Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Real Horses Behind My Fiction

By Laura Crum

I usually write posts about what I’m currently doing with my horses—but at the moment, just as Alison said in her last post, there’s not much for me to say. The occasional quick ride and turning them out to graze is about it. Instead I’m focusing very hard on finishing my twelfth mystery novel, which I must turn in to the editor at the end of the month. So my attention is really on my writing. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about my horses. Because my horses play a big part in my books.

In my novel, Chasing Cans, for instance, Gail McCarthy, my equine veterinarian protagonist, acquires a pony for her child. This particular plot device never would have occurred to me were it not for the fact that several years ago I acquired a pony for my little boy. I had never owned a pony before and Toby was an education to me. I found the little critter so endearing that I just had to write about him, and Toby our pony is faithfully described in Chasing Cans, though the way in which Gail acquires him is rather different than the way in which I came by the real Toby.

This is often the case with my equine characters. Over the course of my twelve mystery novels, I’ve based virtually every horse that Gail encounters, owns or rides on real horses I’ve known. Gunner, who is Gail’s main mount through most of the books, is modeled on my own horse, Gunner. He is accurately portrayed as to appearance (a fifteen-three hand Quarter Horse gelding with white socks, a blaze and a blue eye), personality and quirks (the real Gunner is a big spook, as is Gail’s “Gunner”), but the living horse’s history is a bit different from the fictional one.

Gail acquires her horse Gunner when a veterinary client refuses to spend the money and time it would take to allow the horse a chance at recovering from severed flexor tendons. (This occurs in my first novel, Cutter.) Gail takes the horse to save him from euthanasia. (The story is also based on a real horse; it just wasn’t Gunner.)

The real Gunner’s life history is rather different. I acquired him as a three-year-old, just as Gail did her Gunner. I was twenty-four years old and working for a prominent reined cowhorse trainer who shall remain nameless. As his assistant, I rode a string of eight horses every day; these were horses that, for whatever reason, he didn’t care to ride. Some he considered less talented, some were in the barn just to be broke and the owners weren’t interested in showing them, some had a bad attitude (poor me)…etc. Gunner was in my string because the trainer wasn’t collecting training fees on him; the horse was there to be sold. Gunner was a well-bred and talented cowhorse prospect, and the trainer thought that not only would he collect a fat commission when he sold the horse, he might also be able to place him with one of his own clients who would then pay the trainer to ride this gelding and perhaps enter him in the major futurities. Needless to say the price tag on this horse was high. He was probably the best colt I had in my string; he was also a very likable horse.

Just as he is described in my books, Gunner had a friendly, clownish personality, a willing and cooperative nature, and tons of athletic ability. He came to me in January of his three-year-old year with about thirty rides on him, and I took it from there. He was always an easy horse, never prone to bucking or other negative behaviors, other than his penchant for unexpected sudden twenty foot sideways leaps whenever he saw something worth spooking at, which was often. He never dumped me (and never meant to), but it was a near thing more than once.

Despite the swerves, I loved riding Gunner. It amazed me how quickly this colt came on and how much “cow” he had. As the months passed with no buyer coming up with the purchase price, I grew fonder and fonder of this horse. I began hoping desperately that no one would buy him; I dreaded his removal from the barn or seeing him placed in the trainer’s string (by this time I’d had lots of experience with the well known trainer’s rather harsh methods and didn’t want to see this kind, willing colt subjected to them).

Eventually the day came. A prospective buyer was due to arrive, one who would surely buy Gunner. He was a rich man; the purchase price would mean nothing to him. He was known to be looking for a good futurity prospect and to like Gunner’s breeding. The trainer was very keen to make the deal. I gave Gunner a bath with tears running down my face. That morning, despite the fact that I had no idea where I would get the money, I told the trainer I would give him the full price for the horse and wrote and handed him a deposit check.

I’ve never regretted this decision. I borrowed the money to buy Gunner and I left that trainer’s employment almost immediately thereafter. I trained Gunner myself and showed him at a couple of futurities and “stakes” as a three and four year old, winning some very minor awards. Gunner became an accomplished cutting horse over the years and I won quite a few events with him eventually. Later I trained him to be a team roping horse and competed on him for several years at ropings. I still own Gunner; he’s thirty-one and sound, if a bit stiff, and retired to the pasture. He’s been my friend the whole time.

Gail’s Gunner is given a slightly different history. She never uses him as a cutting horse, but does compete on him at team roping in Roped, my fourth mystery novel. In Slickrock, the fifth book in the series, she rides him on a major pack trip through the Sierra Nevada Mts of California. Though this pack trip is based on many pack trips that I made over those same mountain passes, the mount that I used on those trips was Flanigan, a horse I also rode for years and loved dearly, just as I did Gunner. Flanigan loaned his skills as a team roping horse and his quirky personality to Burt in my third novel, Roughstock.

In my latest novel, Going, Gone, Gail acquires Sunny, who is my current riding horse. The fictional Sunny is an accurate portrayal of the real Sunny, and those of you who read my blog posts will instantly recognize this horse. So the horses in my books are real horses, and the adventures Gail has with them are all based on things I have really done with my own horses. Thus my mystery series is a tapestry of fact and fiction, which I hope will engage readers in much the same way that the actual horses have engaged me.

Anyway, since I am currently pushing so hard to complete one more book, I thought you all might like to see how I have worked my horses into the stories, and perhaps some of you who enjoy these blog posts will be moved to give my novels a try.

And for those who would like to buy my earlier novels in hardcover (they are out of print), my friend/boarder, Wally, sells them through his feedstore. Wally doesn’t do the internet, but if you call Valley Feed, 831-728-2244 (in California) and give Wally or Lynn a credit card number, you can order any of my first eight books for $20.00 each (which includes shipping to anywhere in the continental US), and you will get signed copies, which I will also personalize for you if you would like. If you want to find out more about these books and read the first chapters, you can go to my website

Anyone who has read my novels please feel free to give a reader review in the comments. I like feedback and can stand a bit of criticism, so let me (and others) know what you liked or didn’t like. Cheers--Laura


horsegenes said...

Wellllll.... I wish you would hurry up already and finish this book as I am really looking forward to it. :)

I finished Going Gone a couple of months ago and it was one of my favorites. Just from reading the blog and your books you can tell that the horses are based in part on your real life horses. I think that it just makes the books more appealing. It increases the connection you feel with the characters and horses in the book. I know in my mind that the books are fictional but sometimes I wonder if an event in the book is something that you experienced in real life. Of course I hope you haven't had as much drama in your life as Gail has!

Laura Crum said...

kel--Nope, not nearly as much drama, that's for sure. In real life, who'd want anything to do with Gail? How'd you like to have a vet who finds at least one dead body a year? Not someone I'd have over to my place, that's for sure. Sort of like inviting the Angela Lansbury character in "MUrder She Wrote" to dinner.

But yes, I do base many of the scenes on something I've seen, done, or heard about. All the trail ride scenes in "Going, Gone" are faithful descriptions of the trails I ride. I just haven't been chased over them at a gallop by a mounted villain (!)

Susan said...

Why reinvent the wheel? If you have a good story or details, you don't need to create more. I enjoy reading books so much more when I know the author really knows what he or she is writing about.

Laura Crum said...

Susan-- I like you, prefer stories which have the ring of authenticity. I am not a fan of the "do a little quick internet research and then write about it" approach. I try to write about things I really have lived. And believe me, every halfway exciting thing that's ever happened to me gets worked into a mystery plot. In the beginning of Slickrock, for instance, Gail stumbles on someone who's been shot and is still alive, and this really did happen to me. That whole scene is verbatim from my memory. Of course, I went somewhere different with the plot of the book than what happened in real life, but, then, these novels are fiction and I'm allowed to do that (!)

Mrs. Mom said...

I love your books! ;)

Smooch the critters from me!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Mrs Mom! I hope that you and the boys and Lutin pony are having fun together. And I hope I spelled his name right that time(!)

Anonymous said...

Laura (HA I started this post with Gail hee hee!!)

I LOVE the fact that when I'm reading one of your books there are small parts of your life included in it. Especially with regards to Going Gone, I was thrilled to realize that I totally recognized Sunny and some of the trails you have ridden and talked about on this blog.

It truly did make the reading experience so much more enjoyable knowing that I knew a little about where the story came from. Thanks for sharing all your stories with us!!!!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Lynn. I'm glad you've enjoyed my stories. The book I'm working on now has many trail scenes and even though my home trails are still too muddy to ride, I feel as though I'm out there when I describe them for the story. So it works for me, too.

Alison said...

Interesting Laura! My horses would love to be in my stories except their only talents are eating and rolling. It seems the horses in your life have been exceptional or characters.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I think all horses have their interesting quirks. I actually got to ride mine today and chase some cows, so that was fun. And I am almost done with the darn book--going through the ms ad trying to get all the mistakes out. I'll be sending it off in a week or so. Yippee!

joycemocha said...

Mocha's made a few cameo appearances in my stories.

However, the horse who's shown up the most is in a fantasy novel that's currently entered in the Suvudu contest--Pledges of Honor. A know-it-all, fairly high in the herd hierarchy, alpha-type former war mare that's now a healer's horse. Mira and her little quirks of temperament are based on old Porsche, an Appaloosa schoolhorse mare I used to ride over fences. Porsche had been there, done that, and was the only horse (except for a molly mule) I've seen who could accurately trot a gymnastic set instead of canter it (gymnastic crosspoles are set up so that it is psychologically easier for the horse to canter them rather than trot them).

But show Porsche an outdoor eventing obstacle, and twenty years dropped off. In that situation, you'd best sit tight and ride, because you were going. As it turns out, someone who knew Porsche's past identified her as a former A circuit hunter/eventer who had been raised and trained to be a child's show horse. That child was long gone from Porsche's past, and she still mourned her. But I made a semi-decent substitute in Porsche's life for the time I rode there. She perked up for me.

And I did recognize Gunner from your books (grin). He's one of my faves, both in real life and in fiction.

Laura Crum said...

joycemocha--Glad you enjoyed my portrait of Gunner. Porsche sounds like a real character--worthy to be the star of a novel.

joycemocha said...

Porsche was a real character (I doubt she's still alive, if she is she would be a Very Senior Girl). She sauntered into the book and basically announced that She Was Mira. Even though I killed her in the end, she died nobly and proudly, and still will watch over her owner from beyond.

I liked Gunner's story in your books and what Gail did with him, plus the rescue story about Gunner in the book is cool. Then again, my trainer has done a little of that. Some of the old showhorses in his barn are burned out prospects that found a new life after retraining, either as schoolies or prospective sale horses to students (one's a little bit like Gail's story with Gunner except not as dramatic). But I also like the real Gunner's story as well. Best of both worlds.