “Barnstorming.” For those who are interested, the links will take you to Amazon’s page for each book, where you can buy them in print or on Kindle. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing some of my “big view.”
Does anybody else have a much loved riding destination? And is yours threatened by development? Any thoughts on the "big view?"

PS--For those who enjoyed my husband's first blog post on his Begonias in the Mist blog, he has put a second one up concerning his rather colorful life with plants. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reading horse books on the subway

I get two hours of reading time to myself per day, which is more than most parents with a full-time job and a writing life can boast of, and I owe it all to the subway. I know I’m lucky, but then again, that’s also one of the reasons I live in New York City—no matter where I live, I have to commute, and being able to read a book and let someone else do the driving every day makes a heck of a lot more sense than my driving myself everywhere! 

I love peeking at what other people are reading, but it's getting harder and harder to do. E-readers are insidiously making my book-peeping more difficult, although I’ve been known to read them from over other people’s shoulders on crowded trains. (OMG I totally read a page out of Fifty Shades of Grey the other day and I still feel dirty. On the other hand I got to read a page out of High Fidelity the other day that I just loved: "She loved me. She loved ME. SHE LOVED ME.")

E-readers are making it more difficult to get a grasp of the amazing cross-section of people and the books they choose to bring with them on their commutes, but there are still a lot of titles being clutched in one hand (or two, if you’re one of the other hardy folks like myself who dragged a hard-cover of A Dance With Dragons around for a week) and so book-peeping remains a viable hobby.

This is totally what I look like on the train. Photo: wvs/flickr
Sometimes you really can match a person up with the book they’re reading. Guy with skinny jeans and relevant indie band t-shirt, how is that David Foster Wallace working out for you? Chick with the long bangs and the oversized vintage glasses, I like your glasses and I like your Brooklyn Bridge totebag and I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad, so I know you’re going to love it, too. 

And you can usually match me up, too. I’m the girl with the thick Bavarian braid, dressed in jeans, paddock boots, and a Saratoga ball-cap, reading a horse book.

I’ve read so many great horse books on the subway lately. I was prepping a reading list for Dappled Grey and the subway was my primary research site. The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. A Year at the Races by Jane Smiley. Falling for Eli by Nancy Shulins. I’m a little book-proud over them. I know my fellow book-peepers (they’re all around us, you know!) are glancing over and seeing the fabulous covers: the galloping cowgirl silhouette on the first, the bright-eyed racehorse on the second, the adorable begging chestnut on the third. 

And maybe it gives me a little validity, too, reading a horse book on the subway on the way home from work, wearing my dusty Ariats and my lime-smudged jeans and smelling of Bigeloil. I feel like I’m holding up my horse book like a sign: “I swear I’m not a dirty smelly person all the time; it’s just for work.” 

But let’s admit it, my ultimate dream is to end up on Underground New York Public Library, the fabulous Tumblr that was written up recently in the Wall Street Journal, where a book-peeping photographer goes to extremes profiling the reading habits of the subway-commuting public. Just imagine, a horsey girl in horsey clothes reading a horsey book on the subway! I wonder which illustrious equestrian author I shall make famous with this achievement?

Maybe I should just always read a copy of my book on the train, come to think of it.

Which book would you most like to be photographed reading? Relevant literary buzz book, horse book, or would you hide your dirty secrets on your E-Reader?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Horses...and Scarlet Begonias

                                                by Laura Crum

            If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like my garden almost as much as I like my horses. I am pretty passionately devoted to my horses, but I love the garden, too, and believe it or not, there are days when I choose not to ride in order to spend what spare time I have puttering around the garden-- watering, maybe planting something, and just watching the plants and enjoying them (I watch the horses, too). The funny thing is that, over the years, I’ve noticed that lots of other horse people like gardens and plants. So today I’m going to deviate from our regular programming to bring you something different. Something about plants. (OK—maybe most have of you have clicked the little X by now).
            For those who are left with me, plants are not as boring as they sound. In fact, I find plants endlessly interesting and entertaining. But then, I come from a plant loving family. My family has been raising plants for a living for four generations now. And I met my husband because he was the plant breeder for our family business. And not just any sort of plants. Tuberous begonias.
            For those who do not know what tuberous begonias are, here are a few photos. A picotee begonia on my back porch..

            My very young son smelling a scented begonia.

            My front porch with pots of blooming begonias and freesias.

            Our family in the begonia fields.

            My son grew up with the begonia fields as part of his life, even as horses have been a constant part of his life. Not a bad combination, do you think?

            See what I mean? Begonias are not boring. They are spectacular!
            If you’re not yet convinced, here are a few more photos.
            Scarlet begonias on my back porch (remember the Grateful Dead song?).

            My son in the endless, mist-covered begonia fields.

            Same kid a couple years later walking the furrows of the fields on a sunny day.

            A red Lace begonia.

            A picotee begonia named “Sunset Shades” blooming in November on my front porch.

            Ruffled picotee blossoms—a new cross!

            Ok, hopefully you are all begonia fans at this point. Which brings me to the point of this post. My husband, Andy Snow, who bred and grew all the begonias in these photos, has started his own blog, called “Begonias in the Mist.” Its not a how-to blog—its more about inspirations, insights, philosophy and beauty—all of which come up when you spend a long time involved with living creatures, plants and horses included. As the song “Scarlet Begonias” says, “You get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right..”
            If any of this sounds interesting to you, check out Andy’s blog. He would love to have you leave a comment. Begonias in the Mist
            As for me, I love my horses and my garden…and the begonias are one of my favorite plants.