Saturday, June 27, 2009

Watch What You Name a Horse

I've been pondering all weekend about the subject of my next EI post and couldn't think of a thing. After reading Laura's last post, it occurred to me that I'd never told the story of Broker, a story very similar to Ready's.

Eleven years ago before I bought my current horse, Gailey, I had a wonderful Morgan/Quarter Horse named Moses. Well, Moe was 18 and not inclined to be good at dressage, too short-strided, too stiff, and too lazy, and now too old. I loved Moe. You could do anything with him, and I did; but his story is best saved for another time.

A very good friend of mine had bought a horse for a foreign exchange student staying at her house. The boy had ridden hunter/jumpers in Europe. The plan had been that he'd train the horse to be passed on to her daughter after he returned to Europe. Well, that didn't quite work out, and she decided to sell the horse. She offered him to me for a VERY reduced price. I checked him out. He was a big, beautiful mover and wonderful on the ground. Under saddle, he seemed a little piggy. I put my leg on him. He sucked back instead of moving forward. No big deal, I thought. He just needs some training.

I paid her and took him home. I decided to rename him, Stockbroker, and called him Broker (Mistake Number One}. If there ever was a prophetic name, that was it. A few weeks before I purchased him, I remember commenting to a friend that I'd never been injured on a horse in all of my years of riding (Mistake Number Two).

I bet you see where this is going.

The first day I rode Broker in my arena, he slugged along and refused to move. I decided to take him for a little trail ride on my trails. We didn't get more than twenty feet out of the arena gate when he quite calmly stood on his hind legs. I slid right off his butt onto the ground. Surprised and pissed. I caught him, got back on, and rode him back out on the trails. I was ready for him this time. As soon as he started to rear, I whipped into a circle then drove him forward. This continued for several minutes before I took him back to the barn and contemplated that I'd been had. My "friend" had to be aware of this behavior. The horse was obviously quite talented at rearing.

The second time I rode him was in a lesson taught by a clincian who is also a trusted friend. We lasted about five minutes. He was slugging along, again, and she told me to take the whip in one hand and give him a solid smack. He started bucking in a way that would rival any rodeo bronc. Again, he knew what he was doing. I went flying. Unfortunately, I heard a snap as I landed. I'd broken my collarbone in two places and two ribs.

Giving Broker the benefit of the doubt, since I hadn't really given him much warm-up time, I asked the working student at my trainer's barn if she'd ride him while I was laid up. She could sit a buck a lot better than me and was fearless. She lasted about ten minutes before he dumped her. She tried to ride him one more time, same result. Next came another friend, equally talented and fearless. Same result, again.

Not wanting to risk these girls getting hurt, I took the horse to a trainer with a reputation of being able to rehabilitate problem horses. She had him one month and suggested I try to sell him to a rodeo. She didn't want him anymore and considered him dangerous.

Now, my dilemma. Here I was with a horse I didn't like, and I was afraid of him. I wasn't the one who ruined him. Someone else did. Yet, I was stuck with him. I called my "friend" who sold him to me. Of course, she didn't want him back. I ended up doing something I never thought I'd do. I took him to an auction. I put a note on his stall that he was not a beginner's horse and needed an experienced rider and that he bucked and reared. I paid a girl to keep an eye on him and show him in the arena then I left. I understand some cowboy bought him for a sheriff's posse horse. I have no clue how that worked out.

Broker left a legacy that I live with to this day. I have a fear of being hurt that comes out under pressure. I don't like riding horses I don't know, and I'm often stiff and defensive when I ride. I'll never buy another horse without trying it several times in different situations.

I called my next horse, Gailey, because I wanted to make sure that her name had a positive connotation. You live and learn. And what happened to the friend? I haven't talked to her since. I understand she divorced and left the area.


Oh, and by the way, I just discovered that The Gift Horse is now in print, as of this weekend. You can find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Failure?

By Laura Crum

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was very young and new to breaking and training horses, I bought a three-year-old unbroken colt. I had known this horse since he was born, and always admired him. My uncle, who raised Quarter Horses, had bred his mare to a fairly well known stud and Ready was the result. A big, good looking colt with a pretty head, at three years old Ready was a handsome guy, and I flat fell in love with his looks. I’d broken and trained a handful of other horses at that point (I was twenty-three), and I felt perfectly capable of doing the same with Ready. I bought him and embarked on the project.

Right off the bat, things did not go the way I was expecting. Ready wasn’t the easiest horse to handle. Though easy going on the surface, he was somewhat numb and insensitive, with a tendency to bull right through me. It was hard to get his attention. Unlike the other colts I had trained, he seemed clumsy, as if he had a hard time figuring out where his feet were. Somehow it had never occurred to me that this thick-bodied sixteen hand horse might not be the cattiest thing in the world.

I persisted. I did the groundwork. Ready could be saddled and would trot and lope around me in a round pen. I felt he was ready to ride. To my surprise, this easy going colt bucked like a recalcitrant mule the first time I climbed on him. Not hard, like a bronco, but he bogged his head and tried. He just wasn’t athletic enough to buck me off.

I got him through it. I got him broke. He was never a very cooperative horse. Sluggish, lazy, numb and clunky, he would offer to buck from time to time. And rear. And bolt. In a word, Ready was resistant.

Still, I persisted. With time, and a lot of wet saddle blankets, I made a decent horse out of him. By the time he was five, the big, very good looking Ready would lope circles, change leads, stop, back, turn around, look at a cow, let you throw a rope off of him…etc. He knew how to go outside. You could part cattle on him…if the cattle weren’t too quick. And I was heartily sick of him.

I could see that I’d made a mistake. The horse was too big, a clumsy mover, and naturally resistant. He was still superficially easy going; he was certainly lazy. If nothing too strenuous was asked of him, Ready appeared gentle enough for a beginner. But if any pressure was put on him to actually get something done, he was stiill capable of unpredictable bucking or rearing. He frustrated me. I had Burt, my good ranch horse, and I had just bought Gunner, a horse I planned to show as a cowhorse. I determined to sell Ready.

It wasn’t hard. In no time at all a team roper I knew offered me a good price for my handsome, pretty-well-broke gelding. And I sold him.

Here’s where it gets tricky. I knew the roper wanted Ready for a head horse. On paper, the horse had the right credentials. But I had done all the training on Ready, and I doubted he was athletic enough to do the job. The roper who bought him tried for awhile to rope on him, didn’t get much done, and finally sent him to a well known rope horse trainer, a guy I knew. I waited to see what would happen.

Three months later I got the call. The rope horse trainer had seen my name on the papers. “Did you train this horse?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I admitted.

“He’s a pretty well broke horse,” the guy said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“No way in hell is he gonna make a rope horse.”

“I’m not surprised,”I said.

“I told the guy he should sell him.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’ve got a lady who wants a husband horse. This guy can’t ride at all. What do you think?”

“I wouldn’t put my husband on him,” I said (though in fact I had).

We talked some more and in the end the trainer decided he could sell Ready as a “husband horse”. I told him he could give the people my phone number. They called me to ask the occasional question; they seemed happy with the horse. They used him for trail riding. A happy ending, right?

Well, almost. Years passed. Twelve years. I learned some interesting things. Ready’s dam produced several more big, good looking colts. Others besides me liked the look of these horses. Two people, one of them my uncle, chose colts out of this mare to use as stallions. And eventually, colts by these stallions were being started and trained.

Guess what? They were big, pretty, easy going horses. But every single one of them that I was around was a failure. Under saddle they were one and all resistant and not very athletic. They would resort to bucking, rearing and bolting to get out of work. Some of them were much more violent than Ready. Turns out he was one of the better ones.

Better people than me tried to train these colts and couldn’t get much done. I was around at least thirty of them, and I can’t think of one that made a good horse. I failed myself on a couple more of them (at that point I hadn’t figured out it was a genetic issue and that all the colts that traced back to that one mare had this attitude). To this very day a friend of mine is riding a grandson of this mare and struggling with this big good looking horse’s rotten attitude. Ikey will (wait for it) buck, rear,…etc when he doesn’t feel like working. The horse is superficially gentle and lazy, just like Ready, so much so that his owner (very unwisely in my opinion) puts his young son on him. But Ikey has dumped this kid more than once when something pushes his buttons and he decides to buck or bolt. When tied, he is capable of suddenly pulling back and flipping over backwards. Even after years of very competent training this gelding is so resistant and unpredictable he’s virtually useless as a rope horse. Another failure.

End of the story? The guy that owned Ready phoned me when the horse was seventeen. He was divorced, he didn’t ride, the horse had been turned out on a friend’s ranch for years. He wanted out of him. Would I buy him (for the same price the guy paid for him, of course)?

I thought about it. Ready wasn’t worth the asking price…or even half of it. But the truth was, even if the man gave him to me, did I want him? I can only afford to retire so many. This was not a horse that I felt very inclined to retire. But still, I remembered the handsome colt I fell in love with; I was, after all, the one who trained him….. In short, I agonized over it.

In the end I said no. I was getting a divorce myself. I wasn’t sure I could keep the horses I had, horses I really loved. I truly couldn’t afford to take another horse on just then. I don’t know what happened to Ready. It still makes me sad to think he may have gone to slaughter.

So, here’s the question. How did I fail? Ready was what he was…it wasn’t his fault. Time has shown he was genetically programmed to be an unwilling riding horse, but I couldn’t have known that when I chose him. I did a pretty good job training him, for what he was. And yet, I didn’t care for him. I didn’t want to keep him and ride him. I can’t judge the man who wanted to sell him to me, but I do wonder if I should have bought the horse back. Was I obligated? I picture Ready at the slaughter plant and I just shudder. I don't sell horses any more. I can't stand it.

So, where did I fail? What should have happened differently here? Where’s the right answer? I don’t know.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A New Adventure

Hi Everybody,

Happy Summer! Hope everyone is getting in some great riding time! I’m still without a regular riding program, but after a lifetime in hunters and equitation had just planned to start at a local dressage barn. I really felt it was time for a change of pace and the simple dressage I did with my equitation horses was always challenging for me. I always felt that I would have been a much better rider and a better partner to my horses if I had had at least a rudimentary mastery of dressage. In fact, in my equitation classes I always did much better over fences than on the flat. On the other hand, when I needed to work on sitting trot or transitions I always preferred to drop my stirrups so I could wrap my leg around better. So perhaps my body knew better than my head how to apply some dressage principles to communicating with my horse.

I’ve written three books so far, and in each my riders do hunters and equitation. I write what I know. I’ve been living in the hunter world since I was ten. I can breath life into my stories because the settings are ones I’ve lived. I’m not assuming I can gain the skill or knowledge of people who have dedicated a lifetime of riding dressage, but I’m always figuring out new ways to challenge myself.

Great weather, worked up my courage to see if I can change my leg position after all these years, and voila! I picked up a too heavy box of books and toys and wound up with a mildly bulging disk and pinched nerve. Ouch! Complete recovery is predicted, but there goes my great plan!

In the meantime, I’m contenting myself with the wonderful horses (some magical, some not) in The Grimoire. The writing is going well. My goal is to have the manuscript polished within the next two months. Then off go the query letters and we’ll see what happens.

The other consequence of this little injury is (gulp) weight gain. I bought a copy of The T Factor Diet Quick Melt. We’ll see if I can stick with it. The nutritionist I consult with would say be patient and stick with healthy eating, so I won’t do it too long. I’ll let you know if two weeks on it works. : )


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Conrad Follow-up

I apologize for my post being so late tonight. I just got home from a weekend away.

I hope everyone enjoyed my posts on Conrad Schumacher. Now, a few months later, I find that this clinic has had a profound effect on my riding life. My trainer pointed out during my last lesson that I’d actually taken when I’d learned and utilized it in a productive way. My mare is no longer blowing through my half-halts. She’s actually listening more and sitting on her haunches rather than falling on her forehand and going faster.

Since I now have half-halts, suddenly everything is coming together. My mare is more forward, more obedient, and more willing. Thanks to good shoeing and better riding, she’s been sound for over a year. I’m pretty excited about that.

Regardless, I decided not to show her, at least not this year. Like many Americans, my limited expendable income is not well spent on $500-a-show entry fees, not to mention the other incidental expenses.

I’m wondering how many of you are feeling the pinch of the economy? How have you cut back? Have those expensive little ribbons become less important? Has your relationship with your horse become more important?

I’m enjoying my horse more than I ever have in the eleven years I’ve owned her. I miss the barn camaraderie at the shows, but I don’t miss the showing itself. I’m sure if I’d done better at it, I’d probably have a different opinion of its importance in my life.

Oddly enough, the shows in my area are still filling up. In some ways, I’m shocked, considering the economy. I suspect entrants are going without to pay those fees. As long as that happens, show fees will increase and no alternatives will be explored. Not to say that I’m indifferent to the problems that plague show organizers. Nor do I think they’re getting rich holding horse shows. Organizing horse shows has become a business. When I first started in dressage, everyone was a volunteer, no one was paid. Administrative costs were minimal. No more. Demands made by organizations for recordkeeping have made the costs go up and have required the hiring of show managers and secretaries.

Does all this mean I’ll never show again? Probably not. I find I’m more inclined to ride on a regular basis when I have something to work toward. Besides, I know my mare and I are vastly improved from a year ago when we last stepped foot in the show ring. So never say never, I may well be joining the ranks again next year.

Last Thursday several people at my barn were loading up trailers to head to a three-day show. To be honest, I didn’t wish I was going. In fact, I recently sold my camper, which means if I do show again, I’m back to staying in a hotel. It was my way of saying that I’m done doing this on a regular basis.

So stay tuned because heaven knows I could change my mind again. I’ll let you know.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What are We Doing? by Janet Huntington

I have a friend who started to breed high quality paint and QH pleasure horses several years ago. She had a nice home, horses for her and her husband to ride and a good layout for broodmares on her place. She bought two high quality mares and bred to the best studs she could find. I'm talking Dynamic in The Dark and One Hot Krymsun. Her foals were stunning.

Several years went by and we became reacquainted. She is in the process of losing her home and lives in an apartment attached to her barn. She has 12 head of gorgeous horses she hasn't sold. Her training bills are crippling her, she spends four hours a day simply maintaining her horses, on top of trying to carry a full time job and neither she nor her husband ride any more. She carries several maxed out credit cards.

I know another family who went into breeding. They owned a young mare who went to the top in reined cowhorse. She was piloted by one of the top trainers in the country. She was retired to be a broodmare after earning over $50,000 dollars. This family also bred their mares to top stallions. They bought their own stud colt and put him in training. Soon they had a barn full of horses in training. None of them panned out.

At this point in time they have gone into bankruptcy, lost half their property, their truck and trailer and the heavy equipment that ran the family business. The husband works out of state now and makes it home once a month. They have over 20 head.

I could keep going. I know too many people who end up here because of broken dreams which evolve around horses.

Believe me, I'm not judging. I'm struggling with 5 head, the last of the horses I still have from my training business. I know I have too many and will sell at least one of them, maybe more before I can relax and enjoy my horses again.

Are we collectors? What separates us from the crazy cat ladies? How do we get from one horse we love to ride, to so many, we slave just to give them basic care?

Part of it comes from an unreal sense of the value of our horses.

They are only worth what somebody is willing to pay for them.

We get caught in the trap of thinking we should recoup our expenses. Simply because the stud fee, mare care, feed, veterinary expenses, farrier services, training and travel costs come up to $35, 000, it doesn't mean that's what our horse will bring.

The other trap I see is greed. Pure and simple. We read the NRCHA snaffle bit sales results and see a top selling horse go for hundreds of thousands. We think, hey, my mare is a full sister to the grandmother of that horse. Or, my trainer won the state fair this year, she should be able to train my horse so I can get the big bucks.

Then reality hits. There are big names of established trainers, breeders and owners. These people have money. Piles of it. Even if your blood line runs true, you have to have the name to go with it to make the big bucks.

Chances are your blood lines are almost the same.

Almost doesn't work.

Facilities and locations count. The high dollar clients aren't going to come look at your prospect if you live on a 20 acre ranchette in the back 40. They just aren't.

Your trainer has to make some big wins, have a bunch of luck and win on more than one of your horses before people will show up to buy.

The folks I was talking about earlier had these problems plus more. The friend who breeds pleasure horses simply loves them too much to let them go. It's truly that simple. After all this trauma, financial ruin and heartbreak she's come to realize she can't bear to part with them.

The other gal is a collector, plain and simple. She has too many horses, none of them get enough to eat or their feet and vetting done often enough. She has pens filled with donkeys, goats, dogs birds, it's a nightmare. She ran out of money so now she haunts the auction, saying she's "rescuing" this horse or that. They join the group of not quite fed enough, not broke, not handled masses of animals she has. I know some day she'll be on T.V., screaming at the humane society and sheriff as they confiscate her animals.

And me? I'm caught in the fear of my animals ending up in slaughter. I'm able to care for them at this point. I have trained them, loved them and hope they have the manners and temperament they need to survive in this world. But I can't quite send them away. I have decided I can't breed, buy or sell anymore horses. I'll deal with the card I've dealt myself and continue to worry about my friends who bury themselves in this horse business.

How did we get here?

My friend saw a pretty paint colt in a field in Utah.

I was having dinner with the collector and her husband at a horse show. The husband said, "When we first got horses we were going to trail ride and take them camping. We were going to have one each. We just wanted to ride in the mountains."

He looked so sad I almost cried.

I went partners in on a well bred colt who was falling between the cracks.
I bought my next show horse.
I bred my daughter's champion mare.
I bought my daughter an investment colt and she fell in love.
So now I'm at five.

I know this is scattered, but it's simply a collection of my thoughts as I rode one of my five today. Maybe tomorrow, as I ride another, I'll come up with some answers.

Anybody thoughts?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pet Peeves

By Laura Crum

I don’t know about you guys, but a lot of horsemen have pet peeves, something that’s maybe not so important, that they just can’t tolerate in a horse. I know I do. And my biggest pet peeve is “mean” horses. Horses that in a turn out situation, will hurt or terrify other horses. I have never owned a horse like this. Somehow or other my instincts just seem to warn me away from them. I’ve had dominant horses, yes, but never horses that would really beat up on other horses, such that they hurt or truly frightened them. But I have known quite a few such mean horses in my life and I had/have very little tolerance for them.

This isn’t entirely reasonable on my part. The horse isn’t being mean in the sense that a person would be mean. The “mean” horse just has an overly dominant nature. He/she would probably be a great survivor in the wild. Still, I don’t care for them. They can be good performers, but no such mean horse that I have known was very kind or willing in general. However, the truth is its just one of my personal pet peeves.

When I was growing up, my uncle owned one of these ultra-aggressive horses. He called him Wino. Wino was a successful performer as a heel horse, some might have called him a great performer. However, to the end of his days he was an untrustworthy bastard. (Just my humble opinion.) I never liked him. But when my uncle asked to turn him out in my sixty acre pasture, I didn’t like to say no.

At the time I had a couple of mares that belonged to my uncle and two geldings that belonged to me in the field. They all got along fine. I knew that Wino was a dominant horse but figured he would just be the boss. I thought it would be no problem out in a sixty acre field. Wrong.

Wino’s first action on being put in the field was to beat my gelding, Burt, up so thoroughly that Burt went into shock. His gums were pale and he was shaky. He trembled. I put Burt in a corral for the night and turned him out the next day feeling that he and Wino would no longer need to squabble now that Wino was boss. That much was true. But to my surprise Wino proceeded to drive Burt and Lester, the other gelding, completely away from the two mares. The geldings were not allowed to be within sight of Wino and his harem, or Wino would attack them.

I put up with this situation for a few weeks. I owed my uncle a favor. He had kept my horse for several years. I figured eventually the horses would get over it. I told myself it was no big deal. But it bugged me.

I found I was growing angrier and angrier at the sight of my two horses, driven off, and worried all the time. It pissed me off. In the end, I told my uncle he had to move Wino. So Wino went back home, where he subsequently drove two other horses through a pasture fence. One of them died of its injuries.

Time passed. I have a good friend who owns another very dominant gelding. Like Wino, this horse, Bo, was a pretty good performer in his day, but I never cared for him. I thought he was a nasty untrustworthy bastard (see my feelings about Wino). A few years ago my friend was ready to retire Bo. At the time I had one very gentle crippled gelding turned out in a nearby field. My friend knew the owner of the field and asked if she could turn Bo out there, too. The owner of the field said yes. I had misgivings, but what could I say? It wasn’t my field, and the gal was my friend. And at first it seemed to work.

The small group of horses living in the field got along OK. Bo was boss. Rebby, my horse, was bottom man on the totem pole. But it didn’t seem to be a big deal. Except in the winter, when we had to feed hay. Bo would attack the other horses and drive them off all the hay until he’d eaten his fill. It didn’t matter how far apart we threw the flakes, Bo defended them all. The other horses were too scared of him to try very hard to get past him.

Still, eventually the herd was allowed to eat. It was working OK. My friend was happy that Bo was turned out. This went on for a few years. And then the owner of the field allowed a neighbor to put her young mare in with the group. Overnight things went to hell in a hand basket. I didn’t see it happen, but apparently Bo beat the crap out of Rebby and drove him away from the others. Rebby was so panicked that he stayed in one corner of the twenty acre field, far from water, scared to death. If he saw the other horses, he ran away. He didn’t even give Bo a chance to chase him. He was terrified of the whole group.

I called my friend and told her what was going on. She shrugged. “That’s just typical horse behavior,” she told me, “they’ll get over it.”

I had my doubts. I didn’t consider it typical horse behavior. I considered it asshole horse behavior. But what could I do? It wasn’t my field. She was my friend. I kept my mouth shut and brought buckets of water to Rebby and got ready to move him if things didn’t improve in a week or two.

Unknown to me the pasture owner had noticed what was going on. She had never liked Bo and resented his habit of driving the other horses off their hay. This behavior was the last straw. She called my friend and told her to get Bo out of the field. Today.

My friend called me and accused me of telling the pasture owner to do this. I honestly affirmed that I hadn’t. My friend was understandably upset at having to move her horse that very day. She said how stupid the pasture owner was and how the woman simply didn’t understand that horses did things like this. And at that point my patience went south. I said that horses in general did not do this, that overly aggressive horses were a serious and dangerous problem, and if she didn’t recall, I had removed Wino from my own field for similar behavior and I was not ignorant about horses. I reminded her that Wino had later driven two horses through the pasture fence and killed one. I pointed out that Rebby was my horse and it wasn’t making me happy to see him so scared and miserable that he was afraid to walk to water. I said that if it was her horse that was driven off she might not think it was such a nothing. Needless to say, this did not improve our friendship. My friend moved her horse back home. She never did find another place to turn him out. But we did stay friends.

And then the other night we were out at dinner with another horsewoman and the story came up again. My friend reiterated that the pasture owner was an ignorant non-horseman for removing Bo from the field for his behavior. I said, “bullshit,” (a little more politely than that). I put forth my point of view that overly aggressive horses were a real problem. The other gal told a story of a horse like that who had driven another horse through the fence and seriously injured it. And my friend shut up and I could tell she was angry at me.

OK, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I frequently should just keep my mouth shut. But its one of my pet peeves. So, I’m putting it out there. What do you all think? Is my friend right that its just typical horse behavior and no big deal? Or am I right that that sort of a horse is a real problem and shouldn’t be turned out with other horses?

Anybody else have any pet peeves they want to share?

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Making of a Company

First off, it's good to be back here at Equestrian Ink. Life has gotten very busy for me and I had to kind of take a look at where I needed to scale back. Blogging was one of the items included in the scaling back list. But I am back with Eq Ink because any chance I get to write about horses, the world of horses, or how to incorporate horses into writing--well, I want to be writing about that!

For readers and followers who don't know, I have another job other than my writing, which I think is typical of most writers. I work for my family's business--Professional's Choice Sports Medicine Inc. My dad started Prof Choice thirty-four-years ago. And he started the company because of a horse. The company is about horses so that shouldn't be a surprise. However, initially Prof. Choice didn't have anything to do with horses.

When I was six-years-old (a long time ago) my dad bought a horse named Ivan. Ivan was huge. He was a half draft and half Quarter horse. He had the mind of a saint for the most part and over the years this gentle giant taught many people how to ride. My dad worked in the car business at the time. It was summer time and I can remember begging my dad to come home early from work so that I could ride Ivan. One evening he did just that. Dad got home and although it was already getting late (around Ivan's dinner time) he went ahead and and got him ready for me to ride. Looking back, I am sure my dad wonders if he had lost all common sense at the time, and I was only six--so common sense wasn't something I even understood the concept of. Anyway, we only had a bareback pad and because it was the horse's dinner time, Dad let me know that this was going to be a short ride. We set out on the trail behind our house. Dad had this dirt bike--not one of the loud vroom-vroom types, but more of a put-put type. He got on his bike and stayed a distance behind me. When we got to the end of the trail we turned around and Dad said, "Now it's Ivan's dinner time. I want you to just walk him. No trotting because he might decide he wants to get back to the barn faster than we'd like him to." Okay, so common sense might not have been something I had, but I could be a little precocious so when I heard don't trot him, my litte ears must not have heard or else my little mind did not obey. I got a little ahead with Ivan and sure enough had him in a trot, and sure enough the big guy wanted to get back to the barn and have his dinner--and sure enough it was a lot faster than that trot.

As Ivan and I crested the hill behind our house at a full gallop, Dad lost sight of us. Now, it was about this time I came off of Ivan behind a neighbor's house. I was fine--landed in some soft sand and Ivan went ahead and made it home. Dad didn't fare so well. Not seeing us, he panicked and he pushed that put-put of a motorcycle to go at top speed, and he hit a rock and spun out and when he came off the bike, it didn't take long for him to realize that he couldn't get up. He'd broken his leg in several places.

Fast forward to a month later--Dad in a cast, hot summer day and we had a pool. So, my dad thinks how nice it would be if he could just get into that pool, but the cast couldn't get wet. A trash bag wasn't going to work. My dad set out to invent something that could go over the cast to keep it from getting wet. At the time there was a small company making dive suits out of a garage not too far from where we lived (Body Glove). My dad came up with a design and with the sewer's help at Body Glove they put together his first invention-A Drycast Sleeve. Dad wound up swimming all summer in that Drycast. Now he poured a lot of faith and money into that invention, worked many extra hours as my mom did to get it off the ground. Suffice to say The Drycast didn't take off the way they'd hoped. But my dad kept on creating.

A couple of years later, (by this time we had three more horses) Dad is looking at the horses' legs a lot and he's thinking, "Those little legs underneath those big bodies need some preventive care and protection to keep them sound." So, he started talking to trainers, vets, anyone with any kind of real expertise dealing with horses. He came up with the initial sports medicine boot. It was that product that took off for him and moved a company my parents started out of a back room in our house into a small office building with a sewing machine. Today, Professional's Choice is the number one equine sports medicine company in preventative leg care. My dad's philosophy has always been that he wants to improve the comfort and life of the horse. He is a true horseman who really loves the animals.

I tell this story for a couple of reasons. The first is that if you are a writer this is the type of story that hopefully helps you in the journey. Companies aren't built in a day and neither are writers' careers. My parents instilled discipline and tenacity in me and even when I want to give up on my writing, they help push me through. I think of the determination and some of the sacrifices they went through to provide what they believe and know are products that really do help horses and riders.

I also tell this story to honor my parents who had faith in what they were doing. I also wanted to honor a great horse who lived to be 31 years old, and is buried on my parents' property. Without Ivan and that fateful day thirty-four-years ago, I have to wonder if there'd even be a Professional's Choice, or if I'd even be a writer. Who knows what kind of twists and turns life would have taken. But I have to say that I am happy I had no common sense at six, and was just a tad precocious.

Happy to be back!


P.S. Check out my new book trailer for the YA I'm working on. It's kind of International Velvet meets Gossip Girls with a little paranormal thrown in.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New York Conference

Hi Everybody,

It was fun to be back in New York. It's amazing how different the city looked to me since I moved to the Midwest. I used to drive in every day to work and didn't think much about it, but now that I live out in a suburb with lots of open spaces, the city seemed totally different. Fun, exciting, with lots to do but I found myself missing the openness of my new home at the same time. Or perhaps I was missing the three little voices calling "Mom."

The Backspace Conference Agent Author Day was enormously helpful to me as a writer and I would heartily recommend it to anyone considering a career as an author. I received feedback on my query letter and on my first five pages. Interestingly, some of the feedback on the opening pages ran counter to some advice I'd received previously from another respected agent, which I think illustrates an important point. The judgment of any one agent or editor are subjective. Personal taste plays a large role in each agent's decisions on what to represent. As different people read their work aloud, more than once I heard "It's good, it's just not my cup of tea" from the participating agents. This brought home to me the importance of thoroughly researching any agent I want to query. I read their submission guidelines on multiple sites and read the books of authors they represent.

The agents are consistent on quality of writing, and I know that for any agent I need to polish my work until it gleams. They all want to see excellent writing in the pages submitted, but where I found more difference of opinion was in the particulars they like to see in query letters. Many agents participate in online workshops and/or have blogs, so I would recommend looking through these. Many of them will post query letters they received that they particularly liked.

Anyway, here's what they had to say about mine:

Query letter:

They liked the general format of it. Mostly it needed to be tightened up. I needed to write less in my paragraph describing the work, leave out the secondary character Fiona, and focus more on the romantic relationship between my protagonist, Gemma, and Connor Hogan. They liked the idea of a romantic relationship where one partner can influence the perceptions of the other. Does call for the ultimate bit of trust, don't you think?

As to the opening pages, they recommended less stylized language. In other words, fewer complicated clauses. Keep the writing simple and straightfoward.

So now I have a query letter to rewrite, opening pages to simplify and a manuscript to finish. On the bright side, one agent in particular loved the concept so she'll be on the top of my list of agents to query!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Two Great Horses . . .

by Kit Ehrman

It’s no surprise that most people readily assume that I love horseracing. After all, my last mystery, TRIPLE CROSS, took place at the Kentucky Derby.

I do love watching horses run, but I don’t love horseracing. I love horses, and there’s the difference. In my opinion, any equine sport, whether it be the Olympic disciplines, barrel racing, endurance riding, etc., becomes less horse friendly at the upper levels where considerable prize money, reputations, and ego come into play. So, it was nice to see Rachel Alexandra’s connections (she won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and Preakness) withdraw her from the Belmont Stakes scheduled this Saturday because they were thinking of her longtime health.

clipped from

“We know the media and many fans would have liked to see her run in the Belmont Stakes -- we feel the same. But all of us sincerely interested in the horse must agree that we only want to see her run when it is best for her. While she is in great shape, having strong works, and recovering well from her amazing performances, we feel Rachel deserves a well-earned vacation. Since March 14, Rachel has won four graded races with just two weeks rest between her last two victories. We will always put her long-term well-being first. And, of course, we want to run her when she is fresh.”

 blog it

I applaud them. They put the horse first.

Now, if you haven’t seen this year’s Kentucky Derby or Oaks, you’ve missed two outstanding performances by two special horses.

In the 2009 Kentucky Derby, Calvin Borel (a.k.a. Calvin Bo-Rail for his penchant of sneaking horses through gaps that open up along the rail) guided Mine That Bird from dead last to a stunning victory that made the rest of the field look like it was running in slow-mo. An amazing performance. In fact, the announcer was so focused on the horses that had comprised the race most of the way around the oval, he didn’t even notice Mine That Bird until the horse had pulled into a comfortable lead. After watching the video, back it up just a bit and watch Borel and Mine that Bird fly over to the rail in three strides and explode down the rail.

If you were impressed with the Derby, the Kentucky Oaks will blow you away. Rachel Alexandra, who went on to win the Preakness, proves she can run with the boys, no problem. What a special horse.

Here’s to Saturday and the Belmont Stakes. I’m hoping Mine That Bird continues his winning ways.

Kit Ehrman