Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When a Bombproof Horse Has a Meltdown

                                    by Laura Crum

            You all know how I am always bragging about my son’s bombproof horse, Henry? Well, the other day Henry had a meltdown, and it was very instructive. So today I’m going to tell you a few things I learned from this. I can’t say that I didn’t know them already, but I got, shall we say, reminded of them.
            First off, there’s never been a time when I talked about our bombproof trail horses that somebody didn’t chime in about how no horse is bombproof. This is, of course, true. Any horse can get stung by a bee and pitch a fit. Realistically, most any horse is going to react if, say, an actual bomb went off nearby. So that’s a given.
            What I mean by bombproof is a horse that is reliably steady and solid-minded, a horse that faces the unexpected scary thing with a minimum of fuss. A safe horse. And Henry is that. He has carried my son for five years on hundreds of trail rides and gathers and has never hurt or scared my kid. But the other day Henry kind of had a meltdown.
            Ok, a mini-meltdown. Here’s how it went.
            We’d gone out to gather the cattle on a cool, foggy morning. There were four of us. Myself and my son, our young cowboy/ horse trainer friend, Mark, and Bert, an 80 year old cowboy. Bert brought his cow dogs along. The cattle were in the lower field and we had to ride down a steep hill to get there. Just as Henry was on the steepest part of the hill, one of Bert’s dogs burst out of the brush behind the horse and literally ran underneath him. It startled Henry and he jumped forward, at which point his feet slipped in the loose oak leaves that are deep on the ground here and he scrambled a little. I heard my son yell (I was in front) and turned around to see Henry just regaining his balance. Henry didn’t fall, didn’t really come close to it, but both he and my son were obviously a bit rattled. Still, Henry walked off as normal, and we set about gathering the cattle out of the lower field.
            There were some fresh cattle that had been recently added to the herd and the whole group was pretty skittery. Bert’s cowdogs were enthusiastic. Those of you who have done this sort of work will know where this is going. We ended loping here and there to get the cattle boxed in the end of the field, and, eventually, through the gate to the upper field. I wasn’t watching my son, as I was trying to herd skittery cattle and I knew my kid knew where to be. Imagine my surprise as I turned to look back after the last flighty steer ran through the gate. My son was struggling with Henry, who was prancing and dancing sideways against the bridle. Mark looked, too. “Somebody feels good,” he said.
            My kid wasn’t scared; he looked more puzzled. “What is going on with him?” he asked me. “He won’t behave.”
            I was puzzled as well. This was unlike Henry. He appeared jacked up, as if he really wanted to go crashing through the gate after the cattle. He was dancing and prancing sideways with his head in the air and his tail up. My son couldn’t ride him through the very narrow (four foot) gate because of all the sideways prancing.
I told Mark to go ahead with the cattle and parked the fortunately quite calm Sunny next to Henry. “Let’s just sit here a moment and see if Henry calms down,” I said.
But Henry was agitated, bowing up his neck and pawing the ground with impatience. Sunny stood quietly. I tried to exude calm. My son still wasn’t scared, but he WAS anxious.
“What do I do?” he asked. “This isn’t like him.”
“No, its not. Let’s just sit another moment and see if he quiets.”
My son sat quietly on his horse, on as loose a rein as he could, only picking up the reins to correct Henry’s inclination to dance off. Despite his worry about the horse, my kid’s body posture was relaxed, the result of many, many hours in the saddle—hours that have virtually all been happy, confident and enjoyable. His body doesn’t have the pattern of tensing up, even in a bind.
After a minute Henry quit pawing the ground and we were able to walk through the narrow gate successfully, but Henry’s head was high and his eyes were big. He was still prancing a little. I know my son and I were both wondering if this meltdown was going to escalate. Henry is 24 and as solid a citizen as ever lived, but he’s not really a deadhead. There’s still a lot of horse there. (Henry's breeding is all "running" QH--if you looked at his papers you'd think he'd be a pretty hot horse.) I gave some thought to telling my kid to get off and then ponying Henry myself, but decided that as long as we were doing OK, we’d keep working through it. And Henry was listening. He was “up”, but not out of control.
“Ride him up the hill,” I said. “See if he’ll line out.”
My son sent Henry up the hill, and almost immediately the horse’s arched neck relaxed and he lined out in a steady long trot. My son looked back over his shoulder and smiled, and then trotted Henry to catch up to Bert and Mark, who were putting the cattle in the holding pen. I followed, keeping an eye on Henry, but his demeanor seemed to have gone back to normal. He was willing to relax into a flat-footed walk. The meltdown was over.

My son finished getting the cattle in the alley, and Mark gave him a high five for being a good cowboy. My kid’s grin was now a mile wide, and I was glad I hadn’t told him to get off the horse. It’s always a judgment call, but even under the circumstances I trusted Henry.
And this folks, this is what a bombproof horse really is. It’s a horse that, even when he has a meltdown, is still safe. Your eleven year old kid can control him through a temper tantrum. Yes, Henry pranced and danced, and threw his head and skittered sideways. He even pawed the ground. But he held it together (with a little quiet encouragement), and was able to go on and finish the job. I call that a bombproof horse.
I still don’t know what got into Henry. It was a cool morning after a lot of hot days and Henry is fit and sleek—in very good shape. Maybe he just felt good. Or maybe slipping on the hillside rattled him more than I would have guessed. Maybe he was remembering the days when he was a cowboy’s horse and just seriously wanted to take off after the running cattle (though we’ve gathered this field many times and he’s never reacted like this before). Maybe a wasp stung him—it’s the right time of year for that and his sudden jump on the hill and subsequent jacked up behavior is consistent with something like that. The truth is I’ll never know. What I do know is that despite the fact that something lit his fire, he remained controllable enough that my son could ride him.
Of course, Henry’s meltdown could have been aggravated into more of a problem if my son had not reacted so well. There are riders who would have jerked the horse in the face and gotten after him for his “bad” behavior, and this would just have made the problem worse. And there are people whose fear would have caused them to take a death grip on the reins and cling hard with their legs—a recipe for disaster. There are also those who would have been very quick to get off, and this would not have helped things. Though I agree that a rider should get off if he/she feels seriously threatened, in general you shouldn’t be riding a given horse if you feel the need to get off if that horse has a bad day. Getting off solves nothing and only reinforces the negative behavior.
I’m very protective of my son, and if I had seen any sign that he and Henry were not going to be able to work through the meltdown, I would have had him get off, yes. But then I would have got on the horse and made darn sure that the meltdown did not equate in Henry’s mind with getting out of the job at hand. You don’t punish a horse for such behavior—as much as you can you ignore it—and you get on with the job at hand.
In the case of a young horse or a problem horse, where you feel that this isn’t possible, given the horse’s degree of upset, my course of action would have been to tie the horse to the arena fence and let him “soak” while we roped. When the horse had got over his upset enough to think clearly, I’d go back to riding him. That’s how you get them broke to being reliable horses.
In Henry’s case, as he IS a reliable horse, a few moments of standing with a quiet companion in order to collect himself, and then the offer to line out in the long trot was enough to get him back on his steady track. And as a sidelight, do not neglect the power of the long trot as a training tool. In the days when I rode young horses, if I had to tie one up to think things over cause it was having a meltdown, when I felt that horse was calm enough to ride, I would have lined it out in the long trot. Either for a good many laps around the arena, or better yet, up a good long hill. The long trot, if you keep plenty of forward momentum, is the gait of choice for the jacked up horse. It allows him to get his energy out in a positive way, and its harder for a horse to spook, buck or bolt from that gait than either the walk, slow trot or lope. Not that they CAN’T spook, buck and bolt from the long trot—cause they darn sure can. But they are less likely to. Walking feels safer to beginners, but it isn’t. Not on a horse that has a ball of energy he needs to find a release for. And the lope does lend itself to bucking and bolting—as I think we all know.
In any case, Henry proved to me once again that he is a truly bombproof horse—in the sense that any horse can ever be a bombproof horse. Even his meltdown was quite dealable with for my son. And, in fact, it was actually helpful. One more brick in the wall of becoming a good horseman. If our horses never misbehave at all, we never learn the skills for dealing with a misbehaving horse. So thank you Henry, once again. You’ve been a wonderful teacher and guide for my kid—you have a forever home with us. We love you. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Survivor

By Terri Rocovich

As I have gotten older, and these days aging seems to be happening at an alarming rate, I more and more appreciate longevity and anyone who can defy the odds. One such example of this is a mare that I purchased in 1982 at the age of 3 from a race horse breeding farm in Cherry Valley California. In addition to being oh so much younger, I was a barrel racer on the rodeo circuit and was looking for a young horse to be my next  prospect but did not have a ton of money. So I heard about a breeding farm that was dispersing stock because of money issues and deals could be had for well bred appendix quarters if you were willing to deal with unhandled, not broke babies.

So I bought a cute little seal brown filly and named her Charlie because at the time there was a perfume on the market called Charlie and it had a confident, beautiful model as the spokeswoman. Much to the amusement of my sisters and father, Charlie was, shall we say, a filly with clear opinions. She was barely halter broke when I got her and she was 2 and half, so there were several occasions when I would be essentially water skiing behind a departing horse. After 6 months of ground training, the first time I attempted to ride Charlie provided great entertainment to my family. After several "unplanned dismounts" off of her, I gave up for the day. Charlie would be fine when I stood up in the stirrup but the minute I would swing my leg over her back, she would spook and spin me off. The next day I decided to longe her until she was too tired to be bad and was finally able to sit on her back without an explosion.

Charlie's opinionated demeanor continued when I started to take her to barrel race futurities, gymkanas and rodeos a few years later. Charlie had a amazing athletic turn on her and was extremely fast but she hated everything about rodeos, especially cowboys, ropes and loud speakers. She you be a temperamental mess from the moment I unloaded her from the trailer and would be such a nervous wreck after warming her up you could forget any success at running a barrel pattern. Charlie was so miserable at rodeos or jackpot barrel races that she would literally stand tied to the trailer lying in wait until some unsuspecting cowboy would walk within her range and she would line them up in her sights and kick them intentionally.

So the first lesson I learned from Charlie was that you are never really going to get a horse to perform at something they don't like even if they do have the talent. By a series of coincidences I decided to try to sell Charlie as a 3 day event horse and then get back to barrel racing. Needless to say, the sale never occured and after learning enought about eventing to not kill myself (or make a complete fool of myself) I was hooked and Charlie and I never looked back. Of course Charlie also had her opinions about jumping, dressage and travel to events, but she was what I had and I loved her.

Now fast forward over 20 years and Charlie lives a happy retirement at the good graces of my older sister in Santa Barbara. My sister's farm is a prestine facility with beautiful green pastures with huge covers, a barn and all the luxories a horse could possible want along with incredible views of the pacific ocean. The mare pasture where Charlie has lived for the better part of the last 10 years has an unobstructed view of the ocean on clear days.  This unfortunately, has meant nothing to Charlie over the past 3 or 4 years since she has been slowly loosing her eye sight. But she has been unphased and totters around the pasture with complete contentment.
A little more than a year ago, Charlie was found in the morning by Ellie, my sister's barn manager, with a long and deep wound that traversed half of the length of one of her forelegs. It remains a mystery as to how it happened but after countless stitches, a few courses of antibiotics, weeks of arduous aftercare, not to mention a sizable vet bill, Charlie was fully healed with hardly a scare.

Then earlier this summer, it became evident that Charlie's eye issues were escalating and her long suspected Uvitis in the right eye was causing her a great deal of discomfort. My sister, niece and I contemplated whether the recommended course of treatment was justified or even appropriate for a horse her age. The veterinary eye specialist had told us that her best chance was to remove her eye altogether. Charlie is currently 33 years old and I had to ask the vet if putting her through this at this age was humane and the vets reply was that Charlie in every other way tough, happy and healthy and could have several more years in her. So, last month, Charlie's right eye was removed and prosthetic placed in the socket.

Today Charlie is as spry as I have seen her in years and she does not seem impaired in the least little bit. Her discomfort is gone and she is even eating better. It is like the surgery has given her a new lease on life and she is going to take advantage of it. 

This coupled with her new fancy rubber Epona shoes she thinks she should be running cross country again. I know that many people might think that my sister and I are a little, no a lot, crazy to spend this amount of money on a horse Charlie's age and I did agonize over whether putting her down was the better thing to do. But after seeing Charlie today I know that we did make the right decision and even though my pocket book is thinner and my indebtedness to sister even greater, my heart is fuller knowing that an old mare's quality of life is the best it can be for whatever time she has left.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trail Ride Adventures

                                    by Laura Crum

            After reading Linda’s post about her adventures riding the Tevis, my trail ride adventures seem pretty tame (!) But as a middle-aged mama riding with my kid, well, tame is us right now. We still have adventures—but they’re not like a horse balking in the midst of doing Cougar Rock. But for what its worth, here are some of my current trail ride mini-dramas.
The other day my son and I decided to go for a ride. Since we were in the mood to be “adventurous”, we decided to ride a trail we hadn’t ridden in six months—the swing set trail (this is a trail that plays a starring role in my 11th mystery novel, “Going, Gone”). This trail isn’t particularly difficult overall, but all our local trails have become very overgrown and aren’t much used—perhaps because of the proliferation of big houses that don’t like horses. Nonetheless there is still wild land out there outside my front gate and we rode for two hours without seeing another human on the trails. We did see lots of other interesting things.
            First we had to get across the busy road. Have I mentioned that I hate crossing the busy road? We stood by the side of the road for many long minutes as the traffic whizzed by. Every time we saw a gap and started to cross, another car would zip into view, speeding merrily along. We must have started the poor horses forward, then stopped and backed up, maybe ten times. They are such good horses—they stood quietly and obediently, alternately stepping forward and backing up, and ignoring the noisy traffic rushing by about four feet away from them. Finally a kind motorist stopped and indicated he would wait for us. Unfortunately this is also problematic, as one must study the cars stacking up behind said motorist and be sure that none of them, unaware, decide to zip around the stopped car. Yikes.
            Finally we got across the road. Next up, pushing our way down the narrow, poison oak-draped singletrack trail that winds along the steep sidehill. Besides the poison oak and brambles, we discovered a newly tipped-over tree. Fortunately we could hop over it at the low end—which was about two feet high. But the very solid overhanging branches—the headbonker trees—are getting harder and harder to get under—every year those branches grow in girth. These trees are impossible to detour around, due to the steepness of the slope and the heavy brush. One must go under. The lowest branch whacked me hard in the shoulder. Ouch.
            Once we got over the ridge onto easier trails, I started to relax. Eventually we reached the swing set. This is an old swing set which appears to be abandoned in the woods. The ruins of a house and an abandoned car are nearby. The whole place is kind of ghostly (again, it features in “Going, Gone”), under the right circumstances. On a sunny day, not so much. Here’s the swing set. Look past the window made by Sunny’s ears. Its there. Somewhat buried in the brush.

            Not far after the swing set, we met another tipped over tree. I elected to ride under it. Poor choice. It was pretty low and whacked me in the shoulders again. Double ouch.
            The trail is kind of pretty through here in a narrow, sun dappled way. It isn’t difficult to ride, so I took photos. I never have any photos of the places where mildly exciting things happen, because I am always too busy riding and paying attention to take pictures. So here we have peaceful sun dappled woods.

            I took all these photos as my horse was walking along, so they are a little blurry, but I think they capture the feeling. Now we’re getting to the redwoods.

            After this we reached a section where the middle of the trail had become a deep ditch. The horses are used to this, and plodded reliably down the ditch until Sunny somehow slipped and scrambled for a minute, clambering up the steep sides of the ditch and generally staggering around and making me nervous. But he straightened himself out and was fine. No harm done. Henry never put a foot wrong.
            Finally we reached pavement. Here is where, in the past, we rode down a narrow, seldom-used paved road until we struck a trail that would lead us back towards home in a pleasant loop. Unfortunately, someone has recently built a big monster of a house where that trail used to be and fenced it off. So now we just turn around and go back. Sad.
            But the trail back was pretty and had different views. Isn’t it interesting how different a trail looks when you ride it in the opposite direction? It was pleasant under the redwoods.

I love the quiet sun dappled woods and the aromatic summer smell of trail dust and oak leaves mixed with sage.

 We rode without talking for the most part. Once my son said to me, “Its good to have friends to trail ride with. And it’s best when that friend is your mom.”
I was just basking in this sweetness, when my stirrup caught on the outthrust branches of a dead sapling lying beside the trail. Before I realized what was happening, the sapling (which was about eight feet long and five feet wide at the crown), became thoroughly tangled in my saddle. Ignoring/pushing through it was not an option. It was too big; I didn’t want to puncture Sunny or trip him. I wasn’t, in fact, sure how Sunny was gonna feel about having this largish dead tree attached to him.
I said, “Whoa.” Sunny stopped. He didn’t seem bothered, so I took my time and untangled us from the tree—or tried to. The tree was persistent about staying attached. Eventually I had most of its claws pried off—I asked Sunny to sidepass away from it. He complied readily despite the narrow trail bounded by thick brush. Good horse. Finally we were free. No big deal. No drama. It’s a joy to ride a solid horse.
 We had a peaceful ride the rest of the way back. I went around the one low tipped-over tree and led my horse under the lowest headbonker tree, so I didn’t get whacked again. Perhaps I’m getting a little smarter?
            Eventually we crossed the busy street and headed back up the hill to my front gate. The whole ride took us a little less than two hours and we probably covered five miles—which is a typical ride for us. Go ahead and scoff, endurance riders.
            But there were plenty of hills and the horses cracked a light sweat and puffed a little here and there. Just enough to be exercise, not enough to be hard work. Their ears were forward and they were marching out the whole way. We did some trotting up hills. Mostly we walked and looked at things. Both horses and riders had fun.
We saw two spotted fawns and three other deer that were just moving shapes bounding away. There were few other horse hoofprints in the dust, but some. No people to be seen. I noticed that the patches of wild iris along the trail, though not in bloom now, are spreading and apparently thriving. It was fun to ride a trail we hadn’t seen in awhile. The redwoods were, as always, beautiful. The temp was about 68.  Other than my sore shoulders, it was a just-right trail ride adventure.
And when we got home, I saw this.

A bobcat mama has, for the second year in a row, raised her family behind my barn. It is great fun to see the kittens, but the whole process can be hard on my chickens. Still, isn’t it worth it?

I hope you all are having a fun summer with pleasant trail ride adventures of your own. I very much enjoy reading your blogs and your comments here and hearing your stories. Cheers--L

PS--Since a couple of people have asked, the above photos are a bobcat kitten--I think about three to four months old. Here is a photo of the mama, taken last year. I have seen her often this year, but not gotten a photo. It is definitely the same cat--she is distinct in being very tall and spotted for her kind. They can be solid tan, and other variations--range in size from only slightly bigger than a domestic cat, to this gal, who is as tall as my thirty pound dog.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Blast From the Past

By Linda Benson

The Tevis Cup, the 100 mile/one day ride through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, was recently completed. Held in July or August on a weekend nearest the full moon, I did this ride many years ago, and I always get nostalgic this time of year just thinking about it.

I rode it on my good horse Daniel. Although the vast majority of endurance riders prefer Arabs, Daniel was a half-mustang, half-quarter horse gelding that I had bought as a green broke 8-year-old. He was dark palomino with a lot of dun factor, including a salt-and-pepper mane, a line-back, and even some faint zebra-striping on his legs. I'm sure his coloring, as well as his toughness and surefootedness was inherited from his mustang mother.

The year was 1985 (well of course it was, check out the permed hair.) This was long before everyone had a digital camera, so this a photo of a photo (excuse the poor quality) of Daniel and I going over the iconic Cougar Rock. The trail narrows to a steep climb up a solid granite rock right here, with an insane drop in any direction, and professional photographers are positioned here to take a picture of you and your horse scrambling up the rock. Well of course everyone wants to RIDE up the infamous Cougar Rock (because it makes for such a cool pic) so I wanted to tell you the story of why I'm walking up it (which about half the riders, and anyone with any sense, would do.)

Actually, my girlfriend and I had completed this trail a couple of weeks earlier in three days, riding about 30-35 miles a day, carrying all of our needs on horseback and camping out. We not only had a blast, but Daniel had carried me right up this rock like the trooper that he was. He was sure-footed, I totally trusted him, and he had never refused to go anywhere that I pointed him. Which explains the look on my face in this picture. Do I look determined? No, actually, I was totally pissed at my horse right here, and calling him many names that I cannot print.

After a mad dash out of camp at 5:15 in the morning, and long-trotting up the slopes of Squaw Valley, followed by a narrow trail that winds around and over creeks and timber, there was a bottle-neck of horses at about the 27 mile marker, waiting to climb Cougar Rock. Unlike earlier, when our forward motion carried us right on up, Daniel had time to think about it while we waited our turn. Perhaps he remembered how steep it was, or maybe he knew how many more miles (73) there were on the other side of it. At any rate, when we approached the rock, my darn horse spun around about ten times and refused to go up it.

Now of course anyone with half a brain would have bailed off and just led their horse up, got to the top safely, remounted and proceeded. But no. Puffed up with cowgirl pride, I walloped old Daniel a few good ones, not wanting him to get away with anything. I could hear the titters and sighs of the other riders around me, waiting for their turn, while I took this moment to school my horse. In just a few minutes, Daniel decided to charge up the rock, just like he had brilliantly a couple of weeks ago. With a smug look on my face, I leaned forward and grabbed his mane to help him balance. But when he got about 2/3 of the way up, at the steepest, scariest, most treacherous spot, my horse spun around again, and started back down the rock. Eeecckkk.

With youthful agility that I don't possess today, I jumped off him, amazingly didn't fall, grabbed the reins, and led him on up, narrowly averting a huge disaster captured for all time by the professional photographer sitting above us to our right. At the top of the rock, I jumped back on my horse, and it took about ten minutes (and a lot of bad words) to get my emotions under control. I decided that since we still had so far to go, I could not mentally be mad at my horse for all that time. So I collected myself, with difficulty, and continued. Whatever happened on that rock was in the past, and we had a lot of trail in front of us. And Daniel did perfectly during the entire rest of the ride.

Did we finish the entire 100 miles? Well, yes we did. Did we receive the coveted silver buckle for finishers? To find out, you can read the post I wrote about it right here.

Training for, and riding the Tevis Cup was one of the most exciting times in my life. Endurance riding is a lot of fun, not only because of all the beautiful country you get to see, but because it's really rewarding to get your horse very fit and tough. I totally had a blast doing it, but wanted to share with you the real story behind this picture.

For more about the Tevis, visit their official site right here.

Are any of you endurance riders? Tell us about the rides that you've been on.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Horse Heaven: Three Days in Saratoga

by Natalie Keller Reinert

Two summers ago I had the pleasure of taking a horse to Saratoga Springs, New York, to run a race at the town's storied track. I went the groom's way, in the back of a NYRA horse van, brushing hay out of my face and looping my arm through a lead shank so that I wouldn't fall out of my folding chair should the driver hit the brakes suddenly.

That night, I slept the groom's way, too: on the floor of a dorm room in a nineteenth century house adjacent to the receiving barn, up again at four thirty a.m. to the sounds of hungry racehorses. We ran a horse that afternoon and were back on the van for New York City that night. It was a little bit of a whirlwind visit.

This year, my husband and I snuck away to Saratoga for three days, traveling by MegaBus instead of by horse van. I know a bus may not sound glamourous, but let me tell you: for one dollar up and four dollars back down, we rode the three and a half hours to the Spa in style, lounging on the top-floor of a double-decker bus, eating bagels, reading, playing Words With Friends, tweeting with abandon because there were electric sockets right at our seats and we didn't have to worry about draining our phones, and generally having a wonderful time while someone else dealt with traffic and tolls and gas prices.

It's a pretty fabulous way to travel.

Everyone should have a town that is designed solely for the purpose of celebrating their personal passion. Baseball, knitting, aerospace, Polish country dances, whatever it is that you're into, I hope you have a place you can go where everyone is living and breathing that one pursuit. Now, I don't know what they do for fun in Saratoga all the other seasons, but in the summer time, racing is king, and this is a town built around worshiping the racehorse. In other words, my kinda place.

We stayed at a great hotel which I will not tell you the name of unless you email me and ask me nicely, because I want to make sure there are still rooms available next summer. Let me just tell you that it was right downtown and an easy walk to everywhere we wanted to go in Saratoga! Since we're farm people/Brooklyn people we walk everywhere anyway, and can't stand cars unless we absolutely have to go in one, so this was a huge point in Saratoga's favor!

While we were there, we took in the Fasig-Tipton Select Sale of Yearlings, home to the million dollar babies:

We visited the National Museum of Horse Racing and Hall of Fame, AKA The FUNNEST MUSEUM EVAH, and met a super-giant statue of "the Biscuit": 

We met some local residents, including this dapper young man who was so hell-bent on having his ears rubbed that I forgot I was wearing a black shirt and had a dining reservation at a very posh restaurant within the hour:

We spent a great deal of time leaning on the paddock rail, watching exchanges like this:

And watching lovely young Thoroughbreds like this filly:

And drinking enough of these that the bartender at the Post bar learned to say "Two juleps?" before we could so much as lean elegantly on the bar:

When going to Saratoga it's important to uphold old traditions, like dressing up for the races, so I found these fabulous western shirts at a vintage store to wear. My favorite one is in the Saratoga colors of red and white... I like to match my surroundings:

The whole trip was so amazing that it jump-started work on my follow-up novel to The Head and Not The Heart, and I was able to sit down at a bar and brainstorm a brand new outline for Other People's Horses. Possibly the most fun part of this outline: it's written in the "notes" section of our Fasig-Tipton Select Sale of Yearlings catalog. You know, for all those million dollar babies we're going to buy. 

I've also started a Pinterest board dedicated to all the beautiful images from Saratoga and Ocala that will part of Other People's Horses. You can follow it here:

Saratoga is still going strong through the rest of the summer. Check out TV listings for some of their big stakes races or watch on cable... even on TV, you can see it's the most beautiful racetrack in the country. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Giveaway!

Hi Everyone! Just dropping in to say that I have some Limited Edition, Promotional Print Copies of my two newest books available: The Girl Who Remembered Horses and Six Degrees of Lost.

I am giving away your choice of these books over on my personal blog, so if you'd like to win one, hop on over there to enter. Here is the link:

Contest is only open for three more days, so gallop on over so you don't miss out!

Note: these books are both available in ebook format, and are widely available online. But these promotional print copies just came out (and are not quite available yet) so here's your chance to read one of these in print, if that is your preference.

Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, August 16, 2012


By Francesca Prescott

(Warning: this isn't a horsey-issue, but it's an issue that's affecting my horsey activities big-time this week and potentially for the weeks to come, and it's on my mind, so I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you.)

Saturday morning, lovely sunny day, I’m driving along the motorway looking forward to a lesson with Qrac, singing along to songs on the radio. The traffic is heavy as carloads of people head off on holiday, and trucks rumble along, laden with all sorts of things that need to go to all sorts of places. I’m in the fast lane, overtaking a series of trucks driving far too close to each other, when all of a sudden something in the engine of my car goes kaboom. My car, a BMW X3 with 143’000 kms on it, lurches to the right, jumping dangerously close to the truck I’m overtaking. The steering goes all floppy, my adrenaline surges as I wrestle with the steering wheel to regain control of the car. I feel a sudden loss of power and immediately downshift, trying to regain some forward thrust, but the accelerator doesn’t respond. I flick on my indicator and bully my way between two trucks, then pull over into the emergency lane and slam on the brakes before it comes to a temporary end because of a bridge. I squeeze as close to the barrier as possible, click on the hazard lights and with my heart racing, grab my bag, clamber over the passenger seat and get out of the car.

The traffic is crazy; cars and trucks race by, a mere metre or so from my car. I consider opening the trunk and finding the emergency triangle as I know I’m supposed to walk down the road and put it down to warn oncoming traffic of my predicament, but the intensity of the traffic is such that I just don’t dare. So I climb over the barrier and squeeze along the narrow space between the hedge and the barrier, heading for a small patch of grass just before the bridge where I can see I’ll be less likely to be run over.

I know I need to call the police, or the emergency towing company, but my mind is totally blank. We don’t have 911 in Switzerland; is the police’s number 118 or 117? I can’t remember, my heart is pounding, I’m scared someone is going to slam into my car, I’m scared there’s going to be a big accident. So I call home and my daughter says she thinks it’s 118, so I hang up and call that, but it’s the firemen, who tell me to call 117. I do so, and the policeman is very nice, asks me if there’s been any accident, or whether my car is blocking traffic in any way, and when I tell him it isn’t he tells me to stay put and that he’ll get in touch with the emergency towing company, but that chances are I’ll have to wait half an hour. He asks whether I’ve put the emergency triangle in place further down the road, and I tell him I haven’t, that I’m terrified of going back to my car because there’s so much traffic. I guess he hears the fear in my voice, as well as the vroom-vroom-vroom of the traffic and although putting the triangle in place is mandatory, tells me to stay in my little grassy green zone. I take deep breaths, trying to get my heart to slow down.

It’s boiling hot, but there’s no shade, so I suck it up, and call my husband to tell him what’s happened. He goes to find our emergency towing company membership number and texts it to me so I can give it to the man when he shows up. I call my trainer at the stables to tell her I won’t be coming today and she tells me not to worry, to take care, and that she will ride Qrac for me. The emergency towing man arrives thirty minutes later, slides into the escape lane and reverses close to my car. I squeeze back between the barrier and the hedge and head towards him. He tries repeatedly to start my car, hooking it up to some sort of computer, and putting some sort of magic product in the engine, a product he says never fails to start an engine unless the problem is very serious.

Clearly, the problem is very serious.

Half an hour later he admits defeat. He can’t tow me away as we’re too close to the bridge, there’s not enough space to pick up speed before merging into traffic and because there’s so much traffic attempting this would be far too dangerous. So he calls a colleague who drives the breakdown-truck and asks him to come and load my car and cart us back to the BMW garage where I always have my car serviced. Of course, the truck is an hour away, and I’m going to have to wait, all alone, on the side of the motorway in the heat. Which kind of sucks, but what else can I do?

Finally, the big truck arrives and I have more palpitations when the driver lies down underneath my car, his body inches away from speeding traffic. He attaches the cable, presses a few buttons and my car is dragged onto the lorry. We drive back to the garage and almost have an accident when someone in a little car overtaking us starts drifting towards us, narrowly avoiding slamming into us on the driver’s side! I guess I’m having a dangerous-to-be-on- roads day!

Finally, close to three hours after the kaboom, we pull into the BMW garage and deposit my car. Of course, it’s Saturday so there are only sales people there, and nobody in the mechanical field to talk to about what might possibly be wrong.

Monday morning, my husband and I drive over to the BMW garage to explain exactly what happened; they loan me a Mini for Frs 70.- per day (it’s about $ 70.-) and tell us they’ll be in touch within 48 hours to give us an update. It’s now Thursday afternoon, and despite various telephone conversations with the garage and a personal visit to return the Mini (I’m going to London for the weekend), nobody still seems to know what the problem is, but from what we’ve understood it’s not exactly looking good. Neither my husband nor I are knowledgeable in BMW techno-speak, so have a limited understanding of what the lovely young man at the reception was telling us, but from what we’ve gathered, we need to pay vast amounts of money to even begin to determine whether the car is salvageable or not, which totally sucks.  Another issue is that my car’s clutch has been making funny noises for some months whenever I floor it completely, yet whenever I’ve mentioned this problem to the garage they’ve told me there’s nothing wrong. Hmmm…. Also, they haven’t seemed to be too concerned about the rather disturbing clanking sound when I turn the steering wheel fully to the right or to the left. Normal?  Somehow I doubt it. And even if it is, it’s not exactly reassuring, let’s put it that way.

So here I am, carless until at least next Wednesday, which is when the garage can next loan me a car as they don’t have anything to lend me on Tuesday (I return from London on Monday evening), and can’t extend the loan beyond forty-eight hours. However, they’ve kindly told us that they won’t be charging us for the four days with the Mini.

Meanwhile, I’m stuck, and the general vibe I’m getting is that this is going to take some time (two, three, four weeks?), especially if the mechanics still can’t figure out what’s wrong by tomorrow, despite having spent about eight hours scratching their heads. I mean, we don’t want to pay thousands of francs for them to dismantle the engine only to be told that the car needs a new engine! And what about the rattly clutch and the clanky steering? Are they going to fix those problems, too, for a couple of extra hundreds or thousands? Seriously, there comes a point where we’re better off buying another car from them, which we’re happy to consider as long as they treat us fairly, properly and commercially.

I’ll probably go and rent a car from a regular rental agency next week in order to go backwards and forwards to the stables and to generally get around. But I have a dressage competition in early September, and without my car (or a powerful car) I won’t be able to go as I won’t be able to pull my trailer. I was in fact supposed to be competing next weekend but have been humming and hahing over actually taking part or not as my son is having ACL (knee ligament) surgery the day before my show, and as a world class worrier I doubt my head will be screwed on properly while he’s in hospital. Now, with the car kaput, there’s no way I can go, anyway. At least that problem is solved!

I know cars break down all the time, and that worse things happen (and trust me, I shudder to think what it would have been like if the car had gone kaboom while I was hauling the trailer), but it’s just very frustrating to be hanging around, waiting to know what to do for the best. Also, whenever I look back on the moment when the car went kaboom, I get shivers thinking about what could have happened had I not been able to regain control of it when it lurched to the right, the steering went floppy and the accelerator failed.

Have you ever broken down in heavy traffic? Did your car do weird, scary things? Worse, have you ever broken down hauling horses? If so, what did you do?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Flower Ride

                                                by Laura Crum

            We had a fun time on Monday when my blogging friend kel from horsegenes (listed on the sidebar) came for a visit with her horse, Semper (and her husband, Mr Wonderful). After some discussion—should we go on a trail ride, a beach ride—kel decided she’d like to ride through the fields where my husband grows begonias. And this was a good choice, as these fields are only in full bloom from August through early October.
            We lucked out with the weather, as the fog was present enough to keep things in the 60’s (kel had just come from the Valley where it was 104), but the sun shone enough to make it pretty and not too chilly. We only rode for an hour or so, but since kel had fitted this visit in amidst a long day of traveling, that worked pretty well.
            Here we are in the fields.

            Another shot. Look how much bigger kel’s Semper is than Henry and Sunny.

            We rode along happily until we came to a ditch that none of the horses wanted to cross.

            Kel eventually got Semper across it and Wally was determined to make Twister cross. My son, on the other hand, who was at the rear of the group, decided he wanted no part of the battle of the ditch and opted to turn around and go another way. Being a good mom, I went with him—thus proving I am not a good horseman, as I failed to make my horse cross the ditch. However, my days of being a good horseman are pretty much behind me—I’m a relaxed horseman now. (In Sunny’s defense, this is only the second or third obstacle he has ever seriously balked at in five years of trail riding, and I’m just not that concerned.) Anyway, my son and I trotted around the long way around and rejoined the group who had successfully crossed the scary ditch.

            After that we rode down dirt roads to see if we could reach the Salinas River. We didn’t make it all the way to the river, but did reach a bluff where we could see the river and a portion of the Salinas Valley. Then we rode back to the begonia fields. Here’s Sunny and me and kel and Semper.

            kel and Semper.

            Meeting kel was great fun—I’m so glad she made the time to stop by and visit. She is the third blogging friend I’ve met in real life—the first two being Shanster from “Shanster’s Goats and More”, listed on the sidebar, and Funder from “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”, also listed on the sidebar. All three times it was as if I’d known the person for years. Our long time being blog friends and emailing really did make a connection that was palpable when we met face to face. 
            So thank you kel, for coming by for a flower ride, and I have to say, Semper is one of the nicest horses I’ve ever met. If he weren’t so big (and white), I’d want to steal him. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could get on him (!) But what a lovely, kind, well-mannered horse-- with an equally charming rider. It was real pleasure to meet all of you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Question About Books

                                                by Laura Crum

            As most of you may know, this spring the 12th book in my mystery series (Barnstorming) featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy was published by Perseverance Press, which has published my last four books. At the same time, the first eight books in the series (which are out of print) became available on Kindle for 99 cents. Thus the whole series is once again easily available to readers—as long as you read on a Kindle. Since then I have had a few inquiries from those who have Nook rather than Kindle as to when the books would be available for Nook.
            I have to admit I took a deep breath after I did all the work needed to put the first eight books up on Kindle. But last week my husband and I looked into what we would need to do to get the books available on Nook. It was a little daunting. Unlike Kindle, which was a pretty straight-forward process, the Nook people wanted to know everything from our social security numbers to our bank account numbers and passwords and more. Stuff we weren’t comfortable giving them. Stuff that Amazon/Kindle certainly didn’t ask for. We decided to abort the process and think about it.
            So today I want to put the question out to anyone who is interested in reading my books—and for that matter, anyone who reads, even if you’re not interested in reading my books. I need advice. What should I do here?
            Do many of you read on Nook? Do those who read on Nook prefer to get your books that way? Can you get the Kindle “app” and read on your computer? I am trying to decide if I need to look harder at getting these books available on Nook—or for that matter, other ebook applications.
            For those who have asked about getting the first eight books as regular books, they can still be found as used books on Amazon. Sometimes as cheaply as 99 cents. A reader (thank you Judy O'Bannon) wrote to say that she found Slickrock (my most popular book—set on a pack trip in the Sierra Nevada Mts) for 75 cents on a site called (ebay’s book site).   
            Anyway, any input on this subject is appreciated. In what form do you read books? How many Nook readers are out there who would buy my books if they were available on Nook?
            And a big thank you to those who have been buying my older titles on Kindle—I really appreciate it. This is the seventh book—and one of my favorite covers—by the very talented Peter Thorpe, who did many of my covers.

PS—I’m not the only author left posting on this site—many others are busy or on vacation, so I’m filling in.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer's Blessings -- and Curses

Summer is crashing to an end, and as in one of my previous posts, I am still wondering what the $%^& I accomplished.  We are headed to the beach for a last hurrah (and perhaps the last time at the beach--kids get older and jobs get in the way and already this upcoming beach week will be totally different with my daughter coming only part-time and no girlfriends and boyfriends to round out the family group due to jobs. WAH!)   and as soon as we come back, school starts.  I decided to spend a few moments today before packing and cleaning to think about my summer. Please indulge my meanderings and my amateur photos!

The weather has been both a curse (so HOT!) and a blessing. We have had rain almost every day so compared to the parched Midwest, Virginia has abundant hay, corn and grass. The statistics in today's paper were sad: Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Texas and Illinois have extreme drought conditions and July was the hottest month on record in most of the USA. The loss of crops are expected to affect the whole world, and I know from earlier comments that horse owners in the Plains will be searching far and wide for hay for the winter. Yet I have the best garden I've had in years, and our pastures are so lush we have to restrict the horses, and there will be enough grass for grazing most of the winter. How can we have such abundant rains and other areas have none?

My second blessing has been a summer not teaching. Okay, a curse because I didn't get a paycheck, but for the first time, I didn't have a 'schedule' that I had to adhere to. What did I do with that time? Ummm. Not sure. I'd love to say I had long rides on Relish (it was too hot), I wrote a novel (I was kind-of doing research), I added gardens (well, I planted phlox, which I love. Do you see the giant spider in the foreground?) or started a new hobby (does Ebay and Etsy count?)  I did get a Ziggy, which has taken up most of my time these past two weeks (see previous post). Ziggy is both a blessing--and dare I say it--a curse. See that mischievous gleam in his eye? He's thriving but I am exhausted keeping one step ahead of him so there are no potty accidents, chewed shoes, stomped on cats and hurt feelings on the part of the chihuahua princess. So far, we have not let him off-leash, which means every walk and playtime requires me. This morning, in order to get sales tax filed and this post written I (GASP) tethered him outside after a long walk. My sanity required it. I hope all of you who have recently adopted a pup know what I mean.

My last summer's blessing has been time to research World War I. Again, this has been a curse has well. I was never a history buff in school, but once I start reading about a certain era, I inhale it. And The Great War was horrific for humans and animals. UGH. I am writing a novel from the point of view of a mercy dog, used to locate and help rescue the wounded. I am a sensory detail kind of writer: sights, sounds, smells, emotions are crucial to my story. How in the world am I going to paint an accurate picture of the war yet keep it safe enough for young readers?  It will be a tough juggling job.

Those are a few of my summer meanderings. My next post, I will be excited to review Linda Benson's new novel, Six Degrees of Lost.  How is the end of your summer going? Please tell.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Color Means Something--or am I Crazy

                                     by Laura Crum

            I was raised in the horse biz by a tough team roper who taught me to pay no attention to a horse’s color. The color didn’t matter. What mattered was what the horse could get done. One should ignore color and also whether a horse had a pretty head (things that were only important for resale value) and focus on getting a sound, athletic, well broke horse that could get the job done. Didn’t matter if the horse was purple, I have heard this guy say. (Though I also heard him reject a very loud-colored leopard Appaloosa because “I don’t want to look at that horse in my corrals.”)
            Well OK then. I spent most of my life trying to look past color and a pretty head to pick out good, sound horses, with good trainable minds, if they were colts, and well broke if they were older. But somehow that was never the whole deal. And the whole deal had something to do with color.
            The horse I idealized when I was growing up was a marvelously talented bright bay that belonged to my uncle (Mr Softime). And somehow the first horse that I totally fell for and kept until he died was a bright bay with no white who was almost exactly the same color as Mr Softime (this was Burt).

Coincidence? I think not.

The next horse I fell for in a big way was a bright bay with a big white blaze. (Gunner) And for the rest of my life I have been disposed to assume that all blaze-faced horses are “good ones.” Silly, I know.

My most recent color affectation came upon me gradually. I was aware that despite my early teaching in ignoring color, there were colors I liked and didn’t like. If a horse was a color I liked, that predisposed me in his favor. If he was a color I didn’t like, that made me less inclined to like the horse. Still, I could look past my prejudices. Perhaps my favorite riding horse of all time was a brownish bay—a color I really don’t care for. (Flanigan)

            And the pony I bought for my son was a mostly white pinto with blue eyes—though I don’t, in general, like this color scheme. But Toby was a good one—the magical little white horse that taught my son to ride.

            Still, overall, I didn’t care for white or whitish horses, be they paints, cremellos, whited out grays…etc. (There is some logic to this as these light colored horses always have dirty green and brown blotches.) I didn’t care for sorrels—it seemed to me to be such a common color. And I didn’t like horses with too much inky darkness in their color—dark bays, dark browns, blacks. Just my prejudices. 
            My favorite color remained bright bay, followed by bright gold palomino and bright gold buckskin (I didn’t much care for the buttermilk varieties). I liked blaze-faced horses and certain sorts of paints. I liked roans.
            So when a bright gold palomino who was a good trail horse came my way, I bought him. This would be Sunny.

 And despite my general dislike of grays, I fell hard for the dark, dapple gray gelding my friend Wally bought as a six year old (Twister). Twister has always been boarded with me, and I am just as fond of him as I am my own horses. He really was striking as a young horse.

             Twister soon “whited out” to a silvery color, and yes, he always has dirty looking blotches. And the next horse I bought was a deep red sorrel. I didn’t much care for the fact that Henry was a sorrel, but I looked past my prejudices, once again, and bought the best horse I could for my son when his pony died of cancer. And Henry was a pretty shade of sorrel, a coppery red.

 So for the last five years most of our riding time has been spent with these three horses—Sunny, Twister and Henry. Here they are in a row as we get ready to go riding yesterday. See what they represent?

            It took me awhile to see it this way, and I’ll grant you, it’s a fanciful idea. But Sunny, Twister and Henry have come to represent gold, silver, and copper in my mind—the three precious metals. Ok—its silly, I know. But the idea gives me pleasure. Our three horses—symbolizing what’s good (colorwise). My copper, gold and silver horses in their corrals in the high country.

            OK—is anybody else as weird about color as I am? I have already pointed out that I can look past my prejudices, and I now love my son’s bright copper-colored horse as well as I love my bright gold horse—and Wally’s silver Twister. But I still have an aversion to horses with too much dark “ink” in their color, such that I don’t especially care for a very nice black horse that Wally owns—simply because he’s black. (And yes, I realize this is not very rational, but despite the fact that I read “The Black Stallion” as a kid and used to think I’d love a black horse, the feeling I currently have is still mildly negative when I look at a “dark” horse.) It just feels like there’s too much “darkness” there. Sort of a symbolic thing. (Its fine for you to vote that I’m crazy—and I do know there are many, many good horses that are these colors.)
I guess the point of this post is just that in my old age I have acknowledged to myself that color DOES mean something to me—if only in a symbolic sense. Is it just me? Or do others have these odd preferences? Where certain colors give you active pleasure and other colors—well, you can like a horse of that color, but it’s despite the color, not because of it? Or, as I started out by saying, am I just crazy?
The one thing I can say for sure is that every morning when I walk down to feed, the sight of my silver, gold and copper horses gleaming in the sunshine brings a smile to my face. Of course, it has something to do with the fact that they are genuinely good, reliable horses. But I still think the colors (and my rather fanciful notion about the colors) is part of what brings me joy. Does anybody else feel this way?