Wednesday, January 29, 2014


                                                           by Laura Crum

            I’ve been sick. Yucky bug which went to my lungs and then lit up my asthma. And suddenly walking down to the barn to feed the horses is overwhelming, not to mention sleeping at night is impossible…etc. This has been going on for over a week now, not counting the two weeks I was “kind of” sick with the cough/cold bug, BEFORE it turned into an asthma attack.
            I know, you’re all thinking yeah, yeah, yeah, we all go through it, why are you whining? And the truth is, I’m not really wanting to whine. I’m wanting to talk about the benefits of downtime.
            For a week now I’ve been forced to stay home and rest. My husband and son have been feeding the horses for me. I’m not doing much of anything but puttering around looking at things. And reading. And writing. And you know what? I really like it.
            I have time to drink a cup of tea and watch a sunrise from start to finish.

            I have time to watch a buck wander around behind my house.

            I have time…I think that in itself is a huge gift. People spend big money to vacation at some cute little cabin and just relax. I don’t need to pay a cent. I just need an excuse to stop being so busy with “doing.” And this being sick is the perfect excuse. I have time to sit on the porch in the sun.

            I finally finished an essay that I started six months ago concerning the insights I’ve had about life…etc. And yes, this was an ambitious piece and I’m beyond thrilled that I finally just sat down and finished it. And I’ve been able to process some of the difficult things that have happened lately and see them a little more clearly. I’ve gotten a lot of truth about what is important to me and what is not. I’m actually quite happy to be in this mode—I wouldn’t mind if it lasted another week.
            Yes, I miss riding. But after many, many years of riding non-stop, I can take a break. I can stop and smell the flowers (metaphorically, anyway--there aren't many actual flowers in the garden at this point) and not worry about what I’m NOT getting done. This would have been much harder for me in my 20’s and 30’s. But in my 50’s, I see life a little differently.
            I’ll tell you one thing I don’t miss. Being out in the world dealing with people. My best friends come by to see me and we talk, my husband and son are here with me. I really don’t miss interacting with the world of people in general. I watch my horses and I watch the wild animals and you know, it’s a lovely world right here. The last six months have taught me some big lessons. I will never be so trusting with people again. It is only too sadly true that some will pretend to be your friend and turn against you as soon as they perceive it to be in their own best interests to do so.
            And so I am taking some time to rest and heal and be a peaceful hermit. There is always much here to delight me, and my horses and other animals are all doing well. Sunny is a bit bored and gallops up and down his corral at feeding time as if to tell me, “Look, I’m ready to do something.” But the other horses seem content.
            And then there is the magical world of the greenhouse. The greenhouse is my husband’s project. He always wanted a greenhouse of his own (he makes his living growing plants and so has spent many, many hours in greenhouses), and last year we made it happen. By early December the greenhouse was here.

            I didn’t originally have a lot of interest in the greenhouse—I thought of it as Andy’s deal. But over the two months it has been here, I have grown very fond of it. It is beautiful and full of life and my husband and son have so many interesting projects they are doing together there.

            My son’s hydroponics project—which is providing us with salad every night.

Growing food is becoming a huge passion for our family. We have been very interested in growing our own food for many years. We raise our own grassfed beef, we have a veggie garden and fruit trees and chickens for eggs. Growing your own food connects you to the “real” world in a way that I can’t really explain; those who do it will understand. It is a little like owning and riding horses. It connects us to something deep in our human selves that is connected to the natural world that we truly live in. It helps us feel a part of what is, rather than separate. Not to mention it is good for us and good for the planet. We relate to life very differently when we grow our own food rather than going to the grocery store and buying it.
            So yeah, we are loving growing even more of our own food. Basil, cucumber and strawberry plants in the greenhouse.

            My husband’s seedling beds.

            Finally, I’m going to build a pool. This may not be of much interest to you dedicated horse people, but I have been just as interested in my garden as I am in my horses for many years. And my current passionate dream is to build a small rocky pool. Planning the pool gives me many happy hours of imaginative thinking, and I have many books on the subject—I haunt the websites of some fine designers of garden pools.
            So yes, I am sick, I’m not doing much with my horses currently, I’m still processing some shitty experiences I had in 2013. But overall I’m enjoying the magical world I live in right here, and planning the next cool thing I want to do. So you know, life IS good. Despite my being sick.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A January Full of Snow!

Like most horse people this winter (except for those fortunate souls in CA or FL) I have been dealing with frigid weather, snow and animals. Fortunately, Bell and Relish have thick fur, a roomy, dry run-in shed, and a huge pasture with a stream that never freezes. Call that LUCKY because frozen hoses and water troughs are miserable when you're working outside in five below wind and snow.
The only problem has been packed hooves, but since they are not the types to run and play in the snow, it doesn't appear to bother them.  And unlike cattle, they continue to paw at the covered grass and graze.

The little dogs are not so happy. We plowed the drive and I shoveled a path into the woods so they can run in and do their business. But their tiny paws stick to the ice and gravel and they shiver despite their coats. It's comical watching them shake their feet as they try and walk, but I know how miserable they are, so I  try not to laugh. They've gotten the idea to do their "good boy" jobs quickly and scoot back into the house. Even the cat, Chuck, with his glossy, dense coat has spent most of his time inside.

I have missed my long walks each day, but I know that warmer weather will be here soon and we will get back in the habit. Meanwhile there are so many indoor jobs that I am tackling including the proposal for the yet to be named book about dogs working in the coal mines.  What's weird is I am not teaching this semester due to low enrollment at the community college. NO PAYCHECK. Yet I must have needed a break since I am not missing it.

How are you surviving the snow and cold?  I love this sculpture that someone more talented than I created. Hopefully, I can start at least one of the craft projects I have been dreaming about using vintage items like Scrabble tiles and an old framed screen. Not nearly as wonderful as the horse sculpture, but fun.

I'd love to hear about trials and tribulations and how ya'll are surviving your own weather!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's Possible That I'm Terrible at Naming Horses

by Natalie Keller Reinert

This is not the blog post I set out to write this morning.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure what I was going to write. I think it was something about how I'm terrible at naming books. That's mainly because I've been editing my forthcoming novel, about a three-day-eventing rider, and I feel like the title is a terrible mistake in this age of Google and online searching and accidental anonymity through uncreative titles. (The title is Ambition, by the way, which sums the book up perfectly, so if anyone would like to comment on that, your thoughts are welcome.)

But it somehow morphed into a post on naming horses, and the realization that as bad as I am at naming books, I might be worse at naming horses. I might have the worst taste imaginable. Possibly.

Read on, fearless equestrians, and tell me what you think.

It feels like this great, grand responsibility, granting a name to a horse. And in a way, it is -- especially if you subscribe to the superstitious belief that changing a horse's name is bad luck. I definitely agree with that superstition, as long as the name isn't too stupid.

But on another level (also, possibly, spiritual in nature) I've always had this grand idea that you're  bestowing an identity on an animal for the rest of his or her life. Be it grand, or be it comical.

It's always a wonder to me when a horse with a name like Cocoz Lil Zipper or DivorceLawyerWins or something horrid like that wins a race. I think "Wow, horse, way to overcome the total lack of self-respect you've been awarded by whoever named you." And then I think of a much better, more high-minded, literary/lyrical/literal name that I would have granted that brave, persevering horse, had I but been given the opportunity.

Princessforaday, Dayjur-Gallapiatsprincess. My husband named her.  

And then, in research for this blog post (yes, "research"), I was glancing down a 2008 entry at New York Times' horseracing blog, The Rail. The 500 worst-named racehorses of all time! This is perfect. I'm scrolling through, chuckling, shaking my head, and then...

I see it.

My favorite racehorse name of all time. 

I Died Laughing.


Oh, the heartbreak.

I Died Laughing was a 2000 bay filly by Montbrook and out of Regal Ties, by Regal and Royal, according to When I was frequenting the pavilion at Ocala Breeders' Sales back in my Florida days, I Died Laughing's name was one of those Florida-bred regulars in the catalogs, showing up time and time again in different listings and sales.

So obviously, I Died Laughing's name had zero-zip-nada to do with her breeding, but I didn't care. I loved it. I said it aloud. I giggled. I pointed it out to people. Her name it's so awesome.

(My husband agreed. My husband humors me, though. I know this.)

I began to think a little more deeply about my taste in racehorse names. And another favorite came to mind: Enjoy the Silence. Another broodmare regular, her foals going through the sales at various ages, I fell in love with her from afar. When she finally went through the sale herself, I hurried to the walking ring to see her. At last! Enjoy the Silence! I'd been loving her in print for years, now I would see her in the flesh.

And she was a chestnut.

And, I mean, I love chestnuts. So much. But her name was Enjoy the Silence. That's an awesome Depeche Mode song. Obviously she would be black, or at least dark bay, and she would look around the walking ring with an air of haughty disapproval, as if all of us humans in our stupid uniforms of blue jeans and polo shirts with our logos embroidered on the chest and our stallion-show baseball caps were the lowest of the low.

But she really just looked like the nicest ol' broodie you ever saw in your life.

Which probably shouldn't have been a come-down, but it was, after all I had built up in my mind for a mare called Enjoy the Silence.

So maybe it doesn't matter what a horse's name is. Maybe I've been wrong all these years, with my high-minded notions and superstitious suspicions about the value of a name. After all, of my two favorite names, one is apparently the worst name ever and the other gave me a completely mistaken idea of what the horse was actually like.

Or maybe I'm just terrible at horse names.

It's possible.

So here is a little exercise for you. Here are several names of horses from my books. Which ones do you like? Which ones don't you like? And what, in your opinion, makes for a great horse name?

Can't wait to see what you think on this one! (And if you like, I'll tell you where the inspiration for the name came from.)

A few racehorse names from "The Head and Not The Heart," "Other People's Horses," and "Claiming Christmas":

-Luna Park
-The Tiger Prince
-Virtue and Vice
-Idle Hour
-Personal Best

And here's that list of the worst-named racehorses of all time.  "I'm Ugly But Fast" really does belong on the list.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Changes and Sadness

                                                by Laura Crum

            We went for a ride in the woods the other day. It is mid-January and much that we saw was dry and dusty. This is unheard of for this time of year. The central coast of California is in the grip of a huge drought. In 56 years of living here, I have never seen a January quite like this. So this is one big change.
            Looking on the bright side of this change, the footing is perfect. No mud. Nothing is slippery. We can do any ride we care to do.
            We decided to ride our usual two hour through-the-forest loop backward. Trails look so different when you ride them in the opposite direction. It would be like a whole new ride. This would be a change, too. Off we went, down the steep hill that we usually ride up, and across the creek.
Henry is such a good horse—the very best.

            Henry will be 26 years old this spring. He’s still going well, but I have cut back on the work he is asked to do. On this ride I noticed for the first time that Henry was a little reluctant to climb the steeper hills. (There are no big hills on this ride, just some short bits of up and down.) I paid attention and on the climbs Henry is stepping short on the right hind. He’s fine on level ground. I’m pretty sure his hock is bothering him. To be frank, it’s a miracle his hocks haven’t bothered him before this. Older QH rope horses almost always have a touch of bone spavin. I will keep a good eye on Henry and we may avoid steep climbs from here on. Another change.
            Though I am accepting that Henry can’t go on forever as a riding horse, it makes me sad to acknowledge that this part of our lives is coming slowly but steadily to an end. My son and I are still riding together on Henry and Sunny, and both horses have been a total blessing. But Henry IS 26. The change is coming.
            We rode through the forest. I snapped a few photos as we moved along. All of them turned out blurry, but you can see how pretty the forest is. It was 70 degrees—just like a summer ride. Lovely under the trees.

            Here we go through what feels like a doorway between two big redwood trees. It’s neat.

            And then I got lost. I know, sounds idiotic. Lost on a two hour ride I’ve done dozens of times before. Sort of like Gilligan’s Island (this really dates me). And I wasn’t truly, exactly lost. I just took a wrong turn and we didn’t end up riding our usual loop backward after all. It’s surprising how different a trail looks when you ride it in the opposite direction. But we found our way back to the truck and trailer eventually and saw some pretty things along the way. Reflections of redwoods seen through Sunny’s ears…

            Everything is changing, all the time. “Change is the very most natural thing,” in the words of Jerry Jeff Walker. A lot of the time things seem stable and we don’t notice the changing. But sometimes things seem to change suddenly, all around us. Like my 13 year old son, who, in one year, is no longer a little boy. And there have been several other changes in our life as a family, all in the past six months. On the surface, some of these changes are not so positive. And yet, maybe it just depends on how you look at it.
            This drought we are currently going through here in coastal California looks like a pretty darn negative thing. But we sure have had some lovely days…and some lovely rides. Can’t help but enjoy this 70 degree weather.
            Henry may be getting near to the end of his time as a riding horse. But he has given us SO much. From when my kid was just turned 7 until now at 13 and 1/2 years old, my son has ridden this good red horse everywhere, and never had one bad experience. How wonderful is that? Wonderful enough to balance some inevitable sadness of loss, I believe. Those good rides will forever be a part of us.

These last few months we have had our fair share of change and sadness. Some people we care about have had some very difficult and unavoidable problems, and some other people we know and thought were our friends have turned out not to be our friends. These things are true and they do make me sad when I think about them.
But my son gave me a hummingbird feeder for Xmas that is made out of an antique ruby red glass bottle. It is beautiful and the hummers love it. The feeder glows like a jewel in the sunlight and the birds whiz up to it in delight. I can think about the sad things, or I can watch the hummingbirds.

I think I will just keep my eye on the hummingbirds.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Old Horse

                                                by Laura Crum

            They say “old age is not for sissies.” I would add that keeping a very old horse is not for the faint-hearted. It sounds easy enough. Just retire your old friend and let him be a pasture pet until he dies. Simple, right? Well, in theory simple, in practice not quite that simple.
            I have taken care of two of my much-loved retired horses into their mid-thirties. My first forever horse, Burt, died at 35, and my current old boy, Gunner, is 34 this spring. And I am here to tell you that somewhere past 30 both of these horses became quite a bit more challenging to care for. Right now Gunner is doing pretty well, but it’s been a real roller coaster ride for the last year.
            About a year ago, Gunner got down and cast—I think he was down pretty much all night. I found him in the morning at feeding time, trapped in a low spot with his back against the fence. It took us several hours and four strong guys to get him out of the hole and on his feet. He was shocky and in deep distress when we finally got him up, but the vet convinced me he would be fine. It took a month—a month in which Gunner’s appetite slowly returned, and he eventually quit pacing, and I hand walked and grazed him every day-- and yes, about a month later he seemed back to normal. But a month or so after that, he slipped and fell when running around his corral, and limped off. It became clear that he’d tweaked his left knee, and since then that knee has been giving him trouble.
            I had the vet out to look at the knee, we settled on a regime of painkillers, and all seemed well enough. Gunner was no longer sound, he was harder to keep weight on than he had been in past years, but still, he seemed to be doing OK. Here’s a photo from September. Pretty good looking 33 year old horse, yes?

            But a few months ago I came down one morning to feed to find Gunner pacing and uninterested in breakfast. It took me awhile to sort it out, but I concluded that something traumatic had happened—Gunner wasn’t colicked, and he wasn’t obviously injured, and he wasn’t significantly lamer than he had been. But he was in a lot of distress. I thought/think he must have gotten “stuck” down for some part of the night and had managed to get up before I came down to feed.
            I had the vet out, and I was very close to putting Gunner down. But I gave the horse some bute instead, and he looked pretty bright, and I just couldn’t do it. Since then, well, it’s been a challenge.
            Gunner is lame. He has a big left front knee that hurts him. I give him painkillers, and it helps, but he’s still lame. He’s lost weight through this, and though his appetite has improved quite a bit since the last setback, he is still thinner than I would like. His vision and hearing are lousy, he’s hard to handle due both to this and a sort of old horse dementia that I’ve observed in other 30 plus horses, and he’s incredibly spoiled. This is my fault, I know, but I cannot bring myself to reprimand the old guy, so he tugs on the leadrope to let me know where he wants to go, and makes gentle but obvious attempts to push past me when I come to his gate to catch him. I cannot blanket him without a helper to hold him, because as soon as I go round to the back leg straps, he just walks off. He is a spoiled old pet of a horse, for sure. And this has begun to cause a problem.
            I can handle Gunner all right. I know him and he knows me, and though he will push on me because he knows I’m unlikely to reprimand him, he also won’t defy me. His training goes too deep. But his “spoiled” behavior is causing a new and real problem. For the last few months I’ve been getting Gunner out to graze him, and he now thinks it’s his due. He is very resentful if I catch another horse for grazing, rather than him. The last time I got a different horse out to graze, Gunner ran around screaming and bucking (yes, he’ll still run despite being lame) in a temper tantrum fueled by jealousy until he slipped and fell down. I will admit that I screamed “Gunner!” in a panic as my old horse hit the ground. Gunner got up, thank God, and limped off—no lamer than before, I don’t think. But I definitely had enough stress for one day. And I put the other horse away. It’s just not worth it.
            As it so happens, it hasn’t rained this winter—virtually at all. So Gunner is leading a relatively comfortable mud-free life in his big corral. There’s also almost no grass to graze on, so I’m not bothering to get horses out very often—thus no need for Gunner to pitch a fit and fall down again. But it is still a difficult situation. I walk down the hill to feed every day hoping that Gunner will be on his feet and looking OK, and worried that he won’t. I am actually afraid to get another horse out to graze without grazing Gunner first—I don’t need a repeat of the temper tantrum and crash. I have nightmares about the old horse going down and breaking a leg or his neck.
            Gunner is still bright eyed and interested in everything I do, he’s cleaning up his senior feed, he can still eat hay, he hangs out with his favorite buddy horse in the sunshine and looks content. He lies down and rolls pretty much every day—and gets back up again—a little staggery, but successfully (so far). When he feels like it he trots and gallops and spins and bucks. He meets me at his gate every time he sees me coming towards him with a halter, and grazes on what little green grass we have with enthusiasm. But that left knee hurts him despite all the painkillers and it’s slowly getting worse. He shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot sometimes. It kills me to watch him do this.
            I love Gunner from the bottom of my heart, and I will stay the course. He’s going to let me know when he’s ready to let go of his life—I believe this. It is still very hard for me to watch him get stiffer and lamer. I had the vet out to see him just a couple of weeks ago—simply because I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t deceiving myself—that Gunner’s weight really was OK, that he wasn’t so lame that I really ought to put him down. The vet said that he thought Gunner looked great for 34. He told me to up the dose of painkiller past the recommended amount—if it gave the horse ulcers, well, that would be that. So I upped the dose. But Gunner is still lame.
 And I have to say that the endless fussing with diet and meds and the worry and the setbacks, well, it’s not the “fun” part of horsekeeping. At the same time, every time I look into Gunner’s eyes, all the many adventures we’ve had together are brought back to me and present in the moment. I’ve owned this horse since I was 25 and he was 3. We have seen a lot together.

            But I will repeat that keeping a very old horse is not for the faint-hearted. It’s worrisome and time consuming and frustrating and emotionally draining. Even though you love that horse with a whole heart. You agonize over what the best course of action is, you wonder if you are doing right by keeping your old friend going despite the fact that he’s lame. It can also be some of the sweetest moments you have ever spent with a horse—as you rub his neck in the sunshine and he leans his head gently on your shoulder, or rests his muzzle against your cheek. At some deep level you know that the two of you are both—equally and mutually—acknowledging the long bond between you. But its also hard, folks, it’s very hard. Those who want to argue with me must have kept a horse well into his/her thirties. I have mostly had very good luck with horses in their twenties, and my 25 and 26 year old horses are no trouble at all. Somewhere past thirty it gets much more difficult. Or so I’ve found. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

What day is it? Why, it's cover reveal day!

By Gayle Carline
Horse Woman, Mystery Author, and Part-time Ditz

Wait -- what day is this? Saturday? The 11th?

Dang, I got a blog post due!

My husband retired this past November. No, he's not old enough to be thought of as a retiree (only 57), but he put in his years, we've got enough (cross your fingers) savings, so there you are. The problem with his retirement is that I'm losing track of what day it is. I don't have anyone rousing in the morning to trudge to the office, so I wake each morning in a panic, thinking, "Is this Monday? Do I have to be somewhere?"

The biggest news I have to report is that I finally have a cover design for my latest mystery, Murder on the Hoof.

For anyone out there who thinks that self-publishing is a shortcut for people who don't want to spend the quality time seeking out representation, hoping to get a publisher, then sitting back and waiting two years to see their book on the shelves, let me tell you something:

If it is, I'm doing it wrong.

In September, I completed my manuscript. So far, I've edited it myself 5 times, sent it to beta readers and incorporated their comments, sent it to my freelance editor for additional, professional editing, and worked with my cover designer.

Believe it or not, the cover's been the hardest part of this particular book. For some reason, Joe (Felipe, my cover designer whom I adore) and I could not come up with a design that worked. We started the work in November, for Pete's sake, and just kept swapping this for that for the other thing. It was much like getting dressed to go someplace a little more upscale than you usually visit - you put on an outfit, then change the top, then the bottom, then the top again, and so on until you find that combination that works.

When I opened Joe's email this week, I nearly wept. It was soooo good.

Ladies and Gents, I give to you...

Isn't lovely? I still have to write the jacket blurb, but first I have to get my editor's comments folded in. Basically, Willie Adams goes to a horse show to buy her first horse, and finds romance - and danger - instead.

My author's heart is getting really excited. My publisher's heart is saying, "Calm down. We're a long way from a release party."

In the meantime, I hope you all have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Trail Ride Adventure

                                               by Laura Crum

            The other day my son and I found a new bit of trail across the road from our place—a trail that linked our favorite starting spot to a trail that we hadn’t used in a year or so—we call it the ridge trail. We used to have to access the ridge trail by basically sneaking through someone’s backyard, which didn’t ever feel very good, so we quit going that way. But now we had found some trail that led us to the ridge trail through the forest, skirting around the dubious backyard route—a new trail that was obviously created by riders from the local boarding stable. Yay!
            We decided to make a big loop—riding up the ridge trail to the Lookout and coming back by our usual trail. Our friend Wally went with us. We headed up the ridge trail in good spirits, eager to see its particular views again. We had sort of forgotten exactly what this trail was like.
            There are no photos—I never have photos of tough bits of trail because I’m just too busy riding. Maybe you endurance riders would scoff at me calling this tough—though in the endurance blogs I read, I have never seen any photos of trail that is more technical than this—except, of course, for things like Cougar Rock. Let me describe and see what you think.
            The ridge trail is quite steep and runs unrelentingly upward for maybe a quarter of a mile. It is narrow singletrack and follows the spine of a ridge, so there are impressive dropoffs (50-100 feet) on both sides. In some places the trail runs right on the edge—the sort of place where a misstep or a spook could be, uhmm, bad. The brush is dense, and between the dropoffs and the thick brush, there is no possible deviation from the trail. All of this, by itself, is a bit unnerving, but quite doable. The footing is good—sandy ground. The real problem is the step-ups.
            Because there are numerous (like maybe fifteen or twenty) places on this climb where tree roots and erosion have created big “step-ups.” When I was thinking about writing this blog post I asked my husband if I would be exaggerating to say that most of the step-ups were two and a half feet or so. He said they were more like three feet. Now this is really worth mentioning because my husband usually thinks that I exaggerate. So picture two and a half to three foot vertical step-ups all along this very steep trail. It’s daunting. It’s actually very hard to hike on foot (I’ve done this many times).
            Our horses are not trail horse athletes by any means, but they are steady and reliable and they have climbed the ridge trail maybe a hundred times—but not in the last year. The trick is to take the sections with the step-ups at a brisk trot so that the horses can use their momentum to leap up the big “steps.” It is, well, a bit exhilarating.
            Anyway, we headed up the ridge trail, and I will admit that I sort of sucked in my breath when faced with the first very steep section of step-ups. I’d just forgotten how hairy they were. My son said, “This looks pretty scary.” But we kicked our horses and up they scrambled like the good little trail horses they are.
            On and on, up and up, leaping up the step-ups. We stopped halfway to let them breathe and I stared at the next steep section with even bigger step-ups, thinking that this might have been a bad choice of trail. But I didn’t exactly want to go back down. Going down the ridge trail is pure torture. It hurts my back and the horses really don’t like doing it.
            Wally echoed my thoughts. “Have we ever ridden down this steep son of a bitch?” he asked me.
            “Yep. Lots of times. But we quit doing it because we hated it.”
            Wally shook his head. “I don’t ever want to ride down this trail again. Up is tolerable—barely.”
            So on we went. By the time we reached the top of the climb the horses needed another long breather. But we made it, unscathed. I’m not sure whether any of us are game to ride the ridge trail again any time soon, though. I dunno—does this sound like fun to you other trail riders? I have to say that any trail that daunts Wally is a pretty tough trail.
            The rest of the ridge trail beyond the big climb is gentle and uneventful, following the ridge along, until it meets up with the trail that we usually take (and then leads up to the spot at the very highest point of the ridge—what we call “the Lookout.”) Nice views from here.

            We take another trail on the way back, also gentle and pleasant, following a very old road bed, and then, to get home, must take a narrow little singletrack for half a mile, once again on the spine of a ridge, through some dense woods. This trail has no step-ups and is not steep overall (just in a couple of short bits). But the trees are quite tricky.
            The trail weaves in and out between various very solid tree trunks and branches that lean into and over the trail. Narrow and snaky, the singletrack must be adhered to—the slopes on each side are steep and dense with brush. Over and over again I have whacked my knee or shoulder on the oak trees that turn this trail into a pole bending course—with poles that won’t yield. I have learned the technique that works best—send the horse straight forward past the obstacle and then let him turn once your body is past—trying to bend the horse or sidepass away from the tree often backfires.
            Anyway, we make our careful way along this trail until we reached the “headbonker tree.” The headbonker tree (and all of these trails that I am describing) is featured in my 11th and 12th novels, “Going Gone” and “Barnstorming.” This is a very solid branch that hangs over the trail. One must go under; there is no workable way around.
            We have ridden under the headbonker tree literally hundreds of times, but every year it gets harder to do. It is amazing how much an oak grows in girth in just a few years. So after six straight years of riding this trail, this tree is far more challenging to duck under than it was when we started.
            Wally and I may have grown in girth, too, and my son has gotten taller. The horses haven’t shrunk. And so today, for the first time ever, we stopped and dismounted and led our horses under the headbonker tree. There was a mere four inches or so between the top of my saddle horn and this tree branch. And I do have a photo of the headbonker tree—I took it just before I dismounted.

            Ok, we got off, we went under, we got back on, and we descended the rest of the trail, which has one steep little 50 foot chute in loose dirt that the horses sort of slither and slide down, but is otherwise pretty easy. At the bottom of the trail we ride through a little meadow to wait by the side of the busy road that we must cross to get home.
            This is actually the most dangerous part of the ride. The road is very busy—cars zip along at 50 miles an hour or so, with few gaps in the traffic. We have to stand right on the shoulder in order to see. There are city busses and logging trucks, bicycles and motorcycles…you name it, whizzing by not three feet from the horses’ noses. A spook in the wrong direction would be literally fatal. A helmet is not going to be of any help in this situation.
            So we wait and wait by the side of the road, looking for a big gap in the traffic. The horses are flawless--patient, quiet as statues, waiting—even though they are perfectly aware that once across the road they are home again. It is as if they know the need for caution here as well as we do. I’m not sure this is the case, but I am sure that none of them have ever flinched or pranced, or balked in all the hundreds of times we have crossed this road. Either on the way out or the way back. But I still find it nerve-wracking.
            Eventually we cross the road and head back up the hill to my front gate. I pat Sunny on the shoulder and tell him what a good horse he is. My son says,” Well we had a good trail ride adventure today.” And I think he is right.
            So here’s my question to you more intrepid trail riders and endurance folk. Does this sound like a fun little ride to you? Or would you find the obstacles I’m describing to be a negative? I’m curious if maybe I’m just a total wimp.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Meghan Namaste and Training Harry

by Linda Benson

Today, please welcome Meghan Namaste, who recently published a novel called Training Harry, which she describes as a "new equestrian saga for adults."

Training Harry is available right now as an eBook on Amazon, with a print version in the works.

Erica Rimwork is an everygirl, fighting her way up the ranks as a hunter/jumper trainer. She isn’t gorgeous, or highly successful. Perpetually single, she’s focused on her goal - an Olympic show-jumping medal. Or moving out of her parents’ house would be good too.

When she agrees to help out her brother’s friend with a troubled horse, Erica is totally unprepared for what she finds. The friend is Lawrence Cavanaugh, a rogue polo player with intense eyes and tight-fitting jeans. Mind blown, Erica finds herself agreeing to help train his renegade polo pony, Harry. For free. She knows what she’s in for - Harry is a mess, rank, thorny, and maddening. But unlocking the mystery of Harry’s resistance is one thing. Getting the guy is a lot more complicated.

Meghan has provided us with an excerpt from Training Harry, so enjoy:

Lawrence’s place was pretty close by, but off the beaten track. The route veered gradually, taking me away from the prestige and uniformity of my neighborhood. The scenery shifted from white-fenced Thoroughbred palaces to hay fields and small family farms. Lexington’s natural beauty was more evident out here, and I gazed out the window as my truck wound its way through narrow two-lane roads and eventually made the turn onto an unmarked dirt road.

I knew the place where he was living, vaguely. It belonged to a family friend. She’d inherited it when her husband died and it had stood empty for a long while. I guessed Lou had helped hook him up with it.

I pulled in the drive and shut down my vehicle. Looking around, I could see the old stable was still in good shape, wearing the patina of age and slight neglect. There were several paddocks nearby, but no horses were turned out in them. The footing in the outdoor arena had been harrowed recently. But the farmhouse drew me in the most. It was small, just the right size for a person or two, with windows all around. That is a house I could live in.

I climbed out of my truck and slammed the door, piercing the quiet. I heard a horse call out and then the door of the house opened. Before I knew it, Lawrence Cavanaugh was standing in front of me, shaking my hand. "Hi there," he said warmly. "You must be Erica." I nodded like one of those absurd-looking bobbleheads. I couldn't speak. Hell, even breathing was difficult.

He stood no taller than I did, just under six feet. He was lean but not skinny, and he carried himself like a Thoroughbred in the post parade, all taut, controlled, dangerous energy. His hair was jet black and it fell haphazardly around his face, the longest of it ending below his jaw. His eyes were unbelievably dark and so intense that it both thrilled and terrified me to be so close. I tried to comprehend how I had missed him before, when he used to hang out with Lou. Was I blind?

Slowly, I became aware that I was staring at him. I knew I needed to stop, but it seemed an impossibility. Feeling embarrassed, I pulled at a stray thread on my shirt. Don't panic, I told myself. He's probably used to this. All the same, I hated my lack of self control. I could almost hear the seconds go by.

Fortunately, Lawrence threw me a lifeline. "Harry's in his stall. I left him in this morning so as not to waste any of your time. He doesn’t like to be caught."

I smiled gratefully. "That was good thinking. Well, I'll get started with him then."

Almost surprised by my newfound ability to form words, I followed Lawrence to the barn, noting that the back view was as righteous as the front had been. Well, that's not going to help you concentrate, is it?

We stepped through the barn door. My stomach was floating unnaturally with anticipation.

I saw Harry immediately. He was black with a bold white blaze on his face. That was all I could tell at first. He was straining against his stall door, weaving slightly. At the sound of our feet he turned his head and focused on me. The weight in his stare was shocking. There was more behind his eye than there should have been.

I stayed back, watching, as Lawrence clipped a lead to his halter and brought him out. “Meet Harry,” he said.

I could see the potential my brother had spoken of immediately. Harry was athletic and muscled, yet streamlined. His legs and feet were well built and clearly up to the rigors of polo. He stood up as if on tiptoe, poised. The whites of his eyes were prominent, like an Appaloosa. My heart was suddenly very loud in my ears.

We moved Harry to the cross ties so Lawrence could tack him up. Harry stood well for the process, but I could see his mind working overtime.

"So. What kind of problems have you been having with Harry?" I asked, like this was just a normal training gig with a normal owner and a normal horse.

Lawrence stopped what he was doing, a stirrup leather frozen in his hand. His eyes went even darker for a second. “He…” Lawrence seemed to be doing a lot of editing. “He has no work ethic,” he finally said.

“What do you mean?” I needed more information than that.

“Harry could easily go along with what I want. I’m not asking for much, at this stage. But he won’t. He works himself into a lather fighting against me. He’d rather fight himself ragged than walk in a straight line when I ask him to.” Lawrence stared dimly at Harry. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

I walked around to Harry’s near side. “I assume he’s been vetted?”

Lawrence snorted. “Flexed, poked, prodded, x-rayed, scoped by the finest vets in Wellington. He’s had a bone scan, an MRI even. There’s nothing wrong with him.”

I didn’t bother asking about saddle fit. I could see the saddle was a match, and even if it wasn’t, horses are adept at tolerating a little pain. This issue went way deeper. Whatever it was.

Lawrence went to Harry’s head, fastening the noseband and throatlatch. I realized I would have to ride soon. Harry seemed to realize it too. His head came up, and his calm demeanor vanished. Staring at his twitching muscles, I felt my confidence retreating. Lou said he’s not a rogue, I reminded myself. Lou said he’s not a rogue.

Oh, hell, what does Lou know? My brain rebounded. Lou hasn’t even seen the horse!

Lawrence handed Harry's reins to me.

I looked into Harry’s quivering eyeball, then back at Lawrence. He was waiting, ready to take Harry’s reins back. He thought I was going to bail. I turned back to Harry with resolve. He wasn’t any different than the young, fractious ex-racehorses I started all the time. He was smaller, too. I hesitated for a brief moment, then fastened my helmet. "Come on, Harry," I said in my best fake self-assured horse calming voice, "Let's have some fun."

I led Harry to the arena, pulled down the stirrups and mounted up. He stood obediently. Encouraged, I gave him a long rein and brushed him with my leg.

When I got on a new horse, unless they were totally jazzed up and ready to buck, I always gave them a minute to just walk out, and I followed them with my seat and hands, asking nothing. It gave me a chance to get used to their rhythm, and I found it made them more agreeable in the end. Horses didn’t subscribe to the same social standards as people did, true, but it seemed to me that it was rude to jump on a new horse and immediately start demanding things.

Harry did hesitate. I let him have that moment of uncertainty, and then he picked himself up and walked on. His neck was upside-down, and his head floated above the contact I offered. But he walked dead straight.

I patted him, turned him in the other direction, and gave his sides a light squeeze. He burst into the trot, skittering around in a quick tempo. I controlled my posting, lingering in the air each time I rose, and Harry slowed his gait to match the rhythm I’d set for him. Encouraged, I picked up the contact, wrapping my inside leg against him and fluttering the reins, reaching down to touch his neck whenever he softened.

I changed direction a couple times, bending him different ways. Harry was melting, answering me, giving me the power to shape him. That was a big deal for a horse like Harry. But I could see, from the glimpses I caught of his eye as I rode him, that his mind was far from quiet.

             Gently, I brought Harry to a halt. I patted his neck, which wasn't even sweaty. And I looked up from the black curve of Harry’s neck, right into the equally dark and deeply-set eyes of his owner. He was smiling.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Meghan, and best of luck with your new novel. Once again, the Kindle edition of this book is right here:

Happy Reading, everyone, and hope you and your horses are staying snug in the bitter weather many of you are experiencing!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Cautionary Tale

                                                by Laura Crum

            Several years ago my friend Wally bought a pretty black horse that belonged to a roper who needed to sell the horse quickly, due to losing his job and being unable to pay board. Wally knew this horse slightly and believed him to be gentle and a decent heel horse. The horse was said to be nine years old, he was quite sound (we jogged him in circles on the asphalt driveway), and he was priced to sell. So Wally bought him as a backup horse.
            The black horse (named Coal) turned out to have strengths and weaknesses—like all horses. He wasn’t a very good heel horse, and he obviously did not care for being a rope horse. He was, however, a lovely mover and very smooth gaited. He would willingly lope endless circles in a perfect, collected lope and he didn’t seem to mind this at all. He would pack beginners with good grace—in the arena. He wasn’t much of trail horse and acted sulky and reluctant outside and hated walking downhill. After a couple of years of messing around with him, Wally decided the horse didn’t fit him and asked our friend Mark (who is something of a horse trader) to sell the horse for him.
            Wally wanted to do right by Coal and we knew a rope horse home or a trail horse home wouldn’t suit the horse. So Wally asked Mark to try to find a Coal a good “forever” home as a walk/trot/lope arena horse. And truly, Coal was ideal for this.
            How many people out there would like a sound, gentle, eleven year old gelding—very pretty, solid black, very smooth gaited and very solid in the arena? Coal was not a particularly friendly horse—more stand-offish-- but reasonably well-mannered. He would pin his ears when cinched and sometimes made little “dolphin” bucks at the lope when he was fresh. But these were not vices that would bother even a beginner. And Coal would pack beginners patiently—I watched him do it many times.
            So Mark found what he thought was the perfect home for Coal. A middle-aged lady with a lovely horse property who owned five horses that were either too old or too lame to ride. She was keeping all of them for the rest of their lives. She just wanted a horse she could ride in the arena and do very low level dressage. She rode Coal and thought he was perfect. She seemed like the perfect home. Coal was sold and Wally made a nice profit. We all felt good about it. We thought we had done the horse a favor and placed him in a home where he would have a good life.
            The woman kept in touch with Mark and it became clear that she was very timid and even this quite-gentle gelding intimidated her with his ear pinning and occasional crowhop. Mark encouraged her to take lessons on him, which she did, and this seemed to work. She said she was very happy with him and sent photos of the horse at the small dressage shows she attended. Coal looked good. We thought all was well.
            Coal remained with this woman a year or two, but a month ago Mark got a call. The woman said that Coal had bit her and she was now afraid of him—and she wanted to sell him back. Mark agreed to take the horse back. Wally wanted no part of it. And, no matter how much I would like to help every good horse that crosses my path, I have no place to put another horse and no time to ride one. Sunny doesn’t get ridden as much as he should. I simply had to pass.
            So now Mark has Coal and is trying to find another home for him. But…and it’s a BIG but. Coal is not the same horse. He’s pushy and disrespectful and testing the boundaries at all points. Mark (or any other competent horseman) can fix this rather easily. But the horse won’t be truly suitable for a beginner to own…ever again. And this is a very sad thing for the horse’s future.
            This story is very similar to my Sunny horse. A flunked out heel horse (like Coal), gentle for beginners (like Coal), Sunny was sold (by Mark) to be a family horse and to do low level dressage and trail riding with beginners. Three years later the horse was for sale again and I bought him to be my trail horse. I soon found out why he was for sale.
            The previously polite and well-mannered Sunny now offered to kick and nip, balked at loading in the trailer, crow-hopped when annoyed, sulled up when he didn’t want to do something, was hard to catch…etc. He was, in short, very spoiled. I soon cured him of this, and at this point he’s pretty well-mannered again and a pleasant horse to ride and handle. But he hasn’t forgotten. If I do something stupid, Sunny is quick to show me that he will take advantage. He has learned his lesson. If the humans don’t know how to be in charge, the door is open for the horse to take charge. Sunny has not forgotten this. He would not be suitable for a beginner to own—though I could sure put a beginner on him for one ride. But over time it would not work out. Sunny has been effectively ruined for beginners—he is lucky that I came along for him (as I am lucky to own such a reliable trail horse).
            So people, take heed. This has been my single biggest problem placing horses over the years. I send a gentle, reliable horse to a home with well-intentioned people who are, quite frankly, dudes. But they mean well and have the money and the time and the desire to do right by the horse. I encourage them to get skilled help—and they usually try to do this. But the story so often ends like this. Several years later and they are afraid to ride or handle the horse—who now has learned to buffalo the person and is more or less a spoiled monster. Such once-well-broke horses (like my Sunny) are not that hard for a horseman to remind of their manners. But they won’t forget what they have learned from their non-horseman owners. And if they are owned/handled by beginners again, they will be quick to take advantage.
            It’s hard to say what the answer is. Never sell a good horse to dudes? That seems a little extreme. We were all beginners at one time. And beginners really need these solid horses. But this is a very frustrating and extremely common story. Well-intentioned non-horseman can almost be guaranteed to let a horse run over them more than they should allow, and most gentle, solid horses suitable for beginners are that way partly because they are level-headed and tough minded. Such a horse is quick to understand that the owner can’t make him obey, and said owner is constantly giving way to every whim that the horse displays. And soon the horse is a spoiled monster. Such a sad situation—not good for horse or person-- and so very common. Anyone have any thoughts on how to prevent this?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Favorite Moments on a Horse--2013

                                    by Laura Crum

            Happy New Year to all! Here’s hoping 2014 is a banner year for all of us—2013 was a difficult year for many people I know, including me. But there were happy moments, and many of them were on a horse.
            I didn’t ride as much this past year as I have in the previous five years, but I did ride quite a bit, even so. And today I am going to post my favorite riding photos from this year, in order. Right up front I have to say that these photos are largely of my son and his horse, Henry, or of my Sunny’s ears. Because virtually all the riding I did this year was with my son. And truthfully, that is what I really want to remember—the happy hours my boy and I spent together horseback, the year he turned thirteen and his horse turned twenty-five. It’s actually one of my really joyful memories about this year—we kept on riding together on our good horses and saw some lovely things. I’ve tried to pick some pictures that capture that magic (at least a little).
            So here is my son and Henry last January. I like this photo a lot—a boy and his horse in the wild world. I especially like the completely unmarked sand—we were the first people to ride/walk down the empty beach this winter’s day.

            This photo is from the same ride—looking out to sea. A storm was coming in.

            Another beach ride—we took a lot of them last winter/early spring.

            The view from Sunny’s back—I never tire of these lovely views through the ears.

            A favorite thing we did—long trot the horses side by side down the beach. Henry has a very fast, very smooth long trot—Sunny often had to lope to keep up. 

            We rode at home in our riding ring, too.

            Sunny likes to gallop up our driveway from the gate to the house. I usually wear a helmet but my husband wanted to take a picture with my hair blowing, so I took the helmet off for this photo.

           During the summer we gathered cattle at my uncle’s roping arena with friends—many, many times.

            And we rode out my uncle’s back gate into the redwood forest. This dirt road is perfect for long trotting or a good gallop.

            Riding along the ridge.

            I took quite a few solo rides in this magical wood when my son preferred to stay at the roping arena and work cattle.

            We didn’t ride a lot in the fall—due to much schoolwork and other interests (like bike riding). But we did ride, sometimes just exercising the horses here at home. 

            And in December we got out for a few more rides. Here in the redwood forest of Nisene Marks.


            We rode on our local trails up to the Lookout, about a mile from our front gate, where we can see the Monterey Bay (looking towards Santa Cruz).

            Looking towards Monterey.

            Many of our rides included our friend and boarder, Wally, with his horse Twister. Wally is eighty years young and still riding strong. This photo was taken just a few days ago, up on the ridge near our place.

            And finally, today is Sunny and my anniversary. I brought him home six years ago today and we have been a steady, happy trail riding partnership ever since. So glad I made the choice to buy this little yellow horse. We are good together. Happy New Year!