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.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely story about a great horse - you are indeed fortunate to have found each other.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Kate. Like you, I am very grateful for the good horses that have come my way, and how they always seemed to provide, each in his own special way, the very thing I needed at the time.

Funder said...

LOL, poor Wally - does he ever get to be right? ;) Plumber sounds like such a sweetheart. He's a good horse through and through.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--One of my chief pleasures is proving Wally wrong(!) You can't imagine how satisfying it is to be right when I am arguing with someone who basically raised me in the horse world. And these old cowboys are so sure they know what's what. And Wally really is great with a horse and has taught me a lot. But yeah, I rub it in about Plumber ALL the time. Plumber is as attached to Wally as he is to me, by the way. I consider him to belong to both of us, as does Wally.

Jessica Boyd said...

What a wonderful story about a neat horse--and good stick-to-it on your part!

I will make sure I've downloaded the rest of your books to my Kindle, too. Cutter was great--reminds me of what some good friends of ours said about all the politics. :)

Laura Crum said...

Jessica--Much of Cutter was drawn from my real life experiences showing cutting horses and working for cutting horse trainers. I did make up the plot, but the characters are, believe it or not, pretty much straight from life.

Thanks so much for your comment. Glad you enjoyed Cutter.

Francesca Prescott said...

What a lovely story, Laura:) You knew instinctively that he needed time, and your patience paid off. I'd never heard of a heel horse, still not sure what that is! It sounds cute to me, like a horse following on your heels (like a dog), but I guess that's not what it is!!! Although it also sounds like Plumber followed you around like a dog :)

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--Plumber did and does, follow me around--also "talks" to me constantly. A heel horse is used in team roping. One rider ropes the steer around the horns and "turns" him and the other rider ropes the two back feet--the heels. This event comes from the need to doctor cattle on the open range, where there were no corrals. Once the steer is caught in this way the cowboys could doctor him as needed.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I love horses like Plumber. He's a sweet loving horse and showed everyone he could do the job. I'm so happy he's still with you and enjoying his retirement. Great story about a great horse.

Alison said...

Great story and photos. You must have a terrific memory--I can barely remember my name sometimes, much less think back to all my horses. Old age, what a pain.

Laura Crum said...

Grey Horse--Thank you! Glad you enjoyed Plumber's story.

Alison--The one thing I do remember is horses. Everything else, including the titles of books I have loved, escapes me.

AareneX said...

Laura, you make me laugh: I can never remember book titles and I'm a *librarian*!

I can't remember people very well, either. Names elude me. People names, that is--I rarely forget a dog or a horse, even after many years.

And BTW, one of the reason that Fiddle and her siblings flunked off the pacing track is that they were almost all complete klutzes until they turned 7 years old AND STOPPED GROWING. As soon as Fee (and her younger brother, who was known on the track as the "Crash Test Dummy") were living in bodies that didn't change size all the time, they got more graceful. But nearly all of that stallion's get continues to grow until age 7 or 7.5!

Laura Crum said...

Aarene-- I have known horses that grew until they were eight. Grew both taller and deeper through the cinch. It is amazing how many people don't realize that some horses do grow past five years old. Unfortunately, Plumber, though he got to be LESS of a klutz as he got older, never became a very athletic horse. But that's OK, he was/is still a good horse by anybody's definition. There are several saddles in the barn that he won, he never once dumped his rider, and he was/is much loved by those who owned/rode/handled him. What more is there to ask?

Val said...

I loved this story. You should frame the picture of you and your son on Plumber. It is a gorgeous way to capture the essence of a great horse.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Val! I love that photo of Plumber packing me and my son, and have an 8 by 10 of it. But the one I framed and put up shows us loping along with a grin on my son's face a mile wide. He loved loping with me on Plumber. Unfortunately I was afraid to put that one up on the blog. It would probably get me turned into fugly as a bad parent (!)

Cindy D said...

Kate hit the nail on the head. Lovely story about a great horse. These stories are so inspiring for any would-be riders and breeders, I have a weakness for Anything Equine and these anecdotes compound my love!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Cindy D. Glad you enjoyed Plumber's story.