Saturday, June 29, 2013


Auctions are on my mind because I have been going to quite a few. Not horse auctions, thankfully. I have been bidding on old tins and cookie cutter collections that were once prized by their owners. It's sad to see someone's life laid out on tables and going to the highest bidder. But I try and treat all my 'wins' with dignity--cleaning them carefully and selling them to someone who will once again collect and appreciate them. But I am bidding on objects with no feelings; horse auctions are another story.

In my past life, I went to a few horse auctions. It was never a pleasant experience. I chose two photos off the internet that illustrate the two extremes.  The one below of the skinny horse was NOT the worst photo. Several made me sick to my stomach and I quickly looked away. I never went to a million dollar horse sale, but my husband did when he worked on a Thoroughbred farm (many decades ago.)  His jaw was hanging through most of it. The horses were sleek and beautiful with impeccable breeding. But how many ended up broken down on the racetrack and sold at the "other kind" of auction?  I am sure all of you have been to "the other kind" where horses that no one want end up. They might be lame race or show horses, unbroken three-year-olds with no breeding, a kicker, biter or cribber, or excess stock that can no longer be afforded.

Or maybe they just came from an owner who wanted a fast sale. My mother's pony ended up in such an auction and I still have nightmares about it. My mother rode until she was sixty and got royally dumped by the said pony. It was trailered off to an auction before I could protest. I do not know what happened to the mare--she was cute and well-cared for, so I am hoping she went to a good home. She was also fat, and back then, you know what that might mean. (And will mean again now that it a horse packing plant has been opened in the US.)

When I researched my mystery Shadow Horse, I spent time at a rescue farm where the volunteers went to auctions and bought horses that were slated to go to the killers. One was an old pony who had faithfully served a family until she was twenty-five and no longer healthy. An auction was her reward. The rescue farm bought her so she could have a gentle ending. The other was a strapping, rambunctious yearling Percheron cross that came from a farm with too many horses.  He was in quarantine when I met him; I am hoping he found a good home (and some manners.)

I know there are auctions that serve a great purpose--matching a potential owner with a good horse. And the above are extremes. But for the rest of my life, I will be happy to make my auctions the antique kind!

What are your experiences with auctions? Have you been to both kinds? Are there some positives as well as negatives? Do tell!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Ten

                                                by Laura Crum

            I have told the story of how I came to acquire Henry rather recently on this blog (see My Son’s Horse). So, in the interests of not being too repetitive, I’ll just say that Henry opened a brand new chapter in my life with horses. And you could call this chapter “The Trails Along the Ridge.”

            As you may remember, my seven year old son had begun asking me to go out on trail rides. And as it happens, there was a network of trails on the ridge across the road from our house. Many years ago, when we were first together, my husband and I had explored these trails on Flanigan and Plumber. But I had not been up there since I got pregnant with my son. So I hadn’t seen the trails in eight years. I didn’t even really remember them all that well, and the way we used to access them had been blocked by a housing development. Thus I was pretty much starting from scratch to figure out if we COULD trail ride from here.
            I headed out on the newly acquired Henry to explore a little (and make sure he was as reliable on the trail as I thought he was), and I found a way back up to the ridge. As was inevitable, it involved crossing the very busy road at the end of our driveway, and then some rather dubious skirting of other people’s property. But horse hoofprints indicated that riders from the nearby boarding stable rode this way. And sure enough, I eventually found (and recognized) the same old trails I had ridden years ago with my husband, and reached the Lookout—a high spot with a glorious view of the Monterey Bay. I knew that this was where I wanted to take my son trail riding.

            Henry was an absolute champ outside. Nothing bothered him, he was relaxed and calm, and walked quietly at all times. He was as steady as a rock when I crossed the busy road, indifferent to the traffic. I felt that I could take my son riding out on the trails with a reasonable degree of safety. So we tried a few expeditions, beginning with some easier trails. And I realized that the only problem I was going to have had nothing to do with my son or Henry. It was Plumber.
            Plumber was nineteen years old at this time and I had done plenty of trail riding on him in the past. But for the last eight years he had been strictly an arena horse. My friend Wally roped on him and I rode him while I accompanied my son on short rides in the arena. Plumber was starting to slow down and Wally and I were pretty sure this would be his last year as a team roping horse. I thought that the timing was perfect and Plumber could now become my trail horse. But I was wrong.
            Because it turned out that Plumber didn’t want a new career as a trail horse. And he made this very plain. Every single time I took him out on the trail, he danced anxiously and spooked at every little rustle in the brush. He also protested at the downhill bits, tossing his head and pinning his ears, switching his tail, and walking at a slow, reluctant crawl. He absolutely never relaxed and just walked along, enjoying the scenery, as Henry did. I took my son for his first ride on the beach and Henry was perfect. Plumber was nervous and unhappy the whole time (which I think you can see in their respective expressions in the photo of that expedition—below). In every way he could, Plumber communicated, “I don’t want to do this.”

            A lifetime spent with horses will teach you a few things. Even though it was reasonable to suppose that the still quite sound Plumber could be my trail horse, I had to acknowledge that it wasn’t working for either him or me. Steady as Henry was, Plumber’s constant spooking triggered Henry to spook once or twice. Despite the fact that I felt perfectly safe on Plumber in an arena (and had ridden with my kid in front of me in the saddle for two years—that’s how safe I felt), I did not feel safe standing next to the busy road while Plumber danced anxiously. I was pretty sure I could control Plumber, but at this point I had my son on the pony rope and I absolutely needed to keep my whole focus on him. Nor could I risk that Plumber would startle Henry. So I made the rather unpopular decision (just ask my husband) that I needed to buy a new trail horse. And I knew just the one.
            Nine months previously, I had tried a little palomino horse as a possible replacement for Toby the pony (Toby’s cancer had reoccurred and we had removed another tumor from his sheath—I was aware that his time might be limited). This was a horse that I had known for a few years and I believed that he was a steady, reliable trail horse. But upon trying him I realized that he was also opinionated, ill broke and a bit spoiled—not a good combination for a kid’s horse. So I passed on him and eventually bought the much better broke Henry for my son. Still, for some reason, I couldn’t forget the cute little palomino horse. Neither could my boy, who continued to ask about “Sunny.”
            Sunny remained for sale. A friend of mine tried him and rejected him for much the same reasons I did. “Too ornery for a kid’s horse.” But when I thought about finding a steady trail horse for myself, Sunny popped into my mind with irresistible force. And despite my husband’s protests that we did not need another horse, I picked Sunny up that very day to take him on trial. The rest, as they say, is history.

(To be continued—the beginning of the saga is here)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Your Favorite Color (of horse, of course.)

Okay - we love our readers - so let's play a little reader participation game.

What's your favorite color of horse?
Bay, sorrel, palomino, paint, buckskin, chestnut, black, appaloosa, grey, or ?????

Of course, I'll be the first to admit that A Good Horse is Never a Bad Color. But deep down, we all have our favorites.

I adore paint horses, and always pick them out in a field driving past. In fact, the picture I still use as my author photo:

Linda Benson and Pete
is of me and a paint horse that I have since sold. But he was a pretty guy, wasn't he? With one blue and one brown eye, I adored his coloring (although he does look a little chubby here.)

I tend to like horses with color. I love palominos, like Laura Crum's Sunny. I adore a good buckskin horse, and I like chrome on a horse: flashy white stocking, bald faces, something special to make them pop. And I love bays - anything from a plain bay horse to a bay with a wide blaze and high white stockings is very cool, in my book.

Years ago, my dad used to do a little "horsetrading" on the side, and I often went with him on his buying trips. Besides riding and helping him find gentle family horses to resell, we always looked for pretty ones, too, because the truth of a the matter is that "pretty sells."

But color is definitely a preference. Some people adore sorrels, some chestnuts, some brown-bay or black. Some like plain horses, and some people like flashy ones.

So you tell us! In the comment section below - let us know your favorite color (or colors) of horse!

Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered to win a copy of my book, The Girl Who Remembered Horses.
 I'll draw the winner's name from a hat on July 1, 2013. U.S. entrants can choose a paper or ebook copy, and international entrants can win an ebook. Fair enough?

Okay, Go! What's YOUR favorite color of horse???

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Nine

                                                            by Laura Crum

            I’ve written about my son’s pony, Toby, before—Magic…and Toby the Pony. Click on the link to find the full story of our magical little white horse. In the context of my own life with horses, the next two years were dominated by this pony. I spent most of the first year leading the pony around with my five year old son on him. I seldom actually rode myself. (Though once in awhile I did ride Toby to give him an “attitude adjustment.” Toby was a good pony, but he was a pony.)
            To those who think this sounds like an incredibly boring horse life, all I can say is that it wasn’t at all boring, from my point of view. But I’m not sure I am going to be able to explain why I loved this part of my horse life so much. However, I’ll try.
            Partly it was because I had truly come to understand that my greatest joy lay just in living with horses, and whether I rode or not wasn’t that important to me. Partly it was because having a pony of my own had been my childhood dream…and now I was making it come true. At last I had a pony (!) Toby was the first pony I ever owned and I still smile, thinking of him. And partly it was because I was just happy with my life overall.
            Another factor was that I had achieved the goals I had set myself in my life with horses. I had been a reasonably effective competitor at cowhorse, cutting and roping; I had trained some horses that I was really proud of. I’d crossed the Sierras many times on my own horses and camped with them in some amazing places. I’d worked as a cowboy on a commercial cattle ranch. There wasn’t anything that I had once been burning to do with a horse that I hadn’t yet done. And the depression I went through had freed me of the need to see my life with horses in terms of goals. I was happy just to enjoy my horses and my son. I think the fact that I was older helped, also.
            But mainly, of course, I was happy to spend my time this way because I loved my little boy so much. As I said in the last post, I would have done absolutely anything to give him a happy life, and I thought, and still think, that raising a child around and aboard horses (if you can do it without injuring or scaring them) is a fine way to create a happy life. Lest you suppose this is just my own prejudice, you may consider the fact that the number one therapy for handicapped kids is “horse therapy.” People pay big bucks to let their handicapped child get led around on a gentle horse. If it can actually “cure” handicapped kids, how good must horseback riding be for kids who are not handicapped?
            So I took much delight in spending my horse time leading my child around on our steady pony, feeling that I was giving my son a huge gift. And I really believe this from the bottom of my heart, in the same way and to the same degree that I believe in attachment parenting. It doesn’t matter if my son grows up to be a horseman or not. That isn’t the point. The point, to me, is that riding and interacting with horses throughout your childhood helps you to feel strong and comfortable within yourself, and to connect in a positive way with the natural world. That is, if it’s a positive experience.
            I took this part of it very seriously. As a young child I had many very “scary” moments on a horse. Because I was passionate about horses, these moments had never deterred me. But I knew many others who had been scared, or injured, or both, and who never again had any interest in horses. So I resolved to do everything I knew how to do (and I knew quite a bit about horses at this point in my life) to give my son a positive experience.
            To this end I bought Toby, a very steady 20 year old pony. To this same end, I led my son around for a year on the pony before I let him ride independently. I took the stirrups off the saddle for this whole year, in order that my kid should develop a good seat. I cannot count to you the miles I jogged, leading Toby as my son learned to trot on the critter. My long legged husband ran alongside the pony, as my son learned to lope. Once our child was pretty confident at all three gaits, I began lunging Toby with my kid aboard. And only when my little boy seemed absolutely solid, did I let him begin riding Toby independently—in our small riding ring. When we rode in larger spaces, I ponied Toby from my own horse, Plumber.
            This may sound overprotective to some, perhaps. But a lifetime of experience with horses had taught me to be careful, and my whole aim was to create a positive, rewarding experience for my son. And it worked. My little boy became a confident, happy rider. By the time he was seven years old, he could walk, trot, and lope Toby independently, and control the sometimes strong minded pony competently. And he began asking me to take him out on trail rides.
            Here is where I had a problem. Because Toby just wasn’t the right horse to take a seven year old out on the trails. He had a tendency to be “forward” outside, and I knew perfectly well that riding outside was very different to riding in an arena. Many more variables, a much less controlled situation. And so I hemmed and hawed about the trail rides. We took a couple of short ones (around my uncle’s ranch) with me ponying Toby from Plumber. And then life, once again, intervened. Toby got sick.
            The story of Toby’s death is described in “Magic…and Toby the Pony.” I will just say that it was very hard on my son when we lost his pony to cancer just after my little boy turned seven. Toby is buried here and at least once a month my son talks about how he misses him. Toby truly was a very special and important part of my life with horses and I will always be grateful to him. He was the first forever horse that came to me for my son.

Fortunately Toby was followed by another great horse. I have always believed that Toby sent us a gift in his passing and brought us another forever horse to take care of his little boy. Because of losing Toby, Henry came into our lives. (To be continued.)

            Toby is featured in my 10th mystery, Chasing Cans. Click on the title to find the Kindle edition of this book. (I have to add, I just read the Amazon reviews of Chasing Cans, and there is a group who absolutely hates this book, due to the fact that it is about a mother with a new baby. Yes, it is also an exciting mystery with lots of horses and a dastardly barrel racing trainer and plenty of action, and also includes the wonderful Toby. Most people, even the haters, point out that it is as well written as the previous books. However, fair warning: if reading about the "mama" experience turns you off, don't bother with this one. And if anyone who has enjoyed this book would post a review on Amazon, I'd be really grateful. This is one of my favorite novels in the series. I have to admit that it makes me sad that the non-mothers who hate reading about a career woman turning mom are the ones who seem mostly inclined to review it. I have no problem with anyone else's path, but since my own path became motherhood, I wanted to write about the experience. I tried to be faithful to the reality--joys and trials--while still crafting an exciting mystery. See what you think.)

            This saga begins here.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Eight

                                                by Laura Crum

            I was thrilled to be pregnant. Neither my husband nor I had ever had a child, we were getting older (I was 42 and he was 49), and we really wanted a baby. At our respective ages it wasn’t that likely—without technical intervention, which we weren’t inclined to—so it seemed like a real gift. And I immediately resolved not to ride until the baby was born.
            This doesn’t mean that I think pregnant women shouldn’t ride. I just wanted to do everything possible to protect my unborn child at my advanced age. I gave Danny, the colt I had been training, to a friend. My old friend Wally was still riding and roping on Flanigan and Plumber, so they were getting plenty of exercise. And Gunner and Burt were turned out to pasture.

            Once again, I took a break from riding. I still fed my horses and saw them every day and I still loved them. In fact, I began to discover an interesting truth. The thing I enjoyed most about horses was not riding. It was living with them. This didn’t mean I wasn’t interested in riding any more. It just meant that I had come one step further in understanding my path with horses.
            Because I found that seeing my horses many times every day, feeding them and turning them out to graze, made me happy and content even though I wasn’t riding. I puttered around the garden, and I puttered around with my horses, and I waited for my baby to come and I was happy. I was aware that I was happy and this knowledge stood me in good stead, because having a baby wasn’t at all what I had expected it to be like.
            I had thought that the baby would be sort of an adjunct to our lives. My husband and I would do more or less as we had always done, the baby would just come along, too. But it wasn’t like that at all.
            I was unprepared for the fierce rush of maternal love, the absolute realization that I would do ANYTHING to protect and care for this little creature. If I had been asked, while I was pregnant, if I planned to give up riding for the next few years (or at least riding without a kid in the saddle with me) I would have said, “No, of course not.” But that is more or less what happened.
            This blog is about horses, not babies, and this saga is supposed to be about my life with horses, not my life with my child. But if you are to understand why my life with horses became the life that I have today, you will need to understand how I chose to parent my child…and why. I absolutely don’t blame you if you find this boring and not relevant, especially if you don’t have kids. Feel free to click that little “x” now.
            But, anyway, from the day of my son’s birth, the one main thing I wanted of life was to take the best possible care of my little boy. I’m not going to argue parenting styles here, but I will say that my own path became the “attachment parenting” path. I nursed my baby until he weaned himself (at 18 months), we slept in a family bed, and I carried my little guy in a sling and then later in a backpack, everywhere I went. I stayed home with him and took care of him (and this is one of the benefits of being an author—working at home was already my path). This is, I think, a wonderful way to raise a child, and I was very happy, but I did not find much time to ride. To be honest, riding wasn’t very high on my priority list.
            But I still had my horses and I still loved them. I carried my baby down the hill to feed every morning and evening. He grew up around horses. And when my little guy was six months old, I climbed up on my beloved Flanigan and took my baby for his first ride. After that I rode once in awhile—always at the walk and with my little boy sitting in front of me, always on Flanigan.
            Sadly, when my son was three years old, Flanigan died of an inoperable colic. He was the first of my “forever” horses to die and the first horse to die on my place. He is buried here…and I still miss him. I feel that his spirit both protects and guides me, however odd that may sound.

            After this I took my little boy for rides on Plumber. And we progressed to trotting and then loping. My son loved to ride. I think now that I should have put a helmet on my child, but I was confident in myself and my horses, and to be fair, we never had any problems. We rode a couple of times a week, in my riding ring or up at the arena, always with friends. For five years I rode only in arenas, at a relaxed walk/trot/lope. I can’t remember that I ever once rode without my child in the saddle with me in all those years. And no, I was not bored. I was happy. Plumber packed us like a champ until my son was five years old and just too big to ride comfortably in front of me any more.

            It was time for my boy to have a horse of his own. And thus came Toby.

            The saga begins here.

            I wrote Moonblind about being pregnant and Chasing Cans about having a nursing baby. Click on the titles to find the Kindle editions.

 Both of these books have lots of horses in them, but perhaps a tad less action than when my protagonist was single. What can I say? My life had a tad less action in it once I became a mama. I did my best to keep both mysteries exciting and still be faithful to the reality of motherhood. I really love these books, but I think that those who are mothers themselves are more likely to appreciate them than those who are not. The absolute truth is that I loved (and still love) being a mama, but it is not a life that “sounds” as exciting as my earlier life training and competing on horses. The fact that this part of my life with horses has actually been the most rewarding and interesting part to me is something you may have to take on trust (or perhaps my novels can portray this emotion more clearly than I can convey it in a blog post).


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Girl Who Remembered Horses - ON SALE

For the first time ever, The Girl Who Remembered Horses is ON SALE. With a great price of only 99 cents for the e-book on Amazon, I hope those of you who have been wanting to read it will take the opportunity to grab it up.

The Girl Who Remembered Horses is a horse novel set in the future, when most humans have forgotten the bond they once shared with horses - all except for one girl - who dreams of them. This novel is based not only on the reality of what's actually happening to many horses in today's modern society, but also on a college research project I completed about why women and girls love horses. I hope you'll enjoy it!

There are more books available in this .99 sale, too, by a variety of authors. All are suitable for middle-grade readers and up, and several more of them are about horses. You can find the full list right here on my personal blog. Sale runs from June 17-21.

Thanks, everyone. Hope you have a great summer filled with reading, riding, and relaxing!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Some people just should not own a horse.

Terri Rocovich

First of all, let me apologize for my absence from the blog last month. My schedule just exploded last month and getting blog posts done just fell through the cracks. With that said, let me also warn everyone that the subject of today's post is a bit of a rant on my part.

It should be no surprise to anyone you knows me or anyone who has read my blogs in the past, that I am very passionate about safeguarding the well-being and health of horses. If anyone decides that they should take on the challenge and HUGE responsibility of owning a horse, then they must always make decisions based in the best interest of the horse.  If you can't do that, if you don't want to make sacrifices, both personally and financially, in order to put the horse's well-being first and foremost, THEN DON'T OWN A HORSE! It is that simple to me although I do acknowledge that decisions with horses are rarely black and white.

As Laura and I know, (and anyone who has competed extensively) that neglect, overuse and abuse happens far too frequently in the interest of winning. Everyone likes to win, me included, but it should never be done at the sacrifice of a horse's health and happiness. Recently, I have enjoyed reading Laura's posts about her life with horses and her choice to no longer compete but to instill and share her passion for horses with her son. To me, that trumps all the competitions on the planet and makes what life she provides for her horses and her son better then even the highest level of rider.

Why can't that premise be so simple to others? Now obviously, as a trainer, coach and professional rider, my life revolves around horse shows but I would never risk a horse's health or soundness to make a competition. In addition to my training and teaching business, I provide Equine Rehab services to horse's recovering from leg injuries and/or post surgery. This side business was born out of acquiring therapeutic equipment and the expertise over the years treating injuries on my own horse's and client's horses. So in my barn I have a Game Ready (ice/cold compression machine), a TheraPlate (a vibration plate), a RevitaVet (Ultraviolet Light Therapy), and a magnetic blanket. In addition one of the vets I work with has a Cold Laser, an Equipulse (Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy). All of this equipment is designed to aid various types of injuries in healing thoroughly and as quickly as possible, but nothing can replace the importance of time and patience.

Like any athlete, injuries with the equine athlete are not a matter of if, but when. Much of the therapeutic equipment that I have is as much for preventive as it is for rehab. When horses come in from other owners, especially if they are new to my program, the vets and I always explain the importance of giving the horse as much time off as recommended and a slow and progressive reintroduction to work. Like people, every horse recovers at there own pace. Simple, right??

So several months back I had a horse come in for rehab with a significant soft tissue injury to a ligament in the foot. These injuries are tricky to heal because 1) the only way to definitively diagnose them is a MRI (which are not cheap) and 2) since the hoof is always in use and under pressure, it is hard to get them to heal completely and hard to tell when they are completely healed without the expense of a second MRI. I have actually had pretty good success getting these injuries to heal when owners give me the time and follow a thorough rehab protocol and a patient and gradual reconditioning program. It is not uncommon for this process to take well over a year, depending on the severity of the initial injury.

When this horse came in, I made all of my usual explanations to the owner which was echoed by the vets. This person was told to be patient, keep the horse, which is younger and full of energy, on calmatives of some sort and to hand-walk and utilize other therapies before even thinking about being under saddle again. The time frame for all of this was a minimum of 9 to 12 months, if not 18. One of the hardest parts of post injury rehab is getting the horse to remain quiet. Often they feel good except for the leg injury and often forget themselves and get fractious either in their corral or hand walking. Although I am generally conservative when it comes to the use of pharmaceuticals, in this case I am a proponent of the long acting tranquilizers available these days because you don't want the long months of recovery to become a danger to the horse or to the handler. All of this was vehemently expressed to this owner.

This horse came into my place for a few weeks of rehab to get the inflammation down quickly and jump start the rehab for the owner. The use of all of this expensive equipment and the time it takes is not a cheap scenario for the owner. Although my charges are very competitive compared to bigger rehab facilities, it is still a significant cost to the owner as well as an investment in time and energy for me and/or my staff. I am happy to work with owners to make it as affordable as possible and let them decide what works for them within their financial means. In this case, the owner felt that she could continue the horses rehab at home, so she was given as much guidance as I could and was told that at the end of the day, the horse had to be kept quiet and given ample time for the injury to properly heal. Simple right????!

Well a week ago I got word that barely six months after this horse was at facility, this owner is back riding her horse - at walk, trot and canter - and the horse is clearly still lame. When the friend of mine called to tell me this I, at first, just wanted to scream and second, just had to resign myself to the fact the this poor horse is probably doomed to a life of unsoundness because her owner cares more about being able to ride the horse then the horse's long term comfort and soundness. I am equally frustrated and disgusted but what do I do?? It certainly would not be appropriate for me to confront the owner because technically it is none of my business. But what would you do??? I see this kind of thing all the time in varying circumstances and the extent of human ignorance never ceases to amaze me and it is always the innocent animal the suffers.

Other than calming myself with several adult beverages and thoughts of justifiable homicide, any suggestions????

To end on a happier note, my beloved Dressage horse Uiver is doing fabulously and has in fact figured out Piaffe, one of the harder movements required for his step up to Intermediare II and then Grand Prix. He is very proud of himself these days and now tries to Piaffe half the time when I ask him for something basic like a canter transition. It is almost like he is saying "Lookie, Mom, Look what I know how to do!"

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Seven

                                                by Laura Crum

            Once again, I’m going to say something that a lot of horse people won’t want to hear. And it is this: Taking a break from working with horses can be good. It can, in fact, provide the answers you were looking for. At least this is what happened for me.
            Depression forced me to take a break from riding and competing, and when I returned to riding, I knew I didn’t want to compete any more. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I still loved horses; I knew that I had had enough of competition for one lifetime. And I felt absolutely free to find a new path with horses. I just didn’t know what that path would look like.
            I experimented, trying to find what would work for me. And I am sure that to many of my horse friends, some of what I did looked very silly. I rode in flip flops and drawstring pants, I seldom did anything more than saunter down the trail, I showed no interest in team roping, even though I had been so passionate about it for many years. I wanted my horses to become a natural, relaxing part of my life, like my garden and my dogs, not an “event” that I did. I wanted to ride (and live) in comfortable cloths that I could hike and ride and garden and nap in. I was done with tight Wrangler jeans and uncomfortable cowboy boots forever (after years of wearing them every day). I was done with worrying about what anyone else thought. And I was completely done with stressing my horses and myself in order to win some competition or other. I just wanted to enjoy my horses in a relaxing way that was pleasant for both me and them.
            It took a major life change (a year of depression in my case) to create enough space for me to really evaluate what I WANTED to do with horses now. Not what anyone else thought I should do. Not what I was accustomed to doing. Not what I had wanted in the past. What I actually wanted to do at this point in my life.
            I think this big “opening” also happens for others…but sometimes I think the person doesn’t see the opportunity in what seems like a disaster. Over and over I have seen the big life change come along for the impassioned horseperson, and I believe it can be a gift (though by its nature it is always pretty traumatic). But a horse wreck with accompanying injuries and fear, or the death or permanent lameness of a beloved horse, or (like me) a divorce and/or a depression, can all be catalysts that allow us to look clearly at our lives and perhaps change them for the better. And so, once I was no longer depressed, it became a delightfully open world for me, and I felt very free to find my chosen path, whatever it might be.
            After awhile I found that just puttering down the trail by myself wasn’t enough. My husband wasn’t really interested in riding, and I wanted a new project. I resolved to try breaking and training another colt and see how that felt. It had been maybe ten years since I had broken Plumber as a three year old, but I thought I still had the skills.
            And here is where I need to add that I have not mentioned all the horses I dealt with over the years. Were I to do that this saga would be MUCH longer. But in the time when I was passionate about cowhorse and cutting I worked for maybe half a dozen trainers and I started and/or helped to train at least a hundred young horses. Once I began team roping, I broke and trained several colts for my uncle Todd and my friend Wally, and I owned and trained a few colts that I later sold because they didn’t seem quite right for me. These horses haven’t come into the story because it would become just too long…and because they were never MY horses in the same way that Burt, Gunner, Flanigan and Plumber were my horses. At the same time, I spent many hours in my thirties breaking and training Ready, Breeze, Rebby, Lester…etc, and so I felt comfortable and confident taking on a three-year-old with thirty days on him as my next project. 

Danny, like Plumber, was a colt that I had known and liked since he was born. And I had no trouble with him at all to speak of in the training process. He wanted to crowhop a little and he was smart enough to be a challenge, but I never came anywhere near coming off of him. But…at 42 years old, and a lot more aware of my own feelings than I had been when I was younger, AND consciously experimenting to see what I wanted to do with horses, I soon discovered I no longer enjoyed training young horses. It required that I ride the horse consistently, and I found I didn’t want to feel forced to ride; some days I’d rather garden or ride bikes with my husband, or something else. And I no longer felt as confident physically as I had in my 20’s and 30’s. I became aware that my skills were rusty and that if I got dumped it was liable to hurt. Danny was a fairly easy colt, but he was a colt. Young horses do unpredictable things…I absolutely knew this truth after all the years I had spent breaking and training horses. I found that at this stage of my life I wasn’t really comfortable with that element of unpredictability/danger any more. It dawned on me that I didn’t want being hurt in a horse wreck to upend my currently very happy life. I rode Danny for six months and got him pretty well started, but I realized that no, this wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my time right now. And then I got pregnant.

(to be continued)

(This saga begins here.)

To read the book I wrote about training Danny (Hayburner) click on the title. This story was followed by Forged, in which my protagonist finally settles down and gets married.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Six

                                                by Laura Crum

            So just when you think you have it all figured out…it changes. I was enjoying team roping, but slowly my overall enjoyment began to grow less. Because no matter how hard I tried to dwell on the positive, I couldn’t help but see all the negatives in competition. This was the third competitive horseback event that I had immersed myself in, and it was more fair and more affordable than the first two. But it was just as hard on horses. In some ways it was much harder on horses than cutting.
            I was getting to the end of watching horses be trashed in order to win. In any form, for any reason. I was sick of seeing people be too hard on a horse because they wanted to win a damn event. I didn’t do this to my own horses, but it was all around me. My fourth mystery novel, Roped, had a lot to do with these feelings.

            I became aware that I was less and less interested in winning and less happy at team roping competitions. I began focusing on horse packing in the mountains more and more. Flanigan was my main mount at this time and he proved to be a wonderful mountain horse. We made many, many trips together, including some that were over a week long and covered a couple of hundred miles over many high Sierra passes. Here we are Wood Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

            But despite my riding in the mountains from time to time, the thing that dominated my life was roping. I practiced twice a week and I competed on weekends. It was my life. Training horses and competing at horse events had been my life for twenty years. I didn’t know how to quit. Once in awhile I would stay home and putter around my garden on the weekends and just turn my horses out to graze…and I was aware that I would RATHER do this than go roping. But the honest truth was I felt guilty if I didn’t go. All my friends were going. Surely I should go, too?
            I had retired Gunner from competition at this point, due to arthritic changes. I was still roping on Flanigan, and I had trained my young horse, Plumber, to be ready to compete. But something was wrong. The heart had gone out of it for me. I knew how I felt, but I didn’t know how to change. So life made a change for me.
            I am going to say something here that not all horse people will want to hear. But it is absolutely true (at least for me). I had spent my life focusing on horses to such a degree that I didn’t think very hard about much else. I didn’t, for instance, think about how to create a happy marriage. I never gave much thought to having children. I was too busy with my horses. And now I was forty years old and competing on horses was beginning to seem meaningless and downright upsetting. I still loved my horses, but I went off to the ropings completely uninterested in winning or even performing well. “Please don’t let any horses or people or cattle get hurt,” was the only thought in my mind. “Let whoever needs to win, win.” By which you can see that the joy had really gone out of it. But I kept doing it. Because I didn’t know how to quit. And this is where life stepped in.
            In my 40th year my husband fell in love with another woman and left me. And between this, and the very real angst I already felt due to losing my lifelong passion for horseback competitions, I fell into a true depression.
            Those people who have been depressed themselves will know what this means. For those who have not, I will say that depression is far more like being sick with the flu than it is like being “sad.” I had tons of physical symptoms. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I felt physically terrible. It wasn’t as if I could just sit around on the couch relaxing and feeling sad. I felt so awful that I was desperate to feel better. You know when you have a really bad flu how everything is just misery? That’s how depression was for me.
            And yes, I did try to get help. That’s what everyone says. Get help, there is medication, etc, etc, etc. Well, I am here to tell you that this doesn’t work for everybody. I saw three separate shrinks for a year straight, I took at least ten different anti-depressant meds (not simultaneously). None of it helped at all. Some of the meds just made me feel worse. The only thing that gave a little relief was a couple of glasses of wine in the evening. But the relief was always short-lived.
            And yes again, I contemplated suicide. That’s how meaningless everything seemed. But I honestly felt that I needed to survive for the sake of my animals. At the same time, I couldn’t really care for them. I did not go roping; I did not even ride. I had to drag myself through the most basic of horse chores—feeding and watering. Anything more seemed beyond me, and even this much was very hard to do. My friends and family helped me feed my horses…and they went to the grocery store and brought me food so that I would eat. Yes, it was that bad.
            But it passed. I just had to walk through it, one step at a time. It wasn’t easy. More like going through a severe illness than any other way I can think of to describe it. I felt like shit…all the time. And I endured it and continued to put one foot in front of the other. More than that, I contemplated my life and tried to see what the depression might be trying to teach me. Because strange though it sounds, that depression, as I began to understand, came to me for a reason. When I look back on it, I learned some very important things during the year I was depressed. But that didn’t make it easy to bear.
It lasted a year. Until finally it lifted of its own accord. A year and one month after it began, it left me for good. I was involved with a new man and I went to Europe with him, and suddenly life was worth living again. And I still had my horses. Thanks to my friend, Wally, who did much of the feeding and caring for them during the year I was depressed.
            The thing is that awful though it was, the depression was actually a gift. I emerged from it changed—for good. I no longer felt that I had to compete on my horses in order to achieve something. I felt perfectly free to interact with my horses in whatever way was best for me and them. And I knew that I would never again prioritize horse competitions and horse training over my marriage.
            At this point I was re-married and I knew I wanted to have a child. I still had Burt and Gunner, who were both retired, and Flanigan and Plumber. My friend Wally was roping on Flanigan and Plumber and having a fine time with them. And me? I went on the occasional trail ride on Plumber with my new husband riding Flanigan alongside me and felt that life was good.
            But there were still more changes to come. (To be continued.)

PS—I wrote Slickrock about my horse packing adventures, and Breakaway about my battle with depression during this period of my life. These books are, of course, fiction, not memoir. All my novels have classic mystery plots involving murder and such, and this sort of drama did not come my way in real life, thank goodness. But all the background material in the stories is drawn from my own experiences. Click on the titles to find the Kindle editions of these books.


Spring and summer brings flowers, glorious flowers. I have not been riding lately so I apologize for my non-equine posts. My horses are too fat from lush grass and since they are always wearing fly masks, it's tough to get good photos.  I am not even writing about horses; my latest books are about dogs. Right now I am in the beginning stages of researching Nome, Alaska during the gold rush. (If you hale from Nome, I might have questions for you.) So you are stuck with flower  photos. We have had cool nights, rain and warm days, which creates wonderful gardens. I wanted to capture them at their peak before hot, dry, buggy summer days turns the blooms and leaves ragged and parched.

In these shots you can see my bed frame used as a trellis for phlox and an old plow converted into a plant pot holder  I love using found objects (or ones bought at auction) and I'm excited about how they add to the garden this year.  The white metal chair did not have a seat but I found a microwave plate at Goodwill that fit perfectly.  The white "pot" to on the left is an old metal tire rim, now filled with chard. I have three planted and they are working perfectly. I am also using Grow Bags for my tomatoes. In Virginia, soil fungus makes growing healthy tomatoes difficult. You are supposed to rotate the tomatoes into fresh soil to thwart the fungus. This is my attempt, since my vegetable garden is small. We'll see how it works.  Lastly, here's a shot of peas, lettuce, basil and zucchini. All are thriving but I know Japanese beetles, dry weeks, stink bugs and borers are lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce.  How are your gardens this year? I'd love to hear if you've tried anything new or experimented with yard art!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Five

                                                           by Laura Crum

            I was in my early thirties when I decided to train my nine year old cutting horse to be a team roping head horse. Never mind that Gunner was solid in his role as a cutter and that being a head horse required completely different skills. Never mind that I had never trained a horse to be a competitive team roping horse before. I was sure that I could get this done. (Are you beginning to see a pattern here? See Parts One, Two, Three and Four.)
            I started showing up at the practice roping on my cutting horse, and swinging a rope. All I can say is I don’t recommend this approach. Gunner was (of course) afraid of the rope and he had been taught to move sideways (hard) when a cow even flinched, rather than chase it and provide a steady platform to throw a rope from, and he was, above all else, a big spook. I had never been good at ball sports and roping is very much about hitting a target. The gear is completely different from the tack/gear used in cutting, the position in the saddle is completely different, the way you hold the reins, the amount of contact…I could go on and on. The two events had NOTHING in common other than both involved cattle and western saddles. Seriously.
            In short we were totally lame. So bad that my uncle took pity on me and said he would train Gunner to be a rope horse, while I practiced throwing the rope at what is affectionately known as a roping “dummy.” I had to learn to rope the horns before I was going to be able to teach my horse to be a rope horse.
            Well, it sounded like a good plan. My uncle was a heeler, and once we had gotten Gunner somewhat used to the whirling ropes, my uncle tried to make a heel run on him. Gunner was willing to chase the cow, and when the header turned the steer my very cowy horse stayed right with the animal. My uncle stood up to throw the rope, the steer scooted to the left, and Gunner moved hard and fast to the left, as a good cutting horse should do. But cutters ride sitting deep in the saddle and team ropers must stand in the stirrups to throw the rope with force. Just try riding a cutting horse while standing in the stirrups…I dare you. My uncle landed flat on the ground. But he wasn’t discouraged.
            The next afternoon we went back to the arena and again my uncle tried to heel on Gunner. Same result. The next afternoon, again, the same. (I’m actually not kidding.) But this third time my uncle picked himself up off the ground, led Gunner over to me, and said, “I’m never riding this horse again.” And he didn’t.
            So it was back to square one. Fortunately my friend Wally was game to give a try at helping me train Gunner, and we discovered that Gunner was a lot more “stable” when he was on the header’s side. Within six months I was heading cattle at the practice arena on Gunner and having a fine time.  And Gunner was doing great. This kind and talented horse had allowed me to train him to do three different (and very demanding events), none of which I knew how to do when I set out to train him. Again, I don’t recommend this approach. Gunner was (and is—he’s 33 and munching hay happily in his corral on my property as I type this) an exceptional horse. Here we are heading a steer for my friend Sue’s dad, Bob.

            In order to help me progress as a roper, Wally let me rope on his good horse, Flanigan. And here, for the first time in my life, I discovered how much EASIER it is to learn a horse event when I was not trying to teach the horse the event at the same time. Because Flanigan knew his job and he did not need my help. All I had to do was my own part and Flanigan would do the rest. He was a wonderful horse and I fell completely in love with him. Here I am on Flanigan turning a steer for my friend Sue (riding Pistol) at the local jackpot roping.

            So life was good. I enjoyed roping; it was affordable and not political. I bought a half interest in Flanigan, and I had Gunner and Flanigan to compete on every weekend. My whole life was arranged around roping…I thought of nothing but the next practice and the next competition. (I’m sure all my friends who are passionate about endurance, dressage, eventing…etc will grasp this mind set, if not the team roping event itself.) I started training young horses for Wally and my uncle Todd—getting them started as rope horses. I bought a three year old colt for myself (Plumber) and broke him and began training him to be a rope horse. I’d known Plumber since he was born, so this was a special project for me. (Baby Plumber and his mom, Bucky).

            To top this off, I finally achieved another long held dream. A major New York publisher, St Martins Press, bought my mystery novel featuring an equine veterinarian and set in the cutting horse world (Cutter). I had always wanted to be a published author and now I was one. In short order I sold the second book in the series (Hoofprints—about reined cowhorses) and the third (Roughstock—about team roping.)

            I was able to buy a piece of land and began to develop it into a horse property. Everything was going well—or seemed to be, anyway. But life had a few twists in store for me. (To be continued.)

PS—Click on the book titles to find the very affordable Kindle versions of the first three books in my mystery series. Cutter and Hoofprints are currently on special for 99 cents each, and Roughstock is just $2.99.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Life With Horses--Part Four

                                               by Laura Crum

            So at this point I had two horses-- my ranch horse, Burt, and my expensive new three year old colt, Gunner. I was twenty-six years old and working for minimum wage for a well known reined cowhorse trainer, and I could barely afford to own one horse, let alone two. But the trainer was so impressed with Gunner that he offered to board and train the colt for free if I would let him show the horse. That’s how talented Gunner was.
            There was just one slight problem with this program. And it was that I could not bear to let the trainer torture Gunner.
            I had seen first hand how hard the three year olds were pushed to make them competitive at the Snaffle Bit Futurity and I didn’t want to do this to my colt. I had about had a bellyful of seeing horses pushed too hard in order to win…on all fronts.
            So in a fit of anger, sensible or not, I quit the trainer and took Gunner home—to get him ready to show at the Snaffle Bit Futurity all by myself.
            This was a pretty unrealistic concept. I had never shown at the Snaffle Bit before and I had never trained a horse to be a successful reined cowhorse. But I had ridden for the big time cowhorse trainer for all of a year, and I thought I knew enough. Remember, I was twenty-six years old.
            So I loaned Burt to a ranching family that I knew, and I spent all my time and all my money training Gunner. I practiced with my colt at our family ranch. Here we are, cutting cattle.

            I took lessons from trainers as I could afford it. And I rode Gunner every single day (poor thing). He was a really talented horse and I made a lot of progress with him. But he was still a homemade horse and I was very green at showing. Virtually every other non-pro at the Snaffle Bit Futurity was on a professionally trained horse and had many more years of experience than I had. So I’m actually proud to say that we placed in the non-pro and the ladies division. I didn’t win enough to earn back my entry fees and I made some dumb mistakes, but overall we did OK. However, the whole experience really soured me on the reined cowhorse business.
It was just too hard on the horses and too political, and I thought (I believe rightly) that I wasn’t ever going to be much of showman, especially in the reining part of the contest. If I didn’t have a cow to focus on, I wasn’t happy. So I took up cutting instead, and began hauling Gunner to cutting competitions.
By this time I was working for a well known cutting horse trainer, and I knew quite a bit more about training a horse to be a cutting horse than I had known about training one to be a reined cowhorse. I hauled Gunner to all the small local cuttings that I could. Sometimes we did pretty well. But almost every time I went to a larger show we bombed.
Obviously the competition was tougher. But there was something else, too. Whenever I pulled into the parking lot of one of these bigger shows, I was the ONLY half-ton pickup towing a two-horse trailer in the entire parking lot (older pickup with a shabby old two horse trailer, at that). I am not kidding. Every other rig was a shiny dually towing an equally shiny multi-horse trailer, many with living quarters. By which you can see the difference between my degree of wealth and that of the other participants.
Cutting is a rich man’s sport. There are a number of reasons for this. Cutting horses are expensive, cattle are expensive, entries at a cutting are expensive. But there’s more to it than that. Cutting is one of the few horse sports where you really CAN buy your way in. A rich man can buy a well-trained cutting horse, he can keep it in training with a good cutting horse trainer, he can take the occasional lesson, and he can climb on that horse at a show and have his trainer coach him through a run…and he can win the class. Unlike the reined cowhorse world, you can be a pretty poor rider (by which I mean you could never survive going down the fence or manage to cue a horse for a good sliding stop), and still ride a polished cutting horse who knows his job and—with a little coaching—perform pretty damn well. And thus, the cutting horse world is populated by a lot of VERY rich people who don’t actually ride very well. But boy do they have nice horses.
When I showed up at the bigger cuttings, not only did I usually have the only “humble” rig in the parking lot, I was frequently the only non-pro on a homemade horse. Every other non-pro kept his/her horse in training with a professional trainer, who was there to tune the horse up and coach the non-pro through his/her run. As you can imagine, I seldom beat these people. Partly because the professionally trained horses were more solid than Gunner overall, and the other non-pros were usually far more experienced at showing. But there was another element in play.
I had taken up cutting not only because it was easier on the horse than cowhorse, but also because I thought the judging was less subjective. If you lose a cow, you get marked down a specific number of points. Same for switching a cow, or bumping the bit…etc. A judge cannot just let any horse he likes win a class. But…if two horses both have clean runs and neither gets a whole lot more accomplished than the other, well, a judge marks them higher or lower as he pleases. I did occasionally have a pretty good run, but guess what? It wasn’t often marked high enough to win. And there’s a reason for this.
The judges were usually trainers. They all knew each other, they all knew the rich clients who typically circulated around from trainer to trainer. They knew who had money and was worth cultivating because some day that person might put a horse in training with that judge. They knew if they marked a trainer friend’s client high enough to win a class that trainer friend might return the favor. So if a non-pro with no money and no trainer has a run that’s more or less the equal of a non-pro who is the wealthy client of well known trainer, who do you suppose will get marked higher? And yes, it does work like that. Not all the time, but a lot of the time.
So I placed a little and won the occasional class at a smaller show and collected some trophy buckles and headstalls, but I began to find cutting frustrating. I’ve already explained about the judged element and how political it was, but there were other things. There weren’t many local cuttings near me—I usually had to haul at least three hours (one way) to get to an event. The entries were very expensive, several hundred dollars per class at a large show. In order to practice effectively, one needed access to fresh cattle, and no matter how you attempted to arrange this, it was expensive (believe me I know all about this). And finally, except when you are actually showing, or watching someone else have a good run, cuttings are like watching paint dry. An endless amount of sitting around while the herd is being settled and the arena is being drug for the occasional few seconds of brilliance on the part of a good horse, and one’s own two and a half minute run, which was frustrating as often as it turned out rewarding. I just plain got burnt out on it.
And finally, I had progressed as far as I thought I was going to go on Gunner at this sport. Gunner was a solid cutting horse. Two local trainers had told me he was a good horse and I had done a good job on him…but he wasn’t going to get any better unless I let a trainer ride him. One trainer had offered to train and show him for free (he obviously liked Gunner) if I would pay his entry fees. One trainer had offered me $10,000 for Gunner for a wealthy non-pro client who wanted a gentle all around horse that he could win the occasional cutting on. And every single trainer told me that if I wanted to improve and “go on” at cutting, I needed to move on to a different horse. A smaller, cattier, fancier kind of horse. But I didn’t want to sell Gunner. And I was getting tired of the politics and logistics of this rich man’s sport.
So in Gunner’s nine-year-old year I resolved that my last cutting would be our local county fair. And what do you know? We marked a 72 and a half (about like an A-) and won the class. I got a big fancy buckle and that was our last cutting event. Here we are, winning the county fair cutting.

But Gunner’s career wasn’t over. Far from it. The poor horse was bred to be a reined cowhorse, and he was pretty damn successful as a cutter, considering that I trained him myself every step of the way. But all my friends at this time were team ropers, and team roping is timed rather than judged (no politics—yay!), and boy howdy does it move along compared to cutting, and the entry fees are SO MUCH cheaper. Not to mention that my uncle had a practice arena where my friends roped together twice a week. And so I decided that I would train my long suffering horse to do yet another event. He was about to become a team roping head horse. (To be continued.)

Parts One, Two and Three of this story are here.

And if you would like to read a more colorful description/rendition of the cutting horse world than I can provide in a blog post, complete with the driven trainers, wealthy clients and amazing horses that I knew (names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, of course), try my first mystery novel, Cutter, on sale as a Kindle edition for 99 cents. Click on the title to find the book.