Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beach Drama


                                                 by Laura Crum

            The other day we went riding on the beach. This is our “go to” ride in the winter, when the hillside trails get muddy and slippery. This time we went to a new beach (one where we had never ridden before). The day was cool and cloudy with the sun just breaking through in long shafts of light. A big storm was predicted. We started our ride up on top of the cliffs, and the view looked like this.



            Epic sky, don’t you think? Reminded me of some grand Biblical movie extravaganza where Moses calls out to God to part the Red Sea. This would be the sky in the background of that scene.


            We headed down to the beach on a well marked access trail that proved no problem. It was a very low tide so lots of lovely firm wet sand to ride on. The sky was just as dramatic once we were down next to the water. Sunny looks out at the Monterey Bay.


            The horses all seemed happy to be there. They marched out eagerly, pricking their ears to look at birds and clouds and such, but never spooked at a thing. We were all having fun. Wally and Twister.


            We long trotted and loped, we cruised at the walk, we stood and looked at the view. Henry and Sunny look down the beach at Twister. Looking south towards Monterey.

            We did not see one other person. We did see many gulls and pelicans and sand pipers, as well as other shorebirds. We saw dolphins jumping just beyond the surf. We rode south for an hour or so and then agreed it was time to turn back. Headed north towards Santa Cruz, looking at birds.

My companions—my son and Henry, Wally and Twister.


            As we rode down the beach I was aware of how happy I was. My little yellow horse is a great trail horse and he is equally good at the beach. He marches along, feeling good, happy to move out, but relaxed and under control. And I am relaxed and enjoying every moment of my ride. I am so grateful for this at this point in my life. I can’t count how many times I have ridden hot, spooky, anxious young horses at the beach. At the time, I didn’t mind so much. But I am acutely aware of how much I enjoy riding a steady, reliable horse now. This, I thought, is what it feels like just to relax and enjoy riding along the beach on a horse. Some people long all their lives to ride horseback on the beach And I am here now and absolutely happy. And then I took a picture so I would remember. It’s a little blurry but it captures that joyful moment for me. Thank you, Sunny.


            All the horses were stars. We had no drama but the sky and sea. And I am so grateful. It was a lovely day. So I thought I would share it with you. Cheers--Laura

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Winter: It's Not My Thing, Really




I'm having trouble with this whole wintertime thing, guys.

Natalie's First Chapter Book!
Here's the thing: I'm from Florida. Technically I was born in Maryland, and I lived there long enough to do things like learn to tie my own Punky Brewster hi-tops and read chapter books (the first being Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary, chosen for the horse on the cover) and write my name in an uneven cursive. 

But by the time I had read everything else Beverly Cleary had ever written, and Punky Brewster had gone off to juvie or whatever happened to her, and... well my cursive was still fairly uneven I guess.... I had been shipped off to Florida, and I was adjusting to the markedly different weather.

And I adjusted... very well. In fact, you could argue that I've never been so well-adjusted to anything in my environment as I have been to the weather in Florida. I once stood outside of a Magic Kingdom merchandise location in the full July sun wearing a long-sleeved black blouse, black slacks, and my hair loose around my shoulders. A sweating couple, faces flush with sunburn, asked me somewhat incredulously if I wasn't hot. I glanced up at the midday sun, shrugged, and said, "It's warm, I guess."

And a few jaunts back to the Northeast -- once when I was a teenager, once when I was an adult -- were short-lived and involved a lot of grousing about the weather, and the short days, and the weather, and the weather.

But I moved to New York City in 2010 and the weather... you guys, it's just awful.

Take today, for example. Today, it rained. Except when it was sleeting, and for a few deceptively promising moments when it was almost-snowing, it rained. It was thirty-five degrees. You guys. What is this even.

Working with horses when it's cold out is possibly my least favorite thing to do. In Florida, I had a loose guideline for cold weather: if it's below 55 degrees, leave the horse alone. I would be too miserable to function properly, and the horse would be too happy to deal with in my defective state. Forget it. 

In 2010, galloping racehorses at Aqueduct, I had already resigned myself to losing the feeling in my toes before I got to the first quarter pole. And that was in November. I couldn't put on enough layers to stay warm: bulk up with more than two sweaters, and I was too constrained to safely ride the horse. My ears I considered already lost to the icy winds off Jamaica Bay after just one mount. It was a bad scene, and I couldn't stick with it. I stayed home the rest of the winter and wrote the rest of The Head and Not The Heart instead.

Last winter I barely went outside. Forget it. I wrote two new books (both of which await rewrites) and hovered over my radiator.

But this year, I realized, I had to suck it up. I had to deal with winter head-on, face-first. I couldn't waste half a year -- and that's the unfortunate part about New York City, it's winter for half a year -- hiding under my down comforter. I had to do grown-up things, like keep my job, and accept reality, blah blah blah... some people actually do live in cold climates, and survive.

Like, on purpose.

There was some spending to be done. A whole new wardrobe had to be acquired. Warm riding boots reacquainted me with my toes and made posting trot less of a dangerous stab in the dark. Riding mittens from SSG are an acquired taste if you, like me, enjoy riding one-handed, but they're worth the trouble. And beneath the layers and layers, Heattech everything. Heattech leggings. Heattech socks. Heattech shirt. When in doubt, throw technology at it. 

And I give myself pep talks. Like, hey Natalie, when you were in high school you actually survived blizzards and worked twelve hour days at farms without any heat and then went riding. That's always cheering. Proof that I've lived through way, way worse.

And the result? I can ride in the cold, so far, without actually bursting into tears. I can make myself get out of bed in the morning. My body is still whispering Hey... Natalie... now would be a great time to curl up under your comforter and write all day and never leave the apartment... but I'm resisting. So far. 

But I still question my sanity when I look at the weather forecast! So if anyone has any suggestions on staying warm, in or out of the saddle, this Florida girl is all ears... if she can regain the feeling in them, of course.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Making of a Long Running Series


                                               by Laura Crum

            Even though this site is dedicated to both the craft of writing and horses, I usually stick to posts about my horses here, mostly because I love to write about horses. The very reason I got started writing my mystery series was because I wanted to write about my life with horses. But the other day a friend who is participating in the “National Novel Writing Month” (I can never remember the acronym-- NaNo something) asked me how I managed to “get through” twelve whole novels. This made me think a bit. And then I wrote the following post. So here you go, some writing about writing.
I think I’m entitled to say my mystery series is “long-running” at twelve books, yes? In any case, I did have some thoughts about what I consciously did to get through twelve books featuring one protagonist and her cast of friends and critters…without getting bored with her. And even more importantly, without (hopefully) causing my readers to get bored with her.
            I have to admit that a lot of my thoughts are concerned with what I DIDN’T want to do, based, sadly, on things I had observed in other series. And the first thing I determined was that I would not keep writing the series into infinity, even if I was highly successful with it (fortunately this was never a problem). Too many series trickle to a sad end after their former glory, and it is quite clear that no one, including the author, had much interest in the last three or four books. This was a fate I decided to avoid. From the very beginning, I set a goal of writing a dozen books, which seemed to me to be a goodly amount, and planned to quit when they were accomplished. (Oh, and by the way, I came up with this plan long before JK Rowling announced there would be only seven books in the Harry Potter series. No, I am not comparing myself to JK Rowling, but neither was/am I imitating her. I do think it’s a good concept…and incidentally, I loved the Harry Potter books.)
            I did not know, to begin with, exactly what would happen in each of these dozen books I meant to write, but I did sketch them out many books in advance. I had the titles neatly listed out. And before I got around to the last three or four books, I knew what they would be about and how they would round out and complete my series.
            Because I wanted my twelve book series to have a “form” as a whole, as one super-long story about a particular woman and her life with horses. And for this to happen, I needed to be clear how the series would end, and lead up to that ending appropriately.
            Another thing I was clear about is that my protagonist would change and grow throughout the series. If there is one thing I don’t care for in a series, it is the device of keeping the protagonist in the same “place” for book after book. You know, that place where she has a romantic interest that hasn’t quite come to fruition. Because, of course, that is the easiest phase of life to write about. All that glorious sexual tension, but you don’t have to deal with the actual bedroom. No messy details to work out concerning how your heroine can remain independently solving mysteries and still be a good partner. Yep, it is SO tempting to just stall your protagonist out in that one handy romantic space and leave her there for book after book. And a great many authors do exactly this.
            I’m sorry, but that seriously doesn’t work for me, no matter how talented the author and engaging the books. If I am reading a series, I want the thing as a whole to be going somewhere. To that end I was clear that my protagonist would change and grow. Grow older for one thing. Go through some major life changes, for another.
            In order to make this work I kept careful track of the chronology of the stories. My horse vet is thirty-one in the first book, Cutter, and just beginning her career. She ages one year per book for the first ten books, which gets her to forty. At this fine age I presented her with a baby. (And yep, it was seriously challenging to create exciting mystery plots wrapped up with first pregnancy and then a nursing baby, and yep, some former fans did not care for my turning my vet into a mom. The battle lines seemed clearly drawn between those who were parents themselves and liked this development, and those who weren’t parents and didn’t. But if there’s one thing I know about writing, it’s that you can’t please everybody and its best to please yourself. However, I digress.) In the last two books, Going, Gone and Barnstorming, I allowed five years to pass between stories, thus effectively getting my gal to fifty, which was more or less my age when I wrote the last book.
            The whole thing fit together nicely. The series covers twenty years in the life of one woman, and I spent twenty years of my life writing it. The series begins with a thirtyish protagonist, and I was thirty when I started the first book. It ends with us both being fifty. Throughout the books I gave “Gail” many of the life changes that I went through myself, which kept the books interesting to me, and (I think) gave the ring of truth to her various adventures.
            Another thing I did to keep the series interesting was to take on a different aspect of the horse world in each book. Horses were the main theme of the books, and, since horses are a main theme in my life, I wanted to stick to that. But I did not want to write about the same things over and over. Fortunately I have done a lot of different things with horses in my life, so the books ranged through cutting horses and western show horses to ranching and roping and horse packing and breaking a colt…etc. I tried not to repeat myself in either the horse aspect or the plot.
            I characterized each plot with a theme. There is the “noble villain” and the “murder for greed,” the “murder for jealousy” and the “crazy serial killer.” You get the idea. Once again, I tried not to repeat myself.
            I also tried to show Gail aging. She is described differently as the books go along, and her way of thinking changes. In this I was aided by the fact that I was aging right along with her. So in the earlier books she is much more interested in clothes and what people look like physically than she is in the later books. In the course of the series she goes through a breakup and a depression as well as finding a life partner and having a child and raising him. At the end of the series, she contemplates retirement. I’d say I put her through quite the gamut of life changes. And that’s exactly what I set out to do from the beginning.
            So there are a few ideas I used to create my (reasonably) long running series. I’d be interested to hear what you like and don’t like to see in a series character, or a series in general. And I’m happy to try to answer any questions about how I structured either the individual novels or the series.

And, in more book news, here is a link to a really fun review of my third mystery novel, Roughstock, by Dom, of A Collection of Madcap Escapades, listed on the sidebar. Dom is a fine writer herself and a horse trainer by trade, so her review tickles me. I think she gives a great idea of what the book is like. The Kindle edition of Roughstock is available for just $2.99. So if the review makes you want to read the book, here’s a link to get it for less than three dollars. 


(The first two books in the series, Cutter and Hoofprints, are currently at 99 cents, so here is your chance to get the first three books in the series for just under five dollars. A great Xmas present for anyone who likes horses, mysteries, and reading on Kindle.)

            

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gelding my stallion: four weeks later



When I finally took Qrac, my eight-year-old Lusitano, to be gelded four weeks ago, I’d spent months worrying about it. I worried about what might go wrong during the operation, whether he might injure himself when they put him under, or when he came around afterwards. I worried about how he might react afterwards. I worried about whether he might take a long time to recover, whether he might get an infection or an inflammation. I worried that maybe he might hurt his back during the procedure (which took about an hour and a half) lying upside down on a special squishy mattress). I worried that he might get depressed after being gelded and turn into a sad big black blob with no engine.  

If you’ve read most of my posts over the past few years, I guess you’ll have worked out that I’m a serial worrier.

The last time I posted, I’d just been to collect Qrac from the equine clinic. He’d gone in on Monday, been operated on Tuesday, and I’d picked him up on Thursday. Qrac was gelded through the inguinal canals, so there were no open wounds to keep clean (incidentally, according to my vet, unless they are very young, Iberian horses, should always be gelded via the inguinal canals as these are apparently wider than in other breeds, and “regular” gelding often leads to increased risk of serious complications). To my relief, there was very little swelling even when I picked him up, and this totally disappeared over the next two or three days. We reduced his food, and I walked him in hand for an hour for two days, than under the saddle for an hour for a further week. 

I followed the vet’s protocol exactly, and eleven days after his operation, after walking Qrac for about twenty minutes to warm him up, I pushed him into a trot. Initially a tad stiff, he was clearly happy to be going forwards again, so once he’d loosened up I even cantered him for a round or two. I worked him gently for about ten or fifteen minutes, then walked him again for another twenty.  I did the same the following day, gradually increasing the intensity of the work and gradually upping his food.  Qrac never showed any sign of discomfort, distress or depression. We have now resumed our twice weekly lessons, and he’s also worked once a week by a professional. He’s forwards, happy to work, happy to be fussed over in his stable and in the grooming area. If anything about him has changed, I’d say he’s becoming more of a cuddle-bug than ever. 

Regarding stallion behaviour, I can’t say there’s been a dramatic difference as I’d had Qrac chemically gelded a few months after I bought him a year and a half ago, because he’d been at stud before I bought him and could be a bit of a handful in certain circumstances. The chemical gelding soon calmed his ardours, and apart from one particularly unpleasant incident when another stallion provoked him in an adjacent field, he’s been pretty relaxed, especially with the ladies. However, I didn’t want to keep on having to renew the anti-testosterone vaccination due to a lack of hindsight on its potential adverse effects (I’ve heard that if you use it too many times it can damage the kidneys or the liver or something), and besides, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I bought Qrac to enjoy riding, and not as a stud. I also feel that, as a gelding, his quality of life will improve, especially socially.

Since I have no prior experience with gelding a stallion, I don’t know whether I have been especially lucky with the way things have gone for Qrac. I’m definitely happy to have gone for the inguinal procedure as another person in my yard had her ten-year-old Swiss Warmblood gelded by the more simple procedure a week before I had Qrac cut, and he still has some swelling, as well as a little pus, meaning he’s still not been able to be ridden properly and has lost considerable muscle and condition. Someone else had their four-year-old German Warmblood gelded two months ago in the “simple” manner. Over the weeks that followed the swelling gradually increased, the vet was called out numerous times, and still the swelling increased. Two weeks ago, they finally realized that the horse had developed a massive infection, and had to take him to one of the main Swiss equine hospitals to undergo emergency surgery. Scary.
So if you’re contemplating gelding a stallion, particularly an older stallion, I’d definitely advise you to go for the inguinal procedure. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive and may be a little more stressful on the day, but from what I’ve seen and heard, could save you a lot of worry and extra expense in the weeks that follow.

Xx Francesca

PS: On a totally disconnected, far more yippedy-skippedy note, I had a fabulous lesson on Qrac this morning with my second trainer, Celine Michaud, who is a Grand Prix rider and who rides Qrac for me once a week. I’ve been frustrated this week, not being able to get my horse to come through his back, and feeling like we were regressing. Qrac is very sensitive, freaks out easily, and has a tendency to come behind the vertical and hollow his back, and there are days when, no matter what I do, I can’t get him thoroughly connected. Celine is ultra-calm, super patient, and always manages to get us back into a fluid, flowing harmony that puts a smile on my face for the rest of the day. 

I’m having a smiley afternoon! How about you?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gathering Cattle


                                                by Laura Crum

            And now for something completely different…anybody remember that Monty Python movie? And yes, today’s post is pretty much the polar opposite of Terri’s previous post, in which she tells the almost fairytale story of her triumphs at the upper levels of dressage with her lovely horse, Uiver. Congratulations, Terri and Uiver!
And now you get me, the has been cowgirl, dinking around with my hairy pony, my young son, and a bunch of old team ropers. Quite the culture shift. Let no one say we are not a diverse group here at Equestrian Ink. Our common bond being a love of horses and a desire to write about horses (!)
So, lately most of my riding has involved gathering cattle. For many years now, I have been mostly trail riding, but this last year my son preferred to ride with our team roping friends and help them gather and work the cattle. I love moving cattle…I’ve done it my entire life. So I willingly prioritized riding with the roping crew a couple of days a week over the trail rides that we’ve been used to doing.
            However, the other day it struck me that I have very few photos of our gathers…etc, unlike my trail rides. The reason, of course, is that trail rides have many fairly quiet moments when it’s easy to take the ubiquitous ear shot, or turn and photograph your companions. Not so when you are working cattle. Most of the time you are focused on being where you need to be in relationship to the critter or herd, and you are moving too quickly for photos. There is almost never any handy person just standing around who can take photos OF you. Thus I have almost no photos of gathering cattle, despite how often I have done it.
            So the other day I decided to try and “capture” one of our gathers with my camera. I thought that many of you have probably never done this before, and might enjoy a vicarious internet version of the experience. 
It’s November and the fields are pretty bare here. The green grass is just barely started. The cattle are being fed hay every day. So the scene is not as picturesque as it is in the spring, when the fields are lush and green.
            Also, despite my best intentions, I only got a few decent shots. I was just too busy herding cattle the rest of the time, and the one shot I took when the cattle were galloping up a ravine was so blurry as to be useless. So here is my rather feeble attempt to take you all with me on a gather.
            Sunny and I are looking for the cattle. Can you see from his ears where they are?


            After this I had to pay attention to what I was doing as we went down into the ravine and pushed the cattle out of the brush and got them gathered in a herd. Then a certain amount of scrambling quickly up the hill and loping across the field happened, as we worked to get the herd moving toward the catch pen. I was too busy to take photos at this point, but here’s a photo from last fall, showing my son following the other guys up the ravine toward the upper field.


Finally the cattle are headed in the right direction and I hung back, pulled my horse up, and took a photo of my son and our friends pushing the herd toward the catch pen gate. That’s my kid on the far right and my uncle Todd and our friend/boarder, Wally, on the left.



            Then, more loping here and there, and ducking and dodging with the cattle took place, as we worked to get the more recalcitrant critters through the holding pen gate and then through the gate into the alley. Again, much too busy and moving too fast to take photos. Then I had to lope ahead of the group to open the gate that leads to the roping chutes, as someone had (ahem) forgotten to open it previously. So, again, no time to take photos. 
But here’s a shot from this spring showing my son and our friend Wally pushing the herd up the alley toward the roping chutes.


Once the cattle are loaded in the chutes the roping begins. The big fun for my son comes when there is a steer that is deemed no good to rope (lots of reasons—it “sets up” or it “drags” or it turns left in a determined way…etc), and my kid and his trusty steed, Henry, get to chase this animal down the arena.

            Anyway, thinking about gathering cattle reminded me of the many, many times I have done this. First on our family ranch here in Santa Cruz County, then on the northern California commercial cattle ranch where I worked in my 20’s, then in the central valley and the foothills where I worked for various cowhorse/cutting horse trainers (gathering the cattle was always the first chore of the day), and finally here on my uncle’s little ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Almost fifty years of gathering cattle. I guess I should know how to do it by now(!)
            Gathering cattle (and working cattle in general) is all about a sort of intuitive understanding of a cow’s body language. You have to be able to read the cattle. A recalcitrant sort of cow will need you to be far more “in her face” to turn her and get her moving in the right direction. A flighty animal will need you to back off. You have to be able to tell what the cattle are thinking. It’s also important to read the herd as a group. Some people can work with cattle for many years and still they always seem to be in the “wrong place.” Just like people who have horses for many years and never learn to “read” them very well. And the skills that one uses in reading and moving cattle do translate to some degree to reading horses, though the two species have some BIG differences.
            Actually, the skills used in reading cattle or horses also come in handy when herding any sort of critter—including chickens. Trust me, I know.

            (The above photo is Toby, our banty rooster, crowing defiantly at me as I attempt to "herd" the chickens back in the coop after a day out in the garden.)

Anyway of course there are no photos of me cause I am the one holding the camera (as I usually am), so I talked my intrepid companion into taking a shot of me when we went riding the next day. A little blurry, but you get the idea. Sunny and me—having fun covering some country in November.


I know some of you, like me, enjoy working cattle in various disciplines, but maybe for a few of you it’s a new experience. Many of our authors here on the site are involved with dressage. And our readers do everything from endurance to reining. So our riding disciplines are pretty different—does gathering cattle seem exotic to some of you, just as high end dressage seems exotic to me? Anyway, this is what my riding time has looked like lately.
Happy Thanksgiving to all—I am so grateful for my happy life here with my horses and family (not to mention my garden and other critters)—words can’t express it. I hope you all have much to be grateful for, too.
And for those who are already embarked on Xmas shopping (black Friday and all that), I would like to point out that the first two novels in my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy are currently on sale as Kindle editions for 99 cents each. For just shy of two dollars you can give a fun Xmas present to anyone who likes horses, mysteries and reading on Kindle. Or you can give them to yourself to enliven the darker days of winter. Here is the link to Cutter, the first book, set against a background of western ranches and cutting horses, and Hoofprints, the second book, which revolves around murder in the world of professional trainers and reined cowhorses. Come take a peak at the western cowhorse world where I have spent my horse time.
Cheers--Laura


PS For those who prefer to read "physical" books, I'm thinking to have a giveaway. If you're interested, leave a comment to let me know. I'm never sure how many folks prefer "real" books to digital.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Better than the Dream - part 2

Two weeks ago I left everyone with the tease that Uiver and I competed in the USDF Region 7 Prix St. George Open Championships. Needless to say, simply qualifying for these championships was beyond my wildest dreams, let alone being competitive in that company.


 Being in California, competing in the open division means riding against some exceptional riders and horses. Anyone who makes even a small amount of money by training or teaching must compete in the open division rather than as an adult amateur. I have often joked that there needs to a new division for riders like me who do train professionally but aren’t amazingly gifted as the likes of Steffen Peters, Guenther Seidel, Jan Ebeling and David Blake to name a few, or for those without large budgets to purchase horses with mind blowing movement. I call it the Open but not rich and never been to the Olympics or Gladstone division.
But off to championships Uiver and I went anyway with only the hope to maybe place in the top 15 out of classes with up to 30 riders entered. Uiver and I qualified for both the CDS (California Dressage Society) and the USDF (United States Dressage Federation) championship classes. We entered a “warm-up” class for Thursday and the CDS class Friday and the USDF class on Saturday.
The week before champs I contemplated whether or not I should body shave Uiver and decided not to because his coat was not that heavy yet and he would lose some of his beautiful mahogany color. This would be a decision of vanity that I would come to regret. It is common for we in Southern California to body shave in the Fall/Winter because our relatively mild winters make our horse’s winter coats a huge hassle and a problem with them overheating when worked. The championships were the first week of October, still a little early to shave, and I thought that because the weather was cooler and Uiver had not gotten that furry, that I would be able to put off shaving until November.

  Of course, as luck would have it, we had a heat wave the week of championships with temperatures in the mid 90s on Thursday and Friday and of course all my ride times were in the heat of the day. On Thursday both Uiver and I were a bit distracted by the immense activity and the enormity of the show (over 300 horses entered). As a result, our warm-up took a little bit longer than normal and by the time we were half way through out test, poor Uiver completely ran out of gas. He gave me all he had but the second half of the test lacked energy and we barely pulled out the tempi changes. I could not be upset with him, he was simply exhausted and it was his stupid mother who warmed him up too long. Our score was one of our lowest of the season at a 59.8. Now all the scores for the entire show across the board were relatively low I think in part, because everyone was suffering through the hot weather and because the judging standards were high because it was the championships.

David Blake, my trainer, and I later strategized for the CDS class the next day and decided that Uiver knew his job and that we would do the test with only about 15 minutes warm up so not to wear him out in the heat. The strategy was a success, and even though it was not one of our best, the test was much better and we reached out goal of at least being in the middle of the pack, finishing 11th with a score of 63.3.

So we continued with the same plan for warm-up the next day. What needed to be different though was the way I rode the test. Uiver and I are a true partnership and that includes both being green to this level of dressage. Because of this we both lack the miles of experience needed to be 100% confirmed and confident in the movements, especially the pirouettes (both walk & canter) and the tempi changes. If Uiver was going to do the test without taking the time to practice the movements in warm-up, I needed to more clearly and confidently guide him through the movements in the test.

In our hotel room later that night, my sister Marta and I talked about the show. I have been competing for many years in several different disciplines and have often been my own worst enemy mentally when it comes down to the biggest shows. I get both intimidated and awed when in the “big boy pool” and sometimes get so lost in feeling lucky to be at the big shows that I don’t really compete when I do get there. My sister said “You do deserve to be in this company you know, you just need to remember that when you are in the arena.” My other sister Christi had told be a few weeks earlier that I always need to remember that the “pure joy of the partnership” is why I ride in the first place. And David said “You know Terri, it is OK to want to win.”

I took all of these pearls of wisdom into the ring with me and I rode Uiver with more confidence and forethought then ever before. The result was a mistake free test and a score of 67.5. I was the first ride (at 1:15) in the class of 30 riders and had to wait through nearly 5 hours of rides to see how I faired (the last ride was at 6:00 p.m.). I remained in first until the second half of the class and remained in second until the last 4 rides. At the end of the day, literally, Uiver and I ended up 4th and needed to get tacked up for the awards ceremony which would be at 8:00 p.m. in the indoor arena. Although incredibly excited I was equally unsure of how Uiver would react to the lights, audience and applause in the indoor not to mention the large ribbon on his bridle. Well we were going to find out.

Although quite animated, Uiver was a perfect gentlemen and I think he even enjoyed all the attention. Me?. I was giddy beyond control and as you can see by the photo, was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. It was a great evening and I still smile when I think of it.

Uiver and I have now moved up to Intermediare 1 and our debut was just this past weekend at the first show of the 2013 show season. It was a small recognized show, the perfect venue for our first go at I 1. Like it seems everything else with Uiver, the show went better than my wildest expectations. The leap from Prix St. George to Intermediare 1 is a significant one the the introduction of full canter pirouettes, tempi changes every 2nd stride and even a medium trot to walk transition. Our tests were not mistake free but pretty fluid with respectable scores of a 63.8 and a 67.5 which won the classes both days. Not bad for our first go at it. Now comes the challenge of I1 at a bigger show and then perhaps a CDI (Concours Dressage International) later in 2013.


Uiver with one ear on David cheering in the stands

As far as I am concerned it is all a lot of icing on top of a very big beautiful equine cake named Uiver and I am a very blessed and lucky girl.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Deadlines!

Deadlines help drive me. They also drive me insane. Like most Americans, I am too busy.  I love being busy doing the things I love until I have a tight deadline, and then my stress level starts rising.  I have gotten better at handling the stress, but I often wish I would stop and smell the roses--or in this season--stop and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and leaves.

I finished my novel, Darling: Mercy Dog of World War I, on time and immediately dove into an outline for an American Girl. The college semester is coming to an end, which means final papers and work to edit and 'grade'. The holiday shoppers are ratcheting up their spending, which means Ebay items need to be posted and the booths need to be stocked. Plus kids and family are coming for the holidays.  So what do I do to make life easier? I rent a third booth in downtown Staunton in the middle of the madness, which needs to be decorated and filled before Thanksgiving!

Why do I/we add to our crazy lives? I know from other posts (Linda and Michelle's recent ones come to mind) that I am not the only one who does this to my/herself.  And I can't blame it on the husband or the kids. It's all my own doing!  Interspersed in the madness are long walks with the dogs, caring for the horses and 'picking' at auctions and yard sales, which help recharge me.  But I know right now I have taken on too much because the piles of items to be washed and cataloged are tipping over, the stacks of unorganized notes on the American Girl are scattered on the floor, the horses' coats are caked with mud, and I missed the deadline for this post. All are undeniable evidence that I can't ignore -- I am losing it.

Stop and enjoy the leaves before winter is here in full-force, I tell myself. Only Ziggy rolled in something horrible, the salt and pepper shakers need to go in the booth, and Mom is coming for dinner. Alas, the leaves may be on the ground before I finally take a deep breath, and I will have missed their beauty.

Do you drive yourself, too?  And how do you stop? I need some suggestions!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post from Author Aarene Storms--Introducing her New Book, Endurance 101


by Laura Crum

            Today we have something new for you. Though we mostly concentrate on fiction here, today’s post features a wonderfully entertaining non-fiction guide to the sport of endurance riding, written by one of my favorite writers, Aarene Storms. Many of you know Aarene, from reading her blog, Haiku Farm, listed on the sidebar. For those who don’t, Aarene has spent almost fifteen years devoting herself to the sport of endurance riding, completing many fifty mile rides on her sensible Standardbred mare, Fiddle (and previous to Fiddle, on a rather hot-headed Arab named Toad and an “opinionated”—to quote Aarene—Standardbred named Story).
            As I can attest from my years of trying to “break into” the cutting horse world without an experienced friend/mentor, trying to get started in an unfamiliar horse sport can be intimidating and can seem overwhelming. How I wish I had had a book like this one. Endurance 101 provides the perfect mixture of experienced advice and information, geared to the person who has always wanted to try endurance, but just doesn’t know how to go about it, as well as plenty of helpful tips for those who are already embarked on the sport.
            So for those of you who have wondered what it would be like to try endurance, and those who have a burning desire to pursue this sport, and even those who are just curious, here is the book for you. Aarene is a lovely writer, and besides, she is very funny. (I just love the Bad Idea Fairy and her horse “Hold My Beer and Watch This”). Even more than all this, she is an awesome horsewoman, who knows whereof she speaks.
            May I introduce Aarene Storms and her good mare Fiddle, pulsing down (almost instantly) after completing the 50 mile Renegade Rendezvous Ride in 2011.



            Aarene and Fiddle doing dressage (they are multi-talented, as you see).


            And now Arene will introduce you to the Bad Idea Fairy (keep your distance) and her new book. Congratulations, Aarene!

 Before I tell you about my book, I want to tell you about the Bad Idea Fairy.

Maybe you’ve never heard of the Bad Idea Fairy, but I’m sure you recognize when she’s been around, clonking people with her magic Bad Idea Fairy wand.  Why else would perfectly sensible people do perfectly dumb things like try to take a close-up picture of a bear cub?

Have you ever gone riding with the Bad Idea Fairy?  She’s the one who always knows a “shortcut” to the trailhead that ends up as a dead end on a mountainside.  She’s the one that insists that the horse’s shoe isn’t that loose, or that the thunderstorm isn’t that close to the trail you were intending to ride, or that the growling dog chasing you doesn’t look that dangerous.

See?  I knew you’d recognize her.

The Bad Idea Fairy and her friends provided much of the inspiration for my book Endurance 101: a gentle guide to the sport of long-distance riding.  In more than a decade of riding endurance, I’ve seen the Bad Idea Fairy many, many times.   Sometimes, she flutters right above the heads of experienced riders who usually make good choices but occasionally goof up and make a bad one.  Usually, however, I see the Bad Idea Fairy hovering over the heads of riders who are new to the sport, and who don’t have a lot of experience and practice at keeping her away. 

Even riders who are very skilled at other equestrian disciplines like dressage or team penning or stadium jumping or riding in the wilderness can sometimes get sucked into a Bad Idea Fairy plan.  Endurance 101 was written partly as Bad Idea Fairy Repellent.   The book won’t make you immune to dumb ideas, but it’s designed to give you enough information so that you will recognize a Bad Idea when you see it flying towards you on the endurance trail.

The book is also written to inspire you to try something really challenging and really rewarding:  spending a long day on a long trail with your horse. 

Some folks ride with friends, others prefer going solo.  The trails traverse rolling hills, mountains, deserts, and some of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the world.  There are veterinary checkpoints along the way, where horses are evaluated and given a chance to eat, drink, and rest before heading back out, refreshed and ready, onto the trail. 

You can do this sport.  This book can help you.  The book makes some suggestions about choosing a suitable mount and suitable gear, but the most important part of  the equation is you, the rider.  If you like a challenge that will leave you tired, dirty, hungry, and SMILING, then endurance might be the sport for you.

And if you want to ride endurance, read Endurance 101 first. 

And, guess what?  The e-book edition is on sale  right now! 

Send an email to:   release      AT     Endurance-101    DOT com, and we’ll send you a discount code for 20% off the (already low) purchase price. 

Because saving your money so you can buy more carrots for your horse is a really Good Idea.


            

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Pony called Lightning

by Linda Benson

Ponies in general get a bad rap, don't you think? Many of them, clever and mischievous by nature and too small for an adult to ride, never receive enough training to become solid citizens.

But Laura's post about her son's pony called Toby got me to thinking about a wonderful pony who came to us by chance, when my daughter was young.



I was a single mother at the time, living on a rural property where I had a small saddle shop behind my house. I also sold a horse or two, from time to time, to help with the rent and the groceries. We always had something to ride, but my daughter did not have a horse to call her own.

A neighbor phoned, asking if I knew anyone that was missing a little silver dappled pony that had just walked up her driveway. He was visiting with her two horses out back, and so she turned him in with them, so he wouldn't run loose all over the place.

Although a horse or pony getting loose (and other horse people catching them up) is not particularly strange, what was different about this pony is that no owner was ever found. After my friend went through the appropriate channels looking for an owner (animal control, feed stores, newspaper) she finally admitted she had no use for the pony, and did my daughter want it?

So the pony was walked down the road to our house, where my daughter tied it to a tree in the backyard and began to brush the little gelding. He stood probably only 11 hands, and after passing all the tests for gentleness, we progressed to saddling him, bridling him, leading her around, and eventually, turning over the reins to her. I expected him to be a typical little balking pony, who'd amount to nothing more than a lead-line mount. Surprise, surprise. This pony was broke to death!



This little gelding walked, trotted, and even cantered at my daughter's first cue. He stopped immediately for her, neck-reined like a pro, and the huge grin on my daughter's face as she put him through these paces was priceless. Here was a broke little horse, her own size, that did exactly what she asked! She was so proud!

I can't imagine who ever took the time to train a pony like this, and why no one was missing him. A person could search and search for just such an animal, and have a desperate time finding one. To a single mother, struggling to make ends meet, this was a gift from the heavens.

To make the deal legal, I think we paid my friend $50 for this pony, which my daughter promptly named Lightning. As you can see from the pictures, we eventually trusted the little guy to ride double, bareback (no, we never had helmets back then) and my daughter gained more confidence from that priceless little pony than you can ever imagine.

Now, my daughter is a beautiful young woman, who will compete in her very first endurance ride this Saturday. But we will never forget the story of the little pony who simply walked up the driveway one day. LIGHTNING!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sold


                                                            by Laura Crum

            So not too long ago I posted about my friend Wally selling a black horse named Coal. I had mixed feelings about this—here is the link to that blog post. Last week I heard that Coal has sold—to a good home. And yet, I still have mixed feelings. Maybe this is just my problem—I’d like to put my thoughts out there and see if anyone else has some insights.
            Coal was/is a pretty horse, with lovely smooth gaits and overall good manners. Wally bought the horse as a backup rope horse, but Coal wasn’t a very good rope horse, and he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. I thought of using Coal as a backup trail horse, but the horse absolutely hated walking downhill (to the degree I wondered if he was truly sound, though he appeared 100 percent sound on level ground), and all our trails are hilly, not to mention I didn’t have an extra corral to put him in. So we all agreed that our friend Mark, a young trainer/horse trader, who had been keeping Coal, could sell the 11 year old gelding, with the stipulation that it must be to a good, appropriate, home. Not as a rope horse. Not as a trail horse in hilly country. Hopefully to a forever home.
            I don’t have many photos of Coal, and, as a black horse, he was/is hard to photograph. But here is a shot of Coal and Mark bringing the roping cattle up the alley along with my son and Henry.



            So Mark sold Coal to a woman in her sixties who has six retired horses—due to age or injury-- and wanted one she could ride. Just a sound, gentle horse. She lives in California’s central valley, where everything is flat, so no hills. She just wanted a walk/trot lope arena horse. She has a beautiful horse facility; all her horses are given the best of care. She fell in love with Coal, who is certainly as nice a walk/trot/lope horse as anybody could ask for. And Coal passed the vet check—which inclines me to think that he just doesn’t LIKE walking downhill, and doesn’t have soundness issues. The X-rays showed no incipient problems. Before this gal even hauled the horse home, she insured him for medical. She readily agreed that we had the right to buy him back if she sold him. But she has never sold a horse. Coal has a stall with an attached 100 foot run. There is pasture turnout. Does this sound like a good home or what?
            But…despite the fact that this is obviously a good, loving owner, she is not a particularly knowledgeable horse person. And Coal, though well broke, has his “stuff” as all horses do. He is a bit cinchy and inclined to make faces when cinched, and to crowhopping when kicked up to the lope after time off. He couldn’t/wouldn’t buck anyone off, but he will hump his back and do those little dolphin bucks. He will spook occasionally. Mark says he gets grouchy if he isn’t ridden regularly. And Coal, by my own observation, though a polite horse, is not a particularly friendly horse. This all fits easily within my own definition of a gentle, broke horse, but then I think of my horse, Sunny.
            Mark was the one who bought Sunny from a rope horse trader, maybe eight years ago now. Sunny was cute and gentle and well-mannered. He was not, however, a very good rope horse. Too slow, not handy enough. Mark tested the horse on the arena and the trail, and thought he was absolutely a solid, bombproof trail horse/riding horse, and that this would be a better life for him than being a team roping horse. (I saw Sunny during the two week period Mark owned him, and can attest to the truth of all this.)
            So Mark sold Sunny to what seemed like an ideal home. A fairly experienced horsewoman, with several riding horses that she’d owned for years, who trail rode a lot, and dabbled in dressage, bought Sunny as a riding horse for her daughter and a backup trail horse in general. And to begin with, this woman loved Sunny. She thought he was perfect. But over the three year period that she owned him, the horse developed some bad habits. He kicked her daughter. He kicked her farrier. He tried to kick a friend that was tacking him up for a ride. He wasn’t always easy to load in the trailer any more. He didn’t behave very well (gate sour) in the arena, though he was still reliable on the trails. Etc, etc, etc.
            Eventually she decided to sell him. At the time, I was looking for a replacement/backup for my son’s pony, Toby, because Toby’s cancer had reoccurred and I knew the pony’s days might be numbered. (See my post on Toby here.) I remembered Sunny as a really nice little riding horse and went to try him. Well…
            The horse that I tried that day was a far cry from the well broke little gelding I’d seen three years ago. The gal had been riding him English, and all you English riders will probably yell at me, but from my point of view, the owner had taught him to pull relentlessly on the bit (I’m sure you don’t all do this). The horse had always been lazy, but now he felt reluctant, he bulled into the bridle, and he pulled hard toward the gate. The woman assured me I’d like Sunny a lot more on the trail, but I was looking for a riding horse for my son, and Sunny was far too much of a bully in his present form to be any good for a six year old kid. I turned him down.
            But I couldn’t forget the cute little palomino horse. I bought the MUCH better behaved Henry for my son, and we started trail riding together. But my horse, Plumber, let me know he didn’t care to walk down steep hills any more (just like Coal). Plumber was 20, and had been my riding horse for many years—I decided to honor his wishes, and not insist on using him as a trail horse. And I remembered Sunny.
            It was now nine months since I had tried Sunny and rejected him. In the interim the horse had been for sale. Many people had tried him. Nobody bought him. Mark had actually tried him for a client. When Sunny tried to kick Mark as he loaded the horse in the trailer, Mark rejected him, too. “That gal has him completely spoiled,” he said.
            But I wanted a steady trail horse and I believed Sunny was that. I took him on trial. And yes, he had some bad habits. I had to be pretty firm with him. Here is my post about how I retrained Sunny.
            You can see that I had to use some pretty “tough love.” But today Sunny is back to being a reliable riding horse, and is, as everybody agrees, once again a pleasure to be around. I really do love him and I think he is fond of me (see my post, “Love…and an Ordinary Horse”). But if I (or someone equally competent) hadn’t bought him, I have no doubt he would still be “Small Nasty,” as my friend Wally called him. A once nice horse that had been spoiled such that he was a bully. A horse nobody wanted. And I have to admit that I am worried about this happening to Coal.
            Coal and Sunny are, of course, very different personalities. Even so, I can imagine that if Coal’s slight cinchiness intimidated his rider, that behavior might escalate. And it is SO much harder to retrain a horse out of “bullying” behavior than just to not allow it in the first place. And this is the pitfall in selling a horse, even a well trained horse, to anything less than a competent horseman.
            I know, I know, I need to hope/trust it will all go well. And I do. I hope it works out wonderfully. I remember the horses I have sold or placed in good homes, and some of these were not competent horse people, but they are still giving the horses a good life (some of these horses don’t get ridden very often—but I think the horses are happy). I know I am not always the best home for a horse—some horses that I have placed have a much better life than they would have had with me—I really only have time to exercise one horse, and right now Sunny is that horse. But still…I can’t help the nagging worry. I want Coal to have every bit as happy a life as Sunny has today.


            So, anybody have any thoughts on how horses do with less than experienced horse people for owners? I am hoping that we did Coal a favor…what do you think?

            Also, in book news—this is the last week to get my most recent mystery, Barnstorming, as a Kindle edition for $2.99. After Nov 15th, the publisher will raise the price back to $9.99 or something like that—much higher than it is now. I don’t know if the price will get reduced again, so now is the time to buy this one if you want to read the whole twelve book series on Kindle. Here is the link.

            And on a related note, the first two books in the series, Cutter and Hoofprints, are currently on special for a mere 99 cents each. Click on the titles if you’re interested.