Friday, March 30, 2012

Animal Voices

I have this funny, I guess sort of strange thing I do with my animals (all of them). I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but honestly I was trying to come up with a few paragraphs for the blog today since I hadn't gotten to it for some time, and I thought about this thing that I do. I talk to my animals--horses, dogs, and cat and I realize that isn't so strange because I know a lot of people talk to their animals. However, I sort of take it once step further and have my animals talk back to me. You're probably wondering what the heck I mean by that, or maybe you're thinking this woman is off her rocker. A few people might think that, but I'm okay with that. Really I am.

Anyway, back to the part where the animals talk back to me. Let's say I'm talking to my dog Java who is gigantic Rhodesian Ridgeback (not your typical Rhodie) and although Java is gorgeous, he appears to be a bit lacking in brain cells. At the very least he knows how to play dumb quite well. So, when I ask Java a question like, "How was your day?" "He" answers me back with "his" voice, which happens to be rather low and quite dumb sounding (think Scooby Doo here). I wish I could do "his" voice for you here, but I can't and honestly, I probably wouldn't because you would then seriously think I'm off my rocker. Mylee who is our pound puppy has a much higher and far more intelligent sounding "voice," and her answers tend to throw Java under the bus on a regular basis--calling him not so nice names. it's really kind of entertaining when I have an entire conversation going on between the three of us. Then, there is Daisy (our two-year-old doberman). Daisy has a scratchy high voice and is quite needy. She is constantly saying things like, "Love me, Mom! Aren't I pretty? Aren't I great?"

And, now (yes--I am crazy) we have a new puppy in the house named Ella (I call her Lala). Lala has a tiny baby girl voice and she is constantly insisting. "No, no, no--I did not pee pee. That was Daisy. I promise, cross my heart."

As far as the horses go, well, Mister Monty is our little Gypsy Vanner guy and you can guess that he has an Irish lilt that sometimes sounds like a cross between a British/Spanish accent (I don't quite have the Irish thing down yet, even though my heritage dictates a lot of Irish blood in me. His answers to my questions are always highly intelligent. My mare Krissy, who I also call Princess (well, you can only guess what she might sound like and what a discussion with her might be. Basically she always wants to know where her "damn" cookies are). And now I have my 3 girls--Bronte, Mia, and Kaia and they have very young, sweet voices and they all answer their "mommy," in just the right tone. Yeah right. Each one has their own, strong personality just like the human teenagers in my life.

I'm not sure why I do this with my animals--maybe it's for pure entertainment, maybe it's to drive my kids crazy (which it does seem to have that effect, however, I have caught each one of them trying to hide their laughter at this little game I play) or maybe I am off my rocker. It doesn't matter why I do this, I just do.

I'm curious though, does anyone else out there not only talk to their animals, but do your animals talk back, or at least do you talk back for them, saying what you think they might be saying back to you? I'd love to find out that I am not the only crazy animal person around.



Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Lesson in Loading

I had a loading lesson with an amazing man last week. His name is Antoine Cloux, he rides Western, and he’s famous in my area for getting horses to load easily.

I’ve never really had any massive problems loading Qrac. He’s played me up a couple of times, but never for too long. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt totally confident about his attitude towards loading. Unlike his stable-mate Woody, who belongs to my friend Heike, you can’t just lead Qrac up to the trailer, tell him “forwards”, throw the rope over his neck and have him walk in all by himself. Same with unloading; Heike just unties Woody at the front, then calmly walks to the back of the trailer, unhooks the metal bar, and tells him to “come on”. Woody gently backs down the ramp, Heike picks up his lead rope and that’s the end of that. There’s no drama, no rushing around looking for someone to help her. Woody’s cooperative attitude makes trailering far more relaxed.

I want relaxed trailering experiences. I want Qrac to load and unload like Woody. So I asked Heike how she’d taught her horse to load so easily. She shrugged. “Oh, I just put food in there,” she replied. “Now he loves it!”

I’ve lured Qrac into the trailer with food many times, the most nerve-wracking time being when I hot-footed it out of the crappy, leaky-roofed dump of a stables I’d made the mistake of moving into last November (I wrote about it on this blog; Qrac and I lasted all of two days there). Being a little embarrassed about leaving so soon, I wanted to make a low-key exit. By some miracle I managed to align my car onto the trailer hook without getting in and out of the car a gazillion times, then, armed with a giant bag of carrots, enticed Qrac to follow me up the ramp singlehandedly. But my heart was in my mouth as I slipped out of the side door and rushed round to the back of the van to lock him in, certain he’d shoot back out again and gallop around, creating stallion mayhem. Thankfully he didn’t, and minutes later we slunk away, him presumably munching away, me sweating profusely!

There have been times, however, when even a bag of carrots hasn’t encouraged Qrac to bound enthusiastically into the trailer, when he’s danced around me and my hastily gathered trailer-loading assistants, eyeing us nanny-nanny-poo-poo style. One time we had to resort to using lunges to get him in (ok, so we hadn’t given him much time, but I was in a hurry, and couldn’t hang around proffering fruit and pretty-pleasing), an experience I didn’t enjoy. Also, having seen certain individuals at my stables shooing their horses into vans with whips and broomsticks, I didn’t want to find myself in the uncomfortable position of having them offer to help me get my uncooperative horse into my van! If Woody could learn to load so coolly, then so could Qrac.

Of course, Woody is far more placid than Qrac. Not that Qrac is a hot-headed fire-cracker. In his stable and in the grooming area, he comes across as a total dope-head, usually standing with his head low and his eyes half-closed. It’s when I get on him that he switches gears, striding out purposefully. Also, a new environment, or anything out of the ordinary tends to worry him, and Qrac is very good at whirlwind spins to the left, especially on outside rides. He’s hard to read, temperament wise, as he can go from super-cool to super-hot and back to super-cool again within seconds. Woody on the other hand doesn’t seem to get flustered about anything. I mulled things over for a while, wondering whether I could single-handedly teach Qrac to load consistently without getting myself into a giant pickle and making his loading ethic worse.

It didn’t take long for me to decide to get professional help. My trainer had told about Antoine Cloux’s remarkable track record with recalcitrant loaders, so I phoned him up and made an appointment.

Antoine met me at the stables last Thursday. He put Qrac in a Parelli halter (I think that’s what they’re called) attached to a long rope, and briefly explained his technique. Basically, the horse has to be motivated to go into the trailer, he must consider the trailer as a refuge from anything unpleasant happening outside. Of course, typically, Qrac followed Antoine into the trailer like a puppy dog from the word go! However, he wasn’t particularly motivated to stay inside the trailer despite the carrots and random other treats on offer, and soon began to try to back out, whereupon Antoine applied a steady pressure on the rope, holding it quite high, which Qrac clearly found slightly uncomfortable. As soon as Qrac took a step forwards, Antoine immediately relaxed the pressure. Thus began a “conversation” of backwards and forwards between Antoine and my horse. When Qrac insisted that he really preferred to be outside the van, Antoine told him that was perfectly fine, but that he’d soon find out that life was far more pleasant inside.

Antoine never did anything hectic or violent. He never got loud or bad-tempered. All he did was wave the rope a bit, urging Qrac to move around him in a circle, making him cross his hind legs. Less than a minute later, he asked Qrac to follow him back into the van. Qrac went in happily, staying there a little longer this time before deciding to back out again, whereupon Antoine repeated the entire process. Before the hour was up, Qrac was going in and out of the trailer by himself, and once inside, staying there quite happily.

Antoine told me to never let my horse stop behind the trailer, to always lead him up to the van from a good distance away at a determined pace and to not turn to look at him (I tend to start off at a determined pace, then start worrying about whether or not my horse is actually going to follow me in, turn to try and determine what frame of mind he’s in, then find myself floundering at the base of the ramp with a prancing horse in one hand and a carrot in the other). I must believe he’s going to go in there without making a fuss.

Before Antoine left, he made me have to go. I took a deep breath, then set off at a decided pace only to hesitate for a nano-second at the base of ramp simply because I’d misjudged the trajectory and realised that Qrac was headed for the wrong, far too narrow side of the trailer (we’d opened the middle partition so it was wider for him). Qrac immediately balked, danced around the side of the ramp, whereupon I was told to lead him away from the van and start all over again. “Don’t hesitate,” Antoine encouraged. “Just go for it.”

This time I got it right. I’m not sure Qrac would have stayed in the van alone while I exited via the side-door and locked the bar under his tail, but the hour was up and it was time for Antoine to go.

I took Qrac to the farrier that afternoon. He loaded easily, but I doubt I could have thrown the rope over his neck and told him to go into the van by himself, so I’ve asked Antoine to come back in a couple of weeks for another session. I’ve also asked him whether he might be able to help me with Qrac’s annoying habit of suddenly spinning up and sideways on trail rides. He’s been doing it more often recently, and I don’t like it at all, especially when I can't see anything spooky in sight. Antoine seemed quite confident he could help me with this by provoking the up and sideways spinning in the arena, so we’ll see. I hope it helps.

Do you have any special tips for getting horses to load easily? How about for horses that suddenly spin sideways on trail rides? Antoine told me I needed to concentrate on his getting him to keep moving his hind legs, which makes perfect sense, but depending on the circumstances is easier said than done! I’d love you to share your tips and experiences with me. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Random Joy

by Laura Crum

Lately it seems like at least half my favorite horse blogs are written by endurance riders. I love the descriptions of the rides and all those photos of “ears” in front of striking scenery. And they all seem like such nice people. If I were younger and not so burned out on long hours in the saddle (I spent my 20’s and 30’s mostly on a horse), I’d take up endurance myself, if only for the social aspect. (Even though I’m something of a hermit in real life.)

But I am old and stout and I have paid my dues on many all day rides of various sorts (not endurance), and I like my sedate little two hour trail rides just fine, thank you very much. In fact, despite the fact that what I am doing now (horsewise) seems pretty tame compared to the ranching, roping, cutting, horse packing…etc of my youth, I am having as much or more fun with my horses today than I ever have in my life.

I like the freedom I feel, and the complete absence of anxiety. I like to ride along in a relaxed frame of mind, enjoying the scenery and the company of my son. I love my steady, unflappable little yellow mule, though he is a far cry from the much more athletic horses I competed on those many years ago.

So no endurance for me—though I tell myself that I am sort of a mini-endurance rider—after all we’re all folks who enjoy trail riding, right? I just don’t like trail riding until I’m exhausted (!)

But I do love getting “outside” on my horse, and when weather and life cooperate, I’m out on the trails two or three days a week. Last night I started looking for some photos of myself trail riding to post on the blog—as I always enjoy the photos that others post of themselves out on the trail. I particularly enjoy the “ride photos” showing the intrepid endurance rider and mount cruising through dramatic scenery (like the last set Funder posted links to on her "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time" blog—breathtaking!). So I tried to find some photos of myself and Sunny out in the hills.

Well, there aren’t that many photos of me it turns out—because I am the one taking the photos, usually. Thus photos of Sunny are mostly of his ears. The most recent photos of myself and my mount that I could find are from last summer and fall. And they are a far cry from elegant “ride photos”. No professional photographer was handy. But anyway…

So here’s Sunny and me and my son and Henry in September—taken when my husband hiked with us. I am busy talking to my husband and paying no attention to what I look like on the horse—so yes, my hand is way too high.

And here’s one taken by my son last summer. Look at Sunny’s mane. Funder and White Horse Pilgrim, I think it rivals Dixie’s and Brena’s.

And yes, I know—no helmet. This was before my conversion to helmet-hood. I do wear the helmet now. And yes, I ride in Ugg boots. Works for me. Note the little flames on Sunny’s breast collar. I would not have chosen these (Aarene and Funder), but my horse Plumber won this breast collar in a roping contest, so of course I have to use it.

Looking at these photos, I realize that they were both taken on one of my favorite rides. This is a logging road that runs through a redwood forest on private land. The property is next door to my uncle’s small horse ranch and we have permission to ride there. It’s an up and back, not a loop, but I have been riding on this road for over thirty years and I know every bend and every tree. The road takes you up to the top of the ridge, and then, unless you get permission to ride on some other private land, you come back down. Going to the top of the ridge and back takes between one and two hours, depending on how fast you go. In my twenties, I would lope the whole way up on Gunner. It was great fun. Now we mostly walk and trot.

Here are a few more photos that show what a pretty little dirt road this is. Below you see my son on Henry and our friend Wally on Twister, headed up the hill. My son is objecting to being photographed—I think he’s been reading too much Calvin and Hobbes (!)

And here I am following Wally and my kid out of the forest and into the big meadow that borders my uncle’s place.

Here’s the ubiquitous ear photo as Sunny and I reach the top of the ridge.

Here’s my favorite photo—even though it is blurry. (I have a hard time taking sharp pictures from my horse’s back.) But you can see my favorite stretch of the road with my kid trotting down it—isn’t it pretty?

We only ride here in the summer and fall—since it is a north slope mostly in shade, it doesn’t dry out in the winter and spring and the ground there is very slick when it is wet. So I haven’t been there since the day my husband took the first photo in this post—which was September, I think. Usually the earliest we can ride there is June, and we’re almost never up there past October.

Its been raining a lot for the last week or two, so I haven’t been out on the trails at all for awhile. But looking at these photos makes me feel happy. I’ve had so much fun riding on this little road through the woods over the years. I look forward to getting back up there this summer.

And, on another joyful note, my 5th book, Slickrock, is now up on Kindle for 99 cents, This has always been the reader favorite of all my books, and today I’m gonna give it a little plug. Folks, if you like horses and trail riding, you will like this book. It’s the least mystery-like of my novels, so even if mysteries are not your thing, I think you’ll like it. The whole story takes place in the course of a mountain pack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, and its more of an adventure than a mystery. It works just fine as a stand-alone, so even if you’ve got no interest in reading my mystery series, give Slickrock a try for 99 cents (if you read on Kindle). Here is the link.

OK, I’ll quit with the shameless promotion now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Value of Friendship

Friendship, true friendship, is really an interesting phenomenon. Philosophers for hundreds, even thousands of years have pondered both the simplicity and the complexity of friendship. Like love, friendship is equally essential and problematic. Very few of us, if any, can exist as an island, with no element of friendship in our lives.

All of us have friends, some more than others, but like most things that matter it is in the quality not the quantity that matters. So what draws friends together, purpose, usefulness, common interest, chemistry or something much more intangible? Friendships are often born out of interesting, if not even strange circumstances. Michele Scott and I became friends because of problems with another trainer and her daughter's pony that precipitated her moving her horses to my facility. Was that just a friendship of need and convenience? Now several years later, Michele and I are like sister's talking nearly every day and our friendship is now more like family.

I have discovered over the years that most horse people share a kinship, if not a full blown friendship, with hardly knowing each other. How many times have you struck up a conversation with a stranger at a feed store and within minutes you are conversing like old friends. Friendship of common interest? Yes, but is the instant bond more. I think that there is some undiscovered common gene thread connecting horse people in specific and to animal lovers in general. How many of you have numerous photos of any number of horses or other pets saved on your phone and will gleefully show them off to a total stranger in an airport, or supermarket, or doctor's waiting room, when you realize you both have animals. Friendship of common insanity? Perhaps.

I also count many 4 legged beings as friends, pretty much on the same plain, or even higher, than my human friends. Just this past weekend, I saw a horse that I trained many years ago at a horse show. He looked me straight in the eye, nickered and then begged for treats and a rub as if I had seen him yesterday.

How about you? How do you define friendship and how important of a role does it play in your life? I have been blessed with many close, long term friendships and I know that they are people who love me and have my back unconditionally. That, combined with a close family, makes me doubly blessed. Although I am often frustrated with my fellow humans and sometimes think that they are not the best example of humanity, I still value their existence and cherish the special ones, 2 legged and 4 legged, I have in my life. What do you think??

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Barnstorming by Laura Crum

Yes, I am reviewing our own Laura's newest mystery. I have been reading and writing mysteries since my first short story in Highlights, "Dusty's Disappearance," was published in 1984 (I was only two years old. And if you believe that I have a sound, bombproof horse to sell you.) Sixteen Nancy Drew and ten other mysteries for kids later, including the Edgar nominated Shadow Horse, I am still excited to discover a new mystery author. Even though Laura is a friend I have gotten to know via blogging and the internet, I had never read any of her books in the Gail McCarthy series. Shame on me!

Laura writes in her Author's Note "Many people have asked if Gail is "me" (others just assume it.) The answer is mixed." Well, I will admit right away, the best thing for me about Barnstorming is despite the fact that I live in Virginia and Gail/Laura lives in California, as I was reading I felt as if I was spending time with Laura, her horses, her friends and her family. I have only been in California once, but Laura's descriptions helped me be there. "The eucalyptus trees were light and airy, compared to redwoods or oaks. They were slender, towering high, moving in the slightest breeze. Light slanted between them; the ground was carpeted with long shreds of their pinkish, peeling bark, dried lance-like yellow leaves, and their small hard blue cones."

Descriptions like this are better than a photograph to someone who loves words. The main character, Gail, (like Laura) also does not hesitate to express her opinions and her love for horses and family. And of course, Laura gets the horse details right in her book. Something not all writers do, which irks the heck out of people like me.

The mystery also moved along nicely (I won't give anything away) with suspense in the right places. " . . the bright red blood splotching the small hole in her chest gave the answer. My heart pounded; I could feel a strange rushing in my ears." And Jeri Ward, a detective with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department, would make a nice spin-off character.

So next stormy day, when you can't ride or garden, and you want to curl up with a good mystery, Barnstorming is the perfect pick.

Next blog I will review another mystery Scrapbook of Secrets which is as far from California and horses as I can get!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Finding a Been-There-Done-That Broke Horse

by Laura Crum

A recent post on a popular horse blog featured the statement—“Its easy to say that a beginner needs to ride a 12 year old been-there-done-that horse. Good luck finding that one.” This statement made me roll my eyes and laugh out loud. I am one of the folks who is always advocating that beginners need to ride older been-there-done-that horses. And guess what? I do know where to find them. If said blogger would like to learn, I’m happy to share.

First off, you can’t have your heart set on twelve. Many of the horses that will fit your needs are older than that. I bought my son’s horse as a 19 year old, and Henry is still going strong at 24. The main thing you want is sound and gentle—and certain sorts of arthritic problems, such as bone spavin, can be tolerated.

There are certain “pools” of horses that offer many good older horses for beginners. One of the best is team roping horses. Now if you’re an English rider, you may think this tip won’t work for you, but you’d be wrong.

Remember we’re talking beginner horse here, or horse for an older re-rider with fear issues. We’re talking babysitter. We are not talking something that you are going to win a dressage contest on, or a hunt seat class, or a three day event. We are talking about a horse that can teach a kid to ride well enough that said kid might be able to move up to a horse that COULD be competitive at these events. But you have to learn to ride first—without getting so badly hurt or scared that you don’t want to ride any more. And this is where your older bombproof horse is invaluable.

Team roping horses are good bets for a wide variety of reasons. The biggest one is that in order to become a solid, competitive team roping horse, the horse has to be able to handle a lot. You name me another event where the horse must stand flat footed in an open space until signaled, then run as hard as he can, staying focused on the object (the steer), make a sudden turn, tolerate the whirling ropes, erratic cattle, hard jerks…etc, and then walk off (well, most of the good ones walk off). It’s a lot of adversity, and if a horse can put up with all that, there’s not much that rattles him. Now this is a generalization, of course. There are plenty of dingy team roping horses, just as there are dingy horses in all disciplines. But there is a very high proportion of unflappable bombproof horses among the older team roping horses I have known.

Also, since team roping requires that a horse run hard…etc, a team roping horse may be retired from roping if a kind-hearted owner feels he just isn’t up to this work any more—and the horse may still be quite sound enough for light riding. My son’s horse, Henry, is perfectly sound. He was retired because he was 19, not as fast as he had been, and the owner didn’t want to break him down. This scenario is not uncommon.

Team roping horses are mostly QH’s or QH types, and such horses are often pretty laid back and steady. I do not mean that all QH’s are this way. Certain lines are ridiculously flighty. But these “airhead” types are not the sort of QH’s that mostly become rope horses. Rope horses tend to HAVE to be mentally tough—or they just don’t make it.

Anyway, this is the place I would start, if I wanted to find my next been-there-done-that horse. And yes, this is exactly how I acquired Sunny and Henry, the two bombproof geldings my son and I use for trail riding. And neither horse was terribly expensive—both horses have stayed sound.

Now the fact is that I know a lot of team ropers, and if you don’t, you may be saying that its all very well for me to talk, but how is someone else supposed to find these horses? My answer would be to look for western trainers in your area and ask them if they know any team ropers. Keep asking until you get the names and contact info of some ropers. Contact them and ask if they know of any older, sound, gentle rope horses, suitable for a beginner. And if they don’t know of anything like that, can they give you contact info for someone who might. Keep on persisting in this fashion. Persistence is key.

I would not be too excited if the western trainer wanted to sell me someone’s old show horse. Not that these are never a good bet, but such would not be my first choice. I am also not very keen on buying a horse through someone who is making a commission on the deal (trainers usually are).

When looking for your “bombproof” horse, be aware that no horse is perfect. My son’s horse, Henry, is pretty close to perfect, but he is lazy and has the bad habit of persistently snatching at vegetation. My Sunny horse is genuinely bombproof—he’s also strong minded, and inclined to testing for dominance—lazy and rough gaited, too. Its best to decide before you set out horse shopping what kind of faults you’ll tolerate. I suggest being tolerant of the lazy horse if you’re looking for a babysitter.

The thing you really need to be clear about is you want a “broke” horse. This does not mean that you need a “well trained” horse. Most team roping horses are broke in the sense I mean. A “broke” horse is a horse that will do what you tell him, even under pressure. Sometimes the horse only understands pretty crude signals (this is true of many rope horses), but he stays obedient when the going gets tough (or scary, or whatever). That’s broke.

A broke horse may spook, but he’ll stop when you pull on the reins—he won’t bolt. A broke horse may crowhop playfully when he feels good, but you can pull his head up and holler at him and he’ll quit—he won’t bog his head and buck you off. A broke horse may balk if he doesn’t like the look of something, but he won’t rear or spin or bolt away. And in the end he will follow your directions, though sometimes you might have to be firm, persistent and patient. A broke horse may jig a little but he remains under control. That’s broke.

A “well trained” horse of any discipline is one who has been taught to be responsive to the aids. Such a horse gives his head, and moves easily off cues from your leg or seat. A well trained horse is (often) a pleasure to ride, but what the beginner or anxious rider NEEDS is a broke horse of a laid back temperment. Its best to keep this clearly in mind when horse shopping. Many great been-there-done-that horses, perfect for your use, are not all that well trained and respond somewhat sluggishly to the aids. But they are broke in the sense that counts (Sunny and Henry are in this category).

In general, sensitive, reactive, or hot horses are a poor choice for a beginner/anxious rider, no matter how gentle, well-trained, and broke they are. You want the calm, laid back, stoic, and (usually), somewhat lazy horse. But he has to be broke. Not just ignorant and lazy (such horses cannot be trusted to stay obedient under pressure). Thus team roping horses are a great place to start. They can’t become competitive without getting broke (in the sense I am talking about).

The other great resource when it comes to finding your older-been-there-done-that horse is horses that people have outgrown, or need to sell for various reasons (divorce, death, loss of job…etc). It sounds callous, but my uncle used to say that the first thing he did when he heard a roper had died was to call the widow and ask if she wanted to sell his horses. And the very best been-there-done-that horse of my childhood was a sorrel gelding named Tovy that uncle Todd acquired in just that way. (Tovy was the name of the departed owner).

My friend Wally recently bought a sound, gentle nine year old gelding, absolutely suitable for a beginner (and very cheap) because the owner had lost his job and was behind on the board bill. Wally didn’t actually need another horse, but both he and I figured the horse could come in handy if one of our horses got hurt.

And we bought our pony, Toby, when the neighbor girl outgrew him and moved on to a horse. I saw this pony pack the girl and her friends around for years, and when they told me he was for sale (they could only afford to maintain one equine), I jumped on it. My little boy was five years old and getting too big to ride with me on my horse. Toby was twenty and perfectly sound (and very inexpensive). And Toby taught my son to be a competent, confident rider—in two short years. Yes, Toby died of cancer at twenty-two—we only had two years with him. But he was perfectly sound the whole time and we rode him on average fours days a week. He was only sick for the last two weeks of his life. Toby gave us a HUGE gift, and if I had it to do over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.

So, look for good older horses that are being sold for a “legitimate” reason—due to no fault of their own. They are out there.

And finally, a lameness issue that is a stopper in a competitive rope horse can be not a problem in a horse used for light riding. My friend Wally’s six year old blue roan gelding, Smoky, was injured such that the vets said he would never be sound enough to be a team roping horse again. Wally gave the gentle, well trained Smoky to some friends of ours who spent a year rehabbing the horse. Smoky is now eight years old, sound at the trot on soft ground (will bob a little on rough ground on his “bad” side) and is used for walk trot work with beginning riders and short trail rides on good ground. They LOVE this horse. And he was free.

Some of you may remember that about three years ago I was trying to find a home for a rope horse that belonged to my uncle. Harley was a been-there-done-that twelve year old gelding (I’m not kidding—he really was twelve), who had suffered a suspensory tear. He’d been rehabbed and returned to rope horse work and reinjured himself. My uncle rehabbed Harley again—a year later Harley was sound and my uncle wanted to give him to a home as a light riding horse. I had a friend who was very timid and had not ridden since she was a teenager, but she wanted to “get back into horses” and she had an appropriate horse property. Harley was as solid as he could be, but he was not a complete deadhead. I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit. I put this question out on the blog and most people said to give it a try. So I did.

Three years later I am happy to say that this has been an absolutely wonderful success story. My friend went from being so timid that she wouldn’t even handle the horse without her instructor being present to someone who told me yesterday (with a grin a mile wide) that she had saddled and ridden Harley on a breezy day when he was “feeling good”, all by herself. Not only no one with her, but no one on the property at all. She said both she and the horse had a blast. How’s that for a happy ending? And contrast this to the sad stories we’ve all heard where the person buys a younger, greener horse, gets hurt or scared, and the joy in horses is diminished or gone forever. And again, Harley was free.

So, yes, dear fellow horse blogger, beginners or anxious riders do indeed need to get that older been-there-done-that horse. And those horses ARE out there and they are often very reasonably priced. More than that, many of them need that good forever home as much as the gentle rider needs their steady nature. You don’t even need good luck to find them, just persistence and a little common sense.

OK—climbing off my soapbox now. All comments on this subject are welcome.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Horseless in Shelton

It's been a busy weeked for me. I planned on writing megawords on my latest novel, but I only wrote 300 words all weekend. I did mow the lawn for the first time since last fall. Of course, the lawn is all moss so it was hard to see where I'd mowed.

The other chore I had this weekend was haul my horse back to my former trainer's place. She'd going to breed her this spring.

Saturday morning, I hooked up the trailer and caught Gailey. Expecting her to give me problems when I loaded her, I'm happy to report she loaded easily within a few minutes after some token resistance.

Now she's gone.

My husband couldn't wait to get rid of her. I somewhat felt the same way. After all, having a horse on the property cramped our style. We couldn't go off on a trip at the drop of a hat, or come home late from work whenever we pleased. So now we're free...

We went to a hockey game last night. When we got home, Hubbie ran to the barn to check on the horse. No Horse.

Oh, yeah, she's gone.

I woke up this AM later than usual. Gotta run out and feed the horse. Wait, no horse.

We should have been happy. Instead, it was like a part of our life was missing. When I sat in my library, I can usually look out on the horse pasture, but again, no horse.

It's a weird feeling when you've adjusted your life around a horse, and she's no longer a part of it. I'm sure we'll adjust, but it'll take a while. We both miss her. It's like a part of our lives is missing, and actually it is.

She'll be back in the future, so for now, we'll try to appreciate our freedom, even as we miss her.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Good Horse Books for Kids!

by Laura Crum

Since my eleven year old son is a voracious reader, and he has a horse and loves him, horse books are very high on our priority list. We’ve read quite a few of them over the years, some of them written by authors from our very own blog. So today I want to talk about some of our favorites. And I’m going to start out with our “home” authors.

The first book we read that was written by one of our authors was Linda Benson’s “The Horse Jar”. My kid had seen this book on the sidebar of our blog, and thought it looked interesting. Linda very kindly sent him a signed copy (a big thrill). We read it together, and we both really enjoyed it. The characters were very believable and the story was one that a 9-10 year old could totally relate to. I loved the basic storyline, which shows a child making a very mature, loving, but difficult choice. My son is still very fond of this book.

Then, more recently, Alison came out with “Risky Chance” in the Horse Diaries series (this series is written by different authors, the common elements being the theme—books from a horse’s point of view set in different periods of history—and the excellent illustrations by Ruth Sanderson). My kid had wanted to try these books for a while (they were featured in the Chinaberry catalog—one of our favorite catalogs), so we ordered “Risky Chance.” This one my son read on his own, and reviewed here on the blog. I also read it, and really enjoyed it, particularly the setting (Southern California TB racing during the Depression). At this point my son became a Horse Diaries fan, and Alison very kindly sent us a signed copy of her other Horse Diaries title, “Bell’s Star.” The book is set in New England in the 1800’s and deals with a runaway slave and a Morgan horse-- we both liked that one a lot, too. Again, this was a book my kid read on his own and it kept his interest right until the end. Alison’s knowledge and love of horses really shines in both of these books. Now we’re busy acquiring the rest of the series.

Most recently, I ordered Alison’s book, “Gabriel’s Horses”, because after reading about it on her website, it seemed like it would make a perfect start to doing a “unit” on the Civil War. As a homeschooling mom, I am always looking for books that will provide a good prop for learning about something. And “Gabriel’s Horses” did not disappoint.

Set in Kentucky during the Civil War, the book is about a slave boy who wants to become a jockey. Gabriel is about my own son’s age, and the story painted a vivid portrait of what his life was like. We read the book chapter by chapter, with exercises (provided by me) of mapping the Confederate and Union States…etc. The book was GREAT—really kept both of us interested, gave you the feeling and many facts about the Civil War and slavery, without being too horrifying (which many books—even kid’s books—about this war are, because it was a truly horrifying event in terms of suffering). I recommended it to the teacher who leads our homeschool group, and she is going to read it to the whole group of kids next year. Again, the horse element was very well portrayed.

That covers the children’s books we’ve read so far by authors from the EI blog, though I’m sure we will be reading more. Certainly the second and third books in the Gabriel trilogy, and possibly Linda’s new book, if we ever start reading ebooks or it comes out in paper. So far we read only paper books, but who knows what the future will hold.

We have, of course, read many of the old classics—just finished “Black Beauty”, which is still a great read. Read “The Black Stallion,” which was well liked, and “The Island Stallion”, which I loved as a child, but my kid was not as enthralled by it as I was. We read my personal favorite, “Smoky the Cowhorse,” again, not as big a hit with my kid as it was with me. Maybe he needs to be older. Misty of Chincoteague was well received, also another childhood favorite of mine, Elizabeth Goudge’s “The Little White Horse.” I thought about reading “My Friend Flicka”, but when I reread it myself to preview it, I decided no, it’s just too dark. Maybe in awhile. Same verdict on Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony.”

So, there are a few good kid’s books about horses. Anyone want to chime in with your own favorites?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Show What

Show season is underway in Switzerland, and the ladies who ride dressage at my stables are gathering together in the coffee room, cleaning tack and discussing which competitions they’re going to be signing up for.

“Will you be competing this year?” they ask me as I slip coins into the recently installed hot drinks and blubber distributor, caving yet again to the double whammy of a Twix bar and a hot chocolate. I’d go for unsweetened coffee, I swear I would, but there’s no caffeine-free version (I don’t drink any caffeine at all), so until the weather warms up and vanity kicks in, I’m powering towards Cellulite City. I urgently need a sweet tooth extraction.

Will I be competing this year? It’s a good question. I’m not a competition junkie; never was and probably never will be. I get nervous, stressing out at the mere thought of moving up the centre line under the unforgiving gaze of the judges. Nerves even got the better of me on my now-retired, good old show-pro Kwintus, so I can only imagine the wear and tear on my intestines should I sign Qrac up for a program or two. Then again, a good case of show nerves might undo some of the Twix and hot chocolate damage, and if I seriously grab the tiger by the tail and ride every show on the calendar, there might come a day when I find myself cellulite-free, nonchalantly tempi-changing up that centre line with the reins in one hand, à la Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and Fuego XII (have you ever watched his freestyle program at the Kentucky World Equestrian Games in 2010? It’s upliftingly wonderful!). But one-handed tempi changes are quite a way off, considering Qrac and I can barely ride a decent circle. He’s such a wiggle bum!

Nevertheless, when I think about how complicated I found riding him this time last year (I can hardly believe it’s almost a year since I brought him home!), how he used to just snatch the bit and run after his feet, I can only be proud of our progress. He still gets a little hot under the collar after the canter, his trot goes all “frantic” and it’s often a challenge to bring him back to a nice, swinging, regular tempo. He’s a bit of a social butterfly, and is easily distracted by horses coming into the arena, or leaving the arena, so I need to keep his mind busy in order to keep him concentrated. He’s also pretty pig-headed; when he decides he’s had enough for one day negotiating a little extra can become quite a long conversation! Qrac can go from beautiful to absolutely rubbish within three strides, which can be ever so frustrating. A couple of weeks ago I was having a lesson with my trainer, and she was so thrilled by how fabulously he was moving that she took my iPhone and started filming us. Unfortunately, she was just a little too late; Qrac morphed from dream machine to sewing machine the second she pressed record! I was so disappointed.

Coming back to the showing issue, I’m also a little concerned by how my horse will react on the showground. He’s not the bravest of horses and at the moment tends to slink through the village glancing from left to right, like a soldier on a stealth mission, certain that danger lurks behind every letter box. If I take him to a show, chances are he’ll freak out at the flower pots, spook at the flags, refuse to go anywhere near the judges huts, and shy away from the little white dressage railings. He’ll also probably be totally distracted by all the other horses. Me? I’ll get all flustered and self-conscious and forget my test!

I know, I know, I should think positively and not worry so much. We have to start somewhere, and if we went out regularly enough there’s no reason why he shouldn’t get used to performing in different environments. I’m just not sure I’m driven enough to put myself through the whole palaver, weekend after weekend. A part of me wants to, because he’s a beautiful horse, because I’m proud of what we can achieve (well, sometimes!), yet another part of me recoils in horror at the mere idea. I love training, I love working towards that perfect transition, that perfect circle or shoulder-in or half-pass, but I like to transition WHEN WE’RE READY TO TRANSITION, and not at A or E or M just because the test says we have to!

Even so, Qrac and I can actually ride a semi-decent test; I know because we’ve recently ridden a few, just to see whether we had it in us. As usual, I underestimated my capabilities as a rider and was rather chuffed by what we managed to do. The extended trot will probably never earn us many points; Qrac just doesn’t have a big, extravagant movement in trot. There have been moments when I’ve really felt him try to extend, and even wondered whether he might be doing a touch of fancy toe-flicking, but I think it was wishful thinking. But his walk is superb, his canter is great, so if we do show we’ll just have to make the most of his strong points. We also need to practise standing still, which Qrac tends to think is a waste of time if he’s not absolutely exhausted.

Will I be competing this year? I don’t know yet, but I’m definitely working towards the idea of competing. I’m really enjoying the journey, so I’m not too bothered about when we actually get there.

How about you? How do you feel about competing? What are your goals for this season?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Being There Until the End

by Laura Crum

Not so very long ago I read a blog post with a similar title to this, written by a blogger who runs a retirement farm for horses. She had some interesting and worthwhile things to say, along the lines that the horse doesn’t care if the owner is there at the end, and that choosing to place your horse in a good retirement home (and paying the bills for his care) is one of the best things you can give your horse. She also had some (to my eyes) rather scathing comments about people who didn’t want to send their old horses away and who thought it important to be there at “the end”.

Now I agree with some of what this blogger said and from what I can tell, she runs a great retirement farm. But she missed a few important points, in my view. I wrote a comment listing these points, and lo and behold, it was not posted. I don’t know if got filtered by accident, or she just wasn’t willing to post any comments that didn’t entirely second her own opinion. So today I’m going to enlarge on what I said in my “unposted” comment in reply to her blog—because I think it’s important.

First off, the notion that many of the horses at her farm don’t seem to recognize or be interested in their owners when said owners visit makes perfect sense to me. People, when you send your horse to a retirement farm, its exactly the same as selling your horse to a truly good home. From the horse’s point of view, that is. The horse doesn’t know you are still paying the bills, and that you still own him and care about him. From the horse’s point of a view, he has made the transition to a new home and new equine friends and new human owners. The people who run the farm and feed him and care for him are his owners now. He is interested in them (if he’s interested in people at all), not his used-to-be owner.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Sometimes sending a horse to a retirement farm is the best choice for both horse and owner. But its good to be clear about it. This is the reason many of these retired horses at the farm show no particular interest in or recognition of their owner— with whom they may once have had a great bond. If an owner doesn’t mind this transition and knows its what’s best for their horse because they are no longer able to give him a good life at home, more power to that owner.

But…people who don’t feel that they would ever want to send their old horse “away”, are not to be ridiculed. If a person has the ability to keep their retired horse at home (or in a nearby boarding facility) where the horse has plenty of room to move around, the company of other horses, and good feed and care, that is, in my eyes, the best possible choice. No matter how good the retirement farm, it simply doesn’t offer the incredible benefit of looking at your sweet old friend every day, seeing he is happy, and hearing him nicker when he sees you. And, in my view these things are priceless.

I have two retired horses on my property. One is Gunner, who has been featured throughout my mystery series starring equine vet Gail McCarthy. Gunner is 32 years old—I have owned him since he was three (see my February blog post “Feeling Good” for more about Gunner). For ten years Gunner was my main riding horse—we competed at many events, covered many miles. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see his blaze face and bright eyes every day.

Gunner lives in a big paddock where he can run and buck and play (and he does) and socialize over the fence with other horses. He has a shed and gets free choice hay (and equine senior feed night and morning). His weight is good, he is sound, and his attitude is happy. I kept him turned out in a neighbor’s pasture for awhile (with other horses) and I honestly think he seems more content here in my barnyard, with all the human and horse activity that goes on. My son and I pet him and give him cookies and though he doesn’t see or hear well any more, he really is thriving overall. So his life is good; and my life is better because he’s with me. I missed him when he didn’t live here and am happier now that he’s home. Gunner seems happier, too. Isn’t that what its all about?

My other retired horse is Plumber. Plumber is also a featured “character” in my mystery series, where his registered name is “Plumb Smart”. My real life Plumber is “Plumb Brown”. Plumber is 23 this year and I bought him as an unbroken three year old from my uncle, who raised him; I did all this colt’s training myself. I have known this horse since he was born—in fact I was the first one to see him. Plumber was my main mount for twelve years and we competed at team roping and completed many mountain pack trips. I gave my little boy rides on Plumber when my child was a toddler. Plumber has lived in his same large paddock on my property for twenty years. He is completely dialed into life here—knows exactly when I am going to turn him out to graze—has involved relationships with his equine companions of many years. He nickers every time he sees me, whether it’s feeding or grazing time or not. Does anyone really suppose that the best thing for Plumber would be to uproot him from his comfortable life and move him to a retirement farm? Even if it was the best farm in the world?

Below you see Plumber about six years ago, when he was 17 years old and still in full use as a riding horse and team roping horse (we retired him at 20, still sound, because he gave us signs that he didn’t enjoy working any more). Look at that sweet face. How could anyone choose to send a horse like this away if they didn’t absolutely HAVE to?

And yes, I know, my kid and I are not wearing helmets. If I had it to do over again, we would be. But this photo was taken before I began blogging—and interacting with so many horse folks on the internet. No one in my real life horse world wears a helmet—and their kids don’t either. I did buy my kid a helmet (and made sure he wore it always) about a month after this photo was taken—at the same time I bought him a pony for his 5th B-day. And, in my defense, we rode Plumber just as you see for many years, with absolutely no problems. My conviction that Plumber would not dump me, and that I could hang on to my kid if the horse spooked (and he did spook occasionally), was perfectly accurate. And yes, to those who have an eye for detail, I am wearing pirate pants and clogs. I ride in pretty much whatever I have on.

Anyway, Plumber is a very sweet little horse, and he knows who his people are, and it would make me, and I think also him, very sad if I had to send him away.

Mind you, if I couldn’t keep him here for whatever reason, and chose to send him to a retirement farm, he’d get through the transition. Horses do. Sometimes its harder than others and a horse will really mope for awhile, but eventually the new place would be home. But given that I can keep him here in what has been his true home and not force a big transition on him late in life, I think its much better choice for him (and me) to keep him here.

Yes, it’s an inconvenience in many ways. Gunner and Plumber take up two of the four large paddocks that I have for horsekeeping and I get no “use” out of them. But it is more than worth it to me to have them with me—for my sake as well as their sakes. I love them. I don’t want to break the bond between us. I want them to remain “my” horses. And yes, I want to be there at the end—to take upon myself the responsibility of when is the right time to make that choice and to insure that it goes as smoothly as possible. This is not something that I want to give away to someone else, no matter how experienced and well intentioned that person may be. These are my horses. It is my privilege to care for them until the end of their lives. I don’t want to send them away if I don’t absolutely have to. And I don’t think this is a point of view that should be ridiculed in any way.

If I truly didn’t have room for them or couldn’t keep them in an appropriate way, or if I lived in a harsh climate where I felt the winters were too hard on them, I might indeed send them to that retirement farm for their sakes. But in my own circumstances I think it a far better choice to keep them with me, and I feel sure that many others would benefit from making the same choice.

So my point is not that retirement farms are a bad choice. They can be a very good choice, depending on your circumstances. A much better choice than selling an old horse and not keeping track of him (which is a terrible/evil choice, in my view). A good retirement farm is a responsible, loving choice. But the best possible choice is to be able to keep your old horse with you and enjoy his company, and be there with him at “the end”. The rewards of doing this are huge, and I’m pretty sure that others who have followed this path will agree. So…no ridiculing those of us who do NOT want to send our old horses away, and who want to be there with them at the end. Not without a rebuttal, anyway.

Please feel free to give your own thoughts on this subject in the comments.

And…my fourth book, “Roped” is now available on Kindle for 99 cents. I have to say that re-reading this book (which I haven’t read in over ten years) was kind of fun. I almost have to pat myself on the back. The book is set in the ranching/team roping world of central California—the world where I spent my twenties and thirties—and the story brought the working ranches of my youth back so vividly I almost felt that I was there again. The gathers in rough country, the horse wrecks, team roping contests, and hours spent hanging out in the local bar with the cowboys, everybody talking horses….it’s all there. Along with an exciting mystery plot. I mean, even though I knew how it was going to end (duh), I was still pretty gripped.

OK—its silly to blow my own horn. Of course I like the book—it’s my book. But I do think that any of you who have the slightest tinge of interest in the ranching life will enjoy this mystery.

Anyway, Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, and Roped—the first four books in the Gail McCarthy series, are now available on Kindle for 99 cents. Click on the titles to go there.

Also, anyone in the continental US who would like a free review copy of my latest book, “Barnstorming,” (12th in the series), can have one by emailing Susan Daniel at with your snail mail address. Your only obligation is to post a short review (can be a couple of sentences) on your blog or on Amazon.

And last thing, we FINALLY updated my archaic website, which I’ve pretty much ignored for oh, about the last ten years. It was very 90’s—and that’s putting it kindly. It’s still a work in progress, but thanks to my husband, it now has a slightly more current look and up to date info. We are going to keep working on it over the next couple of months and hopefully it will soon be pretty interesting. Check it out at

Monday, March 12, 2012

A guppie against the tide.

Several months ago I blogged that Uiver and I had dipped our toe in the big pond of FEI dressage and Jennifer's blog last week about dressage being a "harsh mistress" has proven all to true for Uiver and I in our last couple of shows.

Uiver and I continue to strive for that never ending quest of type "A" for anal dressage perfection and I am even, shall I say masochistic enough, to do it at some of the biggest shows that southern California has to offer. Well Uiver and I are at least not embarrassing ourselves and are getting mostly moderately respectable scores in the low to mid 60s but were are a long way away from the scores of 70 and up that you need in this environment to be in the top five of classes at these shows.

And then there are riders like Steffen Peters that make it look oh so easy and flawlessly gets a 78 on his new horse Legolas and a 79 on Ravell at the beginning of the season. The trainer I work with, David Blake, won both of his Grand Prix classes on a new horse that he had ridden only 8 times prior. Now that is just wrong and unfair that anyone should be that talented. Do I sound envious, well, you would be right!

David on Albert

Steffen on Ravell

Steffen and the perfect canter pirouette!

I try to be more inspired than intimidated when I watch these amazing riders in their seamless partnerships with equally amazing equine athletes. I look at my pictures and I can see any number of flaws - I need to sit up taller, my leg should be longer, my reins are too long, my seat should be deeper, and so on and so on and so on. Then you look at pictures of Steffen and David and I am not sure if I want to shoot them for being so perfect or shoot myself for not being better.

I know, I am a little crazy but you really have to be to stay in a sport where a 1/2 inch of rein or a micro unit of weight in a seat bone or the slight shift of your leg can mean the difference between a good canter pirouette or a really bad one. Not to mention those cursed tempi changes. Lately it seems I can count to 3 but not to four because we can get the changes every 3rd stride (which or supposed to be harder) but seem destined to screw up the 4th stride tempis every time.

Uiver and I.

I am in love with my horse but frustrated with myself. However, like every other obsessive compulsive dressage addicted masochist, I will continue to strive for that impossible dream of the perfect dressage test. Unless you Steffen Peters that is.

Feel free to tell me that I should get a funny little jacket that ties in the back and check myself into the nearest mental hospital. How about you? Anybody else struggling against the tide?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Cute!

I am always amazed that in a world filled with good, bad, ugly and cute that the really bad and ugly hasn't hit my family in full force. Tornadoes? Missed us. Cancer? Not yet. Horse breaking a leg? Nope. Drug addicted relative? Been there and got through it. Lately my life has been filled with cute since as you know, I am antique and vintage crazy and enjoying every Breyer Horse and depression glass vase. But when does the 'cute' run out? When does the good teaching job and the husband, daughter and son healthy, accident-free, employed and sane change? And is mentioning my good fortune jinxing me and us? I'm not sure.

Our dog, Dozer, and my stepmom, Reba, recently died and each was a sad event but expected. Life does end, and Dozer was ready for the big dog house in the sky and my stepmom had been praying to go quietly, which she did. So these two deaths don't count as 'bad'. My husband and I often wonder why good luck has continued to come our way. We wonder: when will it run out? Or, as in one article I read in "Goodhousekeeping," do we make our own luck? And if the ugly does hit me smack in the face, will I be able to handle it after so much 'cute'?

The other day I was searching for the worth of a porcelain horse I had bought, and googled "china horse." Instead of photos of adorable figurines, I was bombarded with graphic images of fighting horses surrounded by a cheering audience. China has outlawed 'horse fighting' but the 'sport' is still going on in rural areas. Two stallions are baited with the scent of mares and then . . . you get the idea. Only don't google it. The photos have stayed with me for days, and I did not spend time scrutinizing them. It was an example of ugly that I could not shake. How had I not heard of this before? Supposedly, the Chinese government has worked hard to keep photos of the sport from leaking out. And I must admit I did not read or research the issue after seeing the pictures, so I don't really know. Yup, this is called sticking my head in the sand.

The good, bad, ugly and cute are all part of life. Sometimes the bad and ugly seems to unfairly hit people who don't ask for it. We have friends and family who have lost jobs, health and loved ones all in one swoop. This has been a good and cute few years for me and my family.
Knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, kiss the garden gnome, and I hope it continues. How has your year been? Are you ready for the good and cute? Or braced for some ugly?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

News! (and a Free Book Offer)

by Laura Crum

My 12th book has been published—in 2012, how appropriate. The cover is by the very talented Peter Thorpe, who has done most of my covers. I think he did a wonderful job on this one. My son actually came up with the concept of a barn being “struck by lightning” as a play on the title, and Pete did a fabulous job of painting this image and doing the lettering.

“Barnstorming” takes my protagonist, equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, into some new territory, both as she solves the mystery and in her personal life. Those who have read the series know that Gail starts out in “Cutter” as an eager 31 year old vet who is one year into her career, with a new boyfriend and a new horse. In the first ten installments in the series she ages one year in each book and goes through some important life changes. By “Chasing Cans”, the 10th book, she is 41 and the mother of a young child. (and still has to solve a dramatic mystery on the ranch next door—the woes of an amateur sleuth).

In my last two books Gail ages five years per book, as I wanted to bring her closer to my own age (I’m 54) and write about some themes that interest me now. “Barnstorming” has a lot to do with solitary trail riding and the challenges that come up. And since it is a mystery, Gail faces the challenge that I think all of us secretly wonder about. What if we met a truly nasty person out on the trail? What if that person had a gun?

All my books are very much based on things I’ve seen and done, and all the horses in my stories (and the other critters) are as true to life as I can make them. They behave like real horses (most of them are modeled on my own horses—and those who read this blog will recognize them); they don’t talk, or solve crimes, or defend their master from the bad guys (all of which I have seen and winced at in various novels). Sunny, my little palomino trail horse, has a starring role in “Barnstorming”, as he did in “Going, Gone”.

I will admit that I have been fortunate enough never to have met anyone truly nasty on my many solo trail rides, but I have met some odd/tough looking sorts and certainly had my moments of wondering “what if”, which gave me the seed of an idea for this story. I’m hoping you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And, if the book sounds interesting to you, you may have a copy for FREE. My publisher has agreed to send a free copy of “Barnstorming” to anyone in the continental US who will review the book on her/his blog or on Amazon. No fancy or lengthy reviews are necessary. Just mention you’ve read the book and say what you think of it. If you would rather not do a book review on your blog, or you don’t have a blog, you can post a short review on Amazon. So those of you who would like a FREE review copy of “Barnstorming” please email Susan Daniel at with your agreement to review and your snail mail address, and she will mail you a copy of my latest book.

I’m currently in the process of getting my older titles available on Kindle, which is taking me awhile, because I don’t have electronic copies of the first ones (written twenty years ago). So by April that job should be done. In the meantime, here’s a list of my published mysteries, with a short synopsis of each book. The first eight books (all out of print) will be available on Kindle for 99 cents each. The first three are up there now (Cutter, Hoofprints, and Roughstock) and I have every intention of getting the next five up there shortly.

I’m very excited at the thought that these books may become readily available again. I put so much of my life into writing them (twenty years), and the stories are not only good mysteries (or I think so, anyway), but also reflect a lot of my thoughts about life…and horses. I hope some of you will give them a try.

Here’s the list (I can hardly believe I’ve actually written this many books):

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.

And just released-- BARNSTORMING: In which Gail, on a solitary trail ride, discovers a fellow equestrian shot through the heart, and embarks on an intense hunt to discover why violence is haunting her local trails.

Readers sometimes ask me which books are my favorites, or which I think are the best. In a way, this is like asking a mom which child is her favorite—it’s a hard question to answer. I can tell you that Slickrock (5th book) is the overall reader favorite, and that readers either love Breakaway (6th book) or they hate it—its my “darkest” book. I really like both of these books. I can also say-- after working on my early books to get them up on Kindle-- that I get steadily better book by book through the first four novels. I am very partial to my last four books because they reflect on my current life of being a mom, but I have noticed that those who are not mothers themselves often don’t like these books as well as the early books. So those are my insights, for what they are worth.

Anyway, it is my intention that Barnstorming will be the last in the series. I always planned to write a dozen books in this series, and now that goal has been achieved. The novels took me twenty years to write, and cover twenty years in the life of one particular horsewoman (30-50), chronicling her many adventures. If you like mysteries and horses, I think you’ll like these books. And I would be very happy to get your feedback on them, and thrilled if you’d review them.

By the way, if any of you who like my books want to do me a real favor, post a positive review on Amazon. This may have quite a bit of influence on how many books I sell. I realize it’s a fussy sort of chore, and I never post reviews on Amazon myself, so I’ve got no expectations. If you happen to do it, I’ll be very appreciative.

And…I have a Facebook page now, believe it or not. I always said I wouldn’t do Facebook—guess I have to eat my words. We can be “friends”.

One more time (can you tell I’m excited about this?)-- Cutter, Hoofprints, and Roughstock—the first three books in the series -- are now available on Kindle for 99 cents. Click on the titles to go to the Kindle page for each book. This is one of my favorite covers—again by the very talented Peter Thorpe.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Social Media and the Kill Pen

When I was a teenager (eons ago) I used to accompany my dad to buy horses. It was a part-time hobby of his - finding good family horses for people and turning a small profit on them. Usually he dealt with a dealer whose job was to find such horses (and most came from ranches in Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho.) But sometimes I'd go with him to one of the horse sales in California's central valley, where we would look for good buys on gentle, well-trained horses. My job was to jump on them (as the owners were showing them off) before the sale started and ride them around the parking lot, through mud puddles and between trucks and trailers and past dogs tied in the back of pick-ups. If the horse did well, appeared gentle, and was kinda pretty, my dad would try and make a deal and we would bring it home before it went through the sale.

I got quite an education back in those days. I not only learned how to ride a variety of horses (and it was also my job to show them off to customers back at home) but this was the time when I learned about the "kill buyers." The sad fact was that those horses at the auction who didn't find new jobs as riding horses would usually be bought by kill buyers and sent to slaughter.

Things haven't changed an awful lot today. There are still horse auctions where many horses get sold for meat. At the moment, there are no equine slaughter houses operating in the United States, and horses are now sent over the border to either Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered. There is a proposal right now to build a new horse slaughter plant in Missouri, and also a movement amongst horses lovers to stop it. But the sad fact is that many thousands of horses are still slaughtered and sold for meat every year, most of it shipped overseas.

What has changed from the time when I attended auctions? Technology. Cell phones, social media, twitter, and facebook help spread the word about horses that are available and horses in need. Is this helping some horses? I think so. At least a few of them.

There are many rescue groups now that scour auction yards ahead of the actual sale time, looking for horses that might be rideable or usable or registered stock. They can then post these horses on facebook, with pictures, and even get identification of tattoos of certain breeds, and find out the horse's name and history. With the abundance of smart phones, you can take a picture of horse, post it on facebook, and maybe find someone to fall in love with it and offer its purchase price or donation toward its rescue immediately.

There are a lot of soft-hearted people out there, and many follow these auctions from home computers. They can save a horse by sending money to pay pal, or by calling or emailing or posting that they'd like to donate. Amazing, huh?

If you'd like to follow some of their attempts to save horses from auctions, here are some sites:

Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue

Horse Plus Humane Society

Pony Up Rescue for Equines

Auction Horses

These mostly deal with auctions and horses on the West Coast, but I know there are many in other parts of the country as well.

If you want to save a horse in person, you can go to one of these auctions yourself. Bring your checkbook and your horse trailer. I've done so in the past, and brought home not only an emaciated pony that I took home and fattened up, but also a 6-month-old weanling filly that was separated from her mother in the pen and sold separately, price $50. She found a new home the next day with my best friend.

If you prefer to get involved in horse rescue from the comfort of your living room, that's okay, too. Look up some of the sites above, or feel free to post any other rescues or links you know of in the comments below.

Have you ever been to one of these small-time horse auctions, or saved a horse from slaughter? Tell us about it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dressage is a Harsh Mistress

Today I'd like to welcome Jennifer Walker as a guest blogger.

Dressage is a Harsh Mistress--Guest Blog for Equestrian Ink

by Jennifer Walker

When I got back into riding after about nine years away from it, I wasn't sure which discipline to pursue. I had a little Arabian mare, and we ended up at a sport horse training barn. When I watched some dressage at an Arabian sport horse show, I decided that was the discipline for me. After all, it's just making circles and changing directions and trotting and cantering and wearing cute little outfits!

Yeah....not so much. As it turned out, it was a whole lot more than that. For one thing, making corners and circles that are actually round is much harder than it looks. For another, you have to have the horse on the bit, and working through its back, and tracking up, and all kinds of other things. Somehow it all snuck up on me and turned out to be much more than I bargained for.

Then I started going to horse shows. And I learned that even though my mare and I had come a long way and performed well for what we were capable of doing, that didn't equate to what really needed to happen and therefore a good score. As dressage judge Creeky Routson once said when I was scribing with her, "Dressage is a harsh mistress." Boy, did I get that.

Once you finally figure out how to make circles that are round and lines that are straight, and your horse is on the bit and you're finally keeping your hands in the right place, you move up a level and everything gets a little harder. Or, suddenly your trainer decides you can't let your horse's hind end swing inward at the canter anymore. Or now your halts have to be square instead of just being thankful the horse stopped at all. It's one thing after another!

And that is the beautiful, wonderful thing about dressage. There is always something new to learn, a new height to reach. When you finally get that feeling of your horse being on the aids and moving powerfully beneath you and you're working together harmoniously. That moment when you finally get the movement right and your instructor smiles and says, "Good job!" It's that bond you form with your horse after hours and months and years of working together to reach a goal.

Yes, dressage is a harsh mistress. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.


Jennifer Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist living in Northern California. Her two books, Bubba Goes National and Bubba to the Rescue, are both available in print or digital editions from and other online retailers.