Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Six Degrees of Lost - on Sale - 99 cents!

Hi Everyone - I'm having a promotion on one of my books, with the cooperation of my publisher, Musa.

From May 1-15, Six Degrees of Lost will be only .99 as an ebook.

It's a sweet story, told in two different voices, and it's about a lost dog, a first love, and a journey.

Olive’s mother is headed to jail and her brother to join the Army, so thirteen-year-old Olive is uprooted from sunny California and dumped in Washington State like a stray. That's exactly what she feels like surrounded by her aunt’s collection of homeless dogs, cats, and horses.

Fourteen-year-old David’s future is already carved in stone. From a military family with two brothers serving overseas, he’s been pointed towards the Air Force Academy his entire life - but a rafting trip gone awry might ruin his chances.

When a runaway dog is almost hit by a car, the search for its owner leads Olive and David, two teens from entirely different backgrounds, to an unlikely bond. Will their growing attraction to each other be enough to keep Olive from a foolhardy journey to find her mother? Will David risk his family’s plans to save her?

Six Degrees of Lost will be available at this special price on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and some other sites, I believe.

And although horses are not the main theme of this book, it does of course, have horses in it! Here's a short excerpt:

“So what’s with all those dogs barking in the back yard?”

“They’re foster dogs. My aunt takes them in when they get too crowded at the animal shelter. Some of them aren’t adoptable, and would be put to sleep otherwise.”

“Really?” I gulp.

“We’ve also got six cats in the house, plus the horses out back. Come on, I’ll show you.” The yellow dog jumps up and down, begging for the stick. Olive flings it down the driveway. I see a small shelter out back, with sagging fences. Olive is already headed that way, taking short barefoot steps on the gravel, so I follow.

A sway-backed pinto horse with a mouth full of hay sticks his head out from the shelter and then turns and goes back to his breakfast. It looks kind of bony.

“Wow,” I say. “Skinny.”

“Yeah, that’s Paintball.” She grins. “Well, that’s what I call him. He was found wandering loose up in the National Forest. Aunt Trudy says somebody just dumped him there.”

Olive shrugs. “I know. Hard to believe, huh? I guess they couldn’t afford to feed him, but still, that’s just mean.”

A huge brown horse wanders over to the fence. “Who’s this one?” I reach between the strands of wire and pat his head. He’s just as skinny as the first one.

“My aunt says he’s ancient, and we’ll probably never get his weight back on. They found him tied to a tree in front of the animal shelter, but they don’t really have any facilities for horses there, so he came here instead. He’s sweet, huh?”

“Yeah, he seems nice.” The old horse pushes his head underneath my hand, clearly enjoying the attention.

“I call him Shakespeare. ‘Cause he looks so noble and elegant.”

Elegant? I think. That’s a stretch. “Can you ride them?”

“I don’t know. Aunt Trudy says we don’t really know that much about them. Anyway, it’s been too hot, and she’s always busy. She’s a clerk at the animal shelter thrift shop, and she takes turns working down at the shelter, besides feeding all these animals here at home.”

Olive talks so fast she makes my head swim. She barely takes a breath, and rattles on. “So besides the ones she takes in from the shelter, my aunt is always finding animals, too. She says there must be an invisible sign at the bottom of the driveway that says: Lost Animals Stop Here.”

“Is that how you found this dog?” I stroke the big lab’s ears, and he presses against me.

“He was standing in the middle of the road,” she says, “and almost got hit by a car.” She smiles. “Maybe he was reading the sign.”

Hope some of you will hop on over and pick this one up while it's on sale at this great price. It's perfect for middle-grade readers through adult, and animal lovers of all ages!
Thanks! We appreciate our readers very much!

Barnes & Noble

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Guest Post from Susan Larson

Please welcome guest blogger Susan Larson today. Here is a little about her, in her own words:

I spent my adult years singing opera, oratorio, concerts, musicals, cabarets, anything that came along. What people don't know is, in my free time I would take my faithful Keeshond Gandalf to my secret country place and ride my horses! I loved and love all animals, nature, the outdoors, and my animals kept me sane. I can't ride any more, so my book Sam (a pastoral) is a valentine to all the horses I have known in my life.

Sam - a pastoral (Savvy Press - 2012)

Here's the description from Amazon:

Ruthie Rossley loves horses more than anything. When her parents buy an old dairy farm Upstate, she struggles to persuade them to give her the pony of her dreams. When they finally relent, she buys the first horse she sees. Sam. He's huge, ugly, opinionated and rank to shoe. Ruthie, her sister Evvie and Sam learn to love and care for each other. Sam teaches Ruthie horsewomanship: that is, courage, patience, self-control and forgiveness. Often Sam's lessons are learned the hard way. Confronted with family strife and misfortune, Ruthie realizes it is time to use her horse sense on people: she must forgive her troubled father, and honor the patient courage of her mother. Can this young girl gain control her rage and hurt, and re-unite her family? Sam knows the answer. YA Fiction, 212 pages.

And here is the author herself, talking about her experiences:

Riding and Writing, by Susan Larson

In spite of being a horsecrazy kid who dreamed of beautiful heroic equines like The Black Stallion or The Justin Morgan Horse, the first horse I ever owned was Sam, who was huge, hairy, headshy, watch-eyed and rank to shoe.  Why did I pick him? I was desperate, and my Dad fronted me three hundred bucks, and Sam was the most horse I could get for that sum.

Sam was a prince.  Although in repose he looked ridiculous, he was a flashy mover and made a majestic impression. After he decided I was worthy of him, he condescended to do what I asked both on the ground and under saddle, as a personal favor. Sam understood what I said, and he also talked: he groaned in ecstasy when I scratched his favorite spots: he hummed in a basso profundo at the trot, and popped his lips in rhythm with his strides at the walk–perhaps in frustration that we were not cantering or galloping.

Sam obviously had some abuse issues from his past, and he didn’t care for men.  After a certain amount of wheedling, he deigned to stand for the farrier and the vet, but these were the only two men he ever cozied up to.  

My kid sister and I could ride Sam double bareback, with a bridle, with a halter, with nothing; facing backwards, in the dark of night, and everywhere a horse could reasonably go.  Sam took care of his girlfriends. We could put any novice girl rider on his back and know that he would keep her up there and bring her safely home.

All our neighbors were convinced that this rampageous animal was going to kill us for sure, and some of them even told us so.  “That horse is not safe,” they said. “Sell him. He’s got those killer eyes.” We never sold him.  He never killed us. 

Once, returning from a horse show, we hacked off Sam’s beard and fetlock feathers, blunt-cut his long thick tail and braided his mane.  He loved being fussed with and did not care that in our efforts to turn him into somebody else, we created a beast even homelier than before.  And we knew we had done a shameful thing, an insulting thing, to our horse.


I wrote a short story about the wonderfulness of Sam, which I sold to Yankee Magazine. Then I decided to expand the story into a book that would include the neighbors, the farrier and the vet, and my parents. I published the book “Sam (a pastoral)” this past year with a small cooperative press, Savvy Press. I’m hoping folks who read it will fall in love with my pal Sam.

The last horse I ever rode was by contrast, quite small. He was a rescue horse, an American-bred Icelandic, ill-used by ignorant owners who punished him for tolting, which is the Icelandic  version of the singlefoot.  I was over sixty at the time, suffering from back issues, but still looking to ride a little, and this horse, Adam, needed some gentle exercise during the week when his owner was at the office.  Sometimes Adam would tolt a bit if I asked him nicely.  I knew how to ask because I had learned the tolt aids riding in Iceland. I’ve written a story about riding in Iceland, which is published on my Authors Den page.

It was so much fun riding out on this little guy that I ignored my increasing back pain, took a lot of Ibuprofen and kept on doing it.  One day I could barely get on, but I was determined to go on that gorgeous autumn day.  Adam was in a good mood and offered tolt voluntarily, many times. Wheeee! Happiness! We skimmed along, tika-taka, tika-taka, so fast, so silky-smooth!

The next day when I lay in the hospital with acute back spasms, I had a thought.  The horse knew! He could tell I was falling apart, and he did his best to make it easy for me by offering tolt, which is very strenuous for the horse.  I never rode again after that.  But I think about these two steeds and many more, who have been so kind and generous to me.   
Thank you so much for dropping by, Susan and sharing your experiences!
To learn more about Susan's book, you can find it right here:



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Being a Hermit

                                                by Laura Crum

            An advance warning here: This blog post contains a small rant. I didn’t set out to rant, but somehow no matter how many times I re-wrote the piece the rant crept in there. So I gave up and left it in. The post is now sort of bittersweet. It tells a reasonably pleasant story that I meant to tell, and it also gives a true view of the frustration I often feel. I am hoping that there are a few of you out there who will both understand my joy in being a hermit and also my frustration with what Ratty (of Wind in the Willows) called “the wide world.”
Anyway, those who read this blog and my books may perceive me as a reasonably social person, but the truth is far different. In real life, I really am something of a hermit. And lately it’s getting worse. Or better. Depends on your point of view.
            In my old age (I’m 55) I am just plain happy at home with my husband and son and my horses and other critters and my garden. Doesn’t matter if I’m riding or doing chores, I can fill hours messing with the horses and/or wandering around the garden observing what’s in bloom (in the spring) or ready to be harvested (summer and fall). Truthfully I can fill happy hours watching the spring breeze toss the treetops on the ridges, or watching the goldfish dart around the pond, or the quail pecking in the riding ring, or the lizards catching bugs. I could seriously go on all day listing tons of small events here on my mini-ranch that happily engross me. I like to write, so often I write about these things. I like to take photos…and sometimes I post them here and on facebook. And I like to sit on the porch with a cup of tea in the early morning and a margarita in the evening watching the light change. I am never bored.

            Fortunately I married a man who is also happy to avoid the social scene, and our son, like us, is an introvert, who appreciates lots of time alone. I make sure my son has a social life with his friends that works for him, but my kid, like me, enjoys swinging on the barnyard swing and just watching the horses and chickens (and sometimes the deer and bobcats) for a good bit of time each day. Yes, we ride with our friends and do more ambitious things, but I think we get our greatest joy just being peacefully quiet here in nature.
            There is so much to see and do in the springtime….the chickens are endlessly entertaining. Toby the rooster struts.

            Our cat Tigger amongst the hens.

            A one day old bantie chick.

            The roses are really starting to bloom. This is Fortune’s Double Yellow rose in my wild garden. It’s not really yellow, but it was discovered by the plant hunter Robert Fortune in China in 1844, and at that time there were no yellow roses in commerce. So this rose was a big deal. And it is still a glory today. An early rose-- it is always in full flower in April.

                                            We ride and have much fun with our horses. 


            So my life is good and happy and I have no complaints. It’s just that I feel I don’t fit in any more in groups of people. There are friends that I care about, and one-on-one with them I’m fine. I can be polite and reasonably friendly with waitresses and checkers and such. I can hang around with my horse friends and talk horse. But put me in a group of folks that I’m just barely acquainted with, and I’m no good at all. In fact, I’m kind of miserable.
            The problem is that I think my social skills (what I had of em) are slowly vanishing. I’m becoming a hermit. I feel out of place with groups of people any more. I try. I treat others as I would like to be treated—which means I respect their space and I say what I mean and mean what I say. Somehow this isn’t working too well. Other people just don’t seem to play by this code.
            As far as I can tell, many people expect me to mouth things I don’t mean, and make nice when others are treading on my toes. And when I let them know (in my straight forward way) that this sort of thing doesn’t fly with me, I am perceived as a grouch (actually I think the right word has one less letter and also ends in “ch”). And then a lot of people seem to share a form of sarcastic humor that I mostly don’t get and don’t find funny when I do get it. If you take a shot at me with venom disguised as humor, I still read the emotional content perfectly, and I don’t care for it. I’m liable to let you know that I don’t care for it, too. 
            It feels to me that my instincts have become similar to my horses and other critters. I expect truth and honesty and simplicity, just as I get from my animals. I try to give it back. I’m not comfortable with the two-faced attitude shown by many people, and on top of that I don’t share their interests. I don’t watch TV and I don’t like popular music and I really don’t “get” a great deal of popular culture, from politics to fashion to sports. I don’t want to get it. I’m interested in the green color of the light before a storm and the specific scents of different roses and how many words my smart little dog has learned to understand. I could spend hours listing the fascinating things that delight me here at my home. But I find many people confusing, and, to be frank, boring. I do better with animals.
I often leave a group interaction with people feeling frustrated. I don’t try to manipulate any one into doing what I want them to do.  I really resent others trying to manipulate me. I don’t take covert shots at people. If there is something I don’t like or don’t agree with, I’ll say so—openly. And I am fine with others doing the same with me. It doesn’t threaten me when someone disagrees with me. But it seriously annoys me when someone takes a sneaky shot at me—in the guise of “teasing humor.” I had a “friend” like this once. When I let her know that her malicious little games were not OK with me she wrote me off and never spoke to me again. Since then I’ve been a lot more careful about who I accept as a friend. For me a friend is someone “who stabs you in the front” (I believe this is a quote from Oscar Wilde…thanks, Dahlia).
In short, more and more I feel like a misfit around other “normal” people and can’t wait to get home and shut my front gate behind me. Sometimes I lock it.           

            Here, back with my horses and dogs and cats and chickens and garden and little family, I let out a deep breath of relief and feel almost instantly happy again. Here I fit in. I’m good with a horse, I get along with my kid (sorry all you mommy bloggers, but its true), and I love all the plants and animals of this place—domestic and wild. I listen to my husband play his pipes and enjoy the wild notes drifting out over the ridge. The horses graze contentedly by the vegetable garden. The little dog sits in my lap; I stroke her rough fur and I can smell the jasmine. I feel a real sense of connection and peace. Yes, I am
 becoming a hermit. A happy hermit.

            Does anybody else feel like this? I keep wondering if other people might be “hermits” like me, and possibly share some of my frustration when it comes to interacting in the “wide world.” I don’t mind being a loner (not at all), but it is fun to share thoughts with like-minded folks, so I’m putting this out there just for fun. Any horse loving hermits reading this blog?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sad Changes

                                                by Laura Crum

            Those who have read this blog for awhile will know that I have an old friend who boards his horse with me. I have known Wally since I was a child; he is the person who taught me to rope, many years ago. He and I have been partners on several horses, I have trained young horses for him, and for the last fifteen years or so, I have kept his horses here at my place. Many of the trail rides I have done with my son have included Wally, not just because I felt safer with two competent horsemen to support my kid in the event of an emergency, but also because Wally was always keen to go on any horseback adventure.
            Wally turns eighty this summer, and sadly, age is finally catching up with him. For the last two weeks he has been unable to ride or rope. Those who actually know Wally will know what a big statement this is. Wally would ride and rope when he had pneumonia (yes, literally). He is one tough old cowboy and if he hurts enough that he won’t climb on a horse, he really hurts.
            So I was both sad and somewhat surprised when Wally told me awhile ago that his right knee was so swollen and sore that be could barely walk, let alone ride. He tried to rope, but he said that every time he put weight in his right stirrup, it felt as if he were being hit in the knee with a hammer And he got off. Since then, he hasn’t climbed on his horse, or even come out here to mess with Twister. He’s been too busy going to doctors, and being in and out of the hospital, as the medical establishment tries to figure out what is wrong with him. He’s on crutches. He hurts.
            We all know the truth. Very few horsemen keep riding, let alone roping, into their eighties. I know it; Wally knows it. And yet I think, in a little hidden corner of our minds, we were all in denial, hoping/expecting that Wally would just keep on going, sort of like the Energizer Bunny.
            There’s a reason for this. Not only is Wally a tough old cowboy, he’s also one of the most enthusiastic horsemen I ever knew. Wally really ENJOYS his horses. He likes being around them and competing on them and riding them outside. He isn’t bothered if they act up a little. He’s unfailingly cheerful and having fun every moment he’s on a horse. (Well, except when he misses—or his partner misses—in the course of a roping run. Those of us who have roped with him know all about the Wally “scowl” under certain circumstances.)
            I’ve learned a lot from Wally, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that ability to truly enjoy my horses. To forgive them their mistakes and failings (we all have them), and enjoy what they give me, and just to take delight in being around them. To be grateful for every moment. Wally has demonstrated this skill over the years, and I have found it a great inspiration.
            For my part, I’m the one who takes care of the details (Wally isn’t terribly good at this). I make sure that all our horses get wormed/trimmed/fed..etc in a timely fashion. I insist that the old ones get retired. I take care of Wally’s horses just as if they were my own. Wally’s current horse, Twister, has lived with me since he was six. He’s now fifteen or sixteen (I lose track). Twister is a member of our family, and I will keep taking care of him, no matter what.
            We've shared so many horseback adventures together. For the last five years, Wally and Twister, my son and Henry, and Sunny and I have been all over the place. On our local trails--

                                                        To the mountains.

                                                           On the beach.

            It feels like a very sad change not to have Wally riding with us. Both my son and I are a little adrift. Its not that we can’t ride-- and we still ride a couple of days a week-- its just that Wally’s enthuiasm, and his drive to go roping, were a lot of our motivation. We rode at the roping practice and helped gather and herd the cattle, because Wally wanted to go. Since Wally’s been laid up, the roping practice is on hold. It feels like everything is changing.
            Of course I hope (we all hope) that Wally will make a full recovery and be back to riding and roping. And I think it will happen. But he is almost eighty. Eventually the day will come when he can’t ride or rope any more. And that is going to be a sad change for us all.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Singing in the Ring

Qrac and me at a show last summer

Do you have moments when you’re driving in your car, music blaring, dreaming up freestyle choreographies that match the beat of the song you’re listening to? I do! All the time! There I am, cruising along to, say, “Bailamos”, that old hit by Enrique Iglesias, visualising Qrac and I dancing across the arena, half-passing and tempi-changing and piaffe-passing, then pirouetting during the break in the song before taking off in a fabulous extended canter. Yeah, it’s totally daft, but it’s a fun fantasy. And yeah, it’s definitely a fantasy especially if you know how difficult it is to ride a perfect ten metre circle. Needless to say, Qrac and I aren’t quite ready to do fancy footwork to Enrique Iglesias! But that’s ok. It’s something to work towards, right?

I’ve only ever ridden one freestyle program, and that was years ago, on Amanda, the mare I received as a wedding present from my father-in-law. Amanda wasn’t a dressage horse, she was more of a jumper. Amanda had a lot of thoroughbred in her and was never an easy ride. I jumped her for a few years, but never really enjoyed it as she hated touching the bars so would either jump massive, or pull up sharply, catapulting me over the jump instead, which kind of sucked.

Anyway, after my children were born I decided I no longer wanted to be a human cannonball, and luckily for me, my decision coincided with the arrival of two lovely dressage divas at my stables who took me under their wing, introducing my mare and I to dressage fundamentals such as “outside hand, inside leg”. Over the next few years I saw my mare change from a wiry, skinny-necked, hollow-backed sewing-machine to a chunky, nicely chiselled Muscle Woman. Ok, so she was never going to be a dressage arena dreamboat, but the physical metamorphosis was definitely impressive. Amanda and I entered a few dressage shows, and the one we did best in was a freestyle program performed to Brian Ferry’s “Slave to Love”. I’d spent ages trying to find a song that matched Amanda’s cadence in trot, and “Slave to Love” was perfect. Of course, it didn’t work quite as well for the canter or walk work, but back then (I’m talking maybe fifteen or sixteen years ago) we didn’t have the technology we have now to create sophisticated home-made freestyle mixes (not that I’ve any clue how to create one now), so we had to make do with riding to one track. Having said that, I remember other people managing to put various tracks together, but I guess they were just more techno-savvy than me. Anyway, whatever; riding that test was the most fun I’ve ever had in a competition.

Qrac and I are going to be competing next week (in a regular program, not a freestyle), so we’ve been working hard towards the test. It’s nothing complicated, and frankly I find it kind of depressing to think that I’ve been riding for eons and yet I’m still competing in the lowest levels. Not that I’ve done many shows; as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not a competitive person. I’m far too emotional, and my nerves tend to get the better of me. Also, I’ve never had a horse long enough to be able to rise through the dressage levels. When
I bought Qrac two years ago he was extremely green. All he did was run, so we had to go back to basics, get him to work through his back, get him to connect, focus on trying to keep him soft and relaxed. One of my main difficulties is keeping him in a slow rhythmic trot; he didn’t come with a built-in metronome and finding the right cadence is quite a challenge. The most common comment I get during my lessons is “slow down”, yet no matter how hard I concentrate, I have an extremely hard time finding Qrac’s correct “slowness”.

When I mentioned this to one of my trainers the other day, she suggested I find music to fit his ideal rhythm. So I went home,  grabbed my iPad, found the video of my recent clinic with Bernard Sachsé, sat down in front of the computer, opened iTunes and then spent ages going through songs, trying to determine which songs fit matched his tempo when he was working at his best. It was an interesting exercise as many songs I’d imagined would work didn’t at all. In the end I made a playlist of four songs that work best. These are “Hall of Fame” by The Script (I’m currently addicted to that song), “Breakeven”, also by The Script, “Perdido sin Ti” by Ricky Martin (yes, I still love him) and “Weather with you” by Crowded House.

Unfortunately, there’s no music system at our stables so there’s no way I can burn a CD and play it while I’m riding. I don’t like riding with an iPod and headphones; I think it’s dangerous as you can’t hear what’s going on around you.

The only solution is to sing!

So I’ve been singing my heart out during my last few training sessions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not torturing my fellow riders, belting out “Hall of Fame” at the top of my voice! For one, it’s really difficult to ride sitting trot and not massacre Danny O’Donoghue’s catchy tune. I sing softly, sometimes even just in my head, but I’ve found that this simple trick really helps. As soon as Qrac speeds up, the song rhythm reminds me to check him with a little half-halt, and the problem is solved. I also think Qrac enjoys being sung too; his ears flick backwards and forwards, somehow he’s more “with me”. I’m not saying “Hall of Fame” is going to solve all our cadence problems, and that thanks to Danny’s uplifting track we’re suddenly going to woosh through the levels and “the world’s gonna know (y)our name”, but it’s a useful tool to work with, especially in the downward transitions from canter to trot, which is where Qrac has a tendency to run. All I have to do is find the song to find the rhythm. Besides, it’s kind of fun, too!

As for the other songs I mentioned that also work with Qrac’s tempo, they don’t seem to come to me quite so naturally. I can belt them out nicely on the way to the stables in the privacy of my car, but for some reason I’ve found them far more difficult to sing on horseback. Or maybe it’s just because, similarly to my Enrique Iglesias freestyle fantasy, I’m far too happy trotting around in my own little “Hall of Fame”!

Do you have any personal, quirky “tricks” you use while riding? Have you ever done any freestyle programs? And, more generally, what music do you enjoy?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

That Bucking Thing

                                                by Laura Crum

            I finally figured it out. For several years my Sunny horse had an odd little vice that I didn’t really understand. Over time it happened less and less often, and I somewhat gave up trying to sort it out. He was getting over it, and that was good enough. But the other day, while helping a friend who had a problem with her horse, I finally “got” what Sunny had been doing.
            So here’s the story. My friend's gelding had recently started bucking when he was fresh. He’s an older horse and they have a good relationship—she just thinks he got into a bad habit since she hasn’t ridden much this last winter. Anyway, lately, when she rides him, he’ll try to buck with her.
            Its just “I feel good”, somewhat rebellious spring bucking. But my friend is my age and she does NOT want to come off. It’s hard on us older gals. So she asked me what I would do. She wants her horse to quit bucking ASAP.
            Well, there’s the obvious. Ride him more, ride him harder. But my friend works full time and doesn’t have time for that. This is an older horse who has tolerated infrequent riding and behaved well for many years. She needs a way to show him that bucking is not OK no matter what.
            I thought about it. My friend’s horse was warming up quietly enough at the walk and trot and bucking (usually) when she asked him to lope. She jerked his head around and got after him with her heels when he did it and so far she could always stop him and he hadn’t bucked her off. But she wanted him to quit bucking, period.
            I asked her if she could tell when he was about to try it and she said yes. She could feel him hump his back.
            “OK, then,” I said. “I had a colt I rode in college who liked to buck, and an old horse trainer that I knew taught me how to stop him. You need to carry something like a leadrope. Or ride with long split reins. As soon as the horse humps his back, before he gets any further, even if you only think he is humping his back, or he might be thinking it, you say something loud and harsh, and you over and under the horse with your leadrope or whatever you have. The idea is to get the horse’s head to come up and have him jump forward. Turn the buck into a mini-bolt, essentially. Then, once your horse has jumped forward, you keep that energy moving in a positive way, maybe a circle or a long trot. And every time you feel the horse hump his back, you repeat this. Pretty soon you don’t have to hit the horse. You say, "Here now," or whatever you say, and his head will come up and he’ll scoot forward.”
            And suddenly, as I was saying this, Sunny flashed into my mind.
            Because Sunny’s odd little habit was (always near the end of a ride) to hump his back and sort of kick up and scoot forward at the same time. His head didn’t go down, it came up, so he wasn’t really bucking. But his heels would pop up. And he jumped forward. It was always just one jump, and it didn’t threaten me, but it annoyed me. And I couldn’t figure out why he did it, or even what he was actually doing.
            Why give me this gesture at the end of a ride—when he had been pleasant and cooperative throughout the ride? I blogged about this once, and folks wrote in with answers, many of which involved saddle fit and pain issues. But I knew that the horse gave no sign of pain at any point in the ride, or afterwards, when I unsaddled him. It seemed to me that it was more a gesture of defiance—“I did what you asked, but I’m nobody’s sweet little horse.” Something like that. Flipping me the bird, as it were. Which fits Sunny’s personality.
            Over the years I’ve owned him, this gesture on Sunny’s part has become less common—he hardly ever does it any more. When he does, its usually if I repeat the same ride too often—it feels to me that he’s expressing displeasure, as in, “We had to do this loop again?” I’ve learned to mix up what we do, and he and I have become good partners and the funny little buck/jump has mostly gone away. But I still never knew what the heck he was doing. And now I do.
            Or I think I do, anyway. Because Sunny is essentially the sort of horse that, when resisting your direction, will balk or buck. And here I will say, as a sidebar, that there are three main types of horses. The balk/buck type, who are essentially laid back, lazy horses. The spooks (like my Gunner and Plumber), who are sensitive, reactive horses. They will never stubbornly defy you, like the bucker will, but they spook and prance and jig and can be a right PITA at times. Then there are the bold, chargy horses, who will try to run off with you. I trained a mostly TB horse and he was this sort. I wasn’t used to it. The cowhorse bred horses were usually the sensitive spooky type, and the ranch bred horses were often the balk/buck type, but this TB didn’t spook much, and when he did he went forward, not sideways. And if you didn’t get a handle on him, he’d just keep going. So this sort of a horse will bolt when he’s resisting you.
            An aside here—all three types of horses are capable of bucking, spooking or bolting…I’m not saying that any horse will ONLY do the one resistant thing. I am saying that most horses fall into one of these three categories, each with a “signature” form of resistance which will be by far the most common problem with that horse.
            Anyway, I was perfectly aware that Sunny was essentially the balk/buck type and I knew he’d been trained by some tough cowboys in Mexico. Sunny has never actually bucked with me—just his funny little crowhop/scoot move.  And it occurred to me now that Sunny had probably tried to buck with his Mexican cowboys and they had probably over and undered him quite smartly every time he did it. So that now, as a mature horse, when he offers a small buck as a gesture of defiance, he immediately jumps forward, prepared to be spanked.
            I’m pretty sure that’s the answer. And I would like to say a big thank you to those Mexican cowboys, who made darn sure that this cute little palomino horse knew better than to try to buck his rider off. Because Sunny’s “vice” is no threat and I don’t really mind it. But had he shown any willingness to truly buck, I would have sold him ASAP. I am not up for dealing with being bucked off at this stage in my life.
            So there’s my explanation for Sunny’s odd little bucking thing. Do you think I’m right? Has anybody else had a similar issue with a horse? And look at the cute little guy. You wouldn’t think he’d be ornery, but he is the sort of horse that wants to test you. Fortunately he stays within reasonable limits, and we get along just fine.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Horse Books for Horse People

by Natalie Keller Reinert

We've all read them.

Books that have a horse on the cover. Purport to have a stirring equestrian background. A title with a horsey term, something like, oh, I don't know... Flying Changes. 

(I'm sorry, it is a beautiful term. But I have read at least three books with that title and there are more than half a dozen different books by that title on Amazon. I think it's been done.)

Anyway, books that supposedly have an equestrian bent, written by equestrians, but which are, in fact, written so that a person who has never been inside a barn and wouldn't know a poll from a stifle can enjoy them without having to look up a conformation chart.

I'm sure people who have never been inside a barn and don't know basic equine anatomy can be nice, but their idea of a "horse book" and my idea of a "horse book" are awfully different.

As different as a poll from a stifle.

Every now and then I come across a book that just passes my strict "horse book for horse people" test. Sara Gruen's pre-Water For Elephants books. (One of which is called Flying Changes.) Barbara Dimmick's In the Presence of Horses. 

For some reason I can't nail down, both of these are really melodramatic over-the-top emotional roller coaster books, but I enjoyed them, not least because they contained horse-people-only words like "Kopertox."

And that small little shout-out, that "Hey look I know horse things too!" cameo appearance of horse-centric words, was just the reality for a long, long time. If you were looking for a book that only appealed to a small, niche audience -- and shocking as it seems, I guess equestrians are a small, niche audience, maybe because most of them don't have time to read because horses -- then you just took what you could get and tried not to get overly annoyed with books that routinely described twelve-year-olds in red coats showing their ponies over fences or horses who were tied up by their reins while their riders picnicked or did a million other completely wrong things.

But e-publishing has changed things. E-publishing, and self-publishing, and tiny independent publishers have changed things. Now you can publish a book for the fraction of the overhead that the great big machine of agents and editors and illustrators and designers and printers and shippers and retailers and etc. etc. etc. have created for themselves. Less overhead means less investment is required. It means less sales are required to make it out of the red. It means the audience can be tighter, more defined, and, in the case of horse-people, more awesome.

Now we can have nice things that aren't for everybody. They're just for us.

Just for horse people!


Now: an example.

I spent the weekend with two teenagers.

And their hot young trainer.

I was reading the first two books of the Bittersweet Farm series, by Barbara Morgenroth: Mounted and Joyful Spirit. I was really, really enjoying these books, not just because they are clever and witty and beautifully written, but also because horse people were doing horse things and they were doing them right and there wasn't a hastily written explanation for every least little thing the horse people were doing.

A horse could be put on the cross-ties, and that was that. I didn't have to slog through a paragraph about what a cross-tie was, or what it was for or why it was safer or anything like that. The book hadn't been dumbed down and over-simplified. ME GUSTA. 

Horse people are happy, Natalie's happy, everyone's happy. If they're reading on an e-reader, they're even happier, because then if there is a term that they don't know, they can just look it up. On their e-reader. It's the magic of the Internets. They can look it up in 15 seconds, and they know it. Let reading be an educational experience (gasp!) and stop explaining everything. They'll figure it out and be smarter for it.

(Just ask my nine-year-old, who reads so many British books on his Nook, looking up the words he doesn't know as he goes, that he now gets notes on his spelling tests: "Please use the American version of the word.")

So hurray for horse books for horse people! There are more of them now than ever before. Maybe we can all live in a world safe from twelve-year-olds going to horse shows in red jackets forever more.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

They Called Her Flipper

Posted by Linda Benson

Many of you enjoyed one of our recent guest posts about near-wrecks on horseback, written by Maureen Gaffney. Here is the link, in case you missed it: http://equestrianink.blogspot.com/2013/01/guest-post-from-maureen-gaffney.html

Today, Maureen shares another story from her experiences as an assistant trainer at an Arabian ranch. Please enjoy the ride, and hang on to your seats (or in this case, perhaps not!)

 While working at one of the large Arabian show farms in Santa Ynez, I was told to ride a smallish gray mare that was in the charge of the new trainer, who happened to be on her way to a horse show.  Something in the way she had said "....if you want....." and then almost imperceptibly grimaced as she drove out the driveway with a 6-horse trailer full of well-mannered, sweet and responsive mounts made several important hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  I should have listened to those hairs.


The head trainer—my boss—did not attend the show and we were riding together in the arena, me on the smallish gray and he on an elegant bay the likes of which I aspired to ride someday.  All was going well, just warming up after a decent but not devastating lounging—the mare had broken a sweat but no oxygen mask was likely to drop in front of her due to a loss in cabin pressure. 


I swung a leg over and settled into the postage-stamp sized English flat saddle (I would later thank 'lucky stars' it was not a western saddle with a menacing horn) and we tooled around the ring for a bit on a loose rein extended walk.  I gathered her up a tad and stopped to talk to the boss about this or that.  As we stood on our respective mounts chatting, the gray mare began to bob her head up and down rhythmically as if controlled by some unseen marionette conductor.  Unbeknownst to me, this bobbing was in preparation for something larger. 


Now, generally speaking, horses do not like to up-end.  If you've had the great pleasure of watching a days-old foal on its first full twisting, cavorting gallop in a large pasture, you've likely also seen the youngster bite the dust and with a great comic flourish, get up, shake off, and immediately look this way and that to see if the humiliating encounter with gravity has been witnessed by man, beast, insect or vegetable.  Like humans, horses become rather embarrassed when they fall down. 


Seems small gray mare missed this vital part of her "Horse 101--General Decorum" class.  While I sat upon her strong, short back, she nearly audibly counted "A-One, and-a-Two, and-a-three, and-a-Four" with each head-bob before she threw herself up and over backwards from a standstill, and with a flirty swish of her tail, slammed us both into the ground with great aplomb. I lay there stunned with an 800 pound animal resting calmly on my right knee and thigh, trying to ascertain if I am headed for the hospital or if I’ll just be bruised.  The utterly confounded boss says from his perch on high "What the..??  Get her off of you!!!" to which I respond "Uh, yeah...." like, gee man, that's a pretty neat idea—wish I had thought of it. 


She lingered a bit longer on my leg, then decided the jig was up and returned to that boring ol' standing position.  Having taken the first opportunity to put some daylight between the two of us, I was no longer astride by the time she was upright. 


Me, the boss, and the bosses’ horse just looked at her with incredulous and deeply offended expressions, like "What sort of a thing ARE you?"  She had, after all, just cast shame on her species by displaying her willingness to forego her noble ancestry and grovel like swine all in the name of…what? Revenge? Just plain march-hare variety madness?  I don’t know, but I put her back in her stall and gave warm thanks to the rest of the kind-hearted horses I rode that day.  The bosses’ horse who witnessed those strange events ever after gave her a curiously wide berth.
Starting as a groom and working up to assistant trainer, Maureen Gaffney worked at West Coast Arabians for 8 years, then moved on to work for some of the best performance trainers in Santa Ynez and Texas before ending up back in Northern California.  Horses supported Maureen through college in Santa Barbara and at UC Berkeley.  Maureen has since hung up her spurs and is now a desk jockey working to plan and implement a long-distance trail around the San Francisco Bay.  She enjoys writing, riding (mostly bicycles these days), cooking, wine and friends.  Maureen has been published in Horse Illustrated, American Trails Magazine, and Dirt Rag (a mountain bike magazine).  She lives in Larkspur, California with her favorite man.   

Thanks so much for sharing another of your experiences, Maureen, and glad that you survived in one piece!

Readers - have you had experiences with horses that reared, and then flipped over, while someone was riding them? How did you handle this very dangerous situation?