Sunday, September 30, 2012


by Laura Crum

Hi all,
I was supposed to post today, but I've been in the mountains and just got home. Here's a sneak preview of what I was doing. I'll post more on Weds. Cheers--Laura

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horse For Sale

                                                by Laura Crum

            I don’t know about you guys, but I hate selling horses. When I was younger, I kind of enjoyed the buying/selling routine, especially buying. Like many people, I suppose, I always hoped that the new horse would be the perfect, special, just-right one. I didn’t mind selling, thinking that I would find a horse I liked better than the one I was letting go. But this all changed as I got older.
            Now I’m far more careful when I buy, knowing that I’ll want to keep the horse forever. And as for selling, why I just don’t. I’m tormented by the thought of the horses I sold when I was younger. Horses that I had trained myself, that I owned for many years in a few cases. I never once sold an old horse that had given me his best years (thank goodness), but I did sell several horses in their prime. And I wonder now if some of them ended up at the killers. I’ll never know. It haunts me.
So, any more I don’t plan to sell horses. The two that we re-homed in recent years both went for free to a very good home who has promised to retire them when their riding years are done. I trust these people and I also keep in touch. I feel fine about these horses. But selling, not so much.
Still, two years ago, when my friend and horse partner Wally bought a black horse that he thought he could use for a backup heel horse, I agreed that we’d sell the horse if he didn’t work out. Wally boards his horses with me, but I couldn’t take Coal, the black horse, at my place, as all my corrals were full. So Wally boarded him with our friend Mark, a young horse trainer/team roper, in exchange for Mark getting to use the horse.
Coal was/is a pretty horse—absolutely solid shiny black, very refined. More refined than I would prefer, actually, he looks more like a TB than a QH. He is taller than I like at 15.2 (I like 14.3 or shorter, thank you very much). Coal was nine when Wally bought him and sound and gentle and very smooth gaited—and cheap. I rode him four or five times in the arena and agreed he was a nice riding horse. He had the smoothest trot and lope of any horse I’d ever ridden, I think. He carried himself in a nice frame and was a very polite, obedient horse to ride. I thought that if I lost the use of Sunny or Henry, maybe my son and I could use Coal as our backup. Wally thought he could use Coal if he lost the use of Twister.
So we went along for a couple of years. Mark roped on Coal and trail rode him and mounted lots of people on him and the horse did OK. He didn’t turn out to be a very good heel horse, though, and Wally didn’t like him. This last summer Wally began lobbying to sell Coal, and, of course, I protested. I just don’t like selling horses.
But I had nowhere to put the horse and no time for him. One horse is all I can keep ridden these days. In the end I agreed to take Coal on a trail ride and make up my mind if I really wanted to keep him as a backup for Sunny and Henry. So last weekend I did that. And sadly, he flunked.
We went on a very easy ride, a logging road that winds up from my uncle’s place through the redwood forest to the top of the ridge. Its an up and back. Takes about two hours at an easy place. About five miles total. Its pretty steep in the first mile up the ridge. But good footing.
I had promised to take my son’s friend for a trail ride, so I put the friend on Sunny, my son rode Henry, Wally rode Twister and I rode Coal. Coal was a touch cinchy, which I knew about—no problem, though. He looked at stuff from time to time but for the most part walked with his ears at half mast—very slowly. Now Sunny is not a fast walker, but Sunny, Henry and Twister all outwalked Coal—quite dramatically. Still I wasn’t really bothered. I trotted to catch up and Coal had a lovely trot. Smooth—seemed absolutely even. We made it to the top of the ridge with me thinking the horse was OK. I didn’t love the way he walked so slowly with his ears flopping—both Sunny and Henry, though not fast walkers, walk alertly, with their ears up. Its easy to see that they enjoy trail rides and like looking around as much as I do. Coal, however, gave me no sign that he was enjoying this expedition. And then we started back down the ridge.
Right away Coal’s already slow pace slowed further—to a snail’s pace. He also, rather alarmingly, began taking “bad steps”, where he would suddenly stumble. We fell further and further behind the others. I remembered Mark telling me that Coal was not a good “downhill horse.” Now I could see what he meant.
I didn’t want to hurry Coal, and I could not tell what was causing his problem. So I just asked the others to wait periodically. My horse Sunny also walks (in my eyes) quite slowly downhill, but Sunny was leaving Coal in the dust. I had the sense that Coal was uncomfortable, and he became more so when the hill got steeper. I was uncomfortable riding him. As soon as we got to a level spot I trotted him out and he trotted absolutely even. Whatever was bothering him, it wasn’t an easily detectable lameness. But I knew for sure I wouldn’t be using this horse as my trail horse.
We made it back to the barn in time, and everybody had a lovely ride—except me. I was sad about Coal. I knew I had to tell Wally to go ahead and sell him, and I just HATE selling horses. Coal is in many ways a very nice horse—he’s just not a good trail horse. It would make me feel awful to think that he came to a bad end because I didn’t keep him. (For those who think I’m paranoid here, I have just known too many horses that were sold to a supposed good home that ended up somewhere not good at all.)
But logic prevailed. I told Wally to go ahead and sell Coal. I just asked that he do his best to be sure the horse went to a good home. We agreed that he shouldn’t be sold to be a rope horse or a trail horse, as he clearly wasn’t enthusiastic about these events. And Wally told Mark to find the right sort of a home for the horse (giving our conditions).
Now there’s every possibility this story will have a happy ending. Coal may get a home that is far better than the home I could possibly have given him. And I have to admit, there is no way I want to ride Coal on the trails. But still…I worry. What if? What if years later I realize that poor black horse ended up at the killers, or starved to death. And this happened to some horses I once knew and liked. They didn’t belong to me (like Coal) and they were sold, and I only heard much later what happened to them. It still bothers me.
Any thoughts?

Monday, September 24, 2012

First World Problems

I know this seems like a strange title but "First World Problems" is a phrase I learned from a friend who spent 3 months in Africa helping tribes learn about the importance of water purification. It seems amazing to me that it has been a year since my own trip to Kenya and I remain forever changed and count the days until I can arrange for another trip to east Africa.

It has been quite a year since I traveled to literally the center of the planet (Kenya straddles the equator) and the year has been full of many ups and a few downs but even the worst of it could be described as a "first world problem."

One of many epiphanies that I had in Kenya was related to the Masai people. By our standards they have very little and live in what we would consider squalor conditions.

But everywhere we went, every village we passed, they greeted us with smiles and genuine joy at seeing our little band of equestrians. They would say "Jambo" which is hello in Swahili and the children would smile and giggle with delight and follow us for as long as there legs would allow.

Out on the Mara they have little to none of our life's type of conveniences, little to no technology and they live in huts that are constructed of mud and cow dung. Not exactly up to the earth quake construction standards that we have in California. They measure wealth by the number of cows, goats and wives (something the liberated woman in me has a hard time wrapping my head around) a man has and they live cooperatively unlike anything we see in our modern lives.

Our lives seem so complicated and often times unpleasant by comparison. We have more, but do we really? I ponder this every time I have a "first world problem" and sometimes long for invitingly simply existance of the Masai.  Of course we rarely want for food and take clean water for granted and certainly don't have to worry about elephants crushing out huts or trampling our crops but their lives are so much less stressful. Who is better off??  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Reviews and More on Promotion

Promotion is on my mind these days because I am not doing any (which means a nagging voice in my head keeps saying "you need to be promoting your books . . .") and books are on my mind these days because the nights are getting darker earlier so I have more time to read.  I am almost finished Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, a novel based on her feisty, horse-breaking, horse-racing grandmother.  It's a great story as is her memoir The Glass Castle, which does not involve horses, but is captivating nonetheless. Neither, however, need promoting or reviewing by lil' ol' me. The Glass Castle had 2,035 reviews (almost all five stars) on Amazon, is an international bestseller and has been translated into twenty-three languages. Half Broke Horses is on the New York Times Book Review Top 10 Best Books list and received rave reviews from topnotch sources, so nudges from me would mean nothing.

Along the same lines, I read Susan Richards two memoirs Chosen by a Horse and Saddled: How a Spirited Horse Reined me in and Set Me Free. Both are excellent reads and both have horses as main themes and threads throughout Richard's life as she deals with her childhood and adult issues. Chosen by a Horse had 223 positive reviews on Amazon. Saddled also received major kudos except for one person who wrote that it was "self absorbed drivel." (Well, that was blunt.) So again, me telling you to read them if your haven't will not affect either book's already best-selling status.

Reading them does have me pondering my own lack of best-selling status. I have written over twenty-five horse books and none have come anywhere near a hit. Many of quietly gone out of print (Yeah, I know, I should be resurrecting them into ebooks). The most reviews on Amazon are 71 for Shadow Horse, which is still selling well since 1999 (meaning I actually get royalties and Random House hasn't remaindered it).  About once a week I get an email from a starry-eyed horse-girl who has read both Whirlwind and Shadow Horse and desperately hopes there will be a sequel. Alas, I tell them, Random House isn't interested in a sequel because Whirlwind, despite good reviews and some loyal fans, hasn't sold enough to pay back my advance.

What makes a best-seller? What makes an award-winner? What makes people want to pick up your book? It's not simply great writing-Twilight disproved that theory--or excellent research or a compelling heroine or a satisfying mystery. So what is it?

Pondering these questions is not in the form of a pity party. But the magic answer has eluded me for over sixty books and thirty-five years of publishing (yup, I am that old) and I wish I had the answer. Not for me. Since I am winding my writing career down, I am finally absolutely positively certain I will never have a best-seller. (I kept hoping until about two years ago when it finally dawned on me that I didn't care anymore.) I would love to know what it is that gets a book reviewed by multiple sources as well as what it is that keeps a person reading all night and then suggesting that book to a friend who suggests it to another who . . .

What are your thoughts? What best-sellers have you read that were disappointing? What 'quiet' book would you like to recommend?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book News and the Story of a Good Horse

                                   by Laura Crum

            First of all, I want to let all Equestrian Ink readers know that the first eight books in my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy are currently available for 99 cents on Kindle. In October, the pricing structure is going to change, so now is the time to buy these books, if you are at all interested. If you don’t have a Kindle you can download the free Kindle app and read the books on almost any sort of device. For those who have the Nook, I have been told that there is a free program for the computer called “Calibre” which will convert just about any ebook format and transfer it to the Nook. And thank you to my readers who told me about these options (!)
 So, loyal readers, here’s your chance to get the first eight books in my mystery series for 99 cents each. The order is Cutter, Hoofprints, Roughstock, Roped, Slickrock, Breakaway, Hayburner and Forged. Each book deals with a different aspect of the western horse world—and all of them are based on things that I have actually done, so, hopefully, they have the ring of reality. And, of course, they all involve a gripping mystery. I know most people like to read a series in order, but I am often asked to recommend my favorite book—or asked which is the best. I would have to say that the overall reader favorite is Slickrock, which is set on a horse packing trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Second favorite is probably Breakaway, a darker book, involving a woman struggling with depression and a very nasty sort of villain. Lots of trail riding in this book, too. I like both of these books very much. Anyway, here is the link to buy the books on Kindle. If you are considering these books, now is the time to get them while they are still 99 cents.
Also, I just joined Goodreads since so many people have told me I should do this, but I have not got a clue how to use this site to promote my books. Can anybody give me some suggestions?
            And now, without further ado, the story of a good horse.

Once upon a time, about twenty-three years ago, a six year old buckskin mare gave birth to her first colt. The mare belonged to my uncle, and as it happened, I saw this colt shortly after he was born. He was a pretty colt, cocoa-colored with a white star on his forehead. As he was by the sire, Plumb Dry, and my uncle named all his colts “Something” Brown (as in Bright Brown, Noble Brown, Ready Brown..etc, my uncle’s last name being Brown), the colt’s name became “Plumb Brown”, which was kind of cute, because he WAS brown.
            The colt himself was very cute, with a winning personality. When I would walk out in the pasture to feed the mare her grain, the colt would peer at me from behind his mother, and then come out and duck and dive at me playfully, like a cutting horse working a cow. Plumber was always a people horse, interested in everything the humans around him were doing. Despite the fact that my uncle raised Quarter Horses and so I had seen many cute colts over the years, I always thought Plumber was special.

            My uncle re-bred the mare to a stud he liked, and she spent a month or two (with Plumber) at the home of the stallion. When it was time to pick the bred mare up, my uncle asked me to do it. My friend Sue went with me, in case I might need help. Right. The mare was flighty and hard to handle (never been ridden), and the colt had been hauled once—in my uncle’s stock trailer. I was proposing to bring mare and baby home in my two horse straight load trailer. As far as I knew, the mare had never been loaded/hauled in a two horse trailer before. The baby had certainly never been loaded/hauled in such a trailer. But I embarked blithely on this chore—such is the confidence of youth (I was about thirty).
            We got to the stallion owner’s ranch to find nobody home. Well, OK then. I backed the trailer up next to the barn, so I’d have a wall to help me load, caught Bucky (no easy task), and with the colt running loose at her side, prepared to load them. It took awhile.
            But I had a long rope and some experience and patience, and eventually we got the mare in. On my uncle’s advice we loaded the colt without trying to catch him (as I recall, he wasn’t halter broke, so this was a good call). Eventually he loaded up alongside his mother, and Sue and I fastened the butt strap and shut the door and drove off.
            So what did we do, with a three hour drive ahead of us and a somewhat unreliable pair of horses in the trailer? Why we stopped and had enchiladas and margaritas for lunch, of course. This may sound irresponsible, and, in fact, in retrospect, I think it was. But Plumber and Bucky stayed right side up and calm in the trailer and unloaded easily when we got home and I said to Sue, “This colt’s going to be a good one; he’s already bar broke.” (And yes, “bar broke” is a common cowboy term.)
            (Fast forward--the funny thing is that some years later I bought Plumber and Sue bought Bucky’s second foal, Power, who was in his mama’s belly when we hauled the pair home that day. And we still own these two horses today. Plumber is 23 and Power is 22. Both are healthy and happy. Bucky lived to be 28 years old and was retired to pasture the last ten years of her life, after producing roughly ten foals.)
            Anyway, Plumber grew up, and I stayed interested in him. I wanted a colt and by the time Plumber was three, I thought I might buy him. He had remained friendly and interested in people and would often leave the horse herd to stand by the arena and watch us rope. I liked that. I’d been involved with him since he was born, I’d helped halter break him and I’d hauled him to be turned out in pasture, and I knew him to be a smart, cooperative colt, who had not been spoiled or soured by too much handling. He was not started under saddle, so I would be free to do it my own way. He was three years old and my uncle wanted to sell him. The price was cheap, reduced to $1000. But I hesitated. Why, you ask?
            Well, there was one slight problem with Plumber, and it was the reason the price was so cheap. Though pretty, well-made, cooperative and friendly, the colt was a klutz. And he had lousy feet. Plumber had been turned out to pasture that spring, and his brittle flare-y hooves had broken up so badly that he was lame (none of the other dozen horses in the same pasture had any problems with their hooves). On top of which, once he was shod so he wasn’t limping, I’d taken him to the round pen to see how he moved. The first time I stepped in front of the colt to turn him, he tangled up his feet and nearly fell down. The second time I did it, he tried to jump the fence and landed upside down on top of the panel, from which position he rolled clumsily off, landing on his side with a whump. He was fine, but sheesh. Who needed such a horse?
            Me, I guess. I bought him to save him from going to the horse trader, and it was the best decision I ever made. I broke Plumber myself, and he went in three days from never been saddled to being ridden around the arena at the walk and trot. Yes folks, I don’t dink around. We did not endlessly round pen or ground drive or lunge. I saddled him one day, worked him in the round pen the next day, and got on him the third day. No, you couldn’t do this with a lot of horses, but Plumber was, as I expected, as easy colt and took to being ridden with no trouble at all. The trouble came when I tried to teach him to DO something.
            Because Plumber could not make three turns in a row with a cow without tangling up his feet. Oh, he could walk, trot, lope in a straight line all right. He collected easily, kept his butt under him and had a pretty nice whoa. He would watch a cow and make the first turn ok. The second turn he got a little behind, and by the third turn he was scrambling and completely out of shape. Every single time. I had trained a lot of colts at this point in my life and I tried all the tricks I knew—to no avail. Plumber was just clumsy. He grew very flustered if I pressured him, and things got worse. I truly believed he was unable to do what I was asking. He wasn’t unwilling.
            So I decided to make a heel horse out of him. Pretty much any level-headed, sound horse can be a heel horse. I’ve seen people heel reasonably successfully at the jackpot level on some very slow, clunky horses. Plumber could do this, I reasoned.
            Well, maybe. For the first year I tried roping on him, Plumber disunited when asked to go faster than the slow lope. It was as if he just couldn’t run. My friend Wally, an experienced horseman, told me I should get rid of the horse. He’s useless, he said. He’ll never make it.
            But I persisted. I liked Plumber. He nickered every time he saw me, and was as friendly and happy to be with me as a dog. I kept telling myself that any horse can learn to do this—all horses can run and make one turn with a cow and stop (which is what a heel horse does, essentially). So I kept roping on Plumber—strictly at practice. He was in no way ready for competition.
            A few years went by. Plumber was by now eight and I’d been roping on him awhile, just in the practice arena. He was starting to look reasonably competent. He couldn’t run very fast, but he no longer disunited, and he was good in the box, started well, and knew the heel horse drill. You could rope on him. He was cooperative and calm. I had achieved all this merely by being patient and persisting.
            At this point Wally lost the use of his great heel horse, Pistol, due to ringbone, and I offered to let him use Plumber until he found a new horse. Wally pooh-poohed this idea, but he did take Plumber to a few ropings. And then a few more. Pretty quick he wasn’t looking very hard for a new horse. He liked Plumber.
            Plumber wasn’t athletic but he had a good mind and he tried. I had taught him the basic rope horse skills. And he was/is one of the most likable horses that ever lived. Wally began winning a little money on him. Pretty soon my biggest problem was that when I wanted to ride my horse he was off at a roping with Wally.
            This wasn’t such a big problem because I had given up roping by then and was getting ready to have a baby. For a couple of years I didn’t ride at all, and when I returned to riding it was very sedate, with my young son in front of me. I was happy that Wally was exercising and using Plumber, who was in his prime.
            Plumber won many saddles and awards for Wally—and he packed my son and I until my little boy was five and I bought my child a pony. Here we are in our days of riding Plumber—and yes, I know we should have helmets on. Of all the many things Plumber achieved, I am most grateful to him for being a good family horse. We never once had any problem in the years we rode him double.

            I still have Plumber today. We retired him from roping at 20, because he didn’t want to run any more. He had been a competitive heel horse since he was nine years old, so he had a good long career. We also rode him on many trail rides and horse packing trips in the mountains. I thought I would use him as a trail horse once we retired him from roping, because he was/is still sound, but he made it clear he did not care for walking downhill, and since all our trails are hilly, I honored his wishes and bought Sunny for trail riding. Plumber seems happy just being turned loose to graze and getting his share of attention.

            Plumber today—taken this summer.

            So there’s one story of a good horse. I know we can all tell them. But I feel very blessed to have had Plumber in my life and wanted to share his true story. Those of you who read my mysteries will find Plumber featured prominently—only the storybook Plumber is a touch more athletic than the real horse. But every bit as sweet. One of my greatest pleasures in my twenty years of writing mysteries has been conveying my real life horses on the page—always as realistically as I can. Those of you who have read my books—feel free to let me know how I did. And yes, I can take criticism as well as praise. I find it always teaches me something.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Horses on the Cover

by Linda Benson

As contributors to this blog, we often review and promote our own and each others' books. But we all love reading and books and horses. As for me, I'm attracted to any book with a horse on the cover, and will usually try and get my hands on a copy to read it.

I particularly like horse stories mixed with adventure. Here are two recent reads, by authors that I was not acquainted with previously, but whose work I adored and recommend. These are adult novels - one is contemporary and one set in 1825, but they are both gritty, realistic, with lots about horses.

I was first attracted to this book not only by its cover, but because I noticed on Goodreads (a great site for readers) that one of our members, Natalie Keller Reinert, had just finished it. The author, Thomas Fox Averill, set out to research the history of old ballad "Tennessee Stud" and this novel is the result.  Here is the 5 star review that I posted on Goodreads:

I enjoyed this book as much as anything I've read this year. What a dashing story, and a great piece of Americana. First let me just say that this is one of the most creative covers I've ever seen. The lovely horse's head is appealing enough, but I was several chapters into the story before I realized that in the middle of this horse's kind eye is a reflection. And that reflection also tells a story.

I was quite intrigued by Robert Johnson's journey with the Tennessee Stud in 1825. Although this is a fictional account of a tale that might have happened, the settings and culture of the time are obviously well-researched by the author. To cross the Mississippi to the west and travel days without seeing another soul is just awesome to imagine. In our family we have hand-written notes from my great-great grandfather, who made a similar horseback journey from Ohio to Texas and back in the 1850's, and also to Minnesota, so it's amazing to think of how wild this country was in those times (not so very long ago.)

Apart from the historical aspects, there is also a young man growing up, a love story, as much adventure as one could handle, and of course the horses. Not only the Tennessee Stud, but horses of Arabian heritage, mares with deep hearts, mules, and race horses. Quite a lot to fit into a book of just over 200 pages, but the lively plot moved right along, and I was breathless just keeping up. And of course now I will go do a very modern thing, and download The Tennessee Stud tune to my iPod, so that I can relive and enjoy it all over again.

I loved this book, and for me, it's a keeper.

And here is another new book that reads like a modern day Western:

This is quite a cool cover also, right? This one is by Alyson Hagy, a new author to me, but she can really write about the West. Here's the blurb:

Will Testerman is a young Wyoming horse trainer determined to make something of himself. Money is tight at the family ranch, where he's living again after a disastrous end to his job on the Texas show-horse circuit. He sees his chance with a beautiful quarter horse, a filly that might earn him a reputation, and spends his savings to buy her.

Armed with stories and the confidence of youth, he devotes himself to her training -- first, in the familiar barns and corrals of home, then on a guest ranch in the rugged Absaroka mountains, and, in the final trial, on the glittering, treacherous polo fields of southern California.

And here is my Goodreads review (also 5 stars):

This is a Western in the best sense of the word. There are horses and horse training and horse people. There is a young man learning about himself in a world filled with both honesty and deceit, laughter and heartache, good and evil. And there are sentences describing both the beauty and brutality of the western landscape that took my breath away, and made me stop to savor them. Alyson Hagy is a very good writer, and I truly enjoyed this book.

If you belong to Goodreads, send me a friend request, because I love to share what I'm reading. Here's my profile:

And here is a link to horse books that I've posted on Goodreads:

Have you read any good horse books lately? Feel free to share!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On random accidents and the importance of wearing a helmet

Last year, when I bought Qrac, my Lusitano, I wasn’t used to wearing a helmet. I’d never worn a helmet when riding Kwintus, my now-retired schoolmaster. Of course, not wearing one when riding Kwintus was stupid as he had a recurrent stumbling problem, and it was eventually because of his stumbling that we had to retire him.

I think we all agree that it’s dangerous to ride without a helmet, yet I’m sure most of us have done so at some point in our lives. I see many young riders at my stables riding bare-headed or in trendy looking baseball caps. Most of the professional riders I know still ride without helmets, but when questioned on the subject they tend to go all sheepish, then wrinkle their nose and say that they know they should, really. Then why don’t they? One professional replied that it would mean wearing a helmet eight to ten hours a day, and they give her a headache. I told her I understood where she was coming from, but that there are many very light, comfortable helmets on the market. I also asked her if she’d ever read about what had happened to Courtney King-Dye.She hadn't, so I told her the terrible story in a nutshell. Maybe she'll Google it, and show up with a helmet next week. But I doubt it, and that's okay.

Granted, there’s something nice, even something romantic, about riding helmet-less. There’s that sensation of freedom, of the wind in your hair. There’s also the added bonus of not having to wash your hair on a daily basis; I don’t know about you, but I sweat enormously through my head  so there’s no way I can take off my helmet, tip my head upside down and glamorously toss my tresses back into a swingy, silky do. No siree; when I remove my helmet, my hair is super-glued to my head, bald-eagle style. It’s ever so attractive.

Anyway, during my initial weeks with Qrac, there were days when I didn’t wear a helmet. However, I didn’t feel exceedingly comfortable helmet-less as he was pretty rushy-pully back then, so most days I put it on. In fact, most of the times when I didn’t wear my helmet was because after so many years with Kwintus, taking it out of my cupboard and putting it on hadn’t become a reflex yet, and I genuinely didn’t always realize that I wasn’t wearing it until I’d gone down the road to the arena, and then couldn’t be bothered to go all the way back up again (the arena was quite a ways from the stable block). But I soon got into the habit of wearing it, and last November, when I moved Qrac to my current stables, most of the other dressage ladies wore helmets, and the set-up was different (I clip my helmet to the wheelie-trolley I use for my tack and other equipment), so I have a visual reminder as well.  

There was one time in February, during the big freeze in the winter, when Qrac had a slightly fat hind leg and could only be walked. This meant that I would spend 45 minutes or so just sitting on him, plodding around the indoor arena. It was about minus a bazillion degrees, I was wrapped up like a Michelin Man and wanted to keep my ears warm, so instead of my helmet I wore a woolly cap. I figured it was no big deal; after all, I was only walking him. 


The second time I didn’t wear my helmet was about two weeks ago, during the tail end of our mad heat wave. Of course, that was the day when Qrac suddenly went bananas whenever I asked for the right lead canter, throwing his head around, going against my outside leg, even pulling up sharply and spinning to the left. Trust me, I wished I’d worn my helmet, even though nothing bad happened. A visit from the osteopath seems to have fixed my horse’s problem (he had a blockage in his hips), although he’s still a little iffy at times, so I’ve asked my “magic man” (a healer) to come and see him this coming week.

Anyway, those were the only two times when I haven’t worn my helmet since last November. And I was wearing it this morning, when I rode Qrac in the outdoor arena, and although he wasn’t on his best  behaviour and played me up a little in the right lead canter (trying to lean into his inside shoulder and switch leads, pretty much like he did when I first bought him), I had a pretty decent ride. Once we’d finished the more collected work, I did a couple of laps in a nice, deep and round, forward trot, then transitioned to walk.

I can’t remember whether I dropped my reins immediately, as what happened next took me completely by surprise. We came round the corner in walk, tracking left, when suddenly Qrac fell over sideways. Maybe he put his foot in an irregularity in the ground and his legs slipped to the right and his body to the left, or maybe he just got his feet in a muddle. I don’t really know, although the first option strikes me as the most plausible. If he stepped in a hole, maybe he then lost his balance by stepping onto one of the railway sleepers that line the edge of the outdoor arena (I hate them. They’re the same colour as the floor, and neither high enough nor low enough). Since we were only in walk, I wasn't thrown clear, so I stayed on him as he fell down, landing with my left leg underneath him. It didn’t hurt at all; all I felt was his soft belly on top of my leg, but I saw his four legs fly upwards on the other side, and for a split second I thought he might roll right over. Which would have been bad. Really bad. But he didn’t. He rolled back to the left, got up, and so did I, and I my first thought was, “oh dear, he’s a stallion and he’s going to run away,” but again he didn’t, and instead stood perfectly still, looking at me as if to say “what the heck just happened?”. I hobbled towards him and took hold of the reins. My left foot felt a little sore, as did the spot between my shoulder blade and the base of my neck, which clearly got a little strained when my left shoulder hit the ground.

In a bit of a daze, I checked him over to make sure he hadn’t cut himself, walked him on a circle to check whether he was regular, and then got back on. I walked, trotted, and then put him into the right lead canter, and to my surprise found him far more relaxed, far more “with me” than before he fell. In fact, I haven’t had such a good right lead canter in ages.  Did he freak himself out by falling and decide to be more focused? I don’t know. I only rode him for a few more minutes, but those were by far the best minutes of my ride. Strange, don’t you think?

Once we’d finished, I dosed us both with arnica and showered his legs for a long time, but chances are we’ll be a little sore tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I will be, despite a nice long soak in the hot tub when I got home.

Most importantly, what I learnt today is that, even though I didn’t hit my head when my horse and I went down, I’ll never sit on my horse again without wearing my helmet. Because this morning my horse went down for no particular reason, presumably like Courtney King-Dye’s horse. Qrac wasn’t misbehaving, he wasn’t being asked to do something complicated, he hadn’t spooked at something and lost his balance in a crazy spin. He just fell over, like we can fall over if we slip on a banana peel, or on a slippery pedestrian crossing, or simply trip over our own feet. Of course, some people will argue that if we wear a helmet, then we should also wear a back protector with an airbag, and that accidents happen, which is fair enough. Maybe one day I'll be wearing a back protector with an airbag; in fact I know one dressage rider who does. She fell off and broke her back, so I can see why she would. 

Has your horse ever fallen over for no apparent reason? I know we've discussed the issue on this blog before, but do you wear a helmet? Have you always worn one, or did something happen that convinced you to wear one? Do professionals around you wear helmets? Personally, I thought it was great to finally see some top dressage riders wearing helmets instead of hats at the London Olympics, and really hope that the FEI will soon make helmets mandatory for all competitors, if only to set the good, safe example, especially for young riders. Tell me what you think.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Monster Mash

Remember that old song, Monster Mash, by, err, Bobby Boris Pickett and the Cry (I had to look that up!)? Well, something tells me that this blog is going to be a bit of a monstrous mash up, somewhat reflecting my life over the past few weeks. Also, that silly song has been stuck in my head for weeks; hopefully I can rid myself of it this way!

The last time I posted my car had just broken down in a sudden loud kaboom on the motorway, scaring the bejesus out of me, and leaving me stranded on the side of the road in a heat-wave in insane traffic. Well, that car is now officially defunct (basically, the engine blew up and would have cost a fortune to fix), and after weeks of umming and ahing over what to choose as a replacement, I now have a beautiful new shiny black Volvo V60 with enough power to pull my trailer. I got it Tuesday evening, and I’m thrilled. It’s automatic, diesel, AWD, and has a great stereo! Oh, yes, and it talks to me, too! Like, if I want to go somewhere, or call someone, all I have to do is tell it where I want to go, or who I want to talk to, and bazzoom bazzam, my wish is my Volvo’s command. Amazing!

I’m really hoping these shiny new wheels will mark the end of a tumultuous few weeks, as I’d really like to be able to get rid of the crick in my neck, presumably brought on by an accumulation of stress and mishaps. My seventeen year-old son had ACL (knee ligament) surgery for the second time in a year (same knee, too – man, is he grumpy!), my daughter contracted a particularly virulent form of food poisoning that took three rounds of antibiotics to eradicate, leaving her nauseous and three kilos lighter. Meanwhile, the dogs picked up some nasty little insects called “ao├╗tats” and began tearing out the fur on their feet, and from one day to the next Qrac went schizo whenever I asked for the right lead canter. The osteopath came; apparently my horse had blocked his hips, possibly by getting stuck or bumping himself in his stable. He seems fine now, but there’s still a hint of discomfort in his right hind, so I’m getting the “magn├ętiseur” (healer) next week to check him out. Dear me, I think I need to plant a money tree…

And I’m clearly on a yippedy-skippedy roll as the bummer-fest continued today, serving me with another minor but nevertheless annoying setback.  I was supposed to trailer Qrac to the farrier, hauling him with my new car for the first time. Of course, when I went to hook up the van I realized that the plugs weren’t compatible, so had to cancel my appointment on an hour and a half’s notice. An hour later I solved the plug problem by buying an adaptor from a nearby trailer garage, so I could take Qrac for his Louboutins next week, but I’m so knackered that I’ve asked my farrier to send me his ex-trainee to save me the trip. He’s shod Qrac before, when snowy roads or gale force winds prevented me from driving up there, and he does a really nice job. Sometimes you just need to slow down, don’t you think?

Speaking of slowing down, it’s Friday afternoon, the sun is shining, the temperature is pleasant, and my garden is looking all lush and ripe and mature, and since the windmills of my middle-aged mind kept me awake for most of the night, I might steal a quick siesta on the terrace before going to collect my son from school. Later on I intend to make a thick, creamy, comforting pumpkin soup for dinner, to be enjoyed with a glass of wine, some nice bread and cheese, and followed by a quiet evening with my husband, a DVD and my latest crochet project (I’m making a blanket).

Gosh, that sounds kind of boring and sedate, doesn’t it? Well, since I can recall Monster Mash climbing the charts on Radio Luxemburg, I’m definitely no spring chicken. And there’s something calming and satisfying about knitting and crochet. And, heck, I don’t know why I’m trying to justify myself!

Besides, look what I just made!

And check out my WIP blanket!

How are you doing these days? Has life been testing your patience? Frazzling your nerves? Cricking your neck? Or are you enjoying smooth September sailing? I hope so.

Lots of love,


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Which I Wallop a Horse Repeatedly and He Changes For the Better

                        by Laura Crum     

            I used my yellow horse to run the chutes at the roping arena yesterday. Running the chutes from horseback is a fussy sort of task. There are four gates which must be opened and closed—swinging, sliding, spring loaded…etc. Some gates require the horse to shoulder in, bending his head to the side to get it out of the way. Some gates try to spring back at you—a problem with a jumpy horse. Some gates require you to lean way out to reach them (especially if you have short arms, like me) and the horse must be willing to sidepass right next to them—without crushing your leg. The cattle must be moved through the narrow chute, sometimes with the cattle prod. When you pull the lever to let the steer out, the ropers and steer blast out as hard as they can run—right next to you-- and this can be a problem for a nervous horse. In short, running the roping chutes from the back of a horse is something that not everyone can do.
            Your horse must be a good gate horse, steady and patient, because you open and close these gates over and over again—not just once. Many horses get frustrated with the endless-- take three steps backwards, now one step to your left-- over and over. Many horses are frightened by the springing gate, the running rope horses and cattle, the cattle prod used from their backs. In short, you need a solid, cooperative horse with good ranch horse skills to do this. And Sunny, my yellow horse, is that today.
            Now I didn’t teach Sunny these skills. He came to me as a made horse. It’s my belief that he got his ranch horse training on the ranch in Mexico where he spent his younger years. However, when I got Sunny, he’d been owned for a couple of years by people with no ranch background, and his skills were rusty. Not to mention he had a lot of bad habits.
            I bought Sunny about five years ago, and at that point, he would try to evade being caught—including by offering to kick, he was hard to load in a trailer (again would offer to kick), tried to nip when he was cinched, would try to bull through you on the leadrope, would balk and refuse to go forward on the trail including a sort of mini-buck/bolt routine, and acted as if he hadn’t a clue how to open and close a gate. He also threw a fit when he was fly-sprayed and paste-wormed. My friend/boarder, Wally, an experienced horseman, disliked Sunny, told me I shouldn’t have bought him, and called him “Small Nasty.”
            Since I had known Sunny before his previous owner bought him, I knew that he knew better than to behave this way. I was perfectly aware that he knew how to load in a trailer and, as a former ranch horse/team roping horse, he had all the appropriate skills that these disciplines require. I knew he had once been a well-mannered horse. I did not need to teach him anything—I just needed to remind him that I required him to behave himself. And for the first couple of years I owned him, our interactions included regular come-to-Jesus meetings in which I walloped the crap out of him with the end of the lead rope. I didn’t try to “train” him, or show him what to do, as if he were a green colt. I just let him know he could not get away with any BS with me. Plain and simple. I’m sure that many of my kinder, gentler blogging friends would have decided that I was an abusive horseman if they had watched me beating up this poor, cute, little yellow horse who was “scared” of the paste wormer.
            Believe me, if a horse was/is truly scared of something (like being wormed) and you wallop him for his behavior, he will only get worse about it. He will NOT get better. And for those who think that a horse won’t try to bluff you into thinking he’s scared of something (as an effort at dominating), well, all I can say is you’re wrong. Some horses WILL do this. Not all horses are trying to please. (Some are, some aren’t—horses vary as much as people in their individual personalities.) Sunny rather quickly decided that he’d stand still and take his paste wormer rather than be walloped. I rest my case.
            Sunny and I understood each other. I knew he was smart and cold-blooded and needed me to prove that I could be the boss of him. I never once put a mark on Sunny, but I got his respect over time. He tested me less and less often. He was always a good trail horse, and he became even better. He gave up the balking, and the buck/bolt resistance move. He became easy to catch—meets me at the gate every time—and easy to load in the trailer. I can fly spray him with zero theatrics and he takes his paste wormer like a gentleman these days—sometimes I have to give him a pop with the leadrope first, just as a reminder.
            Reading this, you may think that I believe that beating a horse up is the answer to everything. But this is not at all what I think. I have horses I never yell at, let alone wallop. It wouldn’t help them; it would only scare them. It would do no good to get after them as I got after Sunny; it would only do harm. It just so happens that Sunny is a horse that needed walloping. It didn’t take me too long to figure this out—and this is what a life spent riding/training many different horses will do for you.
            And I didn’t just wallop Sunny as needed. I gave him a life that made him happy. He has plenty of room, grass hay three times a day, horse buddies to socialize with, the rides I take him on are well within his capacity, and I turn him out to graze and give him lots of positive attention and affection. Over the time I have owned him, I think Sunny has become a much more contented horse. His life/job suits him, and he likes having an owner he respects. Sunny does tolerate beginners, but he’ll push them around—and I think, like many horses, he feels safer with a rider/owner that seems tough enough to him to be his leader/boss.
            The funny thing is that this overall happiness manifests itself in odd little ways. My friend Wally now says that Sunny has transformed himself into “a pleasure to be around.” And me, I noticed yesterday that the horse who acted as if he had no idea how to open and close a gate five years ago, allowed/helped me to run the roping chutes on horseback for two hours, quietly and cooperatively sidepassing, shouldering in, backing…etc to allow me to open and close a fussy selection of gates and move recalcitrant cattle through the chutes. I never once had to get off.
            Its not that I somehow trained or re-trained Sunny such that now he’ll work gates again. Sunny has just thrown in with me, and whatever I ask him to do he tries to do. It’s that simple. Though I would have a hard time doing a credible sidepass or shoulder-in in the open arena (where Sunny wouldn’t see the point), he understands about gates, and having chosen to throw in with me, he sidles up to each gate as I ask him to, and stands such that I can open and/or close it as I need to do. I don’t give him any fancy, specific cues. I just bump him gently with hand and leg until he is where I need him to be. He gets the point.
            When I got done running the chutes on him yesterday I took him over for a drink of water and rubbed his neck while he drank. We were happy with each other. What a great horse he’s turned out to be for me, in all his clunky, sometimes grouchy ways. He is EXACTLY the horse I need today. Isn’t it funny how when you are open to it… “you get what you need.” I needed Sunny—and I think he needed me.
            And finally, I almost never have to wallop Sunny any more. A “growling” tone in my voice is almost always sufficient. Sunny and I are good partners. He trusts me, I think. I trust him. And guess what? He got that way through being walloped (at least partly.) Had I not been willing to be tough with him, I am quite sure that he would still be “Small Nasty” and I doubtless would have sold him, as I won’t have a horse that will purposefully kick people. So there’s my tale concerning the way that judicious walloping CAN (in the case of the horse that needs it) be the right path to a happy horse/human partnership.
            I know not everybody will agree with this approach and I’m quite happy to hear dissenting points of view. Fire away.

Monday, September 10, 2012


by Terri Rocovich

I have been riding horses on a regular basis since I was about 2 years old which is nearly 52 years ago. (Yes, OMG I am really that old.) Even from a very young age I knew that horses would always be a part of my life in some way, shape or form. I didn't realize that I had the right stuff to ride, teach and train horses for a living until much later in life (my early 40s) and only after spending over 25 years in corporate America with what I term "a real job."

Along this path I have been blessed with many horses that taught me what I needed know to be a better rider, teacher and trainer. Amazingly the right horse has often come along at just that point in my equestrian career when I needed to expand my skills and education. One such horse is named Adel, a big black trakener/thoroughbred and sadly Adel left this world today at the age of 28.

They say that people come into each others lives for a reason, well I think that is even more the case with horses and other animals. Adel came into my life at just the right time when I needed to hone my jumping and dressage education to the next level. I had an amazing trainer back then, Shelley, but the horse I was competing at the time was limited in what she could (or wanted) to teach me.

 Interestingly enough that horse was Charlie, the 33 year old mare I wrote about in my last post. As some of you might remember, Charlie had very clear opinions about several things and some of them had to do with jumping higher fences and accepting my leg enough to improve my dressage. Charlie was unpredictable and "hot" tempered much of the time so horse trials were either triumph or disaster and rarely anything in between. So when Charlie strained a suspensory ligament it was clear and a more suitable horse was in order but I had just bought my first house and money was tight to say the least.

As fate and luck would have it, Shelley had another student named Celia, who was off to Physical Therapy school and needed someone to lease her horse Adel. However, Adel was not always the easiest of horses to handle on the ground and he was a towering 17.1 hands so Celia needed to find the right match for him. Well it was kismet. Adel's occasional antics didn't bother me a bit and neither did his size and since Celia and I both trained with Shelley, Celia knew his training would stay consistent with what he knew. It was truly a mutually beneficial match made in heaven. Celia knew that I would take care of Adel as if he was my own and I got an amazing horse to learn on and compete for a few years.

Adel taught me what a true half halt was and how to really balance a horse to a fence. At over 17 hands and long as a freight train, if you did not apply your aids correctly on Adel he would pretty much take you for a ride and pull your arms out of the sockets. If you rode him right, he could be as light as a feather and gladly do anything you asked. Without the skills that I learned on Adel, I would have never have been able to ride a horse like my Pete and subsequently without all that I learned on Pete I would be clueless on Uiver, the horse I compete today. Each horse enabled me to step up a level. Adel I rode Training level in Eventing and Second level dressage, Pete took me to Preliminary in Eventing and Fourth level dressage and today, as a dressage specialist, Uiver and I are competing at Prix St. George and will soon move up to Intermediare. Looking back the progression seems so logical and I feel so fortunate and blessed.

Celia and I became good friends over the years I had Adel and remain close today. When she called me on Sunday to tell me that Adel was not well, I wished that I could have instantly hopped a plane to Texas where they now live and be with them both. Celia had Adel from the time he was born and other than the few years he spent with me, she has loved and cared for him his entire life. What a gift, don't you think? Celia refers to me as Adel's other mother and I consider myself honored to have known him and to have been able to ride him. 
I reminisce and write this with a heavy heart tonight but I am comforted by the fact that Adel had a full and happy life and that he is now in greener pastures and healthy again. Perhaps he is with my mare Carrie, who passed several years ago and they are waiting to welcome Charlie and Pete when their time comes (which I hope won't be for a very, very, very long time) and they can all compare notes about a rider named Terri that they taught all that she knows.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vintage Beauty

I am old. And it's not only me. My husband is old, my house is old, my horses are old, and my kids are old (er). But the older I and everything else around me gets, the more I appreciate 'vintage.'

I rode for the first time since the summer heat killed my interest, and was glad to discover that Relish is too old to buck anymore. His half-hearted attempts to be bad didn't faze even my old muscles.  His buddy Belle is now twenty-two (It seems as if she just arrived for my then ten-year-old daughter.) and maturity has softened her anxiety (where is my friend going???) and mare-ishness. (is there such a word?)  Here she is sharing corn husks with Relish instead of pinning her ears and sending him off with a kick. She's even happy to follow him around the pasture instead of insisting on being lead bitc . . . I mean, mare.  Laura and others have commented on the joys of having aged horses, and I am glad that Belle, Relish and I have gotten older--and calmer--together.

Since I got old, looking in the mirror is not fun anymore. But the outside me with its sags, wrinkles and age spots doesn't match the inside me. I find incredible joy everywhere and still have great energy, almost more than when I was younger and juggling kids and a job. (I still don't know how I did it all.) I love puttering in the garden, which is a delight even if my back gets stiff  after too much bending and weeding.  I still teach with gusto even if it's only part-time, my latest novel is going (although slowly) well and I have added the richness of my new antiquing venture, which has challenged my brain with new things to learn. Life is full and brisk -- until age catches up with me around 10:00 when I have to be in bed or else.

As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate vintage beauty,  my husband's grey hair and weathered skin included. Perhaps that's why I have thrown myself totally into auctions, flea markets, and yard sales, and get so excited about finding old treasures.  Friday at a yard sale, I plucked filthy and unloved keys, bottles, and pitchers from crowded, moldy boxes. I brought them home and spent the afternoon cleaning them until they gleamed. Not Walmart new for sure, but I love every piece.

What is your take on old things? Are you ready to trade your aged mare in for a spunky filly? Does the clunky pick-up not cut it anymore? Do you pine for the latest technological gadgets?

And what about you? Don't torture yourself by looking in the mirror for an answer. A better test is to look at the photo of the enamel pitcher and quilt. Do you see rust and torn fabric? Or do you see vintage beauty?