Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Riding and Reading

                                                by Laura Crum

            Now that I’m finally done with the long saga of “My Life With Horses” (everybody heaves a sigh of relief), I thought I’d catch you up on what I’ve been doing lately. For those few who might be interested, I will collect the “My Life With Horses” posts into a brief memoir, which will (eventually) be up on Kindle.
            So, lately we’ve been riding (no big surprise there). Our old friend and boarder, Wally, has recovered from his knee surgery and is back to riding and roping. Here he is on the trail with my son, as they give their horses a breather climbing up the big hill. Wally turns eighty in a week or so, so his fast and uneventful recovery from knee surgery is both impressive and inspiring (to me, anyway, and perhaps to all of us older riders).

            I love riding this dirt road through the redwood forest in the summer. The shade under the trees feels like a drink of cool water on a hot day, and the dappled light is lovely. The road climbs, sometimes steeply, sometimes gradually, until it reaches the top of the ridge. It is private land where we have permission to ride and we seldom see anyone else.

            My son and Henry as we ride along the ridgeline. 

            Riding single track trail through the forest on the way home. My “ear photos” are pretty predictable. Beach photos in the winter and the forest trails in the summer. Riding through the redwoods is strictly a summertime pleasure—its dark, dank and muddy under the trees from the first major rain until it dries out sometime in late spring. So I ride here as much as I can in the summertime, when it is absolutely magical. Lately we’ve been up here a couple of times a week.

            Sunny and Henry, our very relaxed trail horses. They are just the best.

            We’re also riding at the roping arena with our friends a couple of days a week. My son helps bring up the cattle with our friend Mark.

            Henry gets to chase a steer.

            Wally’s first run post surgery. Mark heading, Wally heeling on Twister. And yes, Wally roped two feet.

            So that’s my current summer riding life. And then, there’s reading. “What are you reading right now?” People ask me this, in real life and on the internet. And on this blog we often talk about our favorite “horse books,” (not just our own books). Right now I am reading a couple of lovely novels that were recommended by my friend Funder (at “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” over on the sidebar). In my family we read aloud to each other after dinner (we don’t own a TV) and these are the books I’m reading to my husband and son this summer (having read them previously myself).
            “The Hero and the Crown” and “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley are our summer reading fare, and they are truly delightful. Both books are fantasy, about an imaginary land called Damar. Being fantasy, everything, from people to horses to other critters, is a bit bigger than life. The people are heroic (or really dastardly) and the critters, including the horses, are a bit more noble than your average real life horse. (And lets face it, we don’t meet many real life dragons.) Nonetheless, the horses ARE believable in their context as war horses; Robin McKinley has definitely spent a good deal of time with horses and is able to create believable equine personalities. Lovable ones, too.
            I have to say that the courage and intelligence displayed by the horses in the books remind me very much of the courage and intelligence displayed by my own horses, working cattle and climbing through rocky passes in the mountains and what not. I’m pretty sure my horses would not be up for facing off a dragon, but I have faced off a charging bull on a tough cowhorse and the equation isn’t so very different. Robin McKinley’s horses are real to me.
            I like fantasy, if its well written, and these novels are exceedingly well written. Both feature a very strong female protagonist (which I believe is this author’s specialty), and I take great pleasure in reading to my son of young women who are strong and courageous and smart and self-aware (he loved Brave—if you want a Disney equivalent), and I am hoping he will internalize this version of the ideal female.
            More than this, the descriptions of the landscape and climate of Damar are deeply evocative, and I will admit that this is perhaps my favorite part of writing—both in my own books and the books of others. I love description that can make you feel that you really ARE in the particular world of the book—the sights and scents, the chill of the air, the hot desert wind…etc. I am criticized once in awhile for too much description of landscape, plants and weather in my stories, but I have no criticism for this aspect of Robin McKinley’s books. I love it. I can picture Damar as if I’ve been there.
            There is one confusing thing about the two books. “The Blue Sword” was published first, but “The Hero and the Crown” comes first in chronological order, making it a prequel. THTC is actually set several hundred years (I think) before the time of “The Blue Sword”, which is a tiny bit confusing overall. The Damar of “The Blue Sword” bears a certain resemblance to India during the time of the Raj, and THTC doesn’t have this tinge at all, making the two stories very different in feeling. I wasn’t sure in what order I wanted to read them (to my family), but settled on THTC first, as that was the order in which I first read them myself, and is the chronological order. (Funder agreed).
            And finally, these are great books. Really exciting, really engaging. Not since I first read Tolkien and the Harry Potter series have I been so taken by a fantasy novel as I have been by these. If you’ve read them yourself, please chime in with your thoughts. And if you haven’t, well, if you like fantasy (at all) and horses, give them a try. Perfect summer reading.
            There you have it. My summer riding and reading. And I hope everybody else is having an equally happy summer, and enjoying those lovely views “between the ears.” If you have any summer reading to recommend, give it a shout out in the comments. Cheers--Laura


hammerhorses said...

Oh! I LOVE the Hero and the Crown series! <3 <3 <3 - I read them in high school 10+ years ago and I continue to come back to them for relaxing reading enjoyment. I also like "The Mountians Call" and subsequent books by Caitlin Brennan. It's about white stallions (based closely off of Lippi's, which the author owns)

Laura Crum said...

Stephanie--I WISH I had read The Hero and the Crown in high school. It would have been the perfect inspiration for me. However, I read these books for the first time this summer--thanks to Funder's recommendation. And thank you for the book recommendation. I will give it a try.

Funder said...

Oh I'm so glad you (and the family!) are enjoying them! I love all the ear pics, and I'm so glad Wally is comfortable again.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Funder. And yes, we are all enjoying the Damar books a lot. I also tried Beauty and Sunshine and though they held my interest, I didn't LOVE them the way I loved the Damar books. (I think Sunshine is the only vampire novel I ever read besides Dracula, and it will probably remain so. But for my only experience of the genre, it was engaging.) However, Robin McKinley definitely gets my vote for a wonderfully versatile author who writes great horse scenes.

And I'm glad you aren't bored of my ear pics--I love yours. Dixie has the cutest ears.

Breanna said...

I LOVE Robin McKinley! I think the first book I ever read by her was The Hero and the Crown, and I was hooked. Those are still two of her best novels, but my other favorites by her are Spindle's End and probably Chalice. I would recommend reading ALL of her books at least once though!

As far as the confusion on the different settings, the books are several hundred years apart, and during the final battle in THTC the plains/hills they lived in were destroyed and turned into the desert, which I think accounts for the scenery and also culture change. She had intended to write a third novel but never did, though there is a short story in the Water book that is set in part in Damar, and a few of her other books make reference to it (Deerskin is one).

Laura Crum said...

Thanks for the comment, Breanna. I will give your other favorite Robin McKinley books a try.

Anonymous said...

I named my grey Arab after the stallion Talat in "Hero"-if he was a chestnut he would have been named after the one in Sword. You might also like "Pegasus" which is her newest.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks for the comment Anon. Will give it a try. So many books, so little time (!)

FD said...

McKinley is a long term favourite of mine too. I too discovered Damar as a teenager - in the school library. I'd recommend Dragonhaven out of the rest of her oeuvre for reading with a bright boy - lots of interesting side alleys for discussion in it. Deerskin would strongly recommend you read first to decide if its suitable - highly accurate and effective description of recovery from trauma and beautiful elegiac writing but it would be a bit of a shock if you went into it expecting something similar to The Blue Sword.
Have you tried Diana Wynne Jones? I used to read her books to kids at summer camp - always enormously popular.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you FD. Will look into your recommendation--haven't heard of her.