Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Training a Confident Horse

by Laura Crum

I am going to continue on the subject I brought up last week, because there were so many good comments and then Kate did a post on the topic over at “A Year With Horses”, that was really interesting, and I just think its worth discussing—a lot. Of all the things we horse people talk about, how to create or find a reliable riding horse has got to be high on the list of what’s truly relevant. And confident horses, in general, are reliable riding horses.

Think about it. If more people were satisfied with their horse, rather than ending up disenchanted because the horse hurt or scared them, there would be a lot less horses cut loose to end up at the sale…and on a truck to Mexico. And the best way to be satisfied with a horse for many of us is to be confident in that horse as a reliable riding horse. So how do we get there?

Last week I talked about what makes a solid-minded horse, and I recommended buying an ex-team roping horse that had been a reliable babysitter for his previous owner and was in the double digits. I still recommend this approach. Its how I acquired my two bombproof trail horses, Sunny and Henry, who have carried me and my son on hundreds (literally) of trail rides without one bad moment.

But what if you have a horse that is not yet solid-minded, and you think he could become a nice horse, and you want to get there with him, rather than giving up and buying another horse. What do you do then?

I’d like to offer some “tricks” here that have worked for me, back in the days when I was training horses. I commented on one of Kate’s posts that giving a horse a job to do, where your focus is not entirely on the horse, but is also on getting this job done, is very helpful in building a horse’s confidence. It’s the main reason good team roping horses are often very confident horses. They understand the job (catch the steer) and are willing to put up with a lot of adversity to get it done. Now not all of us are team ropers, or would want to be, but we can still use the principle.

Back when I worked on a commercial cattle ranch, I owned a green horse named Ready, who could be a little looky, and if he got anxious, he was capable of both bucking and bolting. I never did turn Ready into what I would call a truly solid-minded horse, but I did turn him into a reliable enough riding horse that (after I sold him) a good horse trainer I knew sold him to be a trail horse for a beginner and the beginner kept him and rode him happily for many years. I got a lot of compliments on that horse, from both the trainer and the new owner, so I think I achieved my goal (and he wasn’t an easy horse). I used a pretty simple system to get him reliable—I call it the “ranch horse” program. Maybe others will find it helpful. It was based on my observations of how reliable some of the ranch horses were—despite the fact that they’d had little formal “training” and weren’t really very well broke. I took a good hard look at what was done to get them confident/solid and I used this to help Ready.

First off, as Linda mentioned in her comment on my last post, all the ranch horses were caught, saddled, and tied up every working day, unless they had a hard day the day before and were given a rest day. With a green horse like Ready, even if I wasn’t going to ride him that day, he got tied up every day with the others. The horses were given water at noon. They spent the day tied (they spent the night turned out). If/when I had time, or an appropriate chore, I used Ready. Otherwise he just spent the day saddled and tied.

Do not underestimate what an effective training tool this is. In the days when I worked for professional horse trainers, many of them employed this system. Believe me, a whole lot of negative behavioral traits will just disappear if you do this for several months. Without you doing much of anything (or risking your neck). The horse must be tied in a safe place (where he can’t get hurt or get loose) and normally we didn’t leave them by themselves—they were tied in a row of horses—though a horse can be tied alone if it seems needed for that individual.

Standing tied all day for many days teaches a horse patience. It teaches him not to paw or fret (eventually). It teaches him to be calm when things aren’t going his way. It gives him a kind of “work ethic”—when the saddle is on I am at work. It will (eventually) give almost any horse a fairly calm frame of mind when he is under saddle. At least to start out with. So this is the first tool in the ranch horse program.

The second tool was equally simple. I had trained Ready myself (in arenas) and he knew the basic stuff. But none of that was helping with his habit of being looky and then turning it into a buck/bolt fest. So on this ranch (which had no arena) I only rode Ready when I had a job for him. Or a pretend job.

For instance, if I was done with my work for the day, I would decide that I needed to check the fence in a certain field. It didn’t matter if the fence really needed checking—fence can always be checked. In actual fact, most of the time I was just taking this horse for a ride. But I didn’t think about it that way.

And this is the crux of this trick. It matters what you are thinking. I would hold the thought that the fence needed to be checked. And we’d start out around the field. Eventually we’d come to a creek crossing or some such thing that Ready didn’t like and he’d resist. Of course, I’d make him cross the creek, but I held the thinking, “we have to get across here to see the rest of the fence, its needed to do the job. So you’ve got to cross.” You might not think this makes much difference from thinking that the horse must cross the creek because I told him to. But you’d be wrong.

There are a lot of subtle things that happen differently when your focus stays on checking fence. For one thing you don’t overeact to the spook, balk, whatever. Your responses tend to be more matter-of-fact. “Come on, we need to go through here. Let’s go.” And you don’t tend to be too picky. If he wants to cross up here rather than over there, fine. We just need to cross and get the job done. At the same time, you aren’t likely to baby him too much—“Come on, we need to get around the field and get done.” The net result is a calm, firm rider, who is sending a very subtle message in everything that happens. “You and me are a team doing a job, pal. Lets get on with the job.”

Over time, this approach works wonders with most horses. I did not dink around with Ready for a solid year—I used him to do ranch “chores” and rode him “outside” until I felt he had grown through his spooky/resistant phase (he was four at the time) and then I returned to training on him a bit. In those days I had pretensions about showing cowhorses, so I taught him a nice sliding stop and a decent spin. Unfortunately he grew to be 16 hands and 1400 pounds, and it was clear he was not handy enough to make a cowhorse. So I taught him to rope cattle and sold him as a team roping horse prospect.

Now a lot of what I did with Ready was gather cattle..etc. And I know this isn’t available to all. But you can use my checking fence trick if you have a big field you can ride around. Just try to keep your focus (or some of it) on being sure you look at all of the fence. Remind yourself that its important and you’re going to be responsible about getting this job done. And see if you notice any changes in your horse. (It may not happen the first ride.)

If you don’t have a field, you can select a certain landmark on a trail that needs to be “checked”. Keep your focus on the notion that you need to see it and be sure its “OK”, rather than letting yourself get caught up in whatever little drama your horse wants to play out. Yes, you still address his “stuff” and with the same tools. You just don’t get too involved with it because, whatever he does, you still need to get the job done. Get your mind in ranch hand mode. I have found that this works—to a certain extent—on almost all green horses if you persist with it (though a horse with a bad habit will not instantly drop his habit—don’t get me wrong). Nor will a spooky, reactive horse become a quiet, solid horse. However his spooky behavior can become a lot more manageable.

So if I had a green horse that I wanted to help become solid-minded, these are the first two tools I’d pull out of my chest. The “tie-up” tool, and the “do chores” tool. If I only had an arena to ride in, my chore might be dragging a tire from the horse until the arena was drug smooth (don’t try this unless you know how to teach a horse to pull a drag). But I do believe a course of poles or cones could define the “job” as long as you were clear that you needed to get it done—even if (to begin with) you had to lead the horse through some of it. The trick is to define a simple job you need to accomplish that does not require much from the horse other than persisting—and you make him persist. Not because of a whim, but in order to get the job done. It’s a mindset.

Has anybody else used this approach? Any thoughts?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Off on the trip of a lifetime!

Let me apologize for the brevity of this post but I have a great excuse. As I type this I am sitting in the airport lounge at Heathrow airport in London waiting for my flight to Nairobi,Kenya! My friends and I are on what is a bucket list trip of sorts. We are headed to Kenya and will eventually riding horseback across the Masai Mara Game perserve.

We will be following the wildabeaste migration across the perserve. This trip is the culmination of what has been an incredible past few months. As many of you might remember in May I purchased what is the current horse of my dreams (I have been fortunate to have many of those in my lifetime.); plus I have had a busy summer filled with tons of work and fabulous clients; had a very successful first show on my new horse (subject of a future blog) and now I am off on an incredible trip.

There will be tons of photos and a long blog when I return.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


In all my novels, I have heroes and villains and strong plots. In my latest mystery, Whirlwind, Hugh Robicheaux is an unscrupulous, wealthy and powerful, horseman modeled after owners and trainers from a 1980's scandal that rocked the hunter/jumper world. Often, however, my villain is nature as in Anna's Blizzard and Emma's River. Lately, weather/nature have been in the news: earthguakes, floods, drought, fires, and tornadoes have devastating consequences for humans, animals and the economy. Today, here along the East Coast, Hurricane Irene is the villain. People are evacuating by the millions, and I hope they are planning for the safety and care of their animals as well, but I know that in cases of emergencies, that is not always possible. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina left many animals stranded and homeless.

I hope to never have to experience first hand nature at its worst. I am content to research blizzards and floods and turn them into exciting stories full of mystery and mayhem. On a lighter note, nature and weather are villains in my own backyard. I love to garden on a small scale, and this year I have to boast about my peaches. I battled drought, fungus, stink bugs and rot to harvest about 100 perfect peaches that I gave as thank you gifts to friends who have mowed walking paths and helped babysit my dog and 900 delicious but ugly peaches that made yummy jam, cobblers and pies. Okay, compared to Hurricane Irene, this is nothing. But for me it was success.

Drought was also a problem in VA, the lack of rain turning pastures and crops from lush to brown. One commenter on FBook said that hay shortages due to the drought have caused severe problems in Texas for horse and cattle owners. And of course flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers ruined towns and farmland. Here in VA my villains such as horse flies, burrowing bees, Japanese beetles and squash bugs are more like annoying secondary characters. Bots are showing up in irritating numbers, depositing their eggs on my horse's legs, but they are certainly no emergency. I am thankful that my villains so far have been ones that I, a not so brave heroine, can manage. .

I would love to hear from readers who have had to deal with nature/weather-related animal issues--large and small. (After all, all of us who own horses have to deal with bots.) What were the problems? How did you plan? How did you cope?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One Perfect Week at the Smith Fork Ranch

The closer we got, the more I worried. Was this a major mistake? My jet-lagged mind went haywire, taunting me with umpteen unpleasant scenarios starring the Prescott family being unloaded into some dismal dump in the middle of nowhere. What had I been thinking, back in March, when I booked a week’s holiday at a ranch I’d found over the Internet? Sure, it looked wonderful, had a great website featuring loads of lovely photographs. And yes, there were a number of compliments left by satisfied guests. But…but…but…anyone can have a nice website! You see, a few years ago I got duped by a Swiss website advertising idyllic pony camp weeks for children. I’d picked a week, paid, packed a few bags, and spent four hours driving my excited daughter and her cousin up there. Well, we’d taken one look at the place and driven all the way home. It was filthy! It was a revolting, smelly hellhole, run by a greasy-haired, stinky-breathed sociopath! Do you think I got my money back? Not a chance!

Strangely enough, despite the fact that Colorado would have been a heck of a long way to go for the family holiday to end in a “mistake”, I’d forgotten all about that unfortunate episode until our little plane landed in Montrose, Colorado. There, a friendly elderly man with a lovely cowboyish drawl picked us up and chauffeured us to the Smith Fork Ranch, just outside the tiny town of Crawford. During the drive - which took just over an hour -, paranoia flipped my overactive imagination into overdrive. I’d instigated the trip, convinced my family to travel all this way and spend a week at an isolated, expensive ranch nobody seemed to have heard of! It was bound to be crap! By the time we pulled up outside the ranch I was absolutely knackered. Yes, just from worrying! Daft, eh?

Seriously, it was mega daft, because the Smith Fork Ranch is amazing, and our holiday couldn’t have been more perfect. Our two-bedroom cabin was cozy and cute, and I’m still wishing I could have brought that wonderful king-size feather bed back home to Switzerland because it was just soooo comfortable. I instantly loved the quiet, peaceful atmosphere, the romantic views of the wild meadows and the West Elk Mountains, the bright blue sky and intense dry heat. I felt so lucky, so thankful and blessed, simply sitting in the sunshine on the deck, breathing in the fresh, herb-scented air, entranced by the hummingbird and the deer.

Not that we spent the week just sitting around, admiring the views. Having fantasized for years about riding in the great American outdoors, my daughter Olivia and I had no intention of missing any of the equestrian action. After an initial mandatory “riding orientation” session officiated by two very pretty young wranglers, Katie and Faith, we were introduced to our horses for the week: I was assigned Gunner (Laura, I thought of your Gunner!), a big, bright chestnut, impressively muscular American Quarter Horse. Gunner felt incredibly long and wide and sturdy compared to Qrac, my narrow, super short-backed and snake-hipped Lusitano.

Having never ridden Western in my life, I couldn’t believe how different it felt. Although I immediately felt very secure in the saddle, the steering part had me stumped, especially in trot and canter. I had a hard time with the concept of not holding Gunner’s outside shoulder, of letting go of the outside rein to turn him. I instinctively kept returning to my dressage habits, trying to ride him deep and low, and poor Gunner did not understand! I felt like a complete beginner, lumbering around, incapable of going where I wanted, barely in control. Olivia told me she felt exactly the same, although I thought she looked great. Horses are such humbling creatures!

Out on the trails, however, Gunner and I got along wonderfully. Hour after hour, day after day, he ploughed up and down those mountains, along steep rocky trails, splashing through rivers, winding through trees without ever bashing my knees, never stumbling or getting impatient or bad tempered. I was really impressed by his stamina, sure-footedness and strength. In fact, I was impressed by all the horses at the Smith Fork Ranch. All were easy-going, well-trained, reliable, and very well looked after. I also liked the fact that, with 38 horses available, every horse has one week on, one week off.

The rides were spectacular. We rode high up narrow trails leading high up into the mountains, winding through pine trees and Aspen groves (such beautiful trees! I want some for my garden!). On the longer rides we stopped in meadows for lunch, tethering the placid horses to trees, devouring delicious sandwiches, scoffing organic crisps (“chips”), fruit salad and homemade chocolate chip cookies, chatting with the wranglers and other guests. After an hour or so we’d climb back onto our horses and plunge back down into the valley, looking forward to a nice cool shower. One evening I even had a lovely 90 minute massage to look forward to!

My only mini equestrian frustration of the week (apart from not being an instant genius at western riding!) was that, as my son Gregory had complicated knee surgery in late June, we couldn’t ride “en famille”. Cedric, my husband, didn’t want to leave Greg alone for hours at a time (Cedric isn’t exactly keen on horses, anyway!), so the boys had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together, enjoying each other’s company, which was really nice. With the ligaments in his left knee recently reconstructed, many of the activities on offer, such as rafting or long hikes across rocky terrain, were out of the question for my sixteen-year-old son, who was initially somewhat worried about spending a week stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Fly fishing offered moderate appeal, although once he tried it he seemed to quite enjoy it, and was definitely better at it than me (although, by some miracle, I actually caught a fish, which I immediately released, of course! Would you believe I actually enjoyed fly fishing?!). Over the course of the week, the boys also tried their hand at clay pigeon shooting and archery, and Greg had guitar lessons with the immensely talented and ever so endearing Connor, musician/youth entertainer/animal tracker/botanist extraordinaire. Connor also accompanied the boys during a visit to the Black Canyon, part of the Gunnison National Park. Greg and Cedric came back thrilled by their excursion, and I know Olivia and I would have enjoyed it too if we
hadn’t been happily plodding up a mountain on horseback.

Apart from the fabulous location, gorgeous views and great activities, one of the things my family really appreciated about the Smith Fork Ranch was the friendly rapport between the staff, both among themselves and with the guests. Everyone truly seemed to get along, making the atmosphere particularly relaxed and friendly. Only three other families were staying at the ranch during the week we were there, and pre-dinner nibbles and drinks made socializing easy, even for a shy person like me. The dinner bell went at seven every evening, whereupon we all settled at our tables, eager to discover what yummy stuff the chef had concocted. Some evenings I had a vague idea of what vegetables he’d be serving as I’d seen him coming back from the organic vegetable garden with some big fat tomatoes, or fresh zucchini. The service was impeccable, and my husband and I were most impressed by the chef’s ability to cater so creatively to our daughter’s lactose intolerance. In fact, I’m going to write and ask him for his lactose-free brownie recipe.

With long, active days spent in the sunshine, everyone felt ready to flop into bed by the time darkness fell. Nevertheless, on one evening Connor managed to keep us up until about ten (!) by playing the mandolin and the guitar around a campfire down by the river. It was a bit chilly, but so lovely to huddle by the fire and join in singing old classics, such as “House of the Rising Sun”, and “Country Roads”. We fluffed the words a bit, but it didn’t matter! Oh, yes, and the following night we were entertained after dinner by some local musicians who got some of the more foot-loose guests out of their chairs and onto the dance floor.

Later in the week we were lucky enough to be taken to see a rodeo, about forty
minutes from the ranch, in the town of Hodgkiss. I’d never been to a rodeo before, and was very excited to see the various roping competitions, and the barrel racing (how do they not fall over when they turn so fast without holding the outside rein???? Seriously! Come to think of it, one horse did fall over!). One of the evening’s eye openers was the children’s sheep rodeo; I’d never heard of it, and couldn’t believe how those tiny kids (I think the upper age limit was 5) had the
courage to allow themselves be lowered onto a terrified sheep enclosed in a pen, only to be bucked off within seconds when the gate was opened. Some cried and clung to their parents, while others went back for more. Amazing! And once that was over, the bigger kids had the opportunity to get thrown off bucking calves! Only in America, right?!

Our magical week whooshed by, and all too soon we were back in the car with our luggage, heading back towards to Montrose airport to catch our flight to Denver. From Denver we then hurtled towards New York where we spent the night, indulging in a little last minute shopping before flying back to Switzerland the following afternoon. It was a long way to travel for such a short time (we were gone for 12 days altogether), but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

How was your summer? What did you do? Have you ever been to a dude ranch (incidentally, I can’t help smiling at the term “dude ranch”! It just sounds so funny to me!)? Can you recommend somewhere in particular? I’m already dreaming of experiencing more of the same next summer and would love some recommendations. Then again, maybe we’ll just head right back to the Smith Fork Ranch...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Makes a Solid-Minded Horse?

by Laura Crum

After reading Linda’s post yesterday, this post seems even more appropriate then it did when I wrote it a few days ago. Its been rolling around in my mind for awhile. Every time I would read a post on a horse blog about someone who had been hurt and or scared dealing with a horse and was now afraid to ride, the thought “they need to find a solid-minded horse” would pop into my mind. And then Linda pointing out that her body wouldn’t tolerate much riding put another spin on what a solid-minded horse can do for you. But it was Kate who really got me intrigued with the subject when I read some of her recent posts.

Kate, over at “A Year With Horses”—listed on the sidebar-- got me thinking about what a solid-minded horse really is. Kate had been talking about “inner softness”, which to my mind, and I may be misinterpreting, is a horse that trusts the rider, even when the horse is scared, and is willing to remain reasonably calm and follow the rider’s direction at all times and under all circumstances. Now I’ve had horses like that. My two horses, Gunner and Plumber, both of whom I owned since they were three years old and trained myself (and they’re still with me—both retired now), trusted me at all times. They were sensitive, reactive horses, and to the end of their riding days they would spook, but neither of them EVER bolted, or resisted my direction when they were nervous. Neither ever bucked with me—other than a happy crowhop during warmup when they felt good. Neither ever threatened me in any way. I never came off either horse, and they were my mounts for ten and fifteen years, respectively. They trusted me, even when they were nervous—the worst either ever did was a startled jump and some prancing when something made them anxious. They did not panic; they remained obedient and responsive to my cues. They were “soft” on the inside, to use Kate’s expression. They trusted the rider and drew confidence from him/her at all times.

Now that’s a nice kind of horse—but its not the kind of horse I want (or have) as a riding horse now. What I want (and have) these days, for both myself and my son, is a solid-minded horse, one who takes care of himself—and me with him. They don’t so much derive confidence from me as I feel confident in them. They are confident in themselves. I said as much in a comment on one of Kate’s posts and then realized that I said nothing about how to get a horse like that—which isn’t very helpful. I started thinking about what I might say, and realized it was far too long for a comment. So I began writing this post.

First off, I want to say that the following thoughts are just my ideas. I didn’t learn them from an expert—they are simply thoughts that arise from my observations over the years. I’m not sure I’m right, and I don’t mean to tell anyone else what to do or think. But if these insights are helpful to someone else, that’s great.

Second, I have a specific background in the horse biz, and all of my experience (with a few exceptions) lies with cowhorses—QH type horses that have been used for ranching, roping, cutting…etc. I’m not sure if my insights will translate to horses of other breeds and disciplines. So I’m going to be very specific in what I say—and it doesn’t mean that other types of horses and disciplines are lesser, or less inclined to create solid-minded horses. It just means I have no knowledge on that subject.

Now what I mean by a solid-minded horse—one who is confident in himself—has almost nothing to do with inner “softness”—at least as I understand that term. My horse Sunny is not soft in any sense—either inner or outer. Sunny’s first impulse, when given a cue, is to be minorly resistant. I know, that sounds awful, but in actual fact the horse does everything I ask him to. I just have to be firm.

Why is this good, you ask? Well, it wouldn’t be, if I were trying to do dressage. Sunny would be quite frustrating. (And I believe his former owner did try to use him for dressage and found him frustrating.) But I am using him as a trail horse, and for easy gathers, and I find him perfect. Because Sunny is confident in himself, and when something unexpected happens, like the time we ran into a bouncy house full of screaming kids on a solo trail ride, and the time the sprinklers went off in his face (see my recent post “What Would You Do?”) Sunny reacts like a solid-minded horse. He gives the thing a good hard look. He rarely spooks. And when he does he is not panicked. He is never out of control. There is always a level of inner calm. Yes, he has confidence in me, but that’s not the bottom line. Sunny would (and has in his past) pack a very inexperienced rider and behave much the same. Not because he is taking care of his rider, but because he is confident in his ability to take care of himself—not particularly afraid of the unexpected and startling things that happen. He assumes he’ll be OK. All the rider has to do is stay with him, and he/she will be OK, too.

Sunny (and Henry, my son’s horse) is the opposite of a reactive horse like my horses Gunner and Plumber. But since a non-reactive horse connotes a dull horse, I don’t like to use that term. Neither Sunny nor Henry is dull. They are alert and eager to go on the trail. They look at everything, ears forward, and they move out readily. They are calm and solid-minded because they are confident, not because they are dull.

So what makes them this way? That’s a good question. And I don’t entirely know the answer. I’ve never trained a horse that ended up having this trait. The horses I trained that I kept as my mounts were more like what Kate is describing when she talks about emotional softness. They were “with” me. They trusted me and were confident in my leadership. But I wouldn’t say they were particularly confident in themselves.

The horses I’ve known that were solid-minded and confident in themselves shared several things in common. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize a horse that has this trait, and these days I select for it. But I’m really only theorizing when I talk about how they got this way.

First off, I’ve never known a young horse to have this trait. They may have the potential to have it, but truly solid-minded horses get that way after years of experience. All the solid-minded horses I have known have been at least eight. And all of them had a lot of miles on them by then. As you might expect, solid-minded horses are not overly reactive. They may be sensitive horses, but if so, over time they’ve learned not to overeact to stimuli of various sorts.

What else do they have in common? Well, now I’m going to say something that a lot of people probably won’t like. All the solid-minded horses I have known were trained by some pretty tough methods and used pretty hard in a pretty tough discipline—for many years. They were hauled plenty of miles, and covered plenty of country. And they all came from a past where no one was overly sentimental about them. Some were well cared for overall, others were not. At least one that I knew (and loved) was genuinely abused in his past.

Despite the fact that these horses were trained without ever really having much “connection” with their human trainer/riders, they weren’t trained by dudes. Again, a lot of people won’t like to hear this, but good intentions and much reading about horses and even “love” are not the same as a genuinely tough, competent rider/trainer, one who can stay with a horse through all kinds of “storms” and effectively punish the horse when he is resistant. Yes, some horses cave under this sort of training, and it isn’t the way I trained horses, but I can tell you for a fact, those horses that come out the other side of such a program with their sense of self intact have some real inner toughness. They are not big babies, fearful of all sorts of things and needing reassurance. They know what they’re supposed to do—obey the rider—and they know they can do it, even when things get difficult. Because they’ve been tested—hard—and found out that it won’t kill them. They can handle it. They are confident in themselves.

The horses I’ve known that were trained this way and came out solid-minded, were all team roping horses. I’m not saying they were particularly well broke, in a conventional sense, but you could count on them when the chips were down. Whether you were scrambling down a steep, rocky trail, chasing cattle through rough country, or facing the sudden, unexpected scary thing (see my recent post “What Would You Do?”) these horses stayed confident and sure of themselves, and continued to obey the rider. Yes, they might spook a little when startled, no they did not panic and bolt.

I think team roping has something to do with this, because it is such an intense thing for a horse to learn. All the whirling ropes (initially a horse’s worst nightmare), having to hold perfectly still and then run full speed on command (and remain under control), the need to stop hard at the rider’s cue and/or pull heavy dragging, leaping things—I can’t think of another discipline that requires a horse to tolerate and eventually cooperate with, more adversity, from an equine point of view. By the time a horse is a competent team roping horse, he’s dealt with a lot. And the good ones throw in with it. They know how to make a run, and they don’t mind doing it. They’re proud of themselves and confident in what they can do. I’ve seen this many times. And I think it takes the intensity and adversity of something like team roping to create this confidence. A horse who is babied along his whole life doing walk, trot, lope and minor trail rides has no opportunity to develop this sort of confidence and toughness. He CAN”T become solid-minded. In my view, it isn’t possible.

I do believe it is possible to train an obedient, pleasant riding horse by many methods—including persistent walk/trot/canter/trail rides. But I don’t think you can teach a horse to be confident in himself in the face of unexpected adversity without training him to tolerate a lot of adversity, such as a horse must tolerate in order to become a solid team roping horse. I don’t think de-spooking can do the trick—no matter which method you use—because there is no point to it that the horse can grasp. Team roping horses get the point of what they are doing—that’s part of what creates (or can create) their confidence in themselves. They understand that the point of all this struggle is to catch the steer. And the good ones, as I say, throw in with the goal.

Not all team roping horses are solid-minded, by any means, but a lot of older team roping horses will qualify. They are used to keeping their heads and continuing to obey when things get exciting and scary (team roping runs often get pretty wild—due to the unpredictability of the cattle), they are used to tolerating less than perfect rider cues, because even the best riders give less than perfect cues when roping—it is impossible to focus on catching the steer and pay full attention at all times to how you cue your horse—can’t be done. Team roping horses forgive that less than perfect cue and keep on trying to follow directions—and this can be a very useful trait in a horse. Because a team roping horse must be a steady platform to rope from, they aren’t taught to be nearly so touchy and responsive as the cutters and cowhorses I used to ride—and again, this is a good thing when you don’t want that sudden sideways swerve because something moved in the bushes. I’m sure there are horses of other disciplines that would qualify as solid-minded just as well. Polo comes to mind, though I have never been around polo so I don’t know. Perhaps someone else can chime in on this in the comments.

Now I can hear you all wondering if I think this sort of training/background is a good thing for a horse in an overall sense. And I have to tell you, I have mixed emotions about it. The horses I trained myself, Gunner and Plumber, are really attached to me—in some ways they are more like dogs than horses. They will snuggle with me and show affection; they would never, ever hurt me in any sort of purposeful way (any horse can step on you or knock you down by accident or drop you on the ground by spooking—this isn’t purposeful—but in fact neither Gunner or Plumber ever hurt me in any way), they nicker when they see me—even if its not feeding time, even if they’re with their equine companions…etc.

Solid-minded little Sunny and Henry, on the other hand, were trained by some pretty tough cowboys. Neither horse likes to be petted or messed with, unlike Gunner and Plumber. Sunny and Henry are very interested in me (primarily as the bringer of food), and they know they must obey me. They are perfectly accepting of this, though Sunny has a need to “test” me in minor ways. They are reliable, solid horses to handle on the ground and ride—at all times. They can (and do) tolerate weeks off at a time and remain steady, calm, and dependable (though I must point out that I keep them turned out in big corrals where they can run and buck if they want). I certainly would not say they were affectionate with me, though I believe they trust me—I don’t think they are interested in affectionate gestures from people. Since I have owned them, both horses have become much more expressive, by which I judge that they are happy and trusting that they are in a good place with good owners. And I love them. I don’t need them to be affectionate—I just need them to keep us safe and let us enjoy having horses and riding—and they are wonderful at this. They are just what I need and want. I can climb on Sunny once a week and walk him around for five minutes, if that’s all the time I have to give to riding, and he is quiet and pleasant and enjoyable. It makes me happy.

I loved and still love Plumber and Gunner, but I love Henry and Sunny just as much. I know that my current horses are perfect for us right now—I don’t want to have to be attuned to and reassuring to my horse. I want a horse that has been there and done that and feels confident in his ability to handle the things that happen in the world. A horse that can take care of me (and my kid) as we ride the trails. A solid-minded horse.

Such horses do exist and you can find them—for all of you who have been scared and/or hurt and are looking for a way to enjoy horses again. Look for a horse in the double digits who has been a solid team roping horse (readers, please supply other disciplines) and is known as a reliable “babysitter”. Be forgiving of a few arthritic complaints, perhaps. Don’t expect a perfectly broke, cuddly, dream horse—value your horse for his solid-minded reliable ways and how safe and confident you feel on him and with him—because sometimes that IS the perfect horse. At least it is for me—and perhaps there are others who feel this way, too. Any thoughts?

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Being a Horsewoman

By Linda Benson

Can you still call yourself a horsewoman if you don’t own a horse? Or if you don’t ride anymore? On social media sites, there is usually room for just a short description and usually I’ve used something like Horsewoman, author, animal lover, book worm, chocolate addict, etc.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, whether I can still call myself a Horsewoman, since my herd has dropped down to merely two donkeys. Previously, my equine career consisted of owning horses for 45 years, owning a successful saddle shop, competing in sports from barrel racing to cow penning, jumping to endurance riding, and logging literally hundreds of miles horseback up mountains, across streams, and through some of the most gorgeous country imaginable. Just remembering those moments makes my heart glad.

But what about now? I’m in my early sixties, and although I always imagined myself a galloping granny well into my seventies, in the last couple of years I’ve had some health problems which caused me to pretty much quit riding.  I sold my nice paint horse because he wasn’t the kind who could take time off – he needed riding. I adopted another old horse and rode him a bit, but we ended up having to put him down last year.  I had an empty barn for a few short months, and now my little donkey herd (Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Big) satisfies my need to feed, brush, and bond with a four-legged critter with hooves.

But we have acres of green pasture available, tons of woods and riding trails behind us, and the urge to get another horse is still ridiculously strong. The age-old dilemma of whether to listen to the head or the heart (just like in Natalie Keller Reinert’s new novella by that name) plays on and on inside me every. single. day.

My head says:
We live in an area where it rains for nine months out of the year, sometimes more.
The expense and trouble of keeping a horse for maybe 2-3 months good trail riding weather is enormous.

I have no good riding buddies to ride out in the woods with anymore, and it’s foolish to take a horse out alone (at my age.)

It’s rare to find the type of horse that can sit for months at a time, and still be a good solid citizen when you do decide to ride him.

Although I do have friends older than me that still ride, another older friend just ended up in the hospital when her green mare acted up, and let’s face it, we don’t bounce like we used to.

My heart says:
The longing for a horse never ever goes away, and in fact, I’m sure I’ll go to the grave with that longing intact.
I started crying (yes, real big-time tears) when I walked through the horse barn at our county fair last week.
I’m crying as I write this because I just miss riding so darn much.

Horses have been a passion and defining force in my life of from the earliest age I can remember. I miss riding more than I can say in words, but I am happy I can still write about horses, and in fact I have a new book out on submission, about a time in the future when people have largely forgotten about the horse-human bond, except for one girl, who remembers. You’ll be among the first to know when I have good news on that one (which I hope is soon.)

I stay active in the horse world - keeping up with horseracing, the horse slaughter debate, the barefoot/shoes argument, the mustang removal/BLM controversy, and of course the world of equine fiction.

So my question to you is what actually defines being a horsewoman? Should I call myself a horsewoman, an ex-horsewoman (but that sounds so final LOL) or an armchair horsewoman? *grin*

And also, for those of you who are getting older, at what point do you foresee giving up riding? Know anyone like me, who has had to quit and misses it like crazy? How did they cope?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Winner Winner!

Well! I brushed my hair and everything for this. (But I cropped out my kitchen. I'm just not up to dealing with that right now.)

But I wanted the proper amount of ceremony for this. The number drawing! From my Alabama Stakes hat! In honor of tomorrow's big filly race at Saratoga! The excitement! And if you can read the little square, you'll see that today's lucky number is 14! That means the winner of a free download of The Head and Not the Heart is Jennifer L.

Congrats Jennifer!! As soon as you're done doing the happy happy free stuff dance, send me an email at and I'll get you your promo code. 

And hey, everyone else? I love you all, too! For the next 36 hours, visit my Smashwords homepage and use coupon code YG32A at checkout for a special 99 cent download. This is only going to be valid until Saturday night, (unless I really messed up the coupon somehow, which is entirely possible) so if you want it -- go and get it! 

Also, it only applies to Smashwords downloads, not to Barnes and Noble or iTunes, but you can find all the formats that you want right there, even PDFs if you're not into the new-fangled e-reader thing.

So thanks to everyone for playing, and I can't wait to hear what everyone thinks!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Good Enough--Or Not?

by Laura Crum

Many thanks to Alison, whose post last month titled “Good Enough?” got me started thinking about this subject. I wanted to comment on Alison’s post but my comment rapidly became unwieldy as I thought of all I could say on this subject. So I turned it into a post.

The truth is there is more to say on this topic than I could ever cover. But I want to focus on one specific aspect. There is plenty in the horse world that is obviously not “good enough”—neglect and abuse…etc. There are also folks who keep their horses in more lavish style than I keep my child. Much more than good enough. And these are not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the in between.

Really, what I want to talk about is my own good-enough-or-maybe-its-not situation. Its easy to point fingers at others. But often its more realistic to evaluate what we are ourselves are doing or not doing.

So here’s my dilemma. I have a very nice situation for four horses at my home, and I keep my son’s horse and my riding horse, my recently retired riding horse, and one boarder at my place. Three out of the four horses are ridden regularly—they live in big corrals where they can run and buck and play, they have shelter, I feed them three times a day, the fences are good. All four horses seem happy.

Where’s the problem, you say. Well, the problem isn’t here. Its that I am responsible for five other horses. And these horses live at a property that is fifteen minutes from my house. All of these horses are pasture pets and have been for many years. Two of them are thirty-one. The other three are in their twenties or late teens and crippled enough that they can’t be ridden, though they are comfortable in the pasture.

And they live turned out 24/7. They are looked at every day and the two oldest ones are supplemented with senior food and blanketed during winter storms. Given their ages they all look pretty good. They seem content. The problem? The fences are not so good.

A lot of the fencing is OK. Some of it isn’t. The big field is forty acres and the smaller fields are five acres each, so we’re talking about a lot of fence. Over the years I have used every spare fence panel I had (over a dozen), fixing the bad spots. But there are places that really need to be re-built.

The pasture owner is unwilling to afford this. I am unwilling/unable to plow a lot of money into this property, and I don’t think the pasture owner would accept it if I was willing/able. Because there is a lot of feed in the pasture and no horses on the other side of the fence, we have just let things go. All the horses are very sedate; they don’t try the fences. They are all familiar with the field and know the boundaries. And I have been keeping horses there for almost fifteen years with no major disaster. Nothing worse than small cuts/scrapes that did not require a vet. (Knocking on wood here.)

Did I know it wasn’t good enough? Yes. But the solution eluded me. To be frank, most people would euthanize my five horses that live out in this pasture. Only one was my riding horse, of the other four, two are rescues, two are horses I helped train, who got hurt early in their working lives and had to be retired. They are living a very happy life and have been for many years—in the not-good-enough pasture.

Yes, I know we could put up “cheap” plastic tape and/or hot wire, but the cost of installing this stuff (with all the requisite posts…etc) on such a big setup is still more than I can afford to put out on property that is not mine—it isn’t fair to my family. My husband isn’t interested in horses, we don’t have money to burn, I’m already spending quite a bit of money to maintain my horse herd. It would be just plain irresponsible of me (financially) to put our money into this property. But it is irresponsible of me (as a horse owner) not to do something about this not good enough fence situation. Periodically I think I should go ahead and put the horses down (I don’t need them/they are a financial drain/I worry about them)—but they seem so happy. So I just go on feeding them as needed, keeping an eye on them, and hoping for the best.

Fifteen years is a very long time to go with no major problems. Yes, we have euthanized three horses during that time, but all three were to do with the maladies of old age, none were the results of accidents with the fence. Or accidents of any kind. Our track record in that not-good-enough field is actually pretty good.

And then….yesterday I got the call. One of the horses had gone through the fence and was hurt. Not one of my horses. The one horse in the field that belongs to the pasture owner was the one who got tangled in the fence. She was pretty badly cut up, but not lame.

Well, I helped the pasture owner get a vet and doctor the mare, who will probably be fine. And I told that vet that if any of my pasture pets were injured any more severely than this, that I would just put them down. I explained what they were and about the bad fences and the vet shrugged. “I’d do the same as you’re doing,” he said. “These horses look like they’re having a good life.” And he patched the old mare up.

So here’s my questions for today. Should I just put these horses down now and make sure they never suffer? Or should I let them go on living a happy life in that field and put them down when their time comes, bearing in mind it may come because they get in that fence? Because its not “good enough”? I am not going to be putting significant amounts of money into that property—does that make me a not-good-enough horse owner? I must confess, I do not know the answers to these questions.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Great Summer Reading Giveaway Continues...

Now that we've officially reached the Dog Days of Summer, I'm so pleased to offer a copy of my ebook, The Head and Not The Heart, as part of Equestrian Ink's Great Summer Reading Giveaway. I personally can think of no better use for summer than lounging next to an air conditioner, reading the day away - at least until it cools off enough to go riding!

The Head and Not The Heart is a novella about a young woman named Alex who is facing a quarter-life crisis: Can she live without horses? It's a question I've asked myself many, many times over the years, and I think at some point we all have to make hard decisions that might draw us away from our equine friends.

Alex soon realizes that there are no easy answers. Having spent the past few years managing a Thoroughbred farm in Ocala, Florida, she finds herself wandering the dark streets of New York City in pursuit of a different life, questioning everything she's ever valued.

When I set out to write The Head and Not The Heart, I drew from my experiences at two very different aspects of the horse industry, from the sprawling breeding farms of Ocala, Florida, to the cramped and cold backside of the New York City racetracks. (And there's a smidgen of some of the strange places I've found myself in the city, too!) Writing about the places I have lived and loved has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of this books for me.

You can read the first chapter of The Head and Not The Heart at my blog, Retired Racehorse.

If you'd like to win a copy of the ebook of The Head and Not The Heart, leave a comment in the comment box and the winner will be randomly selected on Friday, 8/19.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Contest Winners--and Everybody Wins!

by Laura Crum

I drew the three winners of my contest out of my old cowboy hat this morning.

First place winner is Linda, who requested Cutter.

Second place is stillearning who requested Moonblind.

Third place is Kate, who also requested Cutter.

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy these stories. All three of you must email me your snail mail addresses ASAP so I can mail you the books. Email me at

Each of the three winners gets the title of their choice from the eleven published books of my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy. The twelfth book in the series comes out this spring (2012), by the way.

And now, for all of you who entered, here’s another way to win a free book. My publisher has agreed to send a free copy of “Going, Gone”, my most recent novel, to anyone who agrees to review it on her/his blog or on Amazon. All you have to do is email Susan Daniel at and give her your snail mail address and your agreement to email her a copy of your review when you post it. So for all of you who requested “Going, Gone”, and any of you who would like to read it, here’s your chance. Send Susan an email before next Friday (August 19th) and she will put you on the list and send you a book. Everybody can win a free book! You must email her by August 19th, as this opportunity closes then.

For those who requested the earlier titles, I know they can be hard to find and sometimes pricey. If you really want a specific book, my friend Wally, who boards his horse with me, has copies of all the books at his feedstore. If you call the store (831-728-2244—in California), ask for Wally or Lynn and give them your credit card number, they will mail you a signed copy of any of my books. $20 for the hardcovers $15 for the trade paperbacks. This includes shipping to anywhere in the continental United States. Wally won’t ship outside that area, and he doesn’t do the internet, but if you want your book personalized, he’ll bring it over here for me to write you a message.

Someone asked about my favorite title, and that’s a hard one. Like most authors, I think, I like certain things about each book—they all have their strengths and weaknesses. The overall reader favorite is probably Slickrock. People either love or hate Breakaway, which is my darkest novel. I really like this book. The last three titles (Moonblind, Chasing Cans, and Going, Gone) have to do with raising a child, and again, people either love them or hate them. Those who hate them have (usually) never had a child and find the whole subject boring. For me, though, these books are probably my favorites because the things I’ve learned about life through having a child have been very moving to me and I’ve tried to weave these insights into the stories. And yes, there is lots of horse action and an intense mystery plot in each book as well.

Most of my books are available online and the last three can be ordered directly from the publisher. Ordering info is posted on my website—just click on my name on the sidebar to go there. Don’t forget, you can all have a free copy of “Going, Gone” in exchange for reviewing it on your blog or on Amazon. Just email Susan at within the next week to request your book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Would You Do?

by Laura Crum

OK—I had a sort of near wreck the other day that really pissed me off. I would like to tell the story and get your feedback.

My son and I and a friend were gathering the cattle (on horseback) from the pasture at our local practice arena while the proprietor ran the sprinklers on the arena ground. We had the cattle in the small pen behind the arena and were trying to push them through the back gate into the crowding alley. The cattle, knowing what that meant, were resisting. My son and I were right next to the arena fence, totally focused on the cattle, when, with no warning, the big commercial sprinkler, mounted on the fence one foot away from us, roared to life with a huge clack and whoosh---and a blast of water right into our horses’ faces.

I jumped a foot. My son yelped in surprise as he got drenched. And the horses? I wouldn’t have blamed them if they’d jumped five feet sideways. It was really quite a shock. But bless their good little hearts—Sunny and Henry threw their heads in the air, they might have snorted and sidled sideways a bit. But neither of them really untracked their feet to speak of as the water suddenly (and loudly) sprayed right at them.

We all stared at the damn sprinklers in disbelief as water shot out at us, too startled to do much of anything but gape and sputter and get soaked. I looked down the arena to where the proprietor leaned lazily on the fence, having just changed the valve to activate the new set of sprinklers. And I saw red.

We finished pushing the cattle into the alley and herding them into the chutes, getting quite wet in the process. I didn’t mind the wet. It was no big deal. Our horses dealt just fine with being “rained” on, after they got over their initial surprise. But when I got done with the cattle I rode up to the proprietor and bawled him out.

Just so you know, that isn’t done at this arena. The proprietor is the boss. Everyone does what he says. No one argues or answers back.

Me, I told him (loudly) that he was an asshole for turning those sprinklers on with no warning while my son and I were right next to them. I pointed out that he could easily have gotten us dumped. I said if my son had been hurt, he, the proprietor, would be dead right now.

The proprietor looked startled. So did everyone else.

“Did your horses spook when I turned on the sprinklers?” he asked innocently.

“You know good and well that its just luck that they didn’t,” I yelled back. “They’re solid horses but any horse would jump at something like that. We might have landed on that metal fence.”

“I don’t mind you dinking around with me,” I added, “and I don’t care about getting wet, but don’t you dare put my kid in danger.”

“I didn’t know you were there,” he protested. “I wasn’t thinking about it. I was just turning the sprinklers on.”

“Well that’s pretty god damn dumb,” I said. “I would hate to think my son or I could have been killed because of your stupidity. Maybe you should learn to think a little.”

At this point the small group of people at the arena is completely silent. I can feel myself running out of momentum. After all, we are OK. Sunny and Henry, chosen by me for their bombproof ways, have protected us from harm—yet again.

But I still feel righteously pissed off. I still can’t believe he thoughtlessly turned that sprinkler on with no warning while my son and I were sitting right next to it on our horses and he expects me to think that’s OK.

“I apologize. I didn’t do it on purpose,” he says. “Don’t be too hard on me.”

Well, leaving aside the fact that this guy never apologizes, I realize I’ve said all there is to be said.

“All right, I forgive you,” I say, “but try to look out for the kids, anyway. Lets not get anybody hurt or killed.” And I ride off, still pretty upset.

My friend, who was gathering cattle with us, but not right next to the sprinkler when it went off, rides up next to me. “I think you over reacted a little,” he says.

I’m still pissed. “How so? He could have got my kid hurt or killed—and for such a stupid reason. All the care I take to keep us safe on horseback—I never could have predicted he’d turn that sprinkler on right then. How can I protect us from that?”

In my mind I know I did protect us from that wreck—by choosing Henry and Sunny. But both horses have spooked before and I totally would not have blamed them if they’d spooked then. I would not have blamed them, but I’d probably have been sitting on the ground, or worse yet, crashing through the metal fence. It simply caught me completely off guard. Normally I’m aware of stuff my horse might spook at and ready to ride the spook. And my son? I don’t like to think about what could have happened.

So here’s my question. Was I right to go off like that? Was that an appropriate response to that situation? Or did I over-react and make an ass of myself, as my friend thinks.

I have been blamed before for my too hasty temper, and I know I am quick to get angry. Maybe I should have been more tolerant?

I have to say that the arena proprietor has endangered people, including children, before, by making thoughtless decisions, and perhaps I’ve just had a belly full of this crap. But, in truth, I am no longer very tolerant of ANYBODY whose foolish, ill considered choices stand to hurt me or my child. I would like to give them all a piece of my mind. There is no part of me that is willing—any more—to condone poor behavior by my silence or wishy washy response. Call me old and cranky, but I’ve had it with being a victim of stupidity—in any sense, at any time. I try to respect others, and I expect—make that demand—respect in return. And by my lights it was totally irresponsible, let alone not respectful, to thoughtlessly turn those sprinklers on without warning when two mounted horsemen were right next to them. Especially when one was a ten year old child. Not thinking is not an excuse. People, you NEED TO THINK. Other people can die or be badly hurt when you don’t think—particularly when horses are involved.

OK, end of rant. Am I just a jerk? What would you have done?

PS—If you would like to win a copy of one of my mystery novels, scroll down to my post titled “Summer Book Giveaway” and enter your name in the comments. I will be drawing first, second and third place winners this Friday, and each winner will get a book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Horse-Obsessed Mind

Please enjoy this great post from Natalie Keller Reinert, who jumped her first cross-rail at ten and galloped her first Thoroughbred at thirteen, has ridden everything from hunters to eventers to racehorses, and is now attempting to live sans-horse in Brooklyn, New York. Her recently released debut e-book, The Head and Not The Heart, is set in the horse racing world.

I call myself a multi-tasker, but that is a lie, a phrase that I cheerfully attach to myself because it makes me sound efficient and modern. Friends helpfully encourage this delusion by saying things like, “Gosh, you are so clever with technology!” and I take it to mean that because I have seven or eight tabs on Google Chrome open (four of which are different variations of social media) plus Twitter, not to mention the fact that I am often working on two different computers at the same desk simultaneously, I actually am an efficient, modern, multi-tasker.

But I am not, not really. The sad truth is, I can only do one thing at a time. I have a one-track mind. I just jump the tracks from time to time.

This past weekend, my husband, son, and I joined a friend’s family at their house in Upstate New York. We don’t leave the city very often, and when we do, it’s usually for a less-than-bucolic destination, like Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia. The greenest place we have been since moving from our Florida farm to a Brooklyn apartment house, nearly one year ago, has been Prospect Park. Or possibly, if you count the infield as greenspace, Belmont Park.

Hopping out of the car in the stone driveway of the country house, my brain immediately found the switch to an old track. The property spanned thirty-five acres, and the house was surrounded by a lovely clearing of deep grass. I could keep a horse here, I thought, before my feet swung out of the car and into the gravel. Right here. All I’d need to do is update the perimeter fencing and put a gate in.

“I could put a Thoroughbred here,” I confided to my husband. “I could get a retiree and ride him on weekends.”

“No you couldn’t,” he told me. “You couldn’t ride for fun. It isn’t in you.”

He was right, of course, and as the weekend progressed, I had the fun of observing my imagination’s tendency to run rampant with its own obsessiveness. Walking in the beautiful woods that covered the property, I mentally constructed a cross-country course with a hanging log, a sunken road, and a water splash. The seasonal stream would have to receive a well and a pump in order to run year-round, but it would be worthwhile.

We walked down the road in front of the property and I pointed how where I would restore the tumble-down stone wall and add black-board fencing.

We examined the site of the old barns and I lamented that anyone would buy a working farm and turn it into a barn-less, pasture-less wasteland of forest and garden.

We went for a drive and I exclaimed over the wastefulness of huge acreage used as nothing but lawns, without a horse to be seen. What is grass for, but galloping and grazing?

By the end of the weekend, something I’d often suspected had been confirmed. I am not a casual horsewoman. I am not a casual anything. If I someday indulge in weekly riding lessons again, as I have been daydreaming of since I quit riding at the racetrack back in December, it will not be a pleasant diversion from staring at the computer screen for hours on end. It might start that way, but about fifteen minutes into the first riding lesson - at most - I will be mentally scheming for ways to obtain a horse, by whatever means necessary, and compete it at Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event within four years. I just can’t help it. I can’t have hobbies or do things for fun. I have to do one thing, obsessively.

Perhaps I’m better off sitting tight in the city, steadfastly resisting the urge to ride my bicycle down to the little stables about half a mile away and beg for a job (I’ve already done this once, and apparently I’m not the only one, because they never called me!). I want to write, and in order to write, I have to do nothing else. I have to write, obsessively.

About horses. Of course.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Changes This Fall

As many of you know, I'll be leasing an Anglo/Arab schoolmaster starting this fall. For the first time in almost two years, I'll be back to riding regularly, maybe even showing. My routine of going home after work and writing is about to change--in more ways than one.
My horse barn turned dog kennel

I'd leased my mare to my trainer for breeding purposes. She was in foal but absorbed the foal. They bred her again, and she didn't take the second time. The stallion wasn't available for a third breeding, so she would not be bred again this year. Not wanting to pay the money to board a horse that I'm not riding, I made the decision to bring her home in September.

I've not had a horse on the property in six years. This will be a big adjustment for my husband and I. We've gotten in the habit of leaving quite often for weekend vacations, which will be harder to do now. We've also turned one of the stalls and paddocks into a dog kennel. The fencing in the other paddock is in need of repair, my pasture is overgrown, and the fences also need repair. Weeds are growing in my outdoor arena. The hay storage area has other stuff stored in it. All in all, the place needs to work to be horse ready.

My seldom-used arena
If only that was the least of my problems. There are no other horses in my neighborhood. What to do about a friend for Gailey? I'm not really interested in buying another riding horse at this time, so that leaves me with finding a pony, miniature pony, a goat, or something else. Right now, I'm just going to take it one step at a time. While the weather's good, the dogs can sleep in the kennel at night and keep my mare company, but this winter, I'll need to come up with another option. Of course, using my other stall for an animal means I'll need to build another dog kennel.
The logging road in the woods by my house


Yet, despite the work and hassle involved, part of me is looking forward to having Gailey at home and doing some trail riding in my woods. Also, I know I can pay closer attention to her when she's at home than I could at the boarding stable.

I'm open for suggestions on a low-maintenance companion for her so give me your ideas.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Book Giveaway--Laura Crum

Three winners! You choose the book! That’s right. Now’s your chance, if you’re at all curious about what sort of books I write. Or if you’ve read some of my mystery series, but can’t find the next title (and some of the older books are hard to find). Enter this contest and if your name is drawn, I will send you the book of your choice. I am going to have first, second, and third place winners, and all will get to choose a book. So, three winners!

To enter, leave a comment on this post. The comment must include your choice of book. You can say “any of them” or “the first one”, or name a title, but indicate your preference. I will draw three names out of a hat this coming Friday and post the three winners then. If you win, you must email me at laurae at cruzio dot com and send me your snail mail address, so I can mail you the book. I am willing to mail them anywhere. The books are only available as print copies. The first eight books in the series are hardcovers, the last three are trade paperbacks (larger size paperbacks).

To find out more about my mystery series, see the covers, read reviews, and/or the first chapter of each book, click on my name on the sidebar to go to my website. (A warning—I’ve posted the first chapters from my manuscript copies, so some of them have typos, which were cleaned up by the time the books were published. I know I should go back and repost the first chapters sans typos, but website maintainance doesn’t seem to get very high priority around here. However, be assured that the books are pretty much free of the sort of errors you may find on the website.) I’ll give a short overview of the series here so you can get an idea if you might be interested.

The books feature equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, and each book is a classic mystery. Not suspense, not romance, though there is plenty of suspense and romance included. But the genre is mystery, not glue-you-to-your-seat-with-horror suspense, or full-of-throbbing-objects erotic romance. Just to be clear.

Since Gail is an amateur sleuth, there is a certain element of unbelievability in the fact that this particular horse vet has stumbled on over a dozen murders so far—I mean, would you have her out to your barn on a call? However, this is a standard mystery premise, and with this one caveat, the books are as believable and true to life as I can make them.

Almost all the horse action is based on things I have done or seen with my own eyes, and there is PLENTY of horse action in every book. Besides the mystery plot, each story focuses on a different element of the horse world. The first book, CUTTER, revolves around cutting horses, the second, HOOFPRINTS, centers on reined cowhorses, the third, ROUGHSTOCK, on team roping and endurance riding, the fourth, ROPED, on roping and ranching, the fifth, SLICKROCK, on horse packing in the mountains, the sixth, BREAKAWAY, on trail riding, the seventh, HAYBURNER, on breaking a colt…etc.

Above and beyond the mystery plot and the realistic exploration of different aspects of the horse world, the main character, Gail McCarthy, evolves throughout the series, having various life adventures. In this sense, all twelve books constitute a very long novel that covers twenty years of one woman’s life. She begins a career, finds a boyfriend, breaks up with him, goes through a depression, finds a new boyfriend…etc. So there is some merit to reading the books in order. However, each book stands well alone as an entertaining/exciting read, and it is not necessary to have read the previous installments to enjoy any given title.

And finally, every horse wreck and veterinary adventure that has happened to me and my friends has been included—the books are a virtual encyclopedia of what can happen to a horse—again, all as true to reality as my writing skills will permit. Every horse in every book is based on a horse I have known, and all are realistic, believable horses, behaving as horses really do behave. They don’t talk, or bash the bad guys to defend their owner or any of the host of other silly/unbelievable things I have seen horses portrayed as doing, in various novels I have read. (I don’t know if this bugs you guys as much as it bugs me, but for the record, my fictional horses are “real” horses.)

I’ll give a very brief synopsis of each book here, and again, for more info, click on my name on the sidebar.

CUTTER: Veterinarian Gail McCarthy thought cutting horse trainer Casey Brooks was being paranoid with his stories of poisoned horses and sabotage, but when his blue roan mare returns riderless and Casey is found dead, she isn’t so sure.

HOOFPRINTS: Gail McCarthy is a horse vet with a hectic schedule, not to mention a horse, a new boyfriend, and a house payment, and her life is more than a little disrupted when she finds two dead bodies in the course of a routine call to a well known reined cowhorse barn.

ROUGHSTOCK: While attending the annual Winter Equine Seminar at Lake Tahoe, Gail finds one of her fellow horse vets dead, and another accused of his murder. The trail leads back to Gail’s hometown, and through the twists and turns of the team roping world, plunging Gail into a confrontation with an unlikely killer.

ROPED: A stalker haunting the ranch of an old friend creates a harrowing personal drama for Gail as she struggles to sort out a mystery involving animal rights and a bitter feud—and win a team roping event at the same time.

SLICKROCK: Gail embarks on a solitary pack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with just her two horses and her dog for company. All too soon she stumbles upon a soon-to-be-dead man, and is drawn into the whirlwind of nefarious events that precipitated the tragedy.

BREAKAWAY: Faced with a depression and some big life changes, Gail struggles to find the right path as she is confronted with the strangest mystery she has ever heard of.

HAYBURNER: Gail is called out to treat injured horses when the biggest boarding stable in the county catches fire. When a second barn fire occurs nearby, Gail finds herself in the middle of the search to catch the arsonist—before any more horses or people die.

FORGED: Gail’s horseshoer is shot in her barnyard, while shoeing her horse, embroiling Gail in a dangerous attempt to capture an elusive killer.

MOONBLIND: Gail’s cousin Jenny, who runs a Thoroughbred layup farm, complains of mysterious villains who are out to destroy her business—and harm her horses. While trying to support Jenny, Gail discovers this threat is all too real.

CHASING CANS: Legendary barrel racing trainer Lindee Stone is killed when a horse flips over backwards with her. The cops are calling it an accident, but Gail witnessed the wreck and thinks there is something fishy about it.

GOING, GONE: While on a vacation in the Sierra foothills, Gail finds that her old boyfriend, Lonny Peterson, is accused of murdering a local auctioneer. In an attempt to save Lonny, Gail ends up in a harrowing horseback race with a ruthless killer.

So here’s your chance to check out my writing for free. I hope all of you enter. Remember, you must leave a comment naming your book of choice by this coming Friday, when I will draw the winners. And if you win a book, I’d love to have you review it. Cheers--Laura