Sunday, September 28, 2008

US Olympic Dressage Team

The US Olympic Dressage Team recently was stripped of its 4th place finish when Courtney King-Dye's horse was found to have trace amounts of a drug called felbinac.

Now, I don't pretend to be an expert, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but this drug isn't used, manufactured, or available in this country. It's used in Asian countries. It can also be transferred via a person who might have it on their hands and touched the horse. Courtney's horse treated at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

An article in Dessage Daily explains the situation more clearly than any other article I've read. I feel sorry for Courtney, as it appears she has no knowledge of how the substance was administered to her horse. Yet most articles I've read have been vague and just report a few facts. In a web search, I found articles on ESPN, Washington Post, and other large news sites. No mention was made of the details in the Dressage Daily article. Unfortunately, this lack of information makes her appear guilty.

It's so easy to damage a reputation and so hard to get it back. There will be those who will never read or examine all the facts and will assume that she knowingly drugged her horse for a competitive advantage. That does not appear to be the case.

According to what I read, there were only trace amounts of the drug found as mentioned in the Dressage Daily article:

"However, after doing more research on the drug and having a bio-chemist analyze the data, we learned that the trace amount found in Myth's system could occur from something as distant and arbitrary as a person using Felbinac on their knee then using a broom, then someone else uses the broom and shakes my groom's hand, and then my groom touches my horse. In the sampling, 14 nanograms per milliliter were found. It takes 7,500 to 100,000 nanograms per milliliter to have an effect on a rat." --Dressage Daily, Sept. 23, 2008

It makes you wonder why all of the horses as the Olympics didn't test positive!

While I understand the FEI's position, the entire incident is a shame. Not that this was intentional, but what a way to knock off your competition. Hmmm. I see a book in this somewhere.

My heart goes out to Courtney and the Team, as it appears to me that they are innocent of any wrong-doing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happily Writing about a Witchy World with Horses

Hi Everyone,

I hope everyone is having a terrific fall! One great thing about writing paranormals at this time of year is October is a great time to feel inspired. After all, it's the month for ghosts, goblins, and all things spooky!

I recently received the cover for my January release, Never Trust A Matchmaking Witch and the cover artist did an amazing job! It isn't easy to combine an equestrian setting, witchcraft, humor and romance on the cover of a book!

When I came up with the idea for Never Trust A Matchmaking Witch I had been musing that, like everyplace else in life, the horse world has it's dramas both equine related and human related. I've watched my share of romances blooming among horse people I've been acquainted with over the years, so I thought, hmm, wouldn't it be fun to have some matchmaking going on at a horse farm in one of my stories. And just to spice it up a little more, let's make our matchmakers a fun-loving group of witches!

Here's a quick peek at Never Trust A Matchmaking Witch:

Susan has some amazing fantasies about Dr. Brad Conway. Unfortunately, when she’s anywhere near the handsome surgeon, she’s a tongue-tied catastrophe. Along comes Brad’s friend Alicia, a horse trainer with a talent for magic and matchmaking. Trapped at Alicia’s home during an ice storm, Susan is thrilled to be on the receiving end of some fascinating, sensual advances from Brad. When she keeps encountering magical occurrences like a wolf-whistling cabinet, spoons stirring by themselves and a cat with an unerring ability to appear and disappear, not to mention change its own collar, she must decide if she believes in magic. But believing has a downside, because now she has a new problem to consider. Is Brad’s passion for her real or is it part of a spell?

Well, I'm off to finish writing a scene in my next paranormal equestrian romance. I have a griffin, a quirin, and three witches waiting for me!

Have a great evening.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Favorites . . .

by Kit Ehrman

One question that authors are invariably asked is, “Which book is your favorite?”

Just as this question would be impossible to answer if someone were to ask it of our children or, indeed, our horses, it’s equally difficult to answer well when talking about our books. Each and every book (four of them, in my case) was a totally unique experience to write, and each has a special place in my heart.

AT RISK is and always will be special simply because it was the first. When I began creating barn manager and amateur sleuth Steve Cline and delved into his story, I was obsessed and enthused and thrilled with the experience. I was writing for fun. I was writing for me.

There were no agents or editors to keep in mind or collaborate with, no reviewers to worry about, no outside influences at all. And nothing will ever surpass the experience of watching my long-suffering UPS man lug boxes of AT RISK, fresh off the press, into my mud room. My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, routinely sends boxes and boxes of books to the author to be autographed and returned because they do a brisk business with book collectors.

AT RISK is essentially a coming-of-age story as well as a highly suspenseful mystery. The mystery element is strong; there’s lots of horse stuff; and there’s a thrilling escape-on-horseback ending.

By the time I got to the third book in the series, COLD BURN, Steve is developing a reputation for “looking into things” and is asked to find out what happened to a man who disappeared while working the night shift on a Thoroughbred breeding farm. A fun relationship develops between Steve and the woman who hired him; the mystery came together exceedingly well; and the climax surpassed my expectations. I was pleased with that book on many levels.

TRIPLE CROSS was a blast to research and write as it is set in Louisville for the running of the Kentucky Derby. In all my books, I have a pure horse mystery and some other mystery going on at the same time, and they are intertwined in some way. In TRIPLE CROSS, they blended so well, I surprised myself.

The whole plotting thing is a strange process, believe me. I start out with various ideas and work on them until they mesh and all the characters are acting in a manner that’s true to their wants and needs, and sometimes, I am surprised by the complexity and the end result. But I really love TRIPLE CROSS because it gives the reader an intimate look at what it’s like to be in Louisville and on the backside of Churchill Downs during Derby week.

But, if I had to pick a favorite, I’d squirm around, then finally concede that DEAD MAN’S TOUCH is my favorite. Why? Because it’s the most emotional of the four. The mystery element may not be as strong as the rest, but it’s plotted well, and it’s a very “horsey” book with most of the scenes taking place on the backside of Washington Park (a.k.a. Laurel Park). But above all, it’s an emotional journey for Steve and, hopefully, for the reader.

And I guess others agree with me. DEAD MANS’S TOUCH received a full and totally positive review from the New York Times.

December 28, 2003

CRIME by Marilyn Stasio

Hidden away from the glittering stage of thoroughbred racing, with its flashing silks and gleaming horseflesh, is a place they call ''the backside.'' In her second stable mystery, DEAD MAN'S TOUCH (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95), Kit Ehrman refers to this behind-the-scenes area – where trainers, grooms, barn managers and stable hands minister around the clock to the needs of their high-strung charges -- as ''a world unto itself.'' Ehrman, who has worked at show barns and breeding farms, strikes a solid claim to this gritty territory with another heels-up thriller that takes up where Dick Francis left off, in the barn.

Steve Cline, the young stable hand who made such a strong and sympathetic hero in ''At Risk,'' searches out the father he never knew, a thoroughbred trainer at a Maryland racetrack, and signs on as a ''hot-walker,'' a lowly exercise worker, when he discovers that someone has been fixing races by tampering with his father's horses. In true Francis tradition, Steve takes plenty of physical punishment as a sleuth. But his undercover role also gives him the inside track on life as it's lived on the backside, a grueling, even squalid existence that pays off in the chance to get close to the magnificent animals that have more character and heart than the two-footed fools who view them as a commodity.

Happy reading,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Horse of a Lifetime

Recently, a very dear friend of mine lost her 12-year-old Hanoverian mare unexpectedly. She'd owned Susie since she was around four, having imported her from Germany sight unseen at the recommendation of a trainer.

Over the years, she and Susie had their ups and downs. Just this year when they started showing Prix St. George, I saw a big change in them. It's as if something clicked, and they became real partners. My friend decided she wanted a baby from her mare, so she sent her to be bred. When the mare was palpated, her rectum tore unknown to anyone. Two days later she was in septic shock. (I apologize if I have the terminology wrong, I'm not a vet.) She'd seemed fine until that morning, and it became obvious she was in great pain. Thinking colic, they hauled her to a vet clinic. The clinic rushed her into surgery then realized what the real issue was. There was nothing anyone could do. It appears that the mare had a weakness in her rectum that no one could have known about.

It was a shock to all of us as she was a lovely mare. As you can imagine, my friend is devastated but is determined to buy another horse, preferably a mare. I started wondering, did my friend lose the horse of a lifetime? Is there such a thing? Or are all horses special in their own right, making each one a horse of a lifetime in different ways?

I used to think my old horse, Moses, was my horse of a lifetime. You could do anything with him. Chase cows, jump. do dressage, hunt seat, stock seat, trail ride, and put a little kid on him. I loved that horse. I never thought I'd find another horse like him.

Along comes Gailey--If you've read any of my posts, you know about my trials with that mare and how attached I am to her. I have to say that I would now consider her my horse of a lifetime, yet in a different way. She has so much more talent for dressage than poor Moe ever did. Not to mention, that she's much more attached me that he ever was.

So maybe I've just been lucky and had two horses of a lifetime. I don't know. Any maybe my friend will get lucky, too, and find another horse to equal or surpass Susie. I hope she does, though I know Susie will always be special in her heart.

Do any of you have a horse of a lifetime you'd like to tell us about?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Endings and Beginnings


My thanks to all the readers who shared their wonderful stories with me when I posted about losing my horse Topper. I sat and figured how long it’s been since I haven’t either loaned or leased a horse. It’s been twenty years! Even with Topper in retirement, I still felt connected to him.

He’s been laid to rest in the same field as my first horse, Spencer, who passed away as well. It makes me happy to know that they’re together. When I bought Topper it was because Spencer was getting a little too old to jump and I anticipated lots of jealous behavior. There was some if I was riding Topper and Spencer was in the ring or the field adjoining it, but in the main he was more depressed about not working. We put him back to work as a lesson horse and he was too busy with his new career teaching beginning riders to worry about Topper and me.

Topper was magnificent to look at and an amazingly talented fellow. In fact, there was one judge in particular who always placed him, pretty much no matter what I did in the saddle. When I retired him, I had guilt because he’d been limping and my trainer said it was the shoes. We had the farrier out a few times and it got somewhat better, but he still seemed stiff off and on. My instinct had been to get an equine vet whom I knew and respected, but was not the vet for this facility, out to see him. When my trainer disagreed, I demurred.

When I moved to another barn, the trainer there called the vet I liked best, who was in fact the vet for her facility, and he found Topper had a cyst on his cannon bone. We sent films up to Cornell, but there was too much degenerative arthritis around the leg at this point and they advised retiring him. My in-law’s farm is Shangri-La for horses and I know he was happy there, but I’m still kicking myself for not trusting my instincts and overruling my trainer right away. I might have been able to correct the problem surgically and have had Topper with me a few more years before retirement. I learned the lesson of always making sure you’re comfortable with a facility’s vet for everything, not just the basics, because it can be difficult to bring in someone else.

I may not have a horse of my own again. Instead I’ll be a horse mom catching a ride where I can, but I have many years of happy memories and lots of experience to help my kids. Now that it’s fall and it’s the perfect time of year for riding. I’m going to make time for a Mommy ride!



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I Have One Skinny Horse

By Laura Crum

Okay, I can’t resist doing this. I’ve been reading fugly horse of the day, and yes, I agree with her that its evil for people to starve their horses. I agree that if old horses are properly cared for they should not be thin. Then I went out and fed my old rescue gelding his seven gallons of equine senior. I stared at his skinny little self and thought about all those photos of skinny horses on FHOTD. I looked over my shoulder, hoping no one was nearby with a camera. If said imaginary observer took my old critter from the right angle, oh, and managed to include the top strand of barbed wire on the hogwire fence, I’m sure I could be the next asshat of the day. (For those who don’t read this blog, that’s what she calls those she’s picking on—often for good reason.)

And then it struck me. I may be a good example of something that’s worth pointing out. Not everything is quite as black and white as it may appear. So, let me tell you ET’s story, and you be the judge.

I rescued ET about ten years ago. I first saw him about twenty years ago, when a tough young team roper I knew slightly showed up at a roping I was competing at. The kid was just in from Arizona, where he’d bought this horse cheap. He unloaded the horse, saddled him, and entered the roping on him. I couldn’t help staring, and I wasn’t the only one. This was, bar none, the funniest looking horse I’d ever seen. To begin with, he had the longest back I’d ever seen, coupled with real short legs. This gave him somewhat of a dachshund appearance. Add to this a very long upright neck, which created a sort of giraffe-like twist. And the horse was missing his right eye-—just an empty socket remained. To say the least, he wasn’t pretty. We all wondered why the heck that kid had bought him. We found out.

Our tough little cowboy friend won the first pot he entered on the funny looking gelding, who turned out to be a spectacularly good heel horse. He could run, turn with the cow and stop as well as any horse in the arena. And he was a real pro. Nothing bothered him. Endlessly curious about horses as I am, I went up and talked to the kid about the little gelding. Turns out the horse was real well bred (for a rope horse)—he was a son of Two Eyed Jack (kind of ironic) out of a daughter of Blondy’s Dude. Not bad, if you know anything about those old Quarter Horse lines. It passed my understanding how he wound up so funny looking, but if you studied him, you could see why he was athletic. Despite his odd looks, his hip and hind leg were set on just right, his shoulder was perfect. I could only conclude that a long back and short legs do not necessarily make a problem, same for the high head carriage. The eye had been lost in a pasture accident, so his new owner had been told. He had named the horse ET—that movie had just come out. The horse definitely had a distinct resemblance to the little space alien.

I watched ET at the ropings for many years after that. The cowboy kid was a horse trader and soon found a way to make money on ET. All the young ropers traded him around among themselves. Anybody could win on him. Anybody could ride him, including little kids. He was obviously very gentle, well broke, and talented. He was always sound. He had every imaginable virtue besides looks.

As the horse got older, he was bought by some rough types. I once tried to get the toughest cowboy I knew to deck ET’s current owner, who was beating that sweet old horse up at a roping I was at. (The horse had done nothing wrong—the asshole of a rider had missed his steer and this guy always beat his horses up when he missed.) I realized that ET was being traded steadily downhill. He was in his late teens. No one had ever owned him who had cared anything about him. He was not going to be retired. I could see the writing on the wall. And no horse ever deserved to be retired more than that one.

The horse was still sound and a useful rope horse. He was once again for sale. I needed him like I needed a hole in the head. I bought him anyway. I loaned him to a friend who roped on him for several years and let his kids ride him. He kept the horse turned out in a big pasture with other horses. All seemed well. The guy gave the horse back to me when ET was in his early twenties. “He’s the hardest keeper that ever was,” my friend said. “He can’t live turned out on pasture and hay.”

Sure enough, the old horse, who was built like a snake, anyway, was too thin. I found a home for him with a neighbor woman who just wanted to lead her little girl around on him. The horse was still sound, and perfectly gentle. The woman promised to feed him well.

I checked on him for years. He looked good, for ET. (This long skinny little snake of a horse looks “good” if you can’t see any ribs.) The woman had his teeth floated, she had him trimmed and wormed regularly, she fed him well. So far so good.

I began to trust that ET was cared for. Years went by. I still checked him, but not so often. The woman lost her job (so I found out), her daughter grew uninterested, she reduced ET’s ration to just hay and declined to buy the more expensive equine senior that he needed. I went to see ET after a six months hiatus, and the horse looked terrible. Ribs and spine sticking up. To make a long story short, I took him back.

I turned him in with my old gelding, Burt, who was eating 5 gallons of equine senior a day (Burt was in his late thirties and had no teeth left—for his story, see Farewell To A Friend, June 08). ET’s teeth were fine, but he clearly had a difficult metabolism. On the five gallons of Senior a day, along with free choice pasture, he gained weight. In six months, he looked fine. We were all happy—though those two retired horses were costing me a bundle.

Then Burt died. ET pined. He wasn’t happy living in the 5 acre field by himself. He fell in love with the mares in the pasture next door. Owner of said pasture begged me to turn the pathetic old guy in with the mares. It was spring; the grass was long and lush. ET looked fine, weight-wise. I agreed to try it—though I doubted he could stay there forever.

Well, for four months ET was the happiest looking horse you ever saw. He loved his herd of mares, he thrived on the grass, all was well. But the season changed, the grass dried out. The mares looked fine, but ET began to get thin again. I knew I had to separate him, but I was having a hard time doing it. I also knew how upset the old guy would be.

I finally took him out of the herd and gave him my horse, Gunner, as a pasture mate. (Both of these horses are 28 this year.) Gunner was a little underweight, and I figured they could both use the senior. ET was thin again, and I felt bad, but was sure he’d rebound. To cut to the chase, it didn’t work out. Gunner got fat, and ET stayed thin. Though ET was dominant, Gunner was a faster eater. After a month, it was clear I’d have to keep my skinny little horse by himself.

So that’s where I’m at now. ET lives alone in his 5 acre field, and he has finally settled down to it and is gaining his weight back. He looks a lot better than he did a month ago. He still doesn’t look great. If you drove down the road and saw him, you might wonder what asshat owns this skinny little horse. And now you know the story.

Am I an asshat? Or a saint for rescuing this critter and caring for him? Or something in between. Do I have lousy judgement? Yeah sure, I should have separated him from the herd sooner. But what is life about, after all. That was the happiest I’d ever seen the old horse look. What do you think I should have done?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Robo Fido


Well, the moment has finally arrived. My daughter is so wanting a pet in the house we have to figure out something. We looked into hypo-allergenic dogs, but with my husband Eric’s level of asthma that would be a quick trip to the ER.

My daughter, who has a very sweet nature and loves her dad, had another suggestion. She wants a gecko. Okay, this solves the asthma problem, but I’m not sure the gecko will give her the affection and companionship she really wants. If anyone has or knows anything about geckos, please let me know.

Personally, I have a pretty big ick factor going with the idea of a reptile in the house, and since Mommy is probably going to be the one caring for the pet, I’m going to have to keep reminding myself how much I love my little girl while I’m doing whatever one does to provide care to a gecko. My husband suggested we call it Geico or Spot. This did not help.

Well, I can learn to live with the gecko, even thought my imagination keeps going to a place where it’s hanging from the kitchen ceiling staring at me while I’m cooking. I know, I have a vivid imagination, which helps considerably writing novels but isn’t a plus in this particular situation.

There’s one more option we want to consider. Now, it may seem pretty unusual, but I’ve seen some research on the Internet on robotic dogs being used in nursing homes to provide companionship. I checked into the Aibo dog, but it’s been discontinued. I found one on the eBay with a (gulp!) $975.00. This is a big investment for an experiment in finding my daughter a pet.

Not ready to give up on the idea yet, I kept searching and found Tekno Robotic Dog. With a Mommy friendly price tag, Toys R Us advertises that he ” he interacts with you and your environment more like a real puppy, begging to play when he sees you, contently eating his food when fed, and panting when pet, these are just a few of his possible expressions of emotion. Tekno uses his sensors to see upcoming obstacles and walks around them. Tekno can even detect the presence of your hand. When he is picked up, he knows not to squirm! Tekno comes preprogrammed with a variety of tricks, ready to bark, walk and dance on command. Tekno happily recognizes his ball and playfully holds it in his mouth. He also loves his bone and can chomp on it for hours!”

Okay, this seems promising. Sounds like she can have some fun with him. We don’t get the cuddly part, though, since he’s made of metal, and it doesn’t give her the experience of caring for and loving a living creature, which I think is what she craves.

The Paine family may become the proud owners of both Robo Fido (my husband's talent for naming may not match my daughter's ultimate choice) and Geicko the Gecko, but I don’t know if this combination will really fit the bill. If anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way!

Before I close for today, I want to send my heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared such wonderful comments on my Tribute to Topper blog. Your lovely, caring thoughts gave me great comfort. My Topper is still with me in my pictures and memories The experiences you shared with me touched me deeply.



Monday, September 8, 2008

Death Reins In

Hi Everyone,

I have been out of the loop for some time and do apologize. Kids are back in school and life is sort of getting back into a routine that I can manage.

I wanted to share something with the readers here and get some opinions. I had a conversation with a literary agent a couple of weeks ago who said that she heard horse fiction does not sell well. This really bothered me for obvious reasons. Do you all buy that? If so, why? I believe that there are a lot of readers out there who want to read anything and everything if it concerns horses. Let's face it, horse folks are a passionate group of people and there are a lot of us. I say we make some noise! Support horse related fiction, movies, etc!

For those of you who have never picked up one of my mysteries, I thought I'd give you a taste over the next few weeks and post some chapters from my second book in the series--Death Reins In. The bad thing is, I only have my original copy on the computer so you'll get some typos with it, but the story does not change. Due to copyright I cannot post the entire manuscript, but I can give you a good chunk. Hopefully, you like the series and you may decide to head to the local book store and pick up a copy of one of the books. Keep in mind that if you got a copy of each one of our books here on Equestrian Ink and put them in a basket with some horse treats, maybe a lead rope, some other goodies, you would have one heck of a nice holiday gift (hint, hint).

Have a wonderful week. Happy riding and reading.


Death Reins In


Memories raced through Bob Pratt’s mind—both good and bad—as he lay gagged and tied in the trunk of the car. He hadn’t seen the make or model, didn’t even really know what had happened other than he’d been ambushed from behind as he went to get into his truck at the end of the day. He’d worked late, jotting down his notes on one of Eq Tech’s new supplements, specifically designed for racehorses. Bob didn’t even really feel it when he’d been slammed over the head--by what he didn’t know, by whom, he could only guess at. There were a handful of enemies who’d want to see Bob in this state, and probably a few people he called friend. The trunk smelled like dirty socks and fast food. He could hear the faint thumpings of rap music and occasionally he thought he might have recognized the sound of laughter coming from inside the car. Did that mean there was more than one person who’d taken him when he’d left work? Probably. He wasn’t exactly a little guy at over six feet. They knew he would’ve fought, so the sneak attack had to have been carefully planned.

His head ached as if it had been shoved into a vice, making it almost impossible to think, but he wanted to try—try and play out what had happened. He needed to remember if he’d heard anyone say anything, if he noticed anything at all. Damn, he’d been so caught up in his findings that he simply had not been paying attention. He had to try though, had to, in case he ever made it back alive. But the deep hole in his gut told him that wasn’t going to happen, which led him to one continual thought streaming through his mind: his sister Audrey, and what this would do to her if he didn’t come back. Oh hell, what if his theories had been right? What if he had stumbled onto something sinister and revealed too much to her when they’d spoken the other night over dinner? He didn’t think he had. As soon as she’d guessed something was wrong with him, which Audrey was so astute at, he’d tried hard to blow it off, said it was a little woman trouble, an issue at work here and there, that sort of thing. But he knew his sister well. He knew that nothing escaped her and if he’d said one wrong word, she might have picked up on it. He had to get out of this. He could feel his heart racing, beating hard against his chest, could smell the horse he’d been working with at the center on him, now mixed in with his own fear and angst.

Oh God, what if? What if he didn’t get out of this? Poor Audrey. He’d given her problems all of their lives and now—finally--when the two of them had made amends over the past few years and grown close again, he was leaving her. All alone. He loved her. She was a good sister. She had a sweet smile, warm-hearted nature, and a gentle touch with her animals that everyone who knew her admired. And she’d never given up on him. Never. She’d always believed in him and picked him up off the ground. Even when he’d turned his back on her, his sister had been right there with open arms, cheering him on. She was the reason he’d been able to not only maintain an equine veterinary practice, but also a position as a top researcher with Eq Tech in some very exciting fields of equine medicine and health.

The car slowed. What were they going over, an old bridge, a railroad crossing? A plume of exhaust wafted throughout the trunk, dizzying his already altered senses. Noises. More noise from outside; and the smell. It had changed, drastically. Petroleum; yes, that’s what it was. And something else? Food? Trash? Death? A mixture of all three. Then it hit him. They’d crossed the border. He was in Mexico. Oh Jesus, they were surely taking him there to kill him. He knew now that what he’d found out was the truth. And they knew he’d discovered it. The back of his neck broke out in a cold sweat.

The road wound around several curves, jostling him from side to side. Then, through the drone of the car and the grade of the trunk, he sensed they were going up a steep slope, maybe a mountain. And then he got it. He knew where they were going. Soon enough they’d be skirting the Baja coastline. He’d made this trip himself before. Would they kill him there along the highway down to Ensenada and dump him in the ocean? Or would they take him east and leave him to rot in the desert? Either way, Bob realized he was totally screwed.

He should have lived differently. Should have made peace with the people he’d hurt. But it was too late for that, if he was right about who was behind this abduction. He would not be coming back. He’d been found out and would be dead before the sun came up. He was sure of it. Bob prayed his sister would accept that and drop it. Oh God, how he prayed for that.


Michaela Bancroft smiled as she placed a hand over Genevieve Pellegrino’s smaller one. Together they brushed the horse. Michaela spoke in calm hushed tones as the little girl’s father, Joe, Michaela’s good friend from childhood, had directed her. At first Michaela had been apprehensive about working with Gen. Joe had never told her, until she started giving her riding lessons, that Gen was autistic. She'd thought that maybe she was just quiet and a bit slow. Michaela hadn’t been around Joe’s family much after high school. Although they had always remained good friends, life seemed to get in the way. It was her Uncle Lou’s murder that had brought them back together.

“That’s good. See how clean he’s getting?” Michaela said. “What a good job you’re doing, Gen. Look at how pretty you’re making Booger and he likes that a lot.” Working with the little girl was as therapeutic for Michaela as it was for Gen. Maybe even more so.

Once Booger had the therapeutic saddle on him and Michaela slid a headstall over his ears, she kept him on a lead line and put Gen up, leading him to the arena. Over the course of half an hour she watched as the child relaxed into the saddle and seemed to almost become one with the horse, a smile appearing on her face as she asked him to trot. Booger performed his version, which was more of a very fast walk, semi-jog. But Gen didn’t seem to care that Booger was lazy. An easy calm came over the little girl’s face and she truly looked relaxed up on the horse.

“Okay, Gen. It’s time to get off now and we’ll give him a brush-down. Are you ready?”

Gen nodded. Michaela helped her dismount. With a slight movement of the hand, Michaela pushed aside the strands of curly black hair that had fallen into the girl’s eyes. “You did a great job today. I am so proud of you.” She removed the school saddle from Booger’s back and set it inside the tack room, which was in serious need of an overhaul. She’d have to get on her assistant trainer Dwayne about that. He knew better than to keep things in such disarray.

She brought a soft bristle horse brush back to Gen and placed it into her hands. She knew to keep the barn quiet when the girl was there. No country/western on the radio blaring through the breezeway, and she’d asked Dwayne to wait to turn any of the horses out. He also knew to keep his distance when Gen was there. She figured at this time, mid-morning, he was likely making a feed run. They were getting low on grass hay.

As Gen slowly brushed Booger, Michaela stood back and watched her, knowing it gave the girl a sense of peace and accomplishment. There was a connection being forged between horse and child that could only benefit both of them. “Why don’t we give him a treat?” she asked in a soothing tone.

She didn’t get a response other than a slight glance from Gen. It was important though, she’d learned from Joe, that Gen be apprised of all that was going on. It helped her stay focused, but without overwhelming her. Gen handed her back the brush and followed her into the feed room; the smell of molasses and fresh cut alfalfa perfumed the air. Michaela grabbed a blue bucket off one of the post nails and scooped it into a trashcan filled with oats. “Okay. I think he’ll like this. What do you think?”

“Yes. I think so.”

Good. She’d spoken to her today. That made Michaela wonder about Joe’s offer. Should she take it? She wanted to help out. It felt so damn good to work with Gen, but what if she screwed up? What if someone got hurt? She couldn’t take it if that happened. She didn’t want that kind of responsibility, but the pleasure and peace it gave her to work with Gen brought her senses to life. It was as if she’d found her calling.

They gave the horse his oats, and after a good brushdown put him back in his stall. Taking him to the wash rack and bathing him would be too much for the child. She’d wait and let Katie, her afternoon student, wash him when she was finished riding.

After putting Booger away, Michaela was startled by the sound of a car horn. Oh no. She looked at Gen’s face, which suddenly turned ashen. The car pulled to a stop outside the breezeway and Michaela heard Katie’s voice. “Michaela, Michaela, my dad brought me early. I wanted to come help.” The nine-year-old bounded down the breezeway.

Michaela started to bring a finger up to her lips to quiet the enthusiastic girl, but it was too late. Gen let out a horrible, almost primal scream. Her eyes widened with fear.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Katie yelled out, only exacerbating the problem.
Michaela was stuck between the two children and for a moment stood paralyzed, looking from one sobbing girl to the next. Regaining her wits, she went to Gen and in a low voice started reassuring as she wrapped her arms tightly around her. “It’s okay. It’s okay. No one can hurt you. I’m here. You’re safe. You’re safe.”

“Michaela?” Jude Davis appeared in the doorway. Katie got behind her father and peered around him, looking terrified.

“Call her parents please. Their number is on the schedule list in my office. I’m going to take her to the house.” He nodded and Michaela picked Gen up, continuing to talk to her as the child began to calm down.

“Can I help you?” Jude asked.

“No, just please call her dad and ask them to come over.”
Gen was a tiny girl for her age, but not so small that Michaela didn’t feel her fifty-some-odd pounds in her lower back. Going through the back door, she took the girl into her family room, where she closed all of the curtains and sat the child down on the couch. Gen had stopped twisting around and now fell quiet. Ah, better; but Michaela felt horrible.

Minutes later, Joe and Maryann Pellegrino came through the door. “I am sorry,” Michaela said.

Joe waved a beefy hand at her. “Happens.” He looked like an Italian Pillsbury Dough Boy, concern furrowing his bushy eyebrows. “I’m sorry we ran out on you like that.” They’d dropped Gen off today rather than stay to watch her lesson, which they usually did, because they’d had some errands to run.

Michaela felt responsible because she’d insisted they go on ahead and take care of what they needed to with their other four kids. She’d assured them she could handle Gen. What had she been thinking? Well, she now knew what she’d have to tell Joe about his proposition.

Maryann contrasted Joe, being ramrod thin and almost frail looking. She headed straight to her daughter and turned back to Michaela as she sat down next to Gen, grappling for something in her purse, finally finding a medication bottle. “It’s okay, Michaela. This happens from time to time. Do you have a glass of water? I’d like her to take this.” Maryann was calm and collected. The premature lines on her face told Michaela that she shoved much of her worry into the recesses of her soul and likely dealt with them late at night, so as not to worry others in her family. She couldn’t imagine what she went through day to day to manage her large brood, and Joe on top of it.

“Sure. No problem. I can’t tell you how sorry I am, though.” She handed Maryann water and watched as the woman continued to calm her child. Michaela asked Joey what the medicine was.

“Some herbal treatment. Maryann is all into these supplements and herbs and things. Next thing you know, we’ll be having gurus by the house or she’ll be taking the poor kid to yoga or something crazy like that.” Maryann shot him a dirty look. “I’m sure they’re good for her, but I’d feel better if they was FDA approved.”
Maryann stood and took Gen’s hand. “We better get going.”
Michaela nodded.

“You did the right thing, Michaela. No sorries needed. I’d like to talk with you about what Joe and I have been up to, because it concerns you, but she gets tired after these bouts,” Maryann said. “Maybe Joe can tell you while I put Genevieve in the car.”

“Tell me what?”

“We’ve gone ahead and recommended you as a therapeutic riding instructor.”
Michaela’s jaw dropped.

Maryann whispered a goodbye as she closed the door behind her and Michaela turned back to Joe. “What is she talking about? I told you I’d think about it. Why would you put in a recommendation without asking me?”

“We was thinking, Maryann and me, and we got to talking that you’ve been so good for Gen that we went to her therapist and the center she goes to for treatment and told them you would be perfect for the job. Therapeutic riding helps a lot of autistic kids and we don’t have nothing like it out here in the desert. We think you’d be perfect for it.”

“Oh no. No, I can’t do that. Look what happened today. And,” she shook a finger at him, “you had no right to do that without running it by me.”

“But you handled it the right way. The way you were supposed to. You love kids. You make my daughter happy. Give this a try. I see how much it does for you too. After your divorce and then losing your uncle, I know what you’ve been through, and I see you smiling when you’re teaching my daughter. Working with her makes you happy and you’re damn good at it and, trust me, after all these years I’ve seen the good and the bad in this thing, and it takes quite a person to work with these kids. You got what it takes.”

She shook her head vehemently. “Joe…. Oh, man, I don’t know.” She knew that he was right about being happy when she worked with his little girl. But a center? A therapeutic center where she taught more kids? Granted, she now had the facilities to do it after inheriting her uncle’s place, but could she do it? Really?

“Will you at least talk to the gal from the center?”

“I don’t know, Joe. I don’t think I’m cut out for it. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“No one’s gonna get hurt.” He raised an eyebrow, then wiggled the other. He knew how to work it. That always got her. For years she’d been trying to figure out how to wiggle just one eyebrow while keeping the other cocked.

Michaela had known Joey since junior high, when they’d bonded over pimiento loaf sandwiches that everyone else thought were gross, and a mutual love for Billy Idol. Joe had been teased for his weight and Michaela had been on the shy side, so they’d formed a friendship that stuck over processed meat and eighties music. Joe was also known around town as the man with a million cousins. He came from a large Italian family whose ties were far reaching and, many suggested, of the unsavory nature. All Michaela knew was that Joe was a good guy with a lot of relatives, who knew how to find out information or get things done that other people seemed to have a problem doing. And, she was indebted to him. If not for him and the cousins, it was unlikely that the person who killed her uncle Lou last year would have been caught.

“Oh God, Joe, why do you do this stuff to me?”

“I think you should think about it,” Jude said. She’d forgotten about him.
Katie stood quietly at the front door. Jude waved her in. The girl wiped her tears, hesitating. She was a petite thing with wavy, blonde hair like her dad’s and a splash of freckles across her nose that reminded Michaela of what she had looked like as a kid. Michaela had never lost the freckles across her nose and even sported a few more since childhood.

Joe went over to Katie. “It’s okay, sweetie. She’ll be fine.”

Jude shook his hand. “She didn’t mean to frighten her. She was excited and…”

“Hey, I got a handful of kids, and a lot of cousins.” He laughed. “I know she didn’t mean no harm and Michaela handled it. You talk to her, see if you can get her to agree to running a center.”

“Think about it, he said as he walked out.
She walked over and pulled Katie into her. “You didn’t mean to upset Gen. We all know that.”

“Why did she scream like that?”

“She’s autistic, honey, which means she doesn’t react the same way you and I do. She actually hears and sees everything going on around her. Like, listen quietly for a minute. Really listen.” They fell quiet. “Did you hear the birds outside? What about the pool running from out back? Can you hear the grandfather clock ticking from the library? And, if a horse got out, I bet we’d hear all the horses go crazy calling out to him. Gen doesn’t filter out the noises in the way that we do. She hears all of them together at once and it’s very loud to her. So, she kind of shuts down to keep the noises out as much as possible. To you, it probably seems like she’s not friendly or she’s weird. But to her, it’s the only way she can handle life.”

“So, when I started yelling, it scared her and on top of all the regular noises she hears it made her really scared, so she started screaming out.”

“Exactly. You’re a smart kid. What do we say we go have that lesson now? I didn’t know you’d be early, but it works out great because I’m going to the horse races tomorrow in Orange County and I need to be at my friend Audrey’s house early in the morning.”

“Okay, let's go!”

Katie ran up ahead of them. Jude walked back to the barn with Michaela. “You’re headed to the races tomorrow, huh? Sounds like fun,” he said.

She sensed a slight hesitation in his voice. Detective Jude Davis and his daughter Katie had come into Michaela’s life while the detective investigated her uncle’s murder. Since that time they’d shared coffee dates, lots of phone calls, even a lunch and one night a glass of wine while Katie scoped out the trophies Michaela had won over the years showing horses. There was something between Michaela and Jude. That much she knew, but what it was exactly, she wasn’t sure. “I am. My friend Audrey Pratt is taking me. We go every year. She used to work with race horses and has a lot of friends in the industry, plus she manages a young woman who is an up and coming country western singer and the girl will be entertaining before the races start. I thought it would be a good time.”

“Sounds like it.” He cleared his throat. “Anyone else going with you?”

“Nope, just me and Audrey.”

“Oh. Well, you’ll be back tomorrow night, won’t you?”

Michaela looked at him, her expression amused. His light blue eyes had darkened, and he palmed his hand through his hair, something he did whenever he seemed nervous. “Actually, no. I’m going on up to Malibu with Audrey and stay with the girl’s mother, another friend of Audrey’s. There are some horses we want to check out. I’m thinking about purchasing a few more, possibly a better lesson horse for Katie since Booger isn’t much of a challenge for her. Audrey takes in animals off the track to let them retire in peace.”


“Why do I get the feeling that you aren’t too keen on me going?”

“Oh, no. I think you’ll have a great time.”

She stopped and looked at him. “Jude? What’s up?”

He sighed. “Actually…well, I wanted to ask you to dinner. That’s all. I thought it was time we had dinner together. You and me. A real date. Candles, wine, flowers.”

“Oh. A real date.”

He nodded.

“That would be nice. Can you wait a few days?”

He smiled. “I think so.” He squeezed her hand and then let it go.
Michaela’s stomach dropped. She hadn’t had a real date in years. Life was ever changing though, she’d learned that for sure, and although she’d lost quite a bit in the past few years, it made her realize that maybe it was time to live again.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mares vs. Geldings

Over the years, I've only had geldings until my current horse, Gailey. While trying to decided whether or not to buy her, I heard lots of advice, much of it negative, regarding mares vs. geldings.

In my ignorance about mares, I pooh-poohed most of the negative remarks. I couldn't imagine they were any different from geldings.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Now, ten years later and a lot of tears and smiles, I can honestly say that my mare is very different from the geldings I've owned. And, I suspect, the gender differences are pretty standard across the board. The interesting thing is that the differences weren't all that dissimilar to the difference between men and women. These are obviously generalizations and my own observations.

The biggest thing I learned is that you have to work with a mare as a partner. Geldings will take the path of least resistance and comply in most cases. Mares have to test you, make sure you really mean it. My mare had a fairness quotient. If you didn't treat her fairly according to her measuring stick, she let her irritation be known.

Force never worked with Gailey, she'd fight to the bitter end. Not in a dangerous manner, but through resistance in some manner, like sulking and not wanting to go forward, then her favorite evasion, falling on her forehand and going faster and faster.

My mare also likes to take over, either because she's trying to hard to help or she's in alphamare mode. She memorizes dressage tests after one ride. Then she insists that I don't know what I'm doing if I'm not riding the pattern she thinks I should be. I've had to mix up the tests more than I ever did with my gelding.

Mares have a protective instinct I never saw in my gelding. One time when I was in her pasture, a stray dog came into the field and approached me. She didn't like that one bit. She went after him and chased him out of the field.

Are mares smarter? Some people say they are. Mine seems to pick up things faster than my gelding. She tries hard to please, sometimes too hard. She can get quite nervous and upset when she's trying and just not getting it. She definitely has a bit of a drama queen in her, too.

Are mares more affectionate? I can't speak for all mares but mine is more attached to me than any gelding has ever been. Gailey knows the sound of my truck. When she hears it pull up the driveway, she's waiting by the gait for me. When I'm talking to friends, she'll hang out with us like one of the girls, which is why her nickname is "Girlfriend." When I have her at home, she'll often follow me around.

Are mares more difficult? Yes, I'd say they are. But, if you get a mare on your side and work with her, she'll work for you like no gelding you've ever ridden. It just takes tact and fairness.

I love my mare. She's my horse of a lifetime. Not because of ribbons or talent or anything tangible. But because over the years, through good and bad, and all the ups and downs, we've formed a bond that I've never experienced with any gelding.

Would I own another mare? You bet.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Tribute to Topper


My posts are usually lighthearted, but this one is hard to write. On Wednesday my beloved Topper colicked badly and had to be put down. Since then I’ve been going about my day to day activities and occasionally tears start falling of their own accord.

Topper was an amazing horse, sweet and kind and I swear he had a wonderful sense of humor. At sixteen one hands he was large enough for me at five ten and always took great care of me. I have boxes of ribbons from hunter and equitation classes, but those aren’t the remembrances that keep running through my mind.

Instead, I keep remembering his soft nose pressing against me and the way he would lip at my hair while I was bent over cleaning out his hooves. I wasn’t the bravest rider, and I’m sure there were many times he was thinking ‘For heaven’s sake, Mom, put the rail up,’ but he jumped my little courses in perfect form with the grace of the champion he was.

One time he had a fever from what we thought was Lyme disease, although the blood test said no. I spent that day stroking him, cooling him with water, or just sitting on the floor of his stall with him. I remember the way he looked at me like a trusting child saying ‘Mommy, I don’t feel good. Can you fix it?’ Fortunately, we were able to fix the problem then, but not this week.

The saddest part for me is that I wasn’t with him. We retired him on my in-laws’ farm about 10 hours drive time from me and I didn’t hear what happened until a few hours after he was gone. His face as he looked that day with his fever is blazoned in my mind and I keep thinking he must have been wondering where I was while he was hurting. I wish I had known while it was happening so someone could have put a phone to his ear and he could at least have heard my voice. Does that sound silly? I suppose it does, but at this moment my heart is breaking from wanting to have had the opportunity to talk to him one last time.

I will always miss my beautiful Topper. He was one of the best friends I ever had.

I loved him very much.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Happy Endings

By Laura Crum

No, I’m not talking about happy endings in books. I’m talking about real life happy endings…the best kind. I spoke at the local Rotary Club a week or so ago, and got a very nice surprise. (As a published author of mysteries, I’m a minor celebrity in my smallish town and am occasionally asked to do these gigs—I always comply if I can. It helps sell books and can be fun.) I had done my usual spiel on how I became published, my life with horses…etc (trying to keep it light and funny, as I always do) and was answering questions and talking to people after the event. A man came up to me and told me his name, which meant nothing to me, and then said, “You gave my wife and daughter a horse eighteen years ago.”

I was puzzled. I honestly couldn’t think what horse he might mean. He told me his daughter’s name and the light bulb came on. “Oh,” I said, “You mean Artie.”

Indeed. Now I remembered. Artie had been a nice, reasonably well-broke seven-year-old Quarter Horse gelding that an acquaintance bought to make a team roping horse out of. Several months into training, Artie came up lame and was diagnosed with navicular. The acquaintance, who had got the horse cheap ($1000), was inclined to haul the poor critter down to the local livestock auction and get rid of him quick. A navicular horse is not a good bet for a long team roping career. But lame, as he was, the horse would inevitably be bought by the killers. And he was a sweet, kind, useful animal, who (according to the vet) had every chance of staying sound with light riding. I gave the acquaintance his $1000 back, took the horse home, and rested him until he was sound. Then I looked around until I found a home that was interested in him as a riding horse and seemed suitable. All information and X-rays to do with the horse’s navicular problem were given to the new owner. I charged her the same $1000. She was a teen-aged girl, and for years I visited her and Artie, and watched her show him in the county fair..etc. When she went off to college, she took her horse and sent me photos of herself competing on him at shows there. She took good care of him. She dealt with his navicular problem responsibly. He remained a useful working animal. And then I lost touch with her.

“Wow,” I said to the Rotary guy. “Is Artie still alive? He must be pretty old by now if he is.”

“Twenty-five,” the guy said. “And still sound.”

I must have had a grin a mile wide. Turns out the guy’s daughter became a horse vet, now has a little daughter of her own, and is teaching the kid to ride on Artie. How cool is that?

Its stories like this that make me glad I have stepped up to the plate for so many horses, dogs and cats over the years. Yes, folks, I have rescued even more dogs and cats than horses. Sometimes the endings have been happy, sometimes not so much. But I’m glad I tried. Hearing about Artie made me stop and think about horses I’d rescued years ago, that I’d more or less forgotten. One in particular came to mind, and though I don’t know the true end of this story, I think you’ll agree that what I do know of it is another happy ending.

So, once upon a time, a very long time ago (before I rescued Artie, so at least twenty years ago) a certain breeder of Quarter Horses for whom I worked, raised a colt he didn’t like. The horse couldn’t be registered as a Quarter Horse (too much white); he was coarse, homely, blue-eyed, though structurally sound enough, and the man who owned him was ashamed of him. When the horse got to be three-years-old, and it was clear he was not going to grow out of his ugly duckling phase, the breeder asked me to haul him to the local livestock auction (where as an unbroke, fugly three-year-old, he would inevitably have been bought by the killers). I refused. The breeder then asked the vet to euthanize the colt. The vet refused.

Now there was nothing really wrong with this colt. He may have looked more like a small draft horse than a Quarter Horse, and he sure wasn’t pretty, but, as the vet pointed out, that was no reason to kill him. Still, I knew the breeder would find someone to haul the animal to the livestock auction eventually (the man was embarrassed to do this himself—wouldn’t have helped his reputation as a breeder of quality horses). The colt was halter broke, had received reasonably good health and foot care, was sound and gelded, but had been not been handled much. He was a little "looky",” but seemed sensible to me. He really wasn’t so badly made, despite being coarse. I saw no reason why he shouldn’t have a decent life and bought him from the breeder for $100.

I had two horses at the time (Burt and Gunner—see Farewell to a Friend, June 08, and The Real Horses Behind the Books, March 08, for their stories), and I could not afford to keep another. But I knew a cowboy horse trainer and trader who was a pretty good guy. I asked him if he would take this horse for $100 and find a decent home for him. He said he would. I said I wanted to know where the horse went and I wanted his word it wouldn’t be the auction. He agreed.

I loaded this colt single-handedly in my old two horse trailer and hauled him across the state of California to the horse trader’s place. The horse was as cooperative as a green horse could be through all of it, and I liked him a lot and was glad I’d stepped forward to save him. I even wished that I could keep him. But I let the horse trader have him.

Several months later I heard that he’d been started and was an easy, willing horse and doing well. Some more months later I heard he’d been sold to a cowboy who traveled around Nevada, working for various ranches, and who also worked for the rodeo as a pick-up man (bronc riders who don’t get bucked off get off their bucking horse by grabbing onto the pickup man and his mount). A year or so later I heard that this cowboy really liked the horse and planned to keep him.

So far so good. Now comes the funny, or ironic, anyway, part of the story. The breeder raised only two colts of this cross. The second colt was the homely one I saved and the breeder never bred that mare to that stud again. The older colt wasn’t pretty, but certainly looked better than his younger brother and this colt was bought by a team roper. And guess what? He became one of the best heel horses in the state of California. The breeder, having heard (from me) that the homely colt turned out well, contacted the cowboy who owned him and tried to buy the horse back (!) The answer: No way. Not at any price.

I call that a happy ending.

Laura Crum