Monday, February 28, 2011

Finding that perfect horse.

By Terri Rocovich

Since so many of us are on the hunt for a new mount, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences on purchasing and vetting horses for myself and my clients. Let me start by saying that I may be a bit different in buying a new horse than many others since I rarely if ever sell them again if they become a part of my 4 legged family. In my life time I have sold only 1 horse that I owned (obviously I have sold many horses for clients) so when I buy a horse it is for the life of that horse. Nothing wrong with any other approach, that is just what works for me.

With that said I think that there are several things one should consider when looking for horses. You first must identify what you really want, which may not be as easy as it sounds. Do you want a horse just to learn on, one that will be competitive at your chosen discipline, one that will challenge you and perhaps take you to the next level, one that will teach you and take care of you or simply a horse to be your friend. All of this is important. Then you look at related factors that will afect the price and availablity of your dream horse.

Green vs Experienced

With a young horse you may pay less money but a horse with a career under it's belt will most likely come with some maintenance issues. I for one am looking for a horse in the age range of 4 to 6 for two reasons. First of all, an older horse with a show record and with the talent I am looking for will be way out of my price range unless I can magically win the lottery in the next few months. Also, because I buy horse's for life, I want a horse with more career in front of him than behind him. For some riders though an experienced schoolmaster type is the best way to go especially for kids that are learning and wanting to compete. What you pay out in maintenance such as joint injections, NSAIDS, or joint supplements you will make up for in the confidence gained by the rider and safety.

Strictly show or all around horse.

Many horses that are well-mannered and reliable at shows are not reliable and even down right unsafe on the trail. I for one think that being able to take a horse out in th open on a trail or even camping is good for their mental development not to mention the conditoning benefits of doing hills or riding on the beach. Over the years I have had many tell me I am nuts to take my expensive (at least for my budget) upper level dressage horse Pete out on the trail and I have taken him horse camping to the cuyamacas and to the beach on several occasions. What if he steps in a hole, spooks or gets you off and runs down the road they have all said. But by my way of thinking, anything can happen anywhere and I would rather take a calculated, limited risk and have a happier, better mentally balanced horse because of it. Not to mention how happy it makes me to be able to trail ride.

I have also had a couple of horses that I would not ride on the trail for love nor money. I learned my lesson years ago with a Dutch Warmblood that I was competing for a client. He was a bit spooky even in the show ring so I thought I could desensitive him by getting him more comfortable on the trail. Well the comfortable on the trail part just was not going to happen and after nearly being killed by him (all 17.3 hands of him) bolting on the trail from just about anything; I decided that trail riding was not for that horse. So if trail riding is on your priority list, temperment and level headedness are going to be essential qualities in the horse the horse you buy.

Soundness is relative

Although I believe that a vet check is essential no matter how much you are paying for a horse, I always approach them with a strong dose of reality and practicality. Lets face it; there is no such thing as a 100% sound horse and God knows they rarely stay that way. Hock flexions can tell you a lot but the are not a sure thing. I have had horses not test positive at all in flexions and then show significant changes in radiographs or the reverse. Radiographs (Xrays) are important but are not always afforable or within your budget. My general rule, and I try to build this into the budget, is to do at least xrays on the hocks (and stifles if I can afford it) and front feet because these are the areas that are easy to image and can most often yield career ending problems. Confirmation is also an essential element and I use as critical of an eye as possible in the area before even going to see this horse. My horse Pete has several minor conformation faults one of which is a slight toeing out on the front right foot. So it was no surprise that both his suspensory and tendon injuries (both of which he has recovered from) were in the front right.

Nothing substitutes heart

Even the best conformation and pefect soundness cannot be a substitute for heart. It is that intangible and immeasurable quality of heart that can make up for many physical faults. In my family we call it the "butt test". What does your butt tell you when you sit in the saddle and ride. I almost passed on Pete because he was not very impressive looking standing in the stall but when I sat on him I knew I was home. And it his heart and his fortitude that took him, and me with him, much farther up the levels than you would think his physical abilities could have.

If I have nagging doubts, I always tend to pass. Always go with your gut. Have I missed a few opportunities? Probabably, but I am a fatalist and I believe that what is meant to be will be.

What have you experiences been? How did you find the horse of your dreams or are you still looking?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Looking for a New Horse

Last time I wrote about my epiphany of not being ready to quit competitive dressage.

Once I’d come to this realization and had a budget to work with, and a very small budget at that, I mentioned on Facebook I was horse hunting. A trainer friend of mine, Molly, whom I’ve known for years, started sending me horses from Dream Horse. One horse in particular caught my eye. The price was in my range, though a little higher than I wanted to spend, but he looked like a sweet fellow. He’d been used as a school horse at a hunter/jumper barn for flat lessons. Molly had been considering buying him for a resale project, but she said she wouldn’t be able to look at him for a while.

I contacted the owner and made plans to see him the following weekend.

In the meantime, I had a lesson on Gailey from my instructor, Kari. In an ironic twist of fate, I’d started her on arthritis medicine, and she was sounder than she’s been in a long time. We discussed my looking for another horse. Kari mentioned that Leslie had returned the chestnut mare to Sandy because the mare had failed the flexion test. Sandy needed to cut back on her horses ASAP so Kari believed she’d offer the horse for an indefinite lease or a minimal amount of money.

Now I had two horses to look at. Of course, I’m a little nervous about the chestnut mare as she’d been vetted twice in the past six months and failed both flexion tests. Now, we’ve all heard of horses that have failed the flexion test but stayed sound forever. With the hope in mind, I tried out the mare on a Saturday. She was lovely, as I expected she would be. Perhaps, a little small for me, but she knew all the second level stuff. Yet in talking to Sandy, she never mentioned a lease, and her price was considerably higher than I’d anticipated. In fact, high enough that I couldn't afford to take a chance if the mare's soundness was questionable. Sandy told me if she couldn’t get that price, the mare would be put in a pasture because she didn't want to give her away.

That evening we went to a birthday party for a friend from the barn. My husband grilled several people on the chestnut mare, including the one who’d returned her earlier in the week. We decided the risk was too great. She was not flexing sound in the hocks, and she was only six. I was sad because she would have been a wonderful horse to have. I also feel sorry for the seller because she believes the horse doesn't have a soundness issue. She had a horse she was hoping to sell in the mid-five figures who is now priced in the mid-four figures and still isn’t selling. What if the flexion tests were wrong? What if there’s really nothing seriously wrong with this mare. She’s also had two sets of x-rays, one vet saw something, another claimed there was nothing. With all this conflicting information what is a buyer and seller to do? Did I pass on the best deal that might come along in a long time?

The next day I tried out Larry, the horse Molly had mentioned to me. Larry was also coming six, and he’d had a partial avulsion in the pastern a few years ago, which as I understand it is a tearing of the ligament which connects to the bone. Larry was bred to be a jumper but the vet recommended no jumping because of the avulsion so he was looking for a home as a dressage horse. He didn't have the dressage training the mare had. In fact, he was quite green though dead broke.

My friend and I saw something in the way he moved that seemed odd, but when he was ridden forward, it went away. Since the owner was willing to allow me to take him home for a 30-day trial, I decided to try him out at Kari’s barn with Kari riding him a few days a week. I picked him up last weekend, and it’s been sub-freezing temperatures ever since with snow on the ground so I’ve been unable to ride him. I lunged him last Monday, and he’d settled in nicely.

Kari rode him on Tuesday and felt something wasn’t quite right with him. She wanted to ride him a few more times before she made her decision, but he felt he had a flat tire. Not necessarily unsound but not right exactly. I plan on riding him tomorrow and all week so we can make our decision. Right now, I’m paying board on two horses, and I can’t afford the expense so I need to make a decision soon. If I'm keeping him, Gailey needs to go home or be leased to someone else.

So that’s where I am right now. More to come...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Winter Musings

I am in awe of the recent blog posts from the other writers. Lengthy, interesting, and thought-provoking. My brain seems too fragmented to write on one topic. I blame it on my fragmented life, but other writers also wear many hats, yet they have no problem with a lengthy narrative. Whatever the reason, lately it seems that musings on a variety of topics seem to occupy my thoughts and seem to be what I enjoy pulling together for my own entries.

First thought: winter must be coming to an end despite the recent snow. I bought a "Small Gardens" magazine and drooled over the flowers. Every year I garden, and every year I triumph--and fail. This season I am already dreading the stink bug. A recent article in the newspaper said it will be an awful season for the destructive insects, which arrived from China in the late 90s and have spread wildly (Thanks, China.) Last week, a warm day brought them crawling from the crevices of the house where they wintered over. My crazed, murderous side (the one that loves to read violent crime novels) took over and I annihilated them all. According to the paper, though, the stink bug lays 30 to 100 eggs, which will soon be hatching. ARGH. It will be a bloody spring.

Second thought: Thursday's headlines "Rabies-infected horse spurs warning." A vet euthanized a local horse that had 'dumb' rabies, different from violent rabies. The owners had to go through the series of shots. I've been regularly getting my horses vaccinated, but a case this early is worrisome. Ticks are just around the corner as well. Last year, my old Lab got Lyme disease despite tick treatments and collars. He had to be treated twice with antibiotics. With a mild winter, ticks are going to be on my radar--along with stink bugs and rabies. I must remain vigilant!

Third musing: Ad in the Classifieds(I've got to stop reading the paper) "Wanted to Buy: Unwanted horses and ponies & used livestock trailers." This needs no explanation. My latest mystery Whirlwind is set on a rescue farm (as is the prequel Shadow Horse.) I often get email from young readers and horse lovers. The last girl told me two sad stories. One was about her favorite lesson horse she named "Oliver Pony Twist" who no one else liked. She rode him for a year and like so many young riders, loved him dearly. One day she came to the barn and found him gone. The trainer told her that he'd been sold at an auction "probably ending up on someone's dinner plate." You can imagine how this twelve-year old felt. Now she's riding an ex-racehorse named Blaze who can't whinny because "they cut his windpipe open so the air would circulate faster so he could run longer and faster." He contiually colics, she wrote, and has almost died several times. Both these stories touched my heart--even though I knew neither horse.

Okay, so it's tough to comment on random musings, although in retrospect, these do have one thing in common: stink bugs, ticks, gardens, rabies and horse abuse all get stuck in my brain and don't let go. What are the thoughts and worries that ramble through your mind as winter begins to turn to spring?

Thursday, February 24, 2011


It happened at the end of January. I was sitting at my computer, once again trawling the “Horses for Sale” section of Horse and Hound online for potentially interesting Warmbloods, when, suddenly, up popped a dappled grey Andalusian stabled somewhere in England. He was about the right age, about the right price, and sounded as though he was schooled to a pretty good level of dressage. I’ve always been attracted to Iberian horses, but had only ever ridden lackadaisical riding school horses on trail rides while holidaying in Ibiza. I knew they tend to be comfortable, good natured, and possess a natural ability to collect.

Other than that, I knew nada, apart from the fact that Swiss dressage judges tend not to like them, mostly because they are often a little limited in the trot department. But I wasn’t too bothered about the Swiss dressage judges. If I go to one or two shows per year it’s more than enough for me.

Also, I’d seen loads of videos of Warmbloods, and it was becoming more and more obvious that anything I really really liked was way out of my budget.

Might I be better off going south and looking at Spanish horses?

So I fired off an email, enquiring about the Andalusian advertised in “Horse and Hound”. Soon afterwards, my trainer, Marie-Valentine, called to discuss the trials and tribulations of our ongoing search for my perfect horse. “What about an Andalusian?” I said, unsure of how she’d react.

I could almost hear her brain processing the idea down the phone line. Then she said, “You know, that might be a good idea! You’ve always liked them, and although you don’t like to compete, you enjoy doing the fun stuff (she meant flying changes, piaffe, passage, etc), and they’re really good at that. Yes, I can picture you on an Andalusian! And, hey, how fun would it be to go south to Spain instead of north to Gemany?!”

At that point, our conversation soon became rather squealy and schoolgirlish, both of us geting thoroughly carried away, picturing ourselves down in sunny Malaga, spending our mornings trying fabulous horses, before pottering down to the spend the afternoons at the beach.

There was, however, one small problem. How the heck were we going to find those fabulous Spanish horses? Apart from an American friend living in Aachen who specializes in Spanish horses, my trainer didn’t know who to contact. And when I received a video of the “Horse and Hound” Andalusian I’d found on the internet, it didn’t have the level of movement I was looking for.

Determined to find something suitable, I Googled Spanish horses until I turned, well, google-eyed. I watched dozens of online videos. Nothing. Well, nothing for me. I contacted a dealer in Madrid, who sent me private videos. Too young. Too Baroc. Too little trot. No extension. Too little walk. Or drop-dead-knockout, but way too expensive! Marie-Valentine’s contact in Germany had contacted a contact in Malaga, but that contact had yet to contact us.

Argh! I was frustrated. I wanted to go and look at horses!

And then, one afternoon, Marie-Valentine rang me. She’d spoken to another dressage trainer and asked whether he had reliable contacts for good Spanish horses. He’d told her he’d put out some feelers, that he knew a few people, and would get back to her. Within twenty-four hours he rang to tell her there was a really nice Lusitano waiting for us to go take a look at him near Avignon, in the south of France. He was seven years old, a stallion, with a good level of training. There were no videos, no photos available. But he knew from reliable sources that this horse was a good one.

So a week later, not utterly convinced it was worth making the trip, yet impatient to start horse shopping, we hopped into my car and embarked on a four-hour drive south. Marie-Valentine had never taken a client to see a horse without viewing it on video. Also, she’s never ridden an Iberian horse in her life. Yet here there we were, on our way to a blind date with a Lusitano stallion!

“What if he’s awful?” I blurted, my stomach churning with nerves as we our destination grew closer.

Marie-Valentine shrugged. “If he’s awful, we’ll say thank you very much and we’ll leave. I’ll make a few phone calls, and we’ll go find some other horses to look at. A friend of mine mentioned a place not too far away. I mean, what else can we do?”

We reached the outskirts of Avignon, left the highway and followed my GPS’ instructions along country roads through pretty Provencal villages. We turned left at an old monastery and soon found ourselves deep in the countryside.

“Why do we live where we live?” exclaimed Marie-Valentine as we drooled over the silver grey olive trees, the green oaks, and blossoming fruit trees. Here, 400 or so kilometers south of a still frost-bitten Geneva, spring was already in the air. We rolled down the windows and took giant breaths of the pungent, herb-scented, Provencal air. How I wish I could import it!

Once we reached the stables, we were greeted by a smiling, blue-eyed man escorted by a couple of hyperactive Jack Russell terriers.

“Are you ready?” said Marie-Valentine, winking at me.

“I hope he’s pretty,” I replied, trembling, nervous as heck as I flopped out of the car.

“Bonjour mesdames, vous avez fait bon voyage?” asked the man in his lovely sing-song Provencal accent (okay, so I love everything about the Mediterranean!).

We replied that, yes, we’d have a nice trip, enthusing over how great it was to be in this beautiful part of the world. My knees shook as we followed him down a little dirt track and around the corner to the stables where a row of aloof Lusitano stallions gave us the once over.

Right at the back, in the last loose box, a young woman was plaiting a big, beautiful, dark bay horse.

As we drew closer, Marie-Valentine nudged me in the ribs. “Il est magnifique,” she whispered, wide-eyed.

We observed the horse as they saddled him up and bandaged his legs. He stood quietly, placidly. He had soft, warm, translucent eyes edged by endless lashes. He had a thick, black, wavy tail. Judging from his double row of plaits, he obviously had a very thick mane, too! He was beautifully proportioned, chunky yet not too chunky, with a short back, a nice bottom, a strong neck, and lovely clean legs.

Could we have got lucky the first time out, I wondered, grabbing my helmet and struggling into my riding boots? Chill, Cesca, I told myself. Sure, he was beautiful, but what was his movement like?

My trainer and I held our breath as the young woman led this stunning dark bay stallion out into the yard and up the hill towards a large, circular arena. He stood quietly as she mounted and moved off into a lovely walk. So far so good. She pushed him into trot. Not bad! He filled his tracks nicely, which from what I’d seen on the internet, is hard to find in Iberian horses. A few minutes later, she asked him to canter and he obliged, showing a lovely smooth, uphill movement. The lateral work was good, the flying changes a little insecure, but the basic work was well established, with no sign of unwillingness or bad behavior. And gosh, the guy was seriously flashy!

To be perfectly honest, I was pretty intimidated. I’ve only ridden Kwintus in the past few years, haven’t really ridden at all since last summer, and to suddenly climb onto a much bigger, far greener, seven-year-old Lusitano stallion was a little scary. But I bunged on my helmet, took a deep breath and mounted.

Wow! What a totally different feeling! He was far less stable than Kwint, and I had a hard time keeping him straight, or even moving in a straight line (the circular arena didn't help). He moved sideways at the slightest shift of my weight in the saddle and at the tiniest backward movement of my legs (and boy, did my legs want to slide backwards! I couldn’t seem to keep them long at all! Why?!). His trot felt impressively forward and easy to sit, and his canter was a dream. All in all, I had a really good sensation.

When I rode him the next day, he felt even better. I was no longer quite as intimidated, and any residual nerves soon evaporated as this lovely horse did his best to understand what I was asking. You should have seen the smile on my face when I dismounted!

Will he be coming back to live next to Kwintus? I hope so. The vet check is scheduled for March 8th, so I’m counting the days, my fingers crossed he’ll flex fine, that nothing dodgy will show up on the x-rays. Meanwhile, I’m drooling over his photographs, and soothing my sore muscles in plenty of hot water.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Magical Horse

by Laura Crum

Magic doesn’t always come in a sparkly package, complete with fairy wings and tinkly music. Sometimes it comes when you least expect it. And sometimes it comes when a door closes. I still remember how I found the most magical horse I ever rode. And it was not a love at first sight story.

The horse I fell in love with was the horse that got away. This was a very pretty bright bay gelding. I had been shopping for a team roping horse, as my good horse, Gunner, was suffering from a few arthritic issues and I didn’t know how long I would be able to go on using him. A competitive team roping horse cost more than I could afford at that time, but I had a friend who also wanted to buy such a horse and we agreed that we could go partners if we found the right horse.

And we found him. This bay horse was all we wanted. And he was my favorite color, a bright red bay with no white on him. I fell in love. The horse was for sale at a pretty high price, but, as partners, my friend and I could afford him. All was well. The owner, a well known horse trader, wanted to use this horse in one last contest in which he was already entered. We made a date to come try the horse the week after the contest.

Well, the day we were to try this horse we called, only to find that the horse trader had already sold him. Needless to say, I was upset. But my friend, ever realistic, suggested we go to the horse trader’s place anyway, and see what he had for sale.

I didn’t want to go. I was both sad and mad at losing out on what I thought was the horse of my dreams. But I allowed my friend to talk me into it.

When we got there, I hung back, not even looking at the horses that were tied to the rail, chatting with the horse trader’s wife, who was my buddy. I saw the horse trader pointing out a horse to my friend and partner, and the horse trader’s wife said, “That’s a real good horse. I like him better than the one you didn’t get.”

I looked at the horse in question, and I couldn’t have been less impressed. Common was the word that came to mind. Unlike the very pretty bright bay gelding I had wanted, this horse did not take your eye at all. He was medium sized, brownish bay with a white sock and some white on his face, plain headed, ordinary looking, and he stood in a relaxed slouch in the tie line, his only distinguishing characteristic his big belly. The horse trader said he was seven years old.

My friend climbed on this horse and rode him around, eventually roping a few steers on him. I was even less impressed. The horse did not have a pretty way of moving---at all. He carried his head very high, his back was hollow, and he did not stick his hind leg in the ground the way I thought he should. My friend asked if I wanted to ride him and I said no.

But my friend liked the horse. There was a team roping contest that evening and my friend rode the horse in this event. When the contest was done he brought him over to our horse trailer. “I bought him,” he said.

“You did what? That’s not the horse I want.” I said.

“You don’t have to go partners on him if you don’t want to. I like him.”

Time passed. My friend named the brownish bay gelding Flanigan. I did not ride Flanigan at first. To tell you the truth, I was a bit afraid of him. Flanigan was not a friendly horse. He pinned his ears when you looked at him, walked away when you came into the corral to catch him, scowled ferociously at you when you approached him in the horse trailer, and was cinchy to the point of being willing to buck you off if you weren’t careful with his warm up. I had learned from the horse trader’s wife that they got the horse because the previous owner had been afraid of him and had tried to starve the gelding into submission. When the horse trader had acquired Flanigan he had been so thin that it had taken six months to feed him up to a decent weight. None of this made me like the horse.

But Gunner really wasn’t sound any more, and, having acquired Flanigan, my friend was no longer interested in buying another horse. And I did not have the money to buy a competitive horse. If I wanted to rope it would have to be on Flanigan. So I began riding him.

What a surprise. Because Flanigan felt really good to ride. I could immediately see why my friend bought him. Despite the fact that he was not a pretty mover to watch, he would really pick you up and carry you. He felt very strong, with a smooth, powerful “uphill” lope, and he went anywhere you pointed him in a balanced frame. Despite his standoffish manners, he felt cooperative when you were on him.

That this sounds contradictory, I know. And I can’t explain it. I was not the only horseman who pooh poohed this horse after watching him and then became a big fan after riding him. The horse did not look nearly as good as he felt.

In any case I rapidly progressed to roping on Flanigan. He was by far the easiest horse to rope on that I had ever ridden. He practically did the whole job for you. All you had to do was throw the rope. And he was a babysitter. I could make mistakes (and I often did), and the horse would simply compensate for them. He always took care of me. I won a few ropings on him and I grew to love riding him. I bought a half share in him from my friend, and forever after that I was a half owner of this horse. The photo below shows me heading on Flanigan, with my friend, Sue Crocker, roping the heels on Pistol.

I began trail riding Flanigan and learned that this immensely strong, confident horse could handle anything. Steep hills, broken rock, slickrock, long days, you name it. He was the best trail horse a person could ever want. He enabled me to realize a lifelong goal of riding across the Sierra Nevada Mts. We did this many times, crossing numerous passes and camping by many lovely lakes. We took at least twenty major pack trips together and for me this was a truly magical experience. I will always be grateful to Flanigan and remember our many times in the mountains. That’s Kerrick Meadows in the photo below, on our way to Benson Lake.

Flanigan had many good traits, among them was the fact that he absolutely would not fall down. Whether we were working our way down a steep trail that had been covered by an avalanche of rockfall, or dealing with a steer that had turned sharply in front of us at the dead run, I could trust that Flanigan would stay up. Never once in all his life did he go down. Flanigan was a real cowhorse and every year we competed on him in the ranch cowhorse class at the county fair, where he always placed, frequently defeating well trained bridle horses. To top all this off, despite his grouchy ways the horse was actually very forgiving, and we could mount outright beginners on him and he would pack them around and take very good care of them.

Flanigan stayed sound all the years we owned him, but he was plagued by colic, and colicked maybe once a year throughout his life. We treated him and did what we could for him, as both my friend and I really valued him. When he was fifteen years old we began turning him out to pasture for several months a year during the grass season, as we felt he really needed and deserved this. We gave him at least three or four months of turnout a year for the rest of his life.

Flanigan was never an overtly friendly horse, but over the years we owned him he showed many subtle signs of affection. He would not approach me or ask to be petted, but if I caught him and began to stroke him, eventually his eyes would half close in pleasure, and he never moved away. When he colicked, he would put his head under my arm, asking for relief from the pain. He trusted us and we trusted him. When my baby was six months old, the horse I chose to take him on his first ride was Flanigan.

Flanigan died of a severe colic when he was twenty-one (seven years ago). He had been diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia a year previously, so was not a candidate for colic surgery, and when his painful colic symptoms could not be resolved in almost forty-eight hours, we chose to put him down rather than let him suffer. He is buried here on my property and I believe his spirit watches over me. I still miss him.

Flanigan was a truly a magical horse for me, carrying me to things I never thought I’d actually be able to do. I am so grateful for the fourteen years he was with us, thirteen of which he was my riding partner. There never was a better horse. He taught me that magic is sometimes found in unexpected ways, and it’s a lesson I won’t forget.

Laura and Flanigan

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Giving and Getting

I have been in school for what seems to be decades, but truly full time since 2006. At 42 years old, I can finally say that I have graduated for the last time. In December, I earned a master’s degree in English. I equate the experience to getting braces at 29 - while pregnant. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I’m overjoyed with the results. But with everything in life, to get something you have to give up something in return. It has only been a matter of weeks and I’m still trying to catch up on all that was neglected while my life was on hold. And, I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t wonder from time to time if it was worth it – the exchange with what I had to give up. My husband and my kids really missed me. I couldn’t have done it without their support, because they also had to sacrifice.

I also gave up precious time with my horses. Since the horses live at home with me I saw them every day, fed them, tossed them apples and carrots all the while telling them my obligation would soon be over. In reality, I think I was trying to convince myself to hang in there more than to ask their understanding. My thoroughbred gelding, Tristan, was fine with it. He is happy hanging out in the pasture and when I’m ready, he’s ready.

My quarter horse, Chicklet, is another story. She gets bored easily and has far too little patience. To sum her up, she absolutely hates to be treated like a horse – if that makes any sense at all. It’s like playing chess. I need to be three steps ahead of her and make sure there’s something in it for her too. If it’s all work, she’ll rebel. If it’s too much or she’s overwhelmed, she’ll rebel. If she’s just being a mare…you know…ride the gelding instead. It can’t all be about what I want or what I had planned that day. We both have to be getting something out of it. (Sound like any other relationships you might have?)

I have to put a lot of effort, both mentally and physically working with her, but the reward is far greater somehow than when I work with my thoroughbred. She challenges me in ways that he doesn’t. It is hard to imagine that I once almost sold her. We fought all of the time and it wasn’t an enjoyable relationship. I was beyond frustrated, tired and confused, but I couldn’t bring myself to sell her. Luckily, I discovered natural horsemanship and our entire relationship changed, almost overnight. She responded so fast to our new style of communication that I thought she was breaking into the house at night to watch the next Parelli DVD's just to “show me up” the next day. Imagine if I'd have given up? We would have both missed out. It was truly magic as our relationship blossomed. I discovered how alike we are. We are both impatient, we like to be challenged, we hate to be bored and we hate to have our time wasted. But more than anything, we like to stand outside at night, her head over my shoulder and gaze at the stars. That’s almost the best part of our relationship, when we don’t have to say, or do, anything.

Just like education or any other struggle we are faced with, we get what we put into it. It might not be fun along the way, but in the end, if we’ve truly done all that we can we will be rewarded. I couldn’t imagine my life without my family, my education, or my Chicklet. But, I had to earn them all. And I don’t think I need to tell anyone how much work we need to put into the things that matter most to us in life!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Realizations of a Life-Time Dressage Rider

About three weeks ago, I was having my weekly dressage lesson. A few days prior, another boarder had sent out a message on our barn loop about a very nice little Arab gelding for sale on Craig's List. I mentioned to Kari, my instructor, that I'd toyed with the idea of looking at this horse.

Those innocent words launched me into a week of realizations and answered the question I've been struggling with for the past couple of years. Anyway, back to the story.

Kari mentions, "I didn't know you were looking for another horse."

"I'm not. I was just toying with the idea of having a horse I could actually show," I added as I ride around on my not-quite sound 16-year-old mare.

"Did you realize Sandy is getting a divorce and having a fire sale?"

Now I hadn't realized Sandy (name changed) was divorcing. I'm way out of the barn loop when it comes to gossip. Gailey's been unsound so much that I don't spend a lot of time at the barn anymore. Now Sandy is a student of Kari's and breeds a few horses a year. She also boards, trains, and gives lessons at her little place. Her husband managed the barn operations and did a lot of the work at the barn (which is a subject for another blog altogether. As in, how much can we really expect from horse husbands?).

"She has a really nice 6-year-old chestnut mare going 2nd Level she's selling for cheap if the horse goes to someone at the barn. You should look at her." Kari continues to gush about the virtues of said mare, but I already knew a little about her because I'd been riding in the arena last fall when another student, Leslie, tried the horse out during a lesson. I'd liked her quite a bit, but not for the former asking price of $35,000. Anyway, Leslie chose not to buy the horse because she didn't flex sound and because of some issues on her x-rays (anyway, that's also the subject of another blog).

I went home that night and checked out the online videos of the mare and fell in love, not necessarily with the mare, but with the idea of showing again, of having a horse I could actually compete on, one that was less-complicated to ride and manage than my current horse. I contact Sandy and made arrangements to try the mare in a week, while my imagination made arrangements to show again. My excitement level went higher and higher as the days ticked off. This was the opportunity of a lifetime to own a lovely mare for a fraction of her value, assuming she vetted sound.

After two days of fantasizing over showing again, the dressage bug had bitten me once more .

A few days later, I received an email from Sandy that the horse was sold. Now, normally, I'd have shrugged it off and moved on. It wasn't meant to be and all that stuff. Instead this news set off a chain reaction of events.

I contacted several friends looking for another deal like the mare. They all told me "good dressage horses in that price range either have physical issues or behavioral issues." Devastated that I'd missed out on the "opportunity of a lifetime," I made my final decision. My mare needed to be retired from intensive dressage work. It was time to come to terms with that. I didn't have the money for a nice horse. I was done. It was time. Financially, I couldn't afford the type of horse Gailey had been. I did NOT want to go back to square one with an unbroke horse, and I didn't want a horse of much lesser quality.

I decided to quit dressage, gave notice at the barn, and made arrangements to bring Gailey home. Instead of my decision being a relief and for reasons I still can't explain, I had a melt-down. Something I never do. Not since I lost my mother at 25 have I come apart like this. I was inconsolable. The tears came, and they wouldn't stop. Some remote part of me watched in wonder and couldn't believe I was so upset about this.

Yet, I was suffering from grief at the loss of a dream I'd never fulfilled. I'd never gotten to Grand Prix, never won my medals, never gotten to do all the things I'd set out to do when I'd started riding dressage as an 19-year-old college sophomore. A huge part of my life was on the verge of being gone, not just the riding but the social aspect and the exercise aspect. Almost all of my good friends I've made through horses. I've put on 30 pounds in the past two years since I haven't been able to ride regularly because of Gailey's soundness issues.

The next morning I started crying again and had little crying sprees throughout the day. Then it dawned on me, actually hit me over the head. I realized if I was so upset about my decision, I wasn't ready to quit yet. If I'd been ready to give it all up, this decision should have been much easier to make. Somehow, someway, I'd find another horse or lease one or something and keep going.

The events of the last few weeks will take several posts to explain, including another shot at buying the chestnut mare, horse shopping, the trial and tribulations of flexing, and riding unfamiliar horses, which I'll go over in future posts.

To make this long story short, I'd like to introduce all of you to Polaris aka Larry. I picked him up yesterday on a 30-day trial.

And so continues the saga...

Stay tuned for more details...

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Call of The Writer

This weekend I am teaching at The Southern California Writer's Conference. I have done this for the past several years and it's always fun and educational. As traditional publishing is looking at change with the massive growth of e-books and various self-publishing options, this year should be an especially interesting one.

I know that many of you here follow the blog for the horse stories so some of this may bore you a bit, but if you do write, or are considering writing a book then this may be of interest to you.

When my first book was published back in 2005 (Murder Uncorked), I was bright eyed and in many ways naive. I was so excited to have finally signed a publishing deal. It was for the first 3 books in the Nikki Sands' Mysteries. I had a lot to learn. Nine months later I signed another contract for my Michaela Bancroft series (aka--The Horse Lovers' Mysteries). Both series did well, but my Nikki Sands' Books took off and that was where the publishers' focus went to. I did sell through (which means I earned back my advances) on all of the Michaela Bancroft Mysteries but "word on the NY Street) was that it's hard to sell horse stories unless it is to kids. I say, "Bull pucky," (well, if you know me,then you know I'd use another word)anyway, the series was pulled. At the time I was sad, but I had more mysteries under contract with the Nikki Sands books, so I had the writing still moving forward. However, writing Michaela and about her friends (both human and horses) was something I really wanted to continue doing. I kept it on the back burner and about the time my rights were reverted back to me, the publishing world was on the cusp of drastic changes. This was a good thing.

What this has meant for so many mid-list authors (myself included) is a great deal if you know how to capitalize on it. Once I got my rights back, I made some slight changes in the manuscripts where I had screwed up. You see when I started writing Michaela I knew very little about reining and working cow horse--and readers pointed out where I had made mistakes. readers will do that. Frankly, I still don't know enough. I like to jump! But my dad convinced me that I should explore those diciplines for my character. Dad is an old cowboy and his idea of jumping comes from going out in the woods and flying over logs. I took his suggestion and it worked. However, I still want to see Michaela out on the cross-country course. (I will get back to this). Okay--so--once I had the rights back on these books I decided to reprint them myself. Amazon has a great program called Createspace. There is no out of money cost and it is pretty easy to use. You get your art work or you can use their templates for a cover, format the book to their requirements and upload. The royalty scale is much better than what I was getting from Penguin. Not to mention--I get paid monthly versus every six months. I also took the books and uploaded them on to Kindle (you can do this and have a book up in 48 hours). This is where I am really seeing a difference. I am selling 150 books a minimum a day right now on the Kindle! And--I also get paid monthly on this. Why am I telling you all of this? Because I am sure there are some of you, like me, who agree that there is not enough adult equestrian fiction out there. We want to read it! I am also sure that some of you have a good book inside of you. You might be asking, well why would I want to share in that? "Oh please, I say--there is plenty to go around." We can all share readers. The caveat here is a couple of things--you still have to have a good book and have it edited. If the book and editing are not decent then no one will pick up the next book. A lot of traditonalists say that the market will become flooded from people who really haven't honed the craft. Maybe at first, but as with anything--the cream will rise to the top. Readers are smart and they will find what they like and keep reading. What do you have to lose?

Now back to where Michaela is headed. I am working on book 4 as I mentioned, and yes--she is going to be headed out on to the cross country course. I am super excited to write this twist into her life and how it comes about and where she will go with it. Besides I don't know if any of you saw this link today--Eventing meets Reining, so I think my timing with Michaela's switch in diciplines might be just right: Pretty Cool.

If you have any questions about my publishing experiences, etc--feel free to ask away. I am pretty open when it comes to this stuff. I want to see writers and riders succeed!

Right now you can find all 3 Michaela Bancroft Mysteries on Kindle for 99 Cents.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


by Laura Crum

I have blogged before about my little horse Sunny, who needs occasional reprimands. Someone said the other day that they didn’t believe in “reprimanding” a horse. Though I certainly respect everyone’s right to their own approach, I have to say that I disagree strongly with the notion that there is a practical, safe way to train or handle horses without occasionally reprimanding them. There are certainly horses that need very gentle reprimands. I have never met a horse that didn’t need to be reprimanded in some way from time to time.

With all due respect, the idea that one can get by without establishing one’s boss status through an appropriate reprimand is just contrary to the basic nature of horses. Horses want to see who’s boss, and this is established, amongst their own kind, through some pretty fierce biting and kicking. In short, some very direct reprimands for insubordination. It is a pretty human notion that we can always talk a horse out of things by “redirecting his energy” or “communicating what we want”, but horses are not humans. Some horses are indeed “pleasers”, who care what we want. Many horses only care what we want if we show them we’re in charge. They want and need us to prove we’re the boss if we expect them to obey us.

This does not mean we need to be overly harsh, or that we should overwhelm a sensitive horse. I have one horse on my place, my boarder, Twister, that you cannot even raise your voice to, it upsets him so much. Let alone hit him. And yet Twister, who is always treated kindly, will take advantage of us from time to time, tugging his head down to grab grass when he has not been invited to. We don’t hit him, we don’t yell at him. But we do give him a sharp pop with the leadrope to let him know that’s not OK. That’s all it takes.

If, however, you were to treat my Sunny horse like this, never reprimanding him any more harshly than that, I guarantee you’d have a monster on your hands. Sunny is a tough, cold blooded critter who needs strong reprimands. When I got him he had clearly been able to push a few people around and would offer to both bite and kick. He was hard to catch, refused to be fly sprayed or wormed, and was frequently hard to load in the trailer. Sunny was not afraid in any way. He was defiant and testing for dominance.

Basically I spent a lot of time whacking Sunny with the end of the lead rope in the first six months I owned him. This did not scare him. It did not upset him. If it had, I wouldn’t have done it. Sunny remained quite calm at all times. His eyes got a little bigger that’s all. But he began to look at me more respectfully. And his testing behaviors steadily diminished. Today he is a very pleasant horse to be around and only very occasionally needs to test me a bit. When he does, and I reprimand him, he appears satisfied and content. Nowdays Sunny usually meets me at the gate and sticks his head in the halter, and is easy to load, fly spray and worm, so I don’t think I’m too far wrong about his genuine need for reprimands.

Sunny is at one end of the scale. And there are certainly horses that want very much to please. Horses like Twister and my Plumber, who are unduly upset by any suggestion of harshness. I reprimand these horses with a light bump of the leadrope. But its still a reprimand. I’m saying, “No, you can’t do that.” I have never known one horse that did not need to be reprimanded in some form. That is, if you want to remain in charge.

Since remaining in charge is how we stay safe with horses, I think reprimands are very important. We need to be clear that we’re in charge. Any disrespectful behavior must be reprimanded—and effectively (whatever that individual horse needs in the way of a reprimand), or the horse will not continue to see the handler as the boss. We also need to be clear when a horse is misbehaving out of fear rather than disrespect. Fear behaviors may still need a reprimand—as in I don’t care if you’re scared of that tarp, you may not jump on top of me. Your horse, in essence, must be more scared of what happens when he trespasses on your space than he is of the scary object. Believe me, this is how horses respond to the alpha animal in the herd. You want to be that alpha to your horse. And your horse likes it like that.

The trouble with training systems that are based entirely on the horse doing what you ask because he “wants” to (whether he wants to because of treats or whatever) is when the day comes that he really doesn’t want to do something, you will be up a creek without a paddle. Because unless you’ve proved your boss status through a few appropriate reprimands, that horse is going to figure he does not have to obey you. He may figure he doesn’t even have to respect you. And this can be a dangerous situation, for both you and the horse.

Horses feel safe and happy when they trust that their human is a good strong herd leader. I do not think we do any of them any favors by supposing that they do not need reprimands from time to time. The trick lies in knowing what each individual horse needs. I think the biggest mistake we make is in supposing that horses are mostly alike—that what works on one horse will work on another. If I thumped on a sensitive horse the way I thump on Sunny, I would ruin that horse’s trust. It would be a very wrong thing to do. And yet Sunny probably lost his previous home because his behavior became unacceptable. I don’t think his previous owners had any idea this horse needed the kind of forceful reprimanding he requires. They did not provide it and his behavior got worse. It took me awhile to figure Sunny out, and it somewhat happened because I will not be bullied and simply did what it took, but in the end I realized that this horse was asking me to prove my dominance—and that he required me to do so fairly forcefully.

And Sunny still needs a “reprimand session” from time to time. Because he is mostly pretty good now, I tend to relax and let down my guard, and let’s face it, I don’t enjoy reprimanding him. This winter, when he tested me a little, I gave him small reprimands and mostly ignored him, telling myself he was fresh and felt good. And the other day, I got my come uppance. Sunny clearly felt good, and was determined to test me to see if I was still the boss. For the first time in almost a year, he walked away when I came to catch him and turned his butt to me. So I walloped him. He made one circle, faced me and made mouthing motions. I caught him and saddled him and climbed on, and this calm little guy spooked at the dog, tried to exit the ring, and then crowhopped when I booted him back in. He was literally forcing me to work him over. So I did. In soft shoes and with the butt of roping reins—not too much nasty weaponry there. A lot of lope, stop, back up, leg yields…etc. Stuff I don’t normally do. I sure didn’t hurt him any. But I got his attention and made him feel dominated (gee, this sounds kind of weird—not a relationship I’d want to have with a person). Did he act scared, cranky or resentful? Nope. All of a sudden I had a cooperative, light, responsive horse who loped in the nicest collected frame he’s ever managed to achieve. We ended the day very happy with each other. I guess I should just beat him up more often.

Here’s my point for today. I believe that most, if not all, horses require reprimands from time to time, even if they are only very gentle reprimands. And some horses require pretty firm reprimands. As much as I would like to never have to wallop Sunny again, I don’t think its gonna happen. Sunny needs his reprimands and I need to be able to provide them or our partnership will not work out. So what do you think about this? I would love to hear from anybody who either seconds this view—or disagrees with it. If you don’t think horses need reprimands, what would be your system for dealing with a horse like Sunny?

Monday, February 14, 2011

My 4 Legged Valentines

By Terri Rocovich

It is no secret that all of us - those who write this blog and those who read it - are all very similar creatures. We cherish our relationships with our 4 legged family members as much (and on some days more than) our 2 legged relationships. I am a very lucky, blessed person in many ways; I have a loving and supportive family (2 sisters and my mom), I have an incredible network of friends, great clients and countless kids and laughter around the barn and an endless source of unconditional love and devotion from my 4 legged family.

Even though there has never been a husband or kids of my own in this equation, I have few regrets and my life is very full and fulfilled. So on this Valentine's day I bought myself some beautiful flowers, got some much needed rest and spent most of the day hanging out with my 4 legged Valentines.

I have written many times about the equine members of my family Pete, Hank, Tahoe and the newcomer Hershey, but I have not written about the canine, feline and avian members of the family.
Morgan______________Murphy_______________ Marley
The canine crew consists of Morgan (the queen), Murphy (the clown), and Marley(the sweet one). Now I did not plan for this alliteration of names, it just happened by accident. Morgan is the only pure breed in the group, she is a royally bred Rottweiler who will be 11 years old on 4/29/11, the day of the Royal Wedding of Prince William which is suitable because Morgan knows that she is the Queen of all she surveys. I have had Morgan her entire life; she is the product of my beloved dog Memphis (I know another M name) and my sister's Rottweiler Nessie. She comes from champion bloodlines but most importantly has an incredible temperament and personality.

Murphy was actually a Christmas present from my sister to Morgan. She got him from a rescue group and decided that Morgan needed a buddy. Murphy initially had issues with insecurity and separation anxiety but he has now blossomed into quite a character. He is a Rottweiler/Greyhound mix (yes I said Greyhound) and he basically looks like a tall streamlined Rotti that can run like the wind. He thinks he is a horse and tries to walk in between the legs of everyone he likes regardless of whether he can fit or not. I was talked into taking Marley by friends to prevent her from being taken to the humane society. When she was a puppy she looked like a rottweiler and everyone decided that she was meant for me. I was reading the book Marley and Me at the time so she was dubbed Marley. She is however, nothing like the Marley in the book and doesn't even look like a Rotti anymore (my guess is that she is Queensland Healer and Shepherd mix). She is very quiet, even timid at times, and most likes to gently rest her head on your leg and look at you with her soulful, amber eyes with an unparalleled adoration.

Then there is the feline contingency - Orkin (my little exterminator), Cruiser (the lover), Piper (the shy one) and Stripes (the gluten). All of my cats live indoors because outdoor cats in my area become coyote food. Orkin is nearly 16 and has escaped many brushes with disaster and death (thank God for 9 lives) but even though she is the smallest, she rules the roost and all of the others - cats and dogs - bow to her wishes. Cruiser's needs are simple; she wants to be fed and wants to be in your lap or laying on your chest (which is not always great since she weighs about 15lbs). Piper comes from a very traumatic beginning. She is so named because she was found crammed maliciously (butt first) into the tail pipe of a car. After being discovered and the car's tail pipe dismantled, she was taken into my vet's office for care. A few days later knowing what a soft touch I am (or sucker, dumby, loser - however you want to look at it) my vet contacted me and asked if I would adopt her. She had been understandably traumatized and needed a home that could deal with her fragile emotional state, so I brought the then 3lb kitten home. Piper still won't let anyone hold her but she is otherwise very well adjusted and also nearly 15lbs. Stripes was born a Ferrel kitten and decided to take up residence in the barn at my old house. She would spit and hiss at anyone who got too close but was slowly won over by me, my students/boarders and food. She is now a glutton in every way possible - for attention, for food, for bed covers - you name it. She claims possession of anyone sleeping in my guest rooms to the point that I have to ask any and all visitors "I hope you don't mind a cat sleeping with you?"

Lastly there is Chance, a love bird that flew into my old barn now nearly 10 years ago. He had obviously gotten loose from somewhere and in spite of ads and signs posted at the local feed stores, no one ever claimed him. So Chance lives like me, single but happy.

Needless to say most of the members of my 4 legged family have come to me by accidental circumstance but they are treasured no less. I spent a few hours this Valentine morning luxuriously lounging in bed, drinking coffee and watching the morning news shows (a rare treat since I get a day off once every month or so) with 3 dogs and 4 cats either on the bed or the head board or foot board. I had one dog's head on my legs, another on my stomach, a cat next to the dog's head on my stomach and another cat on my chest. So I ask you - Is there a better way to start off Valentine's day? If this day is all about love I think I started in off right, how about you?

I wish you all every bit of happiness, joy and love on this day for sweethearts and hope that we all carry it with us for every other day of the year. Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winter Musings

Today will definitely be random topics as I try and catch up with life. Since I teach and write plus take care of family and critters and volunteer, the workload sometimes gets hectic. My husband was gone all week and now this weekend all the kids plus significant others are here, so life went from quiet to crazy. Thus, random musings.

First: how do pets help keep you sane? There are many articles on pets=mental plus physical health, and I totally agree. We have three dogs and all contribute to the family, but our Chihuahua, Fang, is a constant source of love and entertainment. Until Fang we always had large dogs, but when my daughter headed off for college, I knew I needed a lap-lover to help fill the void. Fang was a rescue, and she has done the job! The other bloggers on this site have discussed the benefits of horses and donkeys, and I wanted to chime in about dogs. Chihuahuas are much maligned due to Paris Hilton-type owners, but the breed is incredibly smart and loyal and--at least Fang is--hardy.

Second musing: winter grooming. Virginia has mud this time of year and since my horses are very shaggy, keeping them clean is a nightmare. By the time I've finished currying, I am clogged with dust and they are, well, not much cleaner. It's too cold for baths and I don't believe in blanketing unless you ride/show all winter. Rain scald is a problem with my one horse. Any suggestions?

Third musing: Lord of Misrule. We've had some terrific book reviews on the blog, which is perfect for horse loving readers. Lord of Misrule won the National Book Award. I was pumped that a horse book 'won' such a great award, but after reading it, I was somewhat deflated. There is so much violence depicted in the racing industry, especially at the end, that when I finished the book all I could remember was the horrible crash instead of remembering the interesting characters and real horse details. Anyone else read it and react the same?

Fourth musing: news. I cut out a brief article from the paper. "The House of Delegates approved legislation making failure to feed and water farm animals a misdeanor . . .Offenders would be subjefct to a $250 fine." HUH? Did I miss something all my life? Do you mean before this, you could starve your cattle or sheep without penalty? Please, someone explain this to me!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

BOOK REVIEW : "The Horse Dancer", by Jojo Moyes (Hodder)

I’m reading a wonderful book. It’s called “The Horse Dancer”, by an English author called Jojo Moyes. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I’d never even heard of her until I randomly stumbled across this particular book while browsing the Internet for literary gifts just before Christmas. The story appealed, so I clicked and bought it.

I’m so glad I did. It’s been ages since I read a book with a horse theme, and this one has hooked me so intensely that I find myself checking my watch at 9 pm, wondering whether it would be kind of sad for me to go to bed at such an early hour. I mean, I am knitting a lot lately, so I don’t want to push the sad factor too far. Thing is, these “sad” activities make me happy! Sign of the times, eh?!

There have been evenings when I’ve resisted the call of “The Horse Dancer”, instead plonking myself in front of the television to watch daft stuff such as “American Idol”, or upsetting stuff such as the news, only to regret it later when, suddenly, it’s gone one o’clock in the morning and I’m still reading away under the duvet, utterly immersed in this book and having to force myself to turn off the light.

Set mostly in London, “The Horse Dancer” is the heart-wrenching story of fourteen-year-old Sarah, whose world falls apart when the grandfather who raised her and whom she loves so much has a stroke and winds up in hospital. As a young man, Sarah’s grandfather, Henri Lachapelle, had been a member of Le Cadre Noir de Saumur, the famous French military dressage academy. Sarah has inherited his passion for horses and lives for the time she spends riding Boo, the beautiful, talented selle fran├žais (French Warmblood) her grandfather bought her. Money is short and Boo is stabled in a rundown backstreet yard in a dodgy area of London without any riding facilities, so Sarah and her grandfather train in a quiet corner of a nearby park. Sarah’s dream is to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and ride for the Cadre Noir.

But when her grandfather becomes ill, Sarah finds herself living alone, fending for herself, scrambling to find ways to pay for horse’s keep, juggling between finding time for school and training her horse. Destiny sets her in the path of Natasha Macauley, a young lawyer who deals with problem children, and whose life is also in turmoil. Natasha’s professional judgment is being called into question, her boyfriend is repeatedly letting her down, and circumstances soon force her to share her house with her soon to be ex-husband, the gorgeous, charismatic Mac. When Natasha decides to take Sarah under her wing, she has no idea how complicated her life is about to become. NO idea!

“The Horse Dancer” is a captivating read, a real romantic page turner with interesting, original characters and an exciting story line. In some ways it reminds me of one of my favorite horse films, “International Velvet” (in fact Tatum O’Neal’s character in the film was also called Sarah!), and I keep thinking what a wonderful movie this book would make. So if you’re looking for a deeply satisfying story to snuggle up with under the duvet, I highly recommend it.

I’ll have finished it soon, and will be sad when I have, so can anyone recommend another really good book?

Adventure in the Woods

by Laura Crum

I love the two photos above, even though they are a little blurry. Its like those puzzle pictures. Can you find the two horses (complete with riders) in these photos? If you look you will spot palomino Sunny and sorrel Henry with myself and my son aboard, winding up the shady hill on a little singletrack trail in the first photo. The second photo is even trickier, but there we are—and it gives a good idea of the tangled, brushy hillside this trail traverses. We rode this route a few days ago, along with our friend Wally, and had a small adventure, so I thought I’d tell about it.

First off, all our trail adventures are pretty “mini”, thank goodness. I am striving for drama free rides for myself and my son, and try not to tackle anything too ambitious. But the trails are unpredictable, as I’m sure all of you know, and adventures do come along, like it or not.

So on this day we were riding through the woods on the narrow little singletrack trail in the photos, which snakes its way along the side of a ridge, dodging between tree trunks and requiring us to duck for very solid low hanging branches. Its not the easiest trail to ride, but we’re familiar with it and ride it often. However we had not been on this trail recently, due to all the storms in December. Usually I try to hike a trail before I ride it, under these circumstances, but on this day we just headed out on the horses.

All went according to plan to begin with. Lovely day, temps in the low 70’s, the footing was good, the horses seemed happy to be out in the hills. And then, just where this narrow little trail is making its way across a steep sidehill, clothed with tangled brush and vines and scrubby little trees, we came to a freshly downed tree trunk right across the trail. Too big to step over, too low to ride under. I stopped, wondering what to do. I wasn’t sure we could safely get around the tree; I wasn’t sure we could safely turn around. So I just sat there, studying the situation.

Sunny stood perfectly still—he’s very good at this. As Kate has pointed out in her blog, this is a great skill for a horse to have. It comes in quite handy when faced with just this sort of situation. The trail was narrow, the hillside was steep, the brush was thick….and the way was quite effectively blocked. So I sat still, on my patient little yellow mule, trying to make a good decision. Behind me, my son’s horse, Henry, waited equally patiently, as did our friend’s horse, Twister, behind Henry.

It took a few minutes, but eventually I decided there might be a way around the tree on the uphill side, but some brush and branches would have to be cleared and the proposed route checked out on foot. We decided that Wally would clear the trail, and my kid would hold Wally’s horse, so all three horses could remain in their single file positions on the narrow path. My job was to remain calm and still in the lead, so the horses would continue to wait patiently.

So Wally climbed off Twister, handed the reins to my son, slithered past Henry and Sunny, and begin to break branches and throw them off the bank. All horses continued to stand quietly, and I gave grateful thanks for this.

Sunny has his faults, all horses do, but he is a master of calm and confidence outside, especially when its needed. I’m not sure how he knows, but when the chips are down, he always acts right. His minor misbehaving is reserved for times when its no big deal. In this case, any dancing or prancing or impatience would quite likely have resulted in a step off the bank, with possible results that I don’t like to think of. Let alone how any anxious behavior might affect the other horses. No, it doesn’t bear thinking of. I can picture the wreck all too easily.

In any case, it took Wally maybe fifteen minutes to clear a route around the tree and feel pretty sure it was doable for the horses. We would still be pushing through brush, but there was nothing big and solid in our way and the ground seemed OK.

Now for the next test. I explained to my ten year old son the route we would be taking and that he needed to follow right in Sunny’s footsteps. If he allowed Henry to turn too soon, he would end up getting brushed off by the overhanging tree branches. Then, once Wally was mounted again, I gave Sunny the signal to go.

And here is where, once more, I must sing Sunny’s praises. Because many a horse, after waiting so long at an obvious obstacle, would express some hesitation when finally asked to head up a steep hill, off the trail, pushing through thick brush and vines. I know enough to do a version of what jumpers do—“throw your heart over the fence”—when I say let’s go, there is no doubt or hesitation in me, I mean to go through. Perhaps Sunny reads this, but more, I think, it is own steady, confident nature that carries us. He has had to push through brush before and he knows how to do it. Steep doesn’t bother him. At my signal, he put his head down and trudged straight up the hill, pushing gamely through the brush and downed branches, stepping exactly where I pointed him. We made our way around the crown of the tree without a hitch. The other horses followed calmly. And in a minute we were back down on the trail.

I have to admit, I heaved a big sigh of relief. There was nothing so terribly dangerous in what we did, but I am very protective of my son’s safety, and even minor adversity has me picturing all the potential downside. But nothing happened. We bushwhacked our way around the fallen tree and rode on. The rest of the ride was delightful—warm sunshine, good footing, lovely views. In the next photo you can see Sunny (and me) gazing out over the Monterey Bay, from the spot we call the Lookout. Is that pretty or what? Our warm winter days are probably our loveliest weather of the whole year. (My apologies to those of you who are snowed in--again--I don't mean to torture you.)

The funny thing? We had a peaceful, pleasant ride home, including detouring around the fallen tree for the second time. Sunny was a real champ. But then, and this is typical of him, on the last little downhill (which is the hill you see us climbing in the first photo), he began attempting his pogo stick hop, and when I wouldn’t allow it he jigged. So he jigs (well, its really more “almost jigging”—a bouncy walk) for maybe fifty feet, and then we reach the busy road we have to cross. And prancing around here could be seriously fatal. Does Sunny jig here? Of course not. Here he stands, solid as a rock, while we wait and wait for the road to be clear. Just as if he hadn’t been annoyingly on the muscle for the last stretch leading to the road. He is, as always, flawless as he waits next to cars which zip by at fifty miles an hour.

Go figure. Does Sunny understand that its truly important to be quiet and calm by the road, and when faced with difficult obstacles on the trail, and that it doesn’t much matter if he prances on an easy bit of trail? That doesn’t seem likely. And yet I can provide no explanation for his behavior, which is entirely characteristic of this horse. He frequently acts “bratty” on that last little downhill, after being obedient and cooperative throughout the ride (which includes plenty of downhill stretches), and then he always waits quietly when we must then cross the road. Once across the road he marches briskly, but calmly and on a loose rein, up the last hill to home. I once suggested his mildly rebellious behavior at the end of a ride was a version of giving me the finger. You know, “I did what you asked, but I’m nobody’s sweet little pet.” Sunny is a funny horse.

What do you guys make of this? Anybody have a theory why he acts this way? Or a trail horse adventure to share?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Top Ten Reasons for Owning a Donkey

We have two new donkeys in our barn, and they fill me with joy. Let me introduce you to them.

This is Mr. Chocolate:

And the one below is Mr. Big:

Last year, when we had to put my old horse and my dear jenny, Josie down within a month of each other, I thought my sadness would never end. We had no animals at all in our barn for several months, but soon it was winter, and when the temperature dropped to eleven degrees, I had to admit it was nice not to drag on fifteen layers of clothes to go outside and feed each morning.

But my heart was broken, and I moped around the house depressed for months. Practically my entire life has been built around the morning and evening schedule of feeding livestock. It lent a certain rhythm to my days, and gave purpose to my life. So without animals in the barn something was deeply missing.

Out of old habit, I searched through online postings for horses and donkeys needing a home, but the truth is, I'm getting almost too damned old to ride, and with health and back problems plaguing me, the responsibility of a new horse was more than I wanted. Then I heard about two donkeys looking for a new home. Just right, I thought, and so Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Big were delivered to me, and with lots of hugs and tears and smiles, became my new boys.

These donkeys were both rescues at one time - Mr. Chocolate from an auction with long slipper feet, and Mr. Big from a pasture where no one wanted him. But they have been taken care of (with a lot of love) for several years by a caring woman who now passed them on to me.

As the rain lets up and we have the occasionally sunny day here in the Pacific Northwest, we are working on training. Mr. Big is very sure of himself (named for his attitude, not his size.) Mr. Chocolate is a bit shy and extremely bonded to his little friend, Mr. Big. Mr. Chocolate still needs a lot of work on leading, but is gaining confidence daily.

The donkeys and I are bonding, and my heart is full again. They are like big furry puppy dogs in the pasture - full of love and sweet equine kisses and brays.

So I will now share my

10) You have a little pasture, and you need something to put in it.

9) You are too old, or too stove-up to ride anymore, but you still like to feed.

8) You love horses, but you want another equine mind to figure out.

7) You need a companion, or your horse, cow, sheep, llama, or goat needs one.

6) Compared to horses, donkeys are really low maintenance.

5) Your donkey is always happy to see you.

4) Donkeys are teachers - they teach you how to be patient and kind.

3) Donkeys make you laugh, and laughter is good for the soul.

2) That wonderful sound they make, which endears you to all of your neighbors: Hee haw.

1) Those ears, those ears, have you ever see ears like that?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Talking to Animals

I have tons of news that I'm going to save for my next post. In a nutshell, I'm horseshopping, looking for a horse I can show. As most of you know I've struggled with whether or not to continue to ride dressage. Anyway, I'll let you know how I came to this decision next time.

Yesterday, I attended a class on animal communication at a local community college. Here's the blurb from this 4-hour class: Animals want to talk to us.We just have to tune in and listen. Learn to intuitively communicate with them in this fun interactive class. You will be sending and receiving messages by the end of the workshop. Whether you wish to enhance your relationship with your own pets or go on to work in this field, this class will provide you with the basics.

When I found out about this class, I had to go. For one, I've always been fascinated by intuitive communication with animals. Also, my heroine in my current book is an animal communcator. This couldn't have come at a better time.

The class was taught by Lisa Holm, a local psychic, clairvoyant intuitive counselor, Reiki master & animal communicator. In the class we were given hands-on practice communicating with animals via pictures and live animals. It was fascinating, to say the least, and anyone can do it if you believe you can.

I'm going to present you with the facts from my class. It's up to you whether or not you believe such a thing is possible.

First of all, you need to get in a quiet place to communicate and the following needs to be true:
  1. You need to believe telepathic communication exists.
  2. You need to believe it exists for you and be in a calm place inwardly and outwardly.
  3. You need to practice.
  4. You need to trust what you hear and the impression you get. Go with your first impressions. Go from your heart.
For starters, we did a meditation exercise. Lisa turned off the lights in the room and played soft music. She had us close our eyes and imagine we were walking through a forest to a stream. At the stream we opened a backpack we had been carrying. In the backpack were stones. Each stone had something written on it representing a burden we carried. We were to throw the stones one by one into the steam and watch them disentegrate when they hit the water, the remains being carried away. Then we threw the backpack into the water. Once we were freed of our burdens, we were to picture an animal coming out of the woods and what the animal was trying to tell us.

When we opened our eyes, we shared our experiences. The animal who came to me was the doe that eats our roses. She wondered why we had roses if she wasn't supposed to eat them.

Next Lisa handed out a picture of Nala, a dog she was familiar with, and gave us a technique for communicating with Nala.
  1. Get quiet.
  2. Look at a picture of the animal (or the real animal).
  3. Close your eyes and focus on the animal.
  4. Picture a warm, glowing light in your heart.
  5. Picture the animal with same light in his heart.
  6. Send a beam of light and love to the animal's heart.
  7. Feel the light expand until it surrounds both of you.
  8. Feel the animal's presence, even if you don't feel the animal, go with it anyway.
  9. Ask the animal if he has anything to say to you?
  10. You may see pictures in your mind, hear words, smell something, hear a song, or feel something in your body. Your first impression is probably the accurate one. Don't over think it.
Even if you don't get a message, make it up. Giving yourself permission to make it up, often frees your mind and allows you to communicate. Often, what you make up is truly what you're receiving from the animal, you just don't realize it.

Once we got a sense of her, we wrote down 5 questions to ask her.

The messages I received from Nala were a small gray stuffed toy and creaky hips. Later I found she'd had a serious injury to her hip in which she'd almost had to be put down. She also loves to play with stuffed animals.

I found my mind would wander, and Lisa said that's OK. Just bring it back. Staying focused takes practice. Work on breathing deeply, in through your nose, out through your mouth. Suspend your disbelief. Don't focus on pain and negativity because that's what you'll get in return.

If you'd like to find out where an animal might be hurting physically, picture a scanner of light running across the animal's body from head to tail. Wherever the scanner pauses or shows a different type of light or even a pinpoint of light is the problem area. You may also feel it in your own body.

We also communicated with two pets who were in the classroom and a horse via a picture brought in by the owner.

Regarding the horse, the owner asked us to find out why the horse stands for hours and stares. She wants to know what she's staring at. One of us said a ghost, and I had the words "something you can't see" enter my mind. Come to find out, the area the mare stared at was the area where her father was buried near the woods.

I thoroughly enjoyed this class, and the four hours went quickly. Yet by the time it was done, I was tired. Lisa pointed out such work was exhausting. Also, she did give some tips for altering behavior, but the animal needed to be open to it.

I hope you've enjoyed my recount of my class, and it's given you some food for thought.