Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Qrac and I at a show in the south of France, September 2015
Qrac turns 12 this year. I can hardly believe it's been five years since my trainer and I moseyed on down to the south of France to look at a seven year-old Lusitano stallion we knew literally nothing about, that someone had suggested we go see. It seems like yesterday that she and I were led down a short, dark corridor housing a collection of Cremelo Lusos with light blue eyes and bright pink noses, our enthusiasm sinking deeper and deeper into our mud-splattered Timberlands. I know that a lot of people love Cremelos, but they just don't do it for me. Just as she and I glanced at each other, simultaneously thinking we'd wasted an entire day travelling, there, right in the very last stable, right at the back, stood a gorgeous black horse with soft, almond-shaped eyes, a beautiful big neck, and a tiny white kissing spot on the tip of his velvety nose. Oh, and he smelt really good, too. Most horses smell good, but I swear that Qracy smells particularly yummy.

They saddled him up, and I got on, and despite him not being anywhere near as advanced in his work as would be expected for a seven-year old, and that riding a super-short backed, mega reactive, uber-wiggly Lusitano felt really strange after having ridden warmbloods all my life, I totally fell in love with Qrac de la Font. 

Five years down the line and I'm still smitten. It hasn't been easy, and we're still not as advanced in our work as we "should be" (say the text books, but text books are, well,  just text books), but we've come a long way since that first drunken zig-zag across the circular walled arena just south of Avignon. I'm tickled that I thought Qracy looked all big and manly back then! Compare  his "then and now" photos and it's hard to imagine they feature the same horse. 

Qrac, January 2016
Qrac, February 2011
I'm probably (alright, make that definitely!) biased, but I think that Qrac has the wow-factor. His massive shoulders and neck are the subject of many a grooming-area conversation while I'm tacking him up. He isn't an easy ride, has a stubborn, macho personality and keeping his attention focused on his work is always going to be an issue. His spins are legendary; he has an insane ability to drop his shoulder and spin left in a mini-fraction of a nano-second when he decides he's had enough. I've got a lot better at controlling his naughtiness and his spins, at sensing he's about to blow just before he blows, but there are times when he still gets me. Everyone who knows horses knows that patience is a virtue when it comes to training, but Qracy has upped my horsey patience virtuousness big time! He get's his knickers in a twist for the silliest things and is always full of surprises. I suppose professional people wouldn't give him high marks for "rideability", and yet while I find his bag of tricks frustrating at times, his monkey antics have also taught me a heck of a lot. Yes, it really is all about the base....of the neck. And that big neck, those big shoulders, that short back and that pesky personality are a constant challenge.

Qrac has more gears than most horses. He has about 47 different trots, yet until a few months ago he didn't have an extended trot at all. Desperation was beginning to set in when, thanks to Irish National Dressage Champion Roland Tong, the amazing trainer I discovered early last year and who now flies to Geneva every month for two-day clinics at my stables, Qrac and I suddenly twigged it. I'll never forget that one magical session last October when Roland had us careering around the arena, yelling at me to "keep going, keep going, I want him to go go go, like a show horse at an auction"!  I was red in the face, sweating like a nobody's business, mortifyingly aware that little Qracy's long legs were whirling away like an uncoordinated can-can dancer on crack, when all of a sudden everything became smooth, powerful and rhythmical. Even the light played a part in that memorable moment; it had been a grey, grumpy-weathered day, and I was riding late in the afternoon. During my lesson the sun came out between clusters of bruised clouds, slipped beneath the level of the roof of the indoor school, spearing us with wild laser beams of golden light. Lights, camera,  action! Yep, it was epic! Ever since, our extended trot has been far more consistent, and I truly believe that Qrac now enjoys showing off his newfound ability. 

The day we twigged the extended trot, October 2015

Our current challenge is mastering the flying change. Qrac can do them beautifully, but most of the time he only does them beautifully when he decides to do them, and not when I ask him to do them. He's a very compact, very wiggly, very hot little horse and controlling the placement of his shoulders and his haunches can do my head in. I have his back, and then I don't, and then I do again, and so feeling, precision and timing is everything. Right now I'm working hard with my long time trainer and friend, Marie-Valentine Gygax (with whom I found Qrac five years ago), at keeping the quality of the canter and counter canter,  at keeping control of the shoulders, at keeping him straight, at getting more bend, at keeping his mind busy by using leg yield and shoulder-fore and haunches in and (big) pirouettes and half-passes and small circles and half circles and you name it we (try to) do it, making sure he's truly through his body before I ask for the change. It's coming, slowly, very slowly maybe, but it's coming surely and I think we're going about it right. I'm armed to the teeth with patience, and I'm trusting that patience, together with the help of my two fabulous trainers, will get us doing Prix St Georges (at home, not in competition) before the end of 2016. That, to me, would be an amazing achievement. 

What has taken you a long time to master? What are your horse's strengths and weaknesses? Have you found particular ways to work through specific training issues?  What are your goals for this year? 

Thanks for reading, and a happy mega-belated New Year!

Francesca xxx

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Landscape as Villain?

by Laura Crum

“It is not possible to be quite sane here. The region has a mood that both excites and perverts its people.”

“Was it the wild rock coast and the reckless wind in the beaten trees and the gaunt booming crashes of breakers under the rocks that taught her this dark freedom?”

“Much of Robinson Jeffers’ poetry is a study of what the strange landscape around Carmel and Big Sur can do to people. It is a ‘haunted country,’ according to Jeffers.”

These quotes are from the book, “Robinson Jeffers, Poet of California,” which I have just finished reading. I was inspired to read this book because Jeffers is much quoted in the Tom Killion book I read previously (California’s Wild Edge), and Killion recommends this biography of Jeffer’s life. I found it fascinating.
As with many books I’ve deeply enjoyed, I tend to engage in mental arguments with the author. And in this book my arguments centered on two things—sense of place, and the nature of God. Today I am going to write about “place” (as the easier subject), and save God for another day.

As the quotes above tell, Jeffers was aware of the disturbing energy that swirls around the coast from Carmel through Big Sur. It is palpable to me—I’ve been there often and I never fail to feel it. I could no more live on the “south coast” than I could live on the moon. It would break my heart with its fierce, uncompromising, almost hostile nature. Beautiful, yes—but not friendly.
Jeffers chose to live there, and the inhuman ghosts of Big Sur/Carmel underlie his writing, as well as his life. It was a choice that perhaps suited him, but it would not suit me.
It’s all about place. Different places speak with very different voices and tell very dissimilar energetic stories. Not all places will embrace you and protect you, no matter how much you love them and how long you make them your home. Some places, like Big Sur and the high Sierra, will never be comforting to a human heart. They can thrill you and challenge you, yes. They are beautiful and desirable, yes. They are inspiring to visit. But they are not steady, kind, lifetime companions. Big Sur is oddly haunted and the Sierra heights are aloof. Too wild, too harsh, too steep, too rocky, too windblown—you name it—they are overwhelming to human consciousness. Certain sad human endings, I think, come from a failure to understand how places in/on the earth speak to our hearts. Make your home in a place that will never condescend to be your friend, and watch what happens.
But there are some valleys, some meadows, some protected hollows in the coastal hills (as here in the most inland arc of the Monterey Bay) that will comfort you. They will take care of you, in so much as landscape can love the animal creatures that walk around on her. Vast and intangible energy, but none the less love. These places are friendly and fond. It is there in the soft color of the light, the gentle, relaxed feeling of the land, the freedom of the native plants. It is there in the winter sunlight of a certain southern exposure where I live on this California coast, and it is there in the way of the wild things, plant and animal, that have been here before men walked on this ground. There are places that will nurture you. If you love them long enough, you come to trust them. And your trust is not misplaced. They will protect you.

Love is possible. Love between person and place. But not all places are fitted to love people. A person needs to pay attention to the nuances of the light. Is it warm or cold? Does it soothe you with a calm strength, or challenge you with its restless energy?
Those who choose the wilder, storm-tossed places-- as Robinson Jeffers chose an exposed headland near Carmel, above Big Sur-- are not choosing wrongly. But they are choosing a certain loneliness that will not go away. Such places/choices can make great art; they possibly make an inspiring human, if that being is strong enough. But these places will never hold you in their lap, as a mother holds a child. And there are places that will do this. I live in one.
 Judging by the stories in the book I just finished reading, a great many people who lived near Jeffers ended up caught in the wild meshes of a truly untamable land, and came to sad and untimely ends—driven there, as far as I can tell, partly by the inhumanly beautiful and awful (in the old sense of the word) landscape. Jeffers seems to understand this, and to some degree relish the drama of it all. I can’t say that I feel the same.
To those who can read a sense of place and see clearly, the choice is there. The choice is yours.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, nous sommes avec vous.

Par Gayle Carline
Auteur et France amant

I was in the middle of edits on my 4th book in the Peri Minneopa series (non-equine mystery stories), when I got the email reminding me that Saturday is my day to post on this blog. My horses are doing fine, my family is all well, so I was planning a Thanksgiving blog, to list all my blessings and ask you to post yours. It would be fun.

In the midst of editing, I confess, I fell asleep. It seems to be a thing I do in the afternoons, whether I want to or not. I think it's a combination of too little nighttime sleep, too little caffeine, and a too comfy chair. At any rate, when I woke up, the world had changed.

Paris was burning. As I write this, reports are still coming in, the story is still being written. At least 100 are dead at the moment, and I suppose we won't know the whole of it for at least 24 hours. All I know now is that a city I love is under a horrid attack, that people I love are searching frantically for loved ones, and that once again, we are left to deal with our anger and helplessness in whatever manner we can. In the meantime,

Paris, je t'aime.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

California's Wild Edge

                                                by Laura Crum

            The title of this blog post is also the title of the book I’m currently reading. A present from a friend, the book is another collaborative effort between the woodblock print artist Tom Killion and the poet Gary Snyder. Both the words and the illustrations are equally beautiful and evocative of the California coast—where I was born and raised and where I hope to live until I die.
            I particularly like the title of this book. I have always seen this coast as the wild edge of the world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on my horse, looking out over the Monterey Bay from the spot in the nearby hills that we call the “Lookout,” and thought that I was gazing out at the ragged fringe of the continent. If I could see far enough across the vast blue, I would see Japan. (The Lookout features prominently in my last two novels—“Going, Gone” and “Barnstorming”—for those who have read those books.)

            Anyway, I’m really enjoying this book about the California coast. Today I thought I’d give you a few photos of my own that illustrate what the “wild edge” is to me and some quotes from the book that touched me. I’ll try and attribute the quotes correctly. Many of them are by the poet Robinson Jeffers. I love his description of his wife, Una Call-- “more like a woman in a Scotch ballad, passionate, untamed, and rather heroic—or like a falcon—than like an ordinary person.”
            Here, I think, is one of his last poems (1951), one that Tom Killion describes as something that “still might serve as a guide for all aspiring artists of the coast—poets, painters or woodblock carvers.” It’s titled “The Beauty of Things.”

To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things—earth, stone and water,
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars—
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts, frenzies and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality—
For man’s half dream; man, you might say, is nature dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant—to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural
Beauty, is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.

And “Orion in December evenings was strung in the throat of the valley like a lamp-lighted bridge.”

And “There is yet one ocean and then no more, God whom you shine to walks there naked, on the final Pacific, not in a man’s form.
The torch answered: Have I kindled a morning?
For again, this old world’s end is the gate of a world fire new, of your wild future, wild as a hawk’s dream”

And here, in a poem about Jeffers ghost by Robert Hass:

“He shuddered briefly and stared down the long valley where the headland rose
And the lean gum trees rattled in the wind above Point Sur;
Alive, he had littered the mind’s coast
With ghosts of Indians and granite and the dead fleshed
Bodies of desire. That work was done
And, whether done well or not, it had occupied him
As the hawks and sea were occupied.
Now he could not say what bought him back.
He had imagined resurrection once: the lover of a woman…

So she burned and he came, a ghost in khaki and stunned skin,
And she fled with him. He had imagined, though he had not written,
The later moment in the pasture, in moonlight like pale stone,
When she lay beside him with an after-tenderness in all her bones,
Having become entirely what she was, though aware that the thing
Beside her was, again, just so much cheese-soft flesh
And jellied eye rotting in the pools of bone.
Anguish afterwards perhaps, but he had not thought afterwards.
Human anguish made him cold.

He told himself the cries of men in war were no more conscious
Nor less savage than the shrill repetition of the Steller’s jay
Flashing through live oaks up Mal Paso Canyon
And that the oaks, rooted and growing toward their grace,
Were—as species go—
More beautiful.”


I am a child of California’s wild edge.
If you want a tame creature
To sit by your side,
I am not that thing.
Wind and water, stone and sky—
These speak to me.
The female moon longs
For Orion the archer,
As he strides across the night.
This would be you and me
In that dark room.

There is a Tom Russell song that Andy used to sings bits of—about the coast near Big Sur. The part I remember goes like this:

“The south coast is a wild coast and lonesome
You might win a card game in Jolon
But the lion still rules Amaranca
And a man there is always alone.”

It’s a sad song—but it sticks in your mind.

So yeah, it all seems to fit together. And here are a few photos I’ve taken of horsemen on the wild edge-- just for fun.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The tchotchkes of life

By Gayle Carline
Author, horse lover, and distracted mental toddler

When people tell me they're having a senior moment, I say I much prefer the term "toddler moment." I haven't forgotten anything, I'm just distracted by a shinier toy.

So today is my day to post, according to the calendar, and I haven't got a whole lot to discuss. My horses are doing well. Snoopy has finally settled into his new home. We had to get the vet involved. After a shot of hormones and Dr. Brigid telling him that she knows where he is and will tell Santa, he got the message. 

He's still a big goofball, but at least he's a relaxed goofball.

My trainer Niki and I are planning which horse shows we'll go to in 2016. As you all know, we plan and God laughs, so we'll see which ones we ACTUALLY attend. 

As far as new books, I have some new non-horse books on the market. In addition to being an author, I also write a weekly humor column for the Placentia News-Times newspaper. This year is my 10th anniversary, and in honor of that, I put out three (yes, count 'em, three) books of my humor columns. If you're interested in reading humor essays, go to my Amazon Author's page ( and check out these three titles:

They're currently in paperback only, but they'll be available in ebook on or before Halloween.

Beyond all that, the reason I referred to tchotchkes (Yiddish for "small, inexpensive trinkets") in my title is that I thought, since I don't have anything horsey to report in my own life, I thought I'd share some photos and videos I've seen in the past month or so and really liked. Nothing important. Just small, inexpensive trinkets. 

First of all, I feel like I must have this, but I don't know where I'd put it:

Go to to purchase

Next, I really liked this video of horse/dog trail. I could probably train Duffy, my corgi, to do this course. I'm just not sure if I could train Snoopy not to try to catch Duffy so he could pick him up and toss him. 

Corgis are football shaped, you know.

"I am NOT a throw toy!"

Finally, I just never get tired of this video. 

You're quite the imp, Possum.

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 4, 2015


                                             by Laura Crum

         So once again, apologies for the lack of posts. My life has been interesting and magical, but it is beyond my current abilities to put many words down about it. So today I can give you a few snippets and quotes and that’s about it.

 Lately I have been sitting by my pond in the evening, drinking rye whiskey and soda, and reading “The Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac. How did I miss this book in my youth? I read “On the Road,” but not this one. And this one is magical.

I found the book because a friend gave me a book called “Tamalpais Walking”—a collaboration between the woodblock print artist, Tom Killion, and the poet, Gary Snyder. I posted about this book last time (I Know, No Posts). The book had a lot of back story about Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac and explained that Gary Snyder is the “hero” in “The Dharma Bums”—a character named Japhy Ryder. So I decided I needed to read The Dharma Bums. And it arrived a few days later—thank you, Amazon.

For the last few evenings I have been sitting by my pond and reading this book. And laughing out loud. And being amazed. So many things seem to be coming together.

The book reminds me of sitting by Burgson Lake in the Sierras when I was 22 years old, miles from any other person, reading “Roughing It” by Mark Twain, and laughing out loud as I drank cheap jug wine and watched the sun go down.

The passages about the Sierras take me back to the summers I lived in those mountains—one year alone by Burgson Lake, one year working at Kennedy Meadows pack station. And all the many horseback pack trips over the mountain passes that came later. When Japhy and Ray go into the Sierras out of Bridgeport, Bridgeport comes back to me as vividly as if I were there yesterday.

And there are so many lines in the book that are things that Andy used to say to me. I know he read this book—but I didn’t realize that the lines came from the book. As Ray tells Japhy what he thinks of other people: “Equally empty, equally to be loved, equally the coming Buddha.” Andy used to say that to me all the time.  It all feels so connected.

Anyway, hey, if you haven’t read “The Dharma Bums,” read it. It’s a whole lot of fun.

And, just because I like them, here are some quotes that my dear friend, Shannon Schierling, posted on facebook. Thank you, Shannon.

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.” – C. Joybell

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ~ Louise Erdich, The Painted Drum

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Know, No Posts

                                                by Laura Crum

            Once again, my apologies to those who liked to read my blog posts. My life has just been so busy lately. Many new projects, much change-- very engaging, but no time to write.

            But magic is real. I’ve written about this so many times—I don’t really have any new words for you. Watching the almost full moon rise behind the big eucalyptus tree on a gloriously warm September evening, my heart is full. It amazes me that after all I have been through I can feel this way as I look at the moon. Or perhaps it is because of all I have been through?

In any case I sit by my pond and drink whiskey and soda in the evening, watching dragonflies and the light change in the sky, and feel content. And I'm grateful for that.

            On a warm, moonless night I sat by the pond and watched Orion rise above the eastern ridge and stride across the dark three AM sky. Twice I saw shooting stars. And yes, I wished.

            A friend gave me a lovely book—“Tamalpais Walking”—a collaboration between the woodblock print artist Tom Killion (I have several of his prints here on my walls) and the poet Gary Snyder. I highly recommend this book. And I’m going to close this brief blog post with some quotes from the book that touched me. Most of them are by Gary Snyder.

            “Not even once,” someone said, “can you step in the same river.” Landscape with nuance.

            Every night the drama will have new turns and meanings. One who learns this will never be bored.

            Nature, not in the abstract, but (like anybody) a kind of being actually there to respond to being seen in the moment. Gratitude to the particular is never in vain. Relationship to place is real, not as an idea but as a way.

            “All paths lead nowhere, so choose a path with heart.” Don Juan

            “A way that can be followed is not the ultimate way.”

            We don’t play music to get to the end of it. Or make love to go to sleep (I hope). Or meditate and study to become enlightened. Realization or somesuch might come along, but suppose it doesn’t? So what? Basho said, “The journey is home.”

            May we all find the Bay Mountain that gives us a crystal moment of being and a breath of the sky, and only asks us to hold the whole world dear.