Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rider Pilates

Last weekend was a busy one for me. First of all, I attended a Football 101 workshop at Seattle Seahawks headquarters sponsored by The Seahawks Women's Association to benefit breast cancer. I love football and my current book series features football heroes. Attending this workshop qualified as book research and a heck of a lot of fun. I'll post pictures on my Facebook later.

On Friday night, I attended the riderless portion of a pilates seminar and the riding portion on Sunday. Anne, who rides at my barn, arranged it with a local pilates instructor, Beth Glosten. Beth is a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist. Her first career was as an anesthesiologist, now her second is as a pilates instructor. She became interested in pilates while rehabbing from back surgery and to combat her constant back problems. She calls her version of pilates, RiderPilates.

I'd never done anything like this before, though I'd read some magazine articles and have a few Pilates exercise DVDs.

Beth started the seminar discussing what makes a good rider and her rider training scale (Mental Focus, Posture and Support, Body Control, Understand).

Mental Focus is important because the rider is a benevolent alpha, a term I really liked, and the horse depends on the rider to function as such. A rider must be the thinking member of the horse/rider team.

Good posture places your body in neutral spine alignment supported by abdominal and back muscles. Many riders use their legs and thighs to support themselves on a horse, which was well-demonstrated when we did exercises on the pilates ball. We bounced on the ball, staying balanced with equal weight on both seatbones while staying in rhythm to a metronome. They we did various exercises with our arms as we were bouncing in rhythm. For a uncoordinated person like me, it really drove home how much I depend on legs and hands to stay on the horse.

Beth went into details on the different gaits of the horse and how to sit each one, including very helpful videos of good and bad examples. The exercise portion included ball and mat work.

On Sunday amidst crazy Northwest fall weather, I hauled Gailey to Anne's barn about 10 minutes away. She hadn't been away from her barn in over a year, so I was a little nervous about the entire experience. She loaded and unloaded just fine despite the hail storm and wind. Once in the arena, she settled down and went right to work. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures so the one above is from Beth's website.

The riding portion was extremely beneficial for me. I knew I sat crookedly on the horse, and Beth really helped me straighten out my position by using certain muscles to push my outside hip down into the saddle. I'm also too loose in my mid-section so I firmed my core to restrict my over movement. I pulled my thighs away from the saddle to stop my gripping legs. She related these corrections back to exercises we did on the pilates ball.

Once I was seated in the correct position it became obvious through the horse's change in movement, even though it felt "wrong" to my body which was used to being crooked. When I was aligned correctly and not gripping with my legs, the horse came up underneath me instead of lugging around on her forehand. Of course, she was easier to ride. In fact, very easy. There was such a marked change I could use the horse as my barometer. If I was crooked she sped up and dumped on the forehand. If I was correct, she collected and listened for signals as subtle as a change in breathing for down transitions.

We're hoping to schedule another riding session with Beth in the future. I'm really looking forward to it. I encourage all of you to take advantage of an opportunity like this if you get the chance. It was actually quite inexpensive and well worth it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Short Post

I'm cheating--again--and writing a short post. But I was in a teacher workshop all day on "Teachers Who Inspire," and even though teaching requires much of my time that I could be writing or promoting my books, it also keeps me sane. For example, my novel Whirlwind came out in May. I have been standing on my head trying to promote it. Today I forwarded an e-mail to my editor from a reader wanting to know if there will be a sequel. (This is not the first e-mail asking about a sequel, but was worthy of forwarding.) Sorry, my editor wrote back, sales just aren't that good.
My agent also sent me a rejection for my YA she's shopping around. All this since my workshop.
BIG SIGH. Depressive thoughts. Why am I doing this questions.
Teaching helps me keep my author life in perspective. It reminds me that I have a skill that is often appreciated. (Okay, I teach reluctant college students . . .you get the picture.) But I interact with real humans with real problems. I encourage and motive. I listen and offer suggestions.
So different from my writing life and so needed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Speaking Up

by Laura Crum

My last post, “Helping Beginners” sparked some interesting comments. One in particular referenced a beginner who was essentially duped into accepting an abusive person as an “expert” and spent a couple of years “enabling” this person to abuse and neglect horses—all because the beginner did not know enough to recognize abuse and neglect when she saw it. Thankfully this person eventually woke up to what was going on (partly because others kept telling her it was abusive) and sought better advisors.

So, at this point the question moves on from whether experienced horsemen should offer unsolicited advice to beginners, to the perhaps trickier one of when do we speak up and say, “Your trainer is abusive.” “Your horses are too thin; you’re neglecting them.” “Beating and jerking on this horse as you are doing is abuse.” “This sort of bitting up or rolkur (substitute your own choice) is cruel and abusive.” “Your advisor/mentor/expert is not giving you good advice.” Like many things, this sounds simple—of course we should stand up against abuse—but it really isn’t.

Let me give an example. Not too far from where I live there is a well known trainer. I took a few lessons from him many years ago and rapidly discovered he was hard on his horses and screamed at his students. I never went back. Some years later I met a woman who had worked for him as an assistant trainer. She had since taken up team roping and we met at the roping arenas. She often told me horror stories about the well known trainer, whom she had worked for for two years. Stories about how cruel he was to horses and people, including his clients and help. She referred to him as a “sadistic bastard”. But I noticed that to others, in general conversation, she was more inclined to dwell on her reflected glory as assistant to the “Big Deal Trainer”. She only told the horror stories when we were one on one.

Now the horror stories about this trainer were confirmed by a few other folks I knew who were his clients at one time. He was dishonest as well as cruel to horses and people. And based on my experiences with him, I had no trouble believing this. I also knew (because she told me) that former assistant trainer had quit on very bad terms with Big Deal Trainer and did not speak to him for a couple of years. However, at some point former assistant trainer must have decided that being on good terms with Big Deal Trainer was in her best interests and she mended the breach. And none of this meant much to me.

But not too long ago I was at a gathering where former assistant trainer waxed lyrical to some beginners who were looking for a trainer about Big Deal Trainer. How she used to ride for him, how talented he was. She advised the beginners to maybe attend a clinic or two and then put their horses in training with Big Deal Trainer. I listened to this and kept my mouth shut. No one asked me for my opinion and I did not give it.

But now I wonder. When do we speak up? Should I have said that Big Deal Trainer was known for being hard on horses and people and that former assistant trainer knew this very well. Should I have asked former assistant trainer to explain WHY she was now praising Big Deal Trainer after all the negative things she had told me about him in private—things that I was pretty clear were true, based on my own experiences and what others had told me. Should I have warned the beginners off of Big Name Trainer, despite the fact that they did not know me nor were they asking my advice, but were interested in former assistant trainer, whose opinion they obviously valued.

To me, this is a very gray area. Is it really right for me to run down this trainer to others? Is it any of my business? Under these circumstances, would it do any good, or would I simply appear as a nasty, bad mouthing person—essentially doing harm? Is it appropriate for me to call former assistant trainer on her rather two-faced approach? And/or is it wrong of me to sit silent while the beginners are led down the primrose path toward a trainer that I believe will do them and their horses harm?

This is just one example of the many gray areas we face when we talk about speaking up in the face of abuse. I chose it as an example because it is a particularly confusing area in my eyes. Some things seem pretty plain and maybe we can see that we need to speak. But some things are more complicated, like the above case. What would you do? And do you have other examples of times when it is not clear whether one should speak up or not?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Pain in the Neck – Kwintus goes to the vet…again

Last Monday, just over a week ago, I hauled Kwintus to a horse clinic right across Switzerland. I took him to a little town called Niederlenz located in the German-speaking part of the country. Unfortunately, the problem with his broken and infected tooth, resolved by a three hour operation in the horse clinic in the Valais earlier this month, was not the end of his tribulations. Now my horse needed
infiltrations in his neck as well.

I’d already had Kwintus neck infiltrated with corticoids two and a half years ago, when one of the country’s leading vets detected that my horse’s increasing stumbling problem had nothing to do with his front legs, but was caused by a deterioration of cartilage between his 6th and 7th vertebra.

Kwintus’ symptoms were strange, similar to what happens when someone stands behind you and knocks your knee forwards. As you can imagine, this is not the most reassuring of feelings when you’re riding, and my trainer, my daughter and I were increasingly concerned that he might suddenly go down onto his knees. Also, his neck would sometimes “lock” to one side after he’d been ridden, and we’d have to get him to reach down low (usually with a little carrot incentive), then slowly make him stretch to one side and then the other in order for his neck to release. These symptoms disappeared almost completely after the corticoid infiltrations, although Kwintus has always been prone to stumbling. A later conversation with Tamara, one of his previous owners, confirmed he’d done it to some extent throughout his life, that she’d had him x-rayed and ultra-sounded from his head to his toes, but that none of these investigations ever revealed anything conclusive.

Kwintus was 15 when we bought him, and I remember wondering what was up with his knees occasionally “giving way” the first time I saw him ridden in the yard in Germany, but when a thorough vet check revealed nothing, I put it down to a possible unevenness in the floor of that indoor arena. But when the symptoms gradually got worse over the following twelve months, to the point where he began to feel unsafe to ride, I had to investigate. Local vets were stumped, and it was only when my trainer managed to convince one of the top vets in Switzerland to come and take a look at Kwintus that the mystery was solved. He watched him trot, touched his neck, and knew immediately what was wrong. Amazing!

An appointment at the clinic in Niederlenz was made, and we hauled Kwintus across the country, infiltrated his neck, and after a couple of weeks of walking him in hand, and lunging him long and low, my daughter and I were able to ride him again without him “losing one of his front legs” underneath us. Nevertheless, Kwintus has never been a horse you can trot and canter on a long, loose rein. He’s always needed a constant contact, especially on the outside rein, in order to keep his balance. It’s a bit of a drag, but there it is; all horses have “something”, Kwintus has this, and everything else about him is fabulous.

Of course, the effects of corticoid infiltrations don’t last forever; usually the treatment needs repeating within six months to a year. Kwintus, however, was fine for two years, but gradually, particularly over the summer, the stumbling began again. Small, almost insignificant trips at first (the dangerous thing about this kind of problem is that, as a rider, you get used to it, learn to deal with it), until one day, when I was trotting down the long side of the outside arena, he practically fell on his knees, almost ejecting me head first onto one the “cross country steps” that border the arena. A few days later, he did the same thing again, this time while trotting down the diagonal. Again, I almost came off. Alarmed, I dismounted and called my trainer, who called the “super vet”, who advised us to reschedule a trip to the Swiss German clinic.

But scheduling this was problematic as, almost simultaneously, we discovered that Kwintus needed to have one of his back molars removed, so had to wait until he’d had that operation before we could take him right across the country for infiltrations at the other clinic. The idea of having both proceedings done within ten days of each other bothered me, but at the same time I knew that the more we delayed the infiltrations the longer he’d be off work, which with a horse his age is not ideal. When older horses lose muscle tone and condition it is much harder to build them up again. I also knew that the infiltrations might not work the same magic as last time, and that if Kwintus continued to stumble badly he’d have to be retired. Also, retiring him without infiltrating him was inconceivable since he’d be in constant discomfort. I gave it some thought, discussed it with my trainer, and with Kwintus’ best interests at heart, ten days after his tooth operation, hauled him across the country for treatment.

To rule out any other problems I also had the clinic perform flexion tests, blockage tests, as well as an x-ray of his left shoulder (he’s often a little stiff on this side). Everything was perfect, which was already a big relief. Finally, neck x-rays revealed a serious loss of cartilage between his 6th and 7th vertebrae. So, guided by ultrasound, the vet infiltrated my poor, heavily sedated horse’s super sore neck.

Now, a little over a week later, Kwintus clearly feels a lot better. He’s perky and happy, far more stable on his feet. He’s turned out every morning, then walked in hand for half an hour to forty-five minutes every afternoon. Last Saturday marked his d├ębut in the aquapacer, a water treadmill recently installed in our yard, which is fantastic for slowly building up a horse’s condition without putting strain on his body. A second aquapacer session yesterday went smoothly (he seems to enjoy it!), and he’ll be having regular sessions two or three times a week until I try riding him again at the beginning of November. If things go well, if he doesn’t stumble, chances are he’ll be able to enjoy a few more years of gentle work, aquapacer sessions, and pleasant rides in the countryside. If not, at least he’ll be able to spend the rest of his life pottering comfortably around the big green fields surrounding the stables. And I’ll have done everything I can for my beautiful, wonderful, generous four-legged friend.

Fingers crossed.

And pass the Kleenex, because writing this has made me a little tearful...

Helping Beginners

by Laura Crum

I read a blog post awhile ago that suggested that experienced horsemen should make an effort to help beginners. Since that tied in very neatly with my last month’s post, “Finding the Right Horse”, I thought I’d enlarge on that theme a little bit here, and bring up some more points.

First off, I’m pretty sure the writer of the blog post I read had good intentions. She’s an experienced horseman who used to be a horse trainer and she does have some good ideas. But in the light of my post on finding the right horse, I’m also sure you can imagine that my first thought was “Well, it’s a nice concept in theory but in practice it doesn’t always work out too well.”

There is a reason most of us experienced horsemen are loath to offer much advice, and it isn’t just that the advice is often ignored. Even well meant, experienced advice can cause more trouble than it solves. For instance, Nancy, the woman I wrote about in my post about finding a horse, declined to work with the experienced young trainer I introduced her to. When she then told me she was having problems with the horse that she chose to buy sans advice, I told her she needed an experienced horseman to help her. She said she had such a helper, and named a woman’s name—someone that had been introduced to me as a beginner about three years ago.

Well, OK, a person can learn a lot in three years—I’m not sure it makes you an experienced horseperson, though. What this woman is is someone who has a horse property, has chosen to take on boarders, and is happy to “help” these boarders. She has “horse camps” and the like of that. It could be fine, it could be great. She could also be ignorant as hell and do her boarders (and Nancy) no favors by “helping” them. I have no idea. And therein lies part of the problem.

What if I had been quite sure that I didn’t think much of Nancy’s “experienced helper”? I have blogged before about my dilemma when it came to recommending “Trainer Jane”, a trainer I don’t care for. But Jane is at least experienced. What if Nancy’s chosen helper is little more than a beginner herself (in my eyes) and liable to cause more problems than she solves. What do I say then? And will it do good or harm if I say it?

This is a very common scenario, since the people who are most likely to jump in and want to advise a beginner are very likely to be wanna-be trainers who know very little. Faced with an anxious mare being throttled with a hackamore and driven out of her mind with conflicting cues by an oblivious beginner rider, mr/ms wanna be trainer is perfectly likely to advise parking the mare’s butt hard and backing her up, and oh, let’s tighten that chin strap so she’ll pay attention to you. And yep, its just that sort of yahoo who most likes to proffer advice.

But our new rider isn’t in a position to decide who’s really knowledgable and who’s not. As a beginner, he/she has no tools to judge. So they take wanna-be trainer’s advice and just make things a whole lot worse. But maybe the beginner can’t see that. Is experienced horseman going to do some good by pointing out a better approach with the anxious horse?

I’m doubtful. Take the case of Harley, the ex-team roping horse I gave to a beginner. I try to provide support for this situation but I don’t have time to be a regular helper. The woman is now taking riding lessons from someone else and at first I thought yay—this is progress. Until I found out the new helper has told her to grain the horse. Harley is a QH, an easy keeper, tends to get fat, is no deadhead, and is with a beginner. Does this add up to no grain, or what? I said as much and then asked the owner why in the world her helper had said to grain the horse.

“Oh, she grains her horses,” was the response.

Well, I closed my mouth on how many different types of horses and pursuits and varying nutritional needs there are in the equine world and just said that I was real sure graining Harley was a mistake, and perhaps she should reconsider her new helper’s advice. She gave me a funny look and I saw right there that now she’s torn between her faith in her new “expert” helper and me, and doesn’t know which one she should trust.

And there you have it in a nutshell. Everybody’s an expert. Once we all start giving beginners advice, how are they to choose? One will tell them to use clicker training, and another will advocate “natural horsemanship”. A traditional horseman like me with many years of experience is just a stout middle aged lady who doesn’t train any more saying mildly that wanna be trainer who advises some pretty rough jerks on an anxious mare is probably going at it the wrong way—how is the poor beginner to know whom to listen to? I don’t look like much of an expert horseman, in my Ugg boots and cargo pants. Surely flashy young trainer has more experience?

OK, you see my point. There’s a reason most of us don’t like to give advice (and I actively avoid it), and that’s because it sometimes seems to do more harm than good. Not to mention unasked for advice on any subject can be downright offensive. However, its an interesting point and worth discussing. Have any of you been able to successfully advise beginners? Even if you’re not a horse trainer taking their money? Also, if you are a horse trainer, how do you establish that you are perhaps more knowledgable than the young flashy trainer kid down the street who uses some harsh methods? Especially when said flashy young kid wins a lot at shows. Because sadly—and I can attest to this from the days when I worked for horse trainers—some of those who use very harsh methods do win a lot—but they don’t, in general, make horses I would care to be around. Any tips?

And if you’re a beginner, how did you sort out whose advice was/is worth taking? Would you be grateful if someone like me proffered advice when I met you riding on the trail and thought you needed help, or would you be offended? I have to admit, when I see something that to me looks like a wreck waiting to happen, I am often torn. Should I offer my two cents worth? Or will I only infuriate the often already frustrated and confused beginner (who sometimes does not regard herself as a beginner) and just make things worse. What’s your take on it?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Horse Books and GoodReads

Besides being a writer, I'm also an avid reader (especially anything about a horse) and I thought I'd mention a couple of recent reads that might be new to you. WAR HORSE, by well-known British author Michael Morpurgo, is now being made into a movie by Steven Spielberg, due to come out in August, 2011.

Told in first person from the horse's point of view, it's the story of Joey, a horse who is sold to the cavalry during World War One, and who experiences the horror of war in the trenches of France. But he still remembers his young master, Albert, from the farm where he grew up. Will he ever see him again? This is quite a touching story, and you might enjoy finding a copy and reading it before the movie comes out next year.

DREAM OF NIGHT, by Heather Henson, is a recent release. Told from three different viewpoints - an ex-race horse, an abused girl, and an aging horsewoman who takes them both in, it's a quick read and you might enjoy it. I did.

I belong to a reader's site called Goodreads. It's a lot of fun to connect with other people and see what they are reading. If you enjoy reading and finding new books, you might like it, too. Here's their main page: and here's my page, if you'd like to friend me on there:

Happy Reading, everyone! Any other good books you'd like to share?

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Own Little Piece of a Legend

by Terri Rocovich
Like Alison, and I think most horse enthusiasts, I too went to go see the movie Secretariat last week. I think it is probably the best horse related movie I have ever seen, even better than Sea Biscuit which I loved. The acting was great, the storyline well laid out and the accuracy and quality of the racing scenes were exceptional. Finally, for once they must have had people advising on the movie that actually know something about breeding and racing. I was a race track brat, growing up around the tracks as the daughter of an owner and breeder so I have a love for the sport, even with all of its negatives and abuses, that ties back to many happy childhood memories.

But I also have added personal ties to the great champion. My beloved equine son, Pete, is a close cousin to Secretariat and while watching the movie, I was amazed at how many personality trait they share. Not to mention some obvious physical similarities.

Like Secretariat, Pete is a big, bright Chestnut with a white star and has a sizable stride, albeit nothing compared to the champion's reported 28' gallop stride. Pete also has heart far bigger than his 16.3" frame and will try more and work harder than a mere mortal horse and would probably give me a limb if I asked.

(This is the great one winning the Belmont.)

Pete has no less than 8 sires in common with Secretariat including Bold Ruler, Nasrullah, Citation, Hail to Reason, and Bull Lea. On his Dam's side his lineage goes back to Seabiscuit, Hard Tack, and Man O War. He is cousins to Kentucky Derby winners Round Table and Silver Charm on his Dam's side and Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid on his sire's side. Sometimes I really wish Pete had been a mare, but then he then wouldn't be the Pete I know.

(This photo is of me collecting his huge stride on approach to a jump)

(Pete in flight, oh what a ride!)

Another trait he has in common with Secretariat is that he is a complete attention hound and a total ham! He insists on being the center of attention whenever anyone is in the barn, unless he is eating, which of course is very high priority. He is also very kind and affectionate but can also be very temperamental and has to have certain things just so. For example, you must put on his bridle carefully one ear at a time, he hates fly masks and will generally only let me put them on and only certain people in the "Pete club" are allowed to put a blanket on over the top of his head. The whole time I was watching the movie I kept thinking, "oh my God, that is just like Pete". Isn't genetics amazing!
Pete, also known as "his highness" is nearly 22 years old and works full time as a dressage schoolmaster to a chosen few. Like his cousin, Pete has a very sensitive mouth and will not tolerate hard or restrictive hands, so I can't put some rider's on him until they are fairly independent in their balance. Pete also has a trot and canter that can be a bit intimidating to some.
I was at a show a few weeks ago watching one of my student's ride him and I thought about what I would do when Pete was no longer with me.
I choked myself up and well, I just choose not to think about it further. I know that I will probably never have another horse like him both in the sense of his abilities and success competitively, but also in the bond we share. He is truly my soul mate and I just can't imagine the world without him. He is happy and healthy and rambunctious so here's hoping I don't have to contemplate it for a very, very long time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What do you want from a Writing Career?

Last week a wonderful writer friend of mine came to town and spoke to my writers' group. She talked about writing careers and options availble to writers. Here are some of her thoughts and mine on writing in the current economy and the future of ebooks.

Most writers aspire to see their books in a bookstore and published by a big New York publishing house like Simon and Schuster or Harper-Collins. With the increased proliferaiton of small presses who focus on epublishing, there are more options than ever before. Unfortunately, there is also a snobbery toward these small presses and a prevailing attitude that if you aren't published with big house, you're not really published. Add to that a lot of confusion between being self-published and being published by a small press.

Over the past few years, I've watched fellow writers get a NY contract only to be dropped after their first couple books because they didn't make enough money for their publisher. Most of these authors were unintentionally "setup" by their publishers for failure. They were given small print runs, next to no marketing dollars, and very poor distribution. Once the publisher drops them, other big presses are reluctant to give them a chance.

If you're considering a writing career, especially writing equestrian fiction, don't discount the small press option. It's extremely difficult for debut authors to make it with bigger publishers in this economy. Also, if you're thinking of writing as a good way to quit your day job, don't quit yet. Advances are getting smaller and smaller as are print runs for debut authors. I've heard the average NY advance in romance fiction is in the $2000 to $6000 range right now. The earn out can be as little a $6000 a book, and you'll wait upwards of a year or two to get your royalty check.

It's not my intention to discourage aspiring writers, I just want you to be realistic about your goals. Most of us write because we have to give life to the stories in our heads. We can't NOT write. It's as necessary as breathing. If you're one of those people, you need to ask yourself some serious questions.

What are your writing goals?
  • Do you want to make money and write full-time? This is possible but you'll need to be prolific. Most writers are midlist and the only way to make a living as a midlist author is to publish 2-4 books a year. They say it takes about ten books to build a name and a following.
  • Are your readers more important than the money? Do you write because you love sharing your stories with others and the money is secondary? Are you trying to reach a niche of readers who like to read what you write?
  • Do you write to convey a message or emotions to your readers? Do you write about overcoming obstacles and bettering your life? Do your characters struggle but keep their hope and eventually triumph? Do your books contain a lesson? Such as good conquers evil? Is it this lesson you wish to share with your readers and inspire them?
All of the above questions should be considered when you pursue a writing career. For me, I work a full-time job in which I make enough money I will not be quiting my day job to write full time. Realistically, I know I couldn't keep up with the NY pace and pressure to produce and market yourself. I've chosen to stay with small presses because most of my books don't appeal to mass market publishers. They appeal to a niche group of readers. I don't write about vampires of werewolves, both of which are currently hot with NY romance pubs.

All in all, when you're considering publishing don't discount small presses. Check them out carefully and make sure they're legitimate. They shouldn't ask for any money from you to publish your book. If they do, they're essentially "self-publishers." They should provide editing, cover art, and distribution free of charge to their authors. I have a a really good series on my Jami Davenport blog on writing for small presses that you might want to check out.

Whatever you decide to do, remember to hang in there and keep trying, Perserverance wins in publishing.

Next weekend, I'm participating in a equestrain pilates clinic. It should be interesting. I'll try to remember to take pictures and notes for my next post.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Inspiration from Secretariat

My mom and I went to see the movie Secretariat, which we both loved. When I came out of the theater, I kept wondering where I was during his incredible Triple Crown win, and why hadn't I remembered actually watching the races? The movie inspired me in many ways, and I couldn't believe that 'way back then' I wasn't aware of the story behind his rise to fame. I was certainly old enough and horse-crazy enough, and maybe I did follow his races and my ancient memory simply doesn't remember. However, I do know that I was not aware of Penny Chenery's story and how one flip of a coin, a different trainer and/or a less determined owner could have kept Secretariat from becoming the greatest horse ever.

Seabiscuit's story is similar. If trainer Tom Smith had not seen a spark of brilliance in the scrawny horse, Seabiscuit probably would have ended up like his brother, who was raced pretty much to death.

Another present day story shows the fickle fate of life. Go to for the story of a Missouri woman who rescued a great great granddaughter of Secretariat from a killer auction. Again, it was a magical act of curiosity, intuition and fate that saved this beautiful mare.

Inspiring stories, all three, and I can relate them to my writing life as well. Luck, fate, determination and finding that spark of brilliance in words on a page are all important for a career in this crazy business of being an author. Do you have a story of fate and inspiration?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Writing Life

by Laura Crum

Alison mentioned doing more posts about writing, so I gave this a little thought. I’ve been a published author for sixteen years and am working on my twelfth mystery novel, so surely I should have some useful insights? You’d think so, anyway. In truth, I find that writing is a very personal thing and there are as many ways to do it as there are writers. It never helped me a lot to hear authors describe their own writing process, though I did get the occasional “aha” moment. What helped me the most, and what I advocated to my students when I taught a class on writing mysteries (which I did for many years) at the local community college, was to focus on finding my own voice and to be persistant.

Writers need to write, as riders need to ride. The hardest thing to accomplish, far harder than getting an agent or being published by a legitimate publisher (both hard enough), is to finish that first book length manuscript. To simply put in the hours of writing that such a project requires is a first step that most writers never manage. And yet, unlike being published or acquiring an agent, it is a goal that is entirely under the writer’s control. You, and you alone, can determine whether you persevere with your writing and finish that first novel. Its an achievable goal. But suprisingly difficult.

So there would be my first piece of advice. Pesist and finish your ms. The second piece has to do with finding your own “voice”. Because many writers, and certainly I was quite guilty of this to begin with, are conciously or unconciously imitating something they’ve read, that they admire. It may be that they are trying to write the “type” of book that fits a niche, or to emulate a popular author. In my case, my first book (Cutter) was a deliberate “western” take on Dick Francis, an author I loved. Many of my reviews mentioned the resemblance, some in a positive way, some rather less flattering. At the time, I was just thrilled to be likened to the master.

As time went on, however, I was concious more and more of needing to say the thing that I had to say. This sounds kind of silly written down, but we each have our own insights and way of seeing the world to bring to the table, and our books will be as unique and interesting as we are true to ourselves. This is my belief, anyway. So I encourage all authors to look into themselves, rather than at “what sells”, and try to write the book that YOU want to write and say what you have to say in your own voice. (And no, this is not necessarily a recipe for best sellerdom, though I think that most truly memorable writers do have very unique and authentic “voices”.)

Which brings me to something that Terri brought up: how much of your own life do you allow to creep into a novel?

I think this is totally up to you as a writer, and a part of finding your own voice. For myself, I use a lot of my “real life” as background, and I find it helps to keep my books real and alive and prevents the so-common problem of novels that descend into the trite, predictable, and basically boring world of typical genre fiction, peopled with unrealistic characters. I try to base all the details of my novels on things I have really seen and experienced, and I keep my eyes open all the time for scenery, background and characters (human and animal) that would enhance and enliven my books. When I ride the trails I am alert for moments that can be part of my next novel, and when I have real life experiences that are memorable/moving, I keep them in mind to incorporate into future stories. I enjoy putting my real horses into my books, and trying to describe them as accurately as possible. When I send my heroine on a horseback chase scene, I usually try to send her over terrain I have actually covered on horseback myself. No, I may not have gone at the dead run, but at least I've been over the ground and can describe it accurately and intimately. To my thinking there is nothing duller than fiction that is not truly “felt” by the author, and my way of bringing feeling to my work is to use many things that I have experienced myself in my novels.

That said, the plots of my mysteries are all completely fictional, though some real life experience may give me the idea for a plot. But unlike Gail McCarthy, the equine veterinarian who is the protagonist of my series, I do not find a dead body a year. (Now isn’t she just someone you’d like to have out to your barn on a vet call? Sort of like inviting the Angela Lansbury character in “Murder She Wrote” to dinner.)

Finally, a lot of people have spoken about getting caught up in endless re-writes and “fiddling” before they finish even one complete ms. This is a very common trap and easy to fall into—believe me, I know the temptation. But I can tell you that one thing that separates “authors” from “writers” who have not been published is the deep-seated knowledge that you need to push on through that first draft. Its never easy—at least its always difficult at some points—and you inevitably reach a spot where you think the whole thing is absolute rubbish. I’ve reached that spot on every single one of the eleven books I’ve completed, and am quite sure I will be hitting it soon on the book I’m currently working on. The trick is not to start re-writing. Just keep going. Finish the story. When its done you can fiddle with it all you want, and most of us do quite a bit of fiddling with our first drafts. The finished book sometimes differs hugely from the first version. But you have to finish the first draft.

So I guess, in the end, my first point and my last point are the same. Finish that ms. Then you can evaluate and edit or decide its worthless and start another one (something I have done). But finishing it is the first and main thing you can do to become an author.

OK, now I’ll get off my writing soapbox (though if anyone wants encouragement or advice, feel free to ask—I’m happy to respond) and say that I have been riding far more than I’ve been writing and have had some lovely autumn trail rides. Sunday we took a two hour loop through the hills on a crisp but not chilly October afternoon where the very air just sparkled and the sun was warm. We saw some brilliant yellow leaves and Monterey Bay was a vivid, deep blue. The horses behaved perfectly, we did not see another human on the trails, and even crossing the busy road seemed relaxing and not scary. Days like this, horses are such a joy that I forget all the difficult times.

And for those who are interested, I have visited Smoky several times at his new home and he seems content and is getting tons of attention, far more than I could have given him. He’s still lame, but slowly improving and there is lots of hope he’ll have a future as a walk, trot, lope riding horse, which is all his new owners want. I am crossing my fingers that he can yet have a good life.

Happy riding and writing--Laura

PS—My 10 year old son wishes to review Linda’s book, “The Horse Jar”, which Linda very kindly sent to him after he expressed an interest. He says: “I liked this book a lot. It has a happy ending and I think any kid my age who likes horses would enjoy it.” Thanks again, Linda, for sending the book.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Musings

A hardy YeeHa to Equestrian Ink for its 100th member!

I've thoroughly enjoyed joining the other riders and writers on the blog. Postings have made me more conscious of my own horses and my behavior toward them. Since I'm a better writer than rider, I'd like to invite members to ask questions or mention topics that they'd like to see addressed about writing. As a group, we have lots of experience to share, and I'd be happy to answer them.

Speaking of sharing: to plug reading and books (some of which are my books, of course) I wanted to mention two contest/giveaways. Christmas is sort of around the barn corner, and books are a great gift. My (and Linda's) agent is having a contest/giveaway of kids and romance novels at

An author friend of mine is also having a giveaway of kids horse books at

Keep reading and writing, and enjoy this beautiful fall!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Secretariat - the movie

I saw the movie Secretariat last night, and it was grand. Not only does it showcase our greatest horse athlete of all time (winner of the 1973 Triple Crown -set track records for Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes that still stand - appeared on cover of Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine, and Newsweek) but the movie is a great human interest story and great family entertainment.

The actors are wonderful and I really enjoyed watching Diane Lane portray Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, as she stood up to the "good old boy" fraternity of horse racing and gave us all something to cheer about.

Five different horses, four thoroughbreds and a quarter horse, portrayed "Big Red" during the film, although none were quite so magnificent as the actual horse himself (pictured above.) The racing scenes are quite thrilling, with up close photography that brings you right into the action.

There may be a few horse people that have tiny quibbles about the accuracy of a few scenes, but this is not a documentary, but instead a warm and rousing movie that had the audience at the edge of their seats.

For people who would like to know more about this great horse, I highly recommend the book by William Nack (who shows up, Bill Nack, as a character in the film.)

SECRETARIAT - The Making of a Champion, Wiliam Nack, Da Capo Press

Secretariat died at the age of 19, suffering from laminitis, and his autopsy revealed a heart twice the size of a normal horse.

Some reflect this may have led to his greatness.

Go see this film. Take the family. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Tale of a Tooth....and a Blonde with a Sore Head

I expected something horrible. Driving back to the equine clinic to pick up Kwintus on Monday morning, I kept psyching myself up, anticipating a huge, gaping hole caked with clotted blood in my horse’s left cheek. I imagined giant, pirate-like scar-stitches slashing right across his face. I imagined a permanently disfigured horse.

But when I arrived and was taken to see him, the only sign of the complicated three-hour surgery he underwent on Saturday morning to remove an infected molar right at the back of his mouth was a teeny silver staple in his cheek. This may sound weird, but it almost looks like he's had a very discreet, not too trendy piercing!

Why had I imagined such horrors? I suppose it was the idea of the dentist drilling through the side of his face that conjured up the gory images. I’d been upset when the vet phoned me on Saturday afternoon, telling me the op had been more complicated than expected. They’d initially aimed for a simple extraction, but as the badly broken tooth crumbled under their instruments, they were left with no alternative than to tackle it from the outside. My stomach tied itself in knots. Three hours of surgery? Poor horse! To make matter worse, I realized as soon as I’d hung up that I’d forgotten to ask whether they’d been forced to administer a general anesthetic because of the complications. Turns out they didn’t. Thank goodness.

Frankly, Kwintus doesn’t seem much worse for wear. Although I experienced prickles of fear when I walked into the clinic and saw him standing in his stable, ears down, tail down, eyes flat and depressed, he immediately seemed to perk up at the sound of my voice, and was thrilled when I lead him towards the van. He was a little less thrilled when the vet led him back to his hospital stable three minutes later, with me staggering behind him, a lump the size of an egg in the centre of my forehead. As I’d stooped and reached under the “bum bar” on the unoccupied side of the van to grab Kwintus’ leg protections, I misjudged the distance as I stood up again and slammed forehead first against the bar. Believe me, I saw those twirling, proverbial stars!

The vet, holding Kwintus alongside the van, hadn’t noticed me hit my head. Groggy, I turned to face him, clutching the leg protections (funny what you do when you’re in shock!) and asked him whether I was bleeding. His mouth dropped, he ooh-la-laed, and suggested we put Kwintus back in a stable in order to fix my face.

Back in the surgery, he disinfected my teeny cut (thank goodness it was only a graze), gave me a drink of arnica in a syringe, put some anti-inflammatory cream on the bump, and sat me down in the reception area with an ice-pack. I felt pretty silly. I was also a little concerned about embarking on the two-hour drive back to the stables, all alone with the van. What if I started feeling dizzy, or nauseous, or something? With road-works taking place on large stretches of the motorway, the overtaking lane is often narrowed to two metres, with the regular lane smushed against the concrete barrier (no escape lane!), making towing the van in these areas a little bit hairy for amateurish little me. It was also horribly windy. But I wasn’t dizzy, nor nauseous, I was just worried about possibly being dizzy or nauseous (have I already mentioned that I’m a worrier?!) so I pulled myself together, popped an Ibuprofen, and went to get my horse.

The ride home went fine, although I found myself squeezing my buttocks and contracting my abs quite a lot during the narrower bits of the motorway, especially when giant lorries overtook me, screaming past a series of long, dark tunnels! Kwintus helped by standing quietly, hardly ever shifting his weight at all. We made it back without further incident and he plodded out of the van, standing with his head high and his eyes full of sparkles, delighted to be home.

Kwintus will be on antibiotics for a week, and will have to see a vet in ten days to remove the staple in his cheek, as well as the silicone plug the dentist fitted in the deep hole where his tooth was. He can’t wear a bitted bridle for three weeks (although the vet told me he’ll probably be ok in a rubber snaffle in a week or so; it’s metal in his mouth that’s a big no-no), but can be turned out, and walked in hand until I think his mouth is well enough to deal with a rubber snaffle. For now, I’m giving him a break, letting him chill out in the field, finally free of that awful, painful, infected tooth.

As for my forehead, it’s still tender and a little swollen, but I think I saved myself a giant rainbow bruise by slathering it in an amazing, seriously gloopy arnica gel normally reserved for horses, but which works wonders on people too. A few months ago, irritated by flies, Kwintus stomped on my daughter’s foot while she was tacking him up and hurt her badly enough for me to imagine her foot might be broken. We immediately put her foot in ice cold water, then slicked it with this magic arnica cream before going to the hospital for an x-ray. Thank goodness her foot wasn’t broken, but she was on crutches for a week nevertheless. However, she never developed the slightest suggestion of a bruise. Amazing!

Have your horses ever had to have surgery? And, incidentally, like my experience with the “horse arnica”, have you come across any homeopathic preparations for horses that work surprisingly well on humans, too? Or even vice-versa. Tips on things like this can often come in really useful!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Henry Speaks

by Laura Crum

I was raised to look at horses in a certain way. My team roper uncle taught me much of what I knew and he treated horses in classic “cowboy” fashion. From an early age I knew how to feed a horse to keep him at an appropriate weight and energy level, I knew about worming and floating teeth and shots and what a colicked horse was and when to call the vet. I could tie a horseman’s knot and a bowline; I could saddle and cinch and bridle a horse using correct, safe procedures; I knew how to pick feet and when a horse needed shoes. I knew not to tie a horse with the bridle reins, I could ride a horse that was a little snorty, and I was very familiar with moving cattle on horseback. My uncle was a good hand and took good care of the many horses he traded and roped on. They were not thin; they got vet care; they lived in decent corrals. My uncle was capable of breaking and training a colt to be a good rope horse, and I helped him with these projects and learned a lot.

Here’s what I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to “read” a horse, to understand what he was thinking. I didn’t know how to pet a horse so the horse enjoyed it (this has a lot to do with reading a horse—not all horses like to be petted and most horses have specific things they like or don’t like). I didn’t know how to achieve a relationship with a horse where both the horse and I were happy and enjoyed each other. I didn’t know how to help a horse become confident.

My uncle did not concern himself with whether a horse was happy, and would have scoffed at such a notion, just as he scoffed at making pets of horses and/or being fond of them. He did not pet his horses or feed them treats. He demanded complete respect and obedience at all times. From him I learned how to make horses do what I told them, but not how to make them work willingly and enjoy what they were doing.

As an adult it frustrated me that I did not have the kind of bond with my horses that I had always hoped to have. I moved away from my uncle’s way of seeing things, though the skills he taught me have remained very useful. But I was interested in connecting with my horses, and I was fond of them, and odd though it sounded to one who had been taught as I had been taught, I wanted them to be fond of me.

And I learned how to do this. I learned by watching my horses and I learned from others, primarily my friend Wally, whose horses always seemed to be content, work well, and be fond of their owner. Wally used his horses pretty hard and yet they didn’t seem to resent this. He had far less behavioral problems with his horses than my uncle did.

As the years passed, I became quite adept at “reading” a horse, and I learned the important skill of being able to sort out the horses I could forge a good relationship with (in a way its like dating and marriage—not all horses work well for all people—you need to be aware of what personality type works for you). I was able to feel happily connected to the horses that I rode and cared for, and I could tell, because I had learned how to do it, that they were happy with me.

What I did not do is buy into someone else’s system. I did not embrace natural horsemanship or clicker training or Tom Dorrance or Ray Hunt or any of the many “clinicians” who followed in their footsteps. I never attended a single clinic. I paid attention to my horses and I spent lots and lots of time working with them, riding them, caring for them. And I paid attention. I rode with various trainers; I rode lots of horses. And I paid attention.

These days it comes quite automatically to me to know what my horses are thinking and feeling. And it pleases me to see that the three horses I work with regularly are quite content, happy to do their job, and fond of us. (This can also be said of Wally’s gray horse, Twister, who lives on my property.) Yesterday I got a concrete example of this that tickled me so much that I just have to write about it.

In my last month’s blog, “Don’t You Miss It?” and the comments that followed, I talked about teaching my son to work cattle on Henry, his retired rope horse. Yesterday we finally got a chance to do this, and my kid “drove off” on a couple of steers up at the roping arena. No, Henry did not work like a cutter, but he will watch a cow, and my son had fun, so it went well.

When we were done, and after we had helped the ropers run the steers through a couple of times, I walked over to where we had tied Sunny and Henry and took them to get a drink. I untied Sunny and led him over first. It was a warm day and he was obviously thirsty. When I led Sunny back and tied him up, Henry, who had been watching, nickered at me.

My son and I grinned at each other. “Henry’s saying he wants a drink, too,” my kid said.

And he was. Quite clearly Henry had watched me give Sunny a drink and was now telling me, “My turn. I’m thirsty, too.”

This was simple and obvious to both me and my son and it wasn’t until later, when I started to think about it, that the layers of meaning sunk in. Because Henry had comprehended exactly what I was doing and he spoke to me. He believed I would understand him and I did. (And yes, Henry was thirsty—he drank deeply.) But this process is one that my uncle and his sort of horseman would have totally scoffed at and quite literally disbelieved in. In their book, horses don’t talk.

Now the funny thing is, my uncle owned Henry for four years. He treated him as he treats all his horses—he took good physical care of him, but was very strict (some would say harsh) in the way he handled him and made no attempt to understand him or show him affection. When I bought Henry from my uncle, one of the things that my uncle mentioned to me was that he could never get Henry to drink under saddle. This worried my uncle because like all knowledgable horsemen, he knew it was important for a horse to drink regularly if he was working—especially on a hot day.

Well, I treated Henry the way I treat all my horses, which is quite different to how my uncle treats them. My horses are not allowed to get away with any poor behavior, but I concern myself with their feelings, I note what they like and don’t like, I care about them. Henry, for instance did not like either petting or brushing (and still doesn’t, though he will accept such with reasonably good grace); he was a willing, reliable riding horse, a bit lazy, and a real chowhound. Within a short time Henry was willing to drink under saddle, and as the time passed he became more and more expressive. He nickered when he saw me or my son, he came to meet us when we went to catch him. This became dramatically obvious when Henry had colic surgery. I will never forget the eager nicker with which he greeted us when we arrived at the vet center to see him the day after his major surgery. Still shaky, but bright eyed, Henry nickered a greeting when he saw us and then walked eagerly by my side as I led him out to graze. Henry knew he belonged to us.

And now, after three years with us, this stoic old rope horse who once would not even drink under saddle, asked me to give him a drink, in perfect confidence that I would hear and understand. It tickles me.

I’ve had a similar experience with Sunny, who after three years here has gone from uncooperative (willing to kick, nip, balk and crowhop) to totally cooperative and free of these vices. Sunny is now easy to catch, load, put fly spray on, and give wormer to—and he was mighty reluctant about these things when I got him and put up some pretty determined fights. Sunny “talks” to me all the time, and he looks really content. Wally has quit calling him “Small Nasty” and now pets him fondly and calls him “Little Yellow”. Sunny has become one of the family. He knows he belongs to us and is loved. Sunny and I are happy with each other.

So, here’s my topic for the day. Have any of you experienced this sort of a shift in a horse? Where a previously uncooperative or uncommunicative horse, through becoming happy and loved, opens up and becomes both communicative and cooperative? And do your horses “speak?”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Undefeated Zenyatta - 19 for 19

My daughter was lucky enough to be at Hollywood Park last Saturday, October 2, 2010, to witness Zenyatta's last race in California.

Here she is with the bugler that calls the horses to the post, wearing a Zenyatta cap (she scored one for me, too, yay!) and a Zenyatta sign. After that, she snagged a great spot at the rail where she took these fantastic pictures.
Here comes Zenyatta, with jockey Mike Smith up, making her way to the track, doing her little trademark dance that she does each time before a race. The girl is READY.

Here are some of the more than 25,000 fans that turned out to show her some love.

Here's the big girl herself, all 17.2 hands of her, warming up. Isn't she gorgeous? Six years old and the ultimate professional.

Zenyatta loading into the gate. She is undefeated. Can she possibly make it 19 in a row?

Here she comes down the stretch. She's at the back of the pack, as usual, and starting to race past horses, one by one. But a horse named Switch got the jump on her and is three lengths away. Can she possibly make it?

She does! She does! She flies by, right in the nick of time, and wins her 19th race! Number 1, says Mike Smith. Number 1.

A wreath of flowers for the Queen. Notice the cotton still in her ears, so the roar of the crowd won't distract her.

And here she is making her way back to the stables after her win.
Zenyatta has one more race lined up. The Breeder's Cup Classic - on November 6th, 2010 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. She won this race last year, against the best male horses in the world. Can she possibly do it again this year? That's what she's aiming for, before retirement. Mark your calendars!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Potpouri of things.

By Terri Rocovich

OK, since Alison got us on the subject of writing I thought I would continue the theme. As you all know I juggle keeping up with my training barn, my own competitive career, writing non-fiction projects for clients (to help pay the bills) and trying to finish my novel. I now think I have broken the Guinness book of world records for the number of years a novel has been in the works. I try to set a few hours a side several days a week, but often my best laid plans go array.

So my question to the group is: How do you keep plot lines straight and consistent when you have sometimes long breaks in between writing sessions? I find myself sometimes in an endless cycle of rewriting and rehashing plot lines rather than just moving the story forward. It is driving me crazy. It is the little details of dates and names of minor characters and other little details that I worry will be inconsistent but I think I am also wasting a lot of time by constantly rereading what I have done. I do tend to be overly anal about details, (gee does that sound like a horsewoman) but also don't want to get far down the line and discover that I have really screwed up some of the details.

I keep telling myself that I am going to take a week or two off and go away somewhere and just write, but so far this year it has not been possible. This book is one very important item on my bucket list and I am very frustrated at my progress. Please any advise would be greatly appreciated.

And another concern - do any of you worry about too much of your personal experiences creeping into your plot lines? I know that each writer puts much of their own soul and personality into each book, but how and where do you draw the line? Much of my plot has very little to do with my own life, but some of it sounds a lot like me or people I know. Am I worrying for nothing?

OK, now that I have lamented about my writing troubles, I also wanted to add my endorsement to the air vests. I primarily ride in dressage and eventing and especially for the sport of eventing, I think that the air vests are the most significant safety improvement since ASTM/SEI helmets and the standard safety vests. Yes I have seen several riders forget to unhook, but as mentioned in Jami's post, most rider's only forget once and the replacement canisters are only around $20. I am in the process of buying one, and am requiring them for all of my students riding at Preliminary and I strongly recommend them at any level. When the parents of my students complain I reply, "what is cheaper, the air vest or a trip to the emergency room". That usually ends the complaint. I am going to start wearing them even when I am just starting a young horse over fences. There are 2 brands on the market, one more expensive than the other, and both are endorsed by top riders. I have not decided which one I am going to buy but I think you can't go wrong with either.

I was at Rolex this past April when Oliver Towend took at horrible fall at the double down bank. I am convinced that the fall could have been a fatality, or at very least a significant head and neck injury, had he not had on his airjacket. As we all know, riding horses has its risks no matter what discipline and yes, eventing is one of more high risk, so why not take advantage of safety advances when they come along.

Now if we can just get everyone, western, dressage, trails, etc. to wear a helmet, and make their kids wear them, every time!

What do you think? Safe riding and writing to all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 'Writerly' Life

The last posts have been heavy on the equestrian and lighter on the ink, so today I'm going to write about, well, writing. The topic is on my mind because for the past three weeks I have been working on a new project. Only if you were a fly on the wall, you would rarely see me doing anything remotely 'writerly'. I've been gardening, riding, working on lesson plans (for my teacher half) and reading about forensic science. I was starting to feel guilty (a useless emotion most of the time) about the lack of actual fingers to keys until I watched an interview with writer Aaron Sorkin. He told the interviewer that it took him six months to write the opening scene of the movie Social Network, except--he said--that if you had watched him 'writing' this scene what you would actually see him doing was sitting in front of the TV, listening to music, etc. All the writing was going on in his mind, so when he sat down to write the scene, it took him only the time to type it out to get it on paper.
Okay, I'm not as brilliant as Aaron Sorkin; however, his statement helped assuage my guilt. For the past three weeks, my brain has been working overtime, reworking the plot and structure of my next YA. Nothing is on paper except scrawled notes such as:
"Blood can be catagorized as wet blood, dry blood and spatter blood."
And "If the victim and suspect lived together, the transfer of fibers, hairs and fingerprints will be insignificant in many instances." (From The Crime Scene: How Forensics Works)
For me, this research is crucial for the new book. As the plot develops, so do my characters, dialogue and scenes--all in my head at this stage. In fact, my writing brain often works without me until suddenly a perfect idea or solution pops into consciousness, making me do a silent, "ah ha! That's how the scene needs to be written!"
For me, it's almost magic. How about you? I'd love to hear how other writers work.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Air Bags for Riders

Recently, a friend at work sent me a link to an article on the use of air bags in the equestrian world, specifically cross-country jumping. I admit that sometimes I'm not in the know when it comes to what's new. While air bags made perfect sense in some ways, I hadn't realized they were put into use for equestrian sports yet.

In my mind, I pictured an airbag popping out of the front of the saddle and inflating. If you hadn't fallen off by then, the air bag would most certainly boot you out of the seat. Maybe not such a hot idea after all.

My curiousity peaked, so I checked out this article. Okay, so the air bag isn't mounted on the saddle, but built into a vest. Hmmm... Sounds intriguing for a coward like me who rides a 17-1 horse with a propensity for shying at invisible objects. So I read on. This article claimed this inflatable vests had saved several riders for catastophic injuries, paralysis, or even death. A claim which might be hard to prove considering you can't rewind time and try the same stunt or jump without a vest.

Still, it sounds interesting. There's one big hitch for me. You attached a line to the saddle. When you fall off, the line is pulled tight and inflates the airbag. I can just see me dismouting and  forgetting about the line and ending up battling an inflating airbag as I'm trying to get my body safely to the ground. I wonder how many times that happens?

I was hoping there would be this magic technology which actually senses you're flying through the air at a great rate of speed and inflates the airbags. It appears, technology hasn't caught up yet with my imagination.

Then there's the hefty price tag starting at $390. But then, isn't it a small price to page for minimal broken bones or not breaking your back?

I'm not sure. I will keep any eye on this technology to see where it goes. I think it's a intriguing idea. Here's a link to the article:

Has anyone else tried inflatable airbags on your horse?