Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Hoofprints" is FREE Today--Happy Halloween!

                                   by Laura Crum

            So today I have another gift for you. In honor of Halloween, my second novel, Hoofprints, is free today and tomorrow (Oct 30th and 31st) as a Kindle edition. Hoofprints features my series protagonist, veterinarian Gail McCarthy, and centers around the world of reined cowhorses. Hoofprints is rated four and a half stars on Amazon.  Click on the title to find the free edition and to read more about the book, as well as plenty of reviews.

            It occurred to me that perhaps some potential readers might wonder what credentials I have to write about about reined cowhorses and/or cutting horses. So today I thought I’d fill you in on my background in this area.
When I was in my twenties, I was obsessed with cowhorses. I went to work for several well known cowhorse and cutting horse trainers as an assistant, and I rode many, many accomplished horses in these barns, as well as helped train over a hundred young horses. I trained my good gelding, Gunner, to be first a reined cowhorse (we competed at the Snaffle Bit Futurity and placed in the Non-Pro and the Ladies Divisions), and then a cutting horse (we placed in the Non-Pro Division of the Northwest Superstakes when Gunner was four years old and went on to win numerous smaller awards, including the cutting at our local county fair). The photo below shows Gunner and me winning the cutting at the Santa Cruz County Fair when Gunner was eight years old.

            Along the way, I rubbed shoulders with some of the “greats” of both the cowhorse and the cutting horse world. We’re talking world champion trainers, incredibly wealthy clients, and some of the most talented horses you could ever imagine. I saw things that came right out of a mystery novel, from outright scams and incredible abuse, to charming sociopaths who would rip you off without a second thought. I also met some genuinely good-hearted folks who knew more about training a horse than most backyard horsemen can even imagine. I learned a lot. I saw a lot of, uhmm, colorful things. And when I began writing mystery novels at the age of thirty, I knew where I would set those novels.
            And so Cutter, my first novel, was set in the world of cutting horses. For those of you who have read the book, I can assure you that every single character and incident was based (sometimes loosely) on something I actually saw or knew about (with the exception of the murders, of course). The horses, too, are all horses I have known. Cutter is rated 4 stars on Amazon and the Kindle edition is currently just 99 cents. Click on the title to find the book, and to read more info and reviews.

            Having finished Cutter, I knew I wanted to do justice to the even more cutthroat world of reined cowhorses, with its own subset of wealthy owners and high stakes trainers. And so Hoofprints was born. Here is a brief synopsis of the book (from Amazon):

In this second installment in the Gail McCarthy series, the young vet stumbles upon two murdered bodies in the course of a routine call. When a midnight emergency turns into an attempt on her life, Gail knows she must uncover the motive before its too late. Plenty of authentic horse lore and an action packed plot from an author who spent most of her life training cowhorses and knows whereof she speaks.

            Hoofprints has always been one of the most popular titles in my mystery series. It stands well on its own, but also holds its place as the second in a twelve book series about the life of veterinarian Gail McCarthy. One of the main characters in the book is Plumber, who, in real life is a horse I bought as an unbroken three-year-old and trained myself. Plumber went on to become a winning rope horse, bringing home numerous trophy saddles and buckles and many, many paychecks. The real Plumber is very much as described in the book—a sweet, kind, willing horse who really likes people. I still own Plumber—he is 24 years old and lives here with me as a retired horse and we all give him lots of love and attention.

            Plumber as a baby, next to his mother, Bucky.

            Plumber packing my son and me—yes, I know we should have worn helmets, but Plumber packed us like this without one misstep for three years.

            Plumber today--24 years old.

            So for anyone who enjoys a good mystery and loves horses—here is a Halloween gift for you. Hoofprints will be free today and tomorrow as a Kindle edition. Get it while you can.
            Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Guest Post from Patricia Hudson

From time to time we welcome other horse authors to the blog - to share their experiences and talk about their books. Today - please welcome Patricia Hudson, author of a new book called Stolen Hearts.

When Sara learns that her beloved thoroughbred has been stolen, she relies on fellow horse trainer, Ryan, to help her locate the missing horse. As she struggles to trust Ryan's true intention, she finds out that while Ryan is helping her find her stolen horse, he has managed to steal her heart as well.

Please enjoy this post where Patricia talks about her journey toward publication:

My journey with horses started years ago; too many if I’m worried about my age. As a teenager, I watched the red and black coats flying through the valley on horseback, jumping coops, following dogs in the chase for a nonexistent fox.  In late fall, the entire town turned out to watch the cavalry games on the lawn of the quintessential mansion. Ahh, the nostalgic memories of my youth!

Fast forward to a husband and three children in the Chicago suburb of LaGrange Park. Despite a busy life and a demanding career, horses were still there, lingering in the background. My six year old caught the bug. From where is a mystery, but she had it bad. We signed her up for riding lessons at a stable we found in our suburb. Horses were back in full force, Saturday morning riding lessons and the occasional schooling show. She thrived.

Another move. This time we moved to our forever home on the outskirts of Springfield, Illinois. Was our dream finally coming true? We bought land, a farm house, and a barn; a barn to house our very own horses. It was not the home of my youth, with the green valleys and rolling hills, but it had its own charm and purpose.  Wherever I looked golden fields of wheat, rows of corn and the yellow flowers of soy beans captured my eye. I loved the land.

 Weekends were spent traveling to horse shows. Funny, when a horse is shared, the angst between mother and daughter disappears. In time, my youngest went off to college, but I had the horses to soothe me. She graduated, got married, blessed us with wonderful children and my life went on. Horses still lived in my barn. Where did I get the idea to breed my mare? Was I going through my mid-life crisis? Yes! I made arrangements to send her to a local breeding farm, the home of a World Champion.
Three hundred forty-two days later, we saw the miracle of life. We had a filly. The following year, we had our second.  As life happens, I lost my beloved broodmare, but to this day I treasure her foals. The girls are stabled in Nashville, Tennessee with my trainer. I go there often to visit. My barn may be empty, but horses will always be in my heart.

I was never a writer, there just wasn’t enough time. When I retired, I panicked. What am I going to do with my time? My children are gone, my horses are gone, and my husband leaves me every day to go to work. I was alone. It didn’t take long for me to think, I’ll write. I’ll write about strong women, horses, and the love they share. It will give me purpose, even if no one else reads it. My writing became my companion. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and hit the keys. As the story unfolded, I thought, maybe others will want to read my book? The day I sent it off to a publisher, excuse me for the cliché, I was as excited as a kid in a candy shop. My first fifty rejections broke my heart but taught me a lesson. Before you send your manuscript off, you need to polish it and polish it again.

My first book sits proudly displayed on my coffee table. Since then, I’ve written four others, all to be published in 2014. Three of them include my hero, my love, my passion, and my addiction - the horse.


Thanks so much for stopping by, Patricia, and Good Luck on your writing and publishing career!
To find Stolen Hearts on Amazon:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

FREE Book!

                                                by Laura Crum

            Since its fall, and some of us read more in the fall and winter (I know I do), I thought I’d offer a chance to start reading my mystery series featuring an equine veterinarian for free. If you like these novels, you’ll have some fun horse-themed books to read all winter long. So for the next three days you can get Cutter, the first book in the series, for free as a Kindle edition (Oct 23rd through Oct 25th). Click on the title to find the link to the free edition. And then next week you can get Hoofprints (the second book in the series) for free, starting Weds the 30th (I’ll post here about it). This will give you a good start on the 12 book series for free. You won’t have to spend a penny to see if you enjoy these novels or not.
            Of course, I’m willing to bet that you will enjoy my mystery series, especially if you enjoy this blog and my posts here. Particularly if you have horses or are interested in horses. Because my mystery novels are very much about horses, and, if you read this blog regularly, you will definitely recognize some of the horse “characters” in the books.
            The stories center around the western horse world here in California, and some of my friends from other horse disciplines and different parts of the world have said that they have really enjoyed learning about these various cowhorse events that I have competed in over the years. Horse people of all sorts can relate to trail riding through spectacular country. There is also plenty of danger, the requisite number of dead bodies, and some absolutely thrilling horseback chase scenes. The one thing I can promise you is that all the horse background is absolutely accurate, and came straight out of my forty years of owning/training/riding horses.
            Here is the one-sentence blurb for Cutter, to give you a sense for whether you might enjoy this book. “Veterinarian Gail McCarthy thought cutting horse trainer Casey Brooks was being paranoid with his stories of poisoned horses and sabotage, but when his blue roan mare returns riderless and Casey is found dead, she isn’t so sure.” For more info and to see many reviews, as well as the opportunity to get the free Kindle edition, click on the title. Cutter is rated 4 stars on Amazon.

            For those who are interested, the artwork on the cover of Cutter was based on a photo of Gunner and me cutting a cow. Gunner is 33 years old this fall, and after a setback a few weeks ago that I thought might be the end of him, he is once again doing well. Here we are fifteen years ago.

            And here is Gunner last week.

            Gunner has aged a bit, yes. And so have I. But despite being round, middle-aged and not in the best of shape (to put it kindly), I still enjoy a good gallop up the hill on my current riding horse, Sunny.

            So, please, if you have any interest in reading mysteries on Kindle, take me up on the free book offer. And next week you can collect the second book, Hoofprints, for free also (its currently only 99 cents). And then, if I’m lucky, you’ll be dying to read the rest of the series—all ten of these books are just $2.99 each as Kindle editions. The order is Roughstock, Roped, Slickrock, Breakaway, Hayburner, Forged, Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone and Barnstorming.
            Those who have read my novels, feel free to give me some reader reviews in the comments. And yes, I can take a bit of criticism as well as praise. And I deeply appreciate every kind comment— especially if you are willing to put said comment on Amazon or Goodreads as well. Not to mention the wonderful blog posts I’ve read about my books over the years. These positive reader reviews are SO important to authors nowadays. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have taken the time to do this. I very much appreciate it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's a mystery to me

By Gayle Carline
Author, Columnist, and Horse-a-holic

In addition to my Snoopy book (From the Horse's Mouth), I've written three Peri Minneopa Mysteries. I like writing this series, although it is a challenge to find an interesting crime for Peri to solve and keep each book from becoming formulaic.

More than one person has asked me, "Why don't you put horses in your books?"

Here's the problem: My stories are set in Placentia, California, which is in north Orange County and part of that big urban megalopolis that includes Los Angeles.
Not really Horse Country, USA.

A few months ago, I was trying to come up with a story for my next Peri book and banging my head on whatever wall was available, when a funny thing happened. I was at a horse show, walking down the barn aisle and I saw the tractor scooping up the used shavings we dump at the end. My murderous mind thought, hmm, what if there were boots under that pile... with feet in them?

Alas, I couldn't figure out a logical way to get a corpse under a large pile of horse show manure without attracting too much attention, but I did write a mystery set at the L.A. Equestrian Center in Burbank. I'm on the second round of edits now (there will probably be five or six rounds), but I'm sure of three things:

1. I really like it,
2. It's going to be a standalone story, and
3. I can get people to shut up about putting horses in my books.

Okay, that last one is a maybe.

Since I wanted the characters and the setting to be as far from my Peri books as possible, I decided to make this one a romantic suspense.

So far the suspense has been whether there will be any romance.

I know I need to spice things up. The question is, how hot should I make it? I don't write erotica. When I write about Peri's sex life, I let the reader know what's going to happen, then I close the door. The gal deserves her privacy. But I'm thinking that romance readers will want a lot more than what I'm offering so far.

Does anyone here read romance? Do you like it mild, medium, or on fire?

Thanks for any help you can give me.

P.S. Here's a pic of Snoopy with his cowboy hat.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Success Story

                                               by Laura Crum

            When my son was seven years old and still reeling from the recent death of his pony, I bought an older rope horse that I knew well to be my boy’s new mount, hoping to both alleviate the pain of the loss and to make sure that my child could continue riding, which he was enjoying very much. And so, six years ago this October, Henry came into our lives.
            I paid five thousand dollars for Henry, which was considered a lot for a nineteen year old retired rope horse. But I knew Henry was sound and a reliable kid’s horse. One year after I bought him, Henry colicked, and I had to send him to colic surgery to save his life. So there went another ten thousand. At this point, I had a fifteen thousand dollar kid’s horse.
            Now I am not a rich woman. My husband is not interested in horses. Neither one of us really expected that horses would become my son’s passion—my kid liked to ride in a mild way, mostly because he grew up with/on horses, and hey, riding is fun. Still, my son was in no way driven to ride and compete on horses, the way many young people are—the way I was when I was young. So there really wasn’t any obvious justification for spending fifteen thousand dollars on a horse for him.
            But I did it. And my husband approved it wholeheartedly. And it was one of the best choices I ever made.
            My son grew up riding Henry. For six straight years we rode together two or three times a week. Mostly on the trails near our home, in our riding ring, and at my uncle’s roping arena. But also on the beach and in the redwood forest and up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My little boy crossed busy roads (hundreds of times), rode steep, technical trails on multi hour loops through the hills, waded in the surf and crossed creeks, loped endless circles and galloped after recalcitrant cattle. Almost all of my riding time during these last six years has been spent escorting my son on his various horseback adventures.
            Many people assume that I did all this because I wanted my son to become a horse person like me. But this isn’t true. I wouldn’t have minded if horses had become his passion, but I didn’t expect this to happen. I didn’t even exactly WANT it. I just believe that growing up on a horse is a healthy way to learn to feel kind, empowered, and connected in a real way to the natural world. Riding horses is the number one therapy for impaired children. So how much good can riding do for any child? Also I wanted to share the joy I have always had in horses with my little boy.
            The downside of this equation is that horses are inherently dangerous. Since the era of the internet, I am able to hear about horseback disasters all over the world. It scares the shit out of me, to be honest. So many people, not always doing anything wrong, are injured and/or killed in a wreck with their horse. I tried to make good decisions, my son always wore a helmet, Henry was and is a VERY reliable horse. But I’m not dumb. Any horse can fall, there is no predicting the day you will meet an erratic driver when crossing the road, wasps can cause even the best horse to flip out, helmets do not protect you against every kind of bodily damage, including head trauma…etc. The risk is real, even when you are doing everything “right.” And I was taking this risk with my beloved only son.
            Still, I persevered. Somewhere in my heart there was trust that I was doing the right thing. And there was trust in Henry, and trust in my son. We rode together for six years straight. We did not have one wreck. We did not even come close to a wreck, in all the miles we covered during those six years. We had a LOT of fun. We saw some beautiful things.

            And now my son is a teenager. He is more interested in riding his bike and surfing on his boogie board and (sigh) video games than he is in riding. He’s also much more busy with schoolwork now that he is in a junior high homeschool program. He is still willing to ride with me, and we ride once a week or so, mostly fairly sedate (walk/trot) short rides.
            Because Henry is twenty-five this year, this reduced program seems to fit him, too. He doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for loping circles any more. But he is still sound, and is always eager to be caught, meeting us at the gate every time. I have no idea how much longer he’ll be able to be a riding horse, but we will keep riding him lightly as long as it seems to suit him, and as long as my son is willing to climb aboard his horse. And when Henry doesn’t want to be ridden any more, his home with us is secure for the rest of his life.
            Even if my son never rides much in his adult life, I consider this to be an incredibly successful horse story. We have shared so much joy together, and my son’s experiences of horses, and the lovely places we have ridden, have been virtually entirely positive. What price could you ever put on that?
            My take home message is this: Buy that older solid horse for your child, or for yourself, if you are a beginner. There is no way you can over-value the peace of mind that comes with riding a steady trooper. And the price of that horse is a good deal less than the bill for emergency medical treatment is likely to be. Let alone the emotional trauma. Horses like Henry are worth their weight in gold.
            Henry and my thirteen-year-old son last weekend—a real success story.

            Does anybody else have a “Henry?” If so, I’ll bet you can attest to how valuable these solid equine citizens truly are. And please, please, from the bottom of my heart-- when these great older horses are past their useful working life, don’t just pass them on, hoping they’ll get a good home. Take care of them, and give back to them for all the good things they’ve given you. I honestly think it is truly evil to sell/rehome a good older not-quite-sound horse, never knowing what becomes of him. Because they so often end up in terrible situations. (I do agree that finding a suitable home can be OK—if you keep track of the horse and are willing to take him back if the home doesn’t work out.) If any horses are deserving of a peaceful, happy retirement, it is the “Henries” of this world. My gratitude to our own Henry is boundless, and it is my pleasure to give him a happy home until he is ready to let go of life.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Too Many Horses?

by Linda Benson

I've been reading the horse classified ads since I was a small girl dreaming of my own horse. It's a long-instilled habit many decades old, and although I'm not currently in the market for a horse, I still read them daily, although mostly in online format now. I will probably still know the price of horses, and dream about which ones I'd like to own and ride, when I'm in a nursing home someday. Hey - it's in my blood.

But never in my entire life have I been so appalled at the amount of nice-looking horses that people are having trouble finding homes for, even at the price of "free." It's scary and disheartening.

We can talk long and hard about the slaughter issue. I, like many of you, believe that slaughtering horses for meat, at least in the way it is done right now, is wrong. But we all know (or we ought to be aware of) that hundreds of thousands of horses pass through auction houses each year, and are loaded onto trucks and shipped to Canada or Mexico to meet that fate. At this very moment, there are no slaughter plants open in the U.S., although there are people on both sides of the conflict looking to either open them, or close them down in a more permanent fashion.

But what can we, as the horse-loving folks that read this blog, actually do about what I see as the over-abundance of horses available right now? Can we just put our heads together for a minute?

Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, there are lots of gorgeous green pastures and many horses standing out to pasture. Very few of them, I believe, are actually ridden very often. Horses are, of course, quite beautiful to look at and be around, and many people keep them just for that reason. Until something changes in their lives and they can no longer afford to feed them or have no place for them. Then, that lovely horse is in trouble, unless it's been ridden lately and is gentle and well-trained. And so many of them aren't!

The horses that I see in online classified ads that are having trouble selling are the ones that:
a) are not trained at all
b) are trained, but have not been ridden in awhile so it's hard to diagnose how well they behave
c) are young stock, often registered, that are kept until they are 2-4 years old, at which time the owners have a lot of money in them, but no saddle training
d) are TBs off the track, or Arabians, or something else a little hot-blooded that needs a good rider and a sensitive hand
e) are old horses age 20+ who are past their prime
f) are stud colts that have not been gelded.

And from my point of view, I see a lack of trainers, owners, horse-traders,or qualified horse-people with the time or money to continue on with these horses and make them ready for the average novice horse owner. And so they sit, and the price comes down and down, until they are offered for free or perhaps hauled to an auction and an unknown fate.

So if this is the problem, then what is the solution? I've seen a couple of things happening to address these problems and I applaud them.

One is low-cost gelding clinics. I've heard of these in several different states, where veterinarians and other volunteers hold a clinic to provide gelding (of some of those stud colts) at a very reasonable price. Still, this means that the owner must haul the horse to the clinic, which means they have to have a trailer and the horse has to load. But it's a great idea!

I've also heard of low-cost or free euthanasia clinics. There is a horse rescue in Northern California called Horse Plus Humane Society, and I believe they will take any horse that is surrendered to them and try to find it a home, or put it down if it is suffering. This is a wonderful option for owners who have come to end of their ropes and don't want to have their horse go for slaughter.

What about over-breeding? Are there too many horses being bred today, for the jobs required of them? I was actually horrified recently when I noticed an ad from a horse rescue, which had a 16-year old registered AQHA mare available they had saved from starvation, and they were advertising her as a prospective broodmare. Really?? Isn't that just contributing to the problem? Just because something has "papers" doesn't mean it should be bred. I happen to love Quarter Horses and Paints, but I see way too many of them floating around, unbroke and unrideable, but people keep them and assume they are worth a lot because they are valuable "breeding stock."

I saw a column recently discussing this overabundance of horses where it was proposed that horse owners have a license to breed, and only so many horses could be produced. This seems rather harsh, but how else can we keep people from breeding too many horses when there are not enough homes for them?

Another positive solution, which I touched on in my recent post called Mentoring, is to help develop a love for horses in the younger generation. Pass down your skills. Help that young (or older) horse lover learn to ride. This is one way we can provide homes for what I see as an overabundance of horses right now.

Who else has any good, positive ideas to address this problem? I know we can rail away all day long at what we think is the problem (racehorse overload, backyard breeders) but in my mind, the surplus of horses today (and what is happening to them) is akin to that of the fate of war horses after World Wars l and ll, as well the work horses on our farms after tractors became readily available in the 1940's. It's a crying shame. But we, as horse lovers, need to be concerned, to talk about it, and to take action.

Do you really need to breed your gorgeous mare? (Will the resulting foal be assured of a caring home for 25+ years?) Do you really need to breed your registered stud colt, even though he has (insert famous horse here) in his bloodlines?

What positive things have you heard of, or been a part of, in your community to help solve the issue of Too Many Horses? Let's put our heads together. Let us know!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beware of Horse Gurus

                                    by Laura Crum

            And especially beware of horse trainers who think they are gurus. You know, the sort that imply that somehow their wonderfully in depth understanding of a horse (in their own opinion) makes them enlightened in all aspects of life. If you study these folks closely, by the way, their own lives are usually a train wreck. And the biggest red flag of all? It’s when the horse trainer/guru states oh-so-publicly that ego has nothing to do with what said trainer is proclaiming/doing. These folks are the most ego-driven of the lot.
            This is so obvious that I would think it would go without saying, and yet over and over again people are sucked in and deceived by these self-proclaimed “gurus,” whether in the horse world or the spiritual world. People, wake up! Those who know don’t talk much, and those who are busy telling everybody how wise they are don’t usually know much. This is a good rule of life, in any discipline.
            So the other night I went to a party at which several horse people were present. There is a reason I don’t often go to parties, and it was demonstrated to me this particular evening. I was just returning from the bar with a weak gin and tonic in my hand, when I got sucked into a conversation with a friend. And before I quite knew what happened, several other people joined the group and I found myself listening to a local horse trainer expound about a recent disaster.
            I’ve known this horse trainer for years—let’s call her Trainer Jane (not her real name). At this point she’s a somewhat stout middle-aged woman (like me), who has her assistants do most of the riding—and all of the difficult riding. Jane mostly gives lessons to beginners these days. And even in her prime, she was not quite the great hand with a horse that she would have you think. She has no particular claim to have done well in the show ring, or really, anywhere at all. But to hear her tell it she is a horse guru. A completely egoless horse guru. Yeah, right.
            There wasn’t as easy route out of this group, so I listened to Jane’s story. All about a horse she supposedly broke and trained and made a nice riding horse out of, then sold to someone who essentially got bucked off and hurt badly. Jane’s take on this was just enthralling some of her fans, who stood near her.
            Jane was oh-so-nobly blaming herself for this catastrophe, but not in the obvious way. Oh no. It was not that Jane had failed to get the horse properly broke…of course not. It was that only Jane had the skills to work with this hot horse. The new owner, his trainer, his friends (all competent horsemen), were just not up to the task. Jane blamed herself for selling the horse to people who clearly weren’t horse guru enough to handle the critter. Only Jane was competent to deal with this horse.
            At this point I was rolling my eyes...but I kept my mouth shut. What I would have liked to have said was this: “It’s a common problem. Horse trainer essentially steals a ride on a difficult horse, and the horse looks pretty broke, but it isn’t. Horse trainer sells the horse to someone who isn’t expecting to have to steal a ride (and in western horse lingo “stealing a ride” means doing everything just-so in order to prevent a difficult horse from acting up), and the horse comes unglued and does something violent. One of the first things I learned when I worked as an assistant to some pretty effective horse trainers is that you don’t steal a ride. Good horse trainers sort out what a horse has really got—they don’t just ‘get by’ the horse. That’s asking for exactly the kind of disaster that actually happened.”
            But of course, if I had said this, Jane would have become unglued and totally defensive. In her view it was not that she had failed to train the horse effectively—it was rather that others (including quite competent trainers) just didn’t have Jane’s horse guru skills. In the past I have seen exactly how hostile so-enlightened Jane becomes when her methods or thinking, or her all-wise guru stance is questioned in any way. So I didn’t say anything. And I rather quickly found a way to wiggle out of that group and rejoin my husband and son for a game of pool. Problem solved.
            Except it bugs me. The horse world is so full of these people who are constantly posturing about their amazing horse training prowess—in the same breath in which they proclaim themselves free of ego. Does anybody else see the huge contradiction in this? The basic underlying message is always “I know more about horses than anyone around me…and by the way, there is no ego involved here.” To top it off, usually the individual’s actual track record with horses (let alone people) isn’t all that great. I find this both irritating and a huge disservice to all the beginners that get taken in by these “horse gurus.” Pose as wise and knowledgeable, and hey, presto, the naïve newcomers to the horse world who honestly want to learn will assume that you ARE wise and knowledgeable, and never stop to take a look at what this so knowledgeable trainer has actually managed to accomplish with horses in his/her lifetime. Or even consider what a train wreck this person’s life has been. These horse gurus are feeding their egos and their pocketbooks on the admiration of those who are relatively ignorant about horses, without really doing much to deserve it. Believe me, I have seen this over and over again.
            I know, it’s no skin off my own back. I’ve been around the block, and I’m not going to have my chain jerked by a guru of any sort, horse themed or otherwise. I imagine many of you who are reading this feel the same. But do you, like me, find it just a tad bit offensive when you are faced with this particular brand of hypocrisy?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ebb and Flow of Life

                                    by Laura Crum

            Lately I have had conversations with women, both on the internet and in real life, who are sad because they no longer have a passion to pursue their activity of choice, be it horses or aikido or writing or what have you. The reasons vary—some women have gone through a traumatic event and just never could get back into their former activity, sometimes due to fear, sometimes due to depression and grief. Others have had life changes that forced them to work hard at full time jobs and they are just too tired to put much energy or emotion into the pursuit that they used to love. Still others have recently had a baby and discovered, just as I discovered myself, that it is very hard to pursue a sport/activity while raising a nursing child, especially if one also has a job. Others have health issues that make it impossible for them to ride (or train) the way they used to. Whatever the reason, the prevalent emotion is often sadness and a feeling of letdown, sometimes frustration, often guilt. So today I thought I’d talk about this.
            I have been through these ebbing periods in my life with horses—several times, for different reasons. And I find myself, this fall, once again in this place. Unlike other times, when I was younger, and felt somewhat aghast, this time it feels natural. I don’t have resistance, more like acceptance. Because after six years of pretty much non-stop trail riding with my son, this lovely autumn we’re not drawn to head out on the horses.
            The reason? I dunno, to be honest. My son is thirteen and has other interests. My own desire to explore our local trails has sort of run its course. I rode (and mapped) every trail that we could access from our home; rode the main loops hundreds of times over a six year period. During this time houses were built and the access to some of these trails was closed—which was somewhat discouraging. But some of the loops are still open. The last time I rode our “usual” loop to the Lookout was this summer and I found myself with a slight “been there done that” emotion. I haven’t been back up on the ridge since then.
            Our horses are all getting older. Lately we have been exercising Sunny and Henry lightly in the riding ring here at home a couple of days a week. I’m riding Sunny bareback—just for fun and because I strained a muscle in my shoulder and lifting the heavy roping saddle onto the horse hurts. So I piddle around on my little gold horse, and my son helps his twenty-five year old Henry to stretch his legs…and that’s it. It feels good to be horseback in the fall sunshine. And yet both of us are not currently drawn to do more with our horses.
            The thing is, this isn’t a problem. It is only a problem if I think we “ought” to do more. And there is no ought. Maybe because I’m older and I’ve been through these cycles before, I can readily accept the fact that I’m not motivated to ride much right now. I still love my horses; my heart lifts every day as I walk down the hill to feed and see them watching me with pricked ears and eager neighs. There is no part of me that doesn’t want them in my life. Right now my oldest horse, Gunner, is going through a rough patch, and my big priority in my “horse time” is being with Gunner, letting him out to graze and just rubbing on him and telling him how much I love him. This is what I’m currently drawn to do—and I’m OK with that.
            So, for me, these “ebb” periods in my life with horses are both natural and not an issue. I may return to a more vigorous horse life…and I may not. Either way is OK. I’m pretty sure that my son and I will see a few more views like this between the ears.

            But at the moment, this is what we are doing on this same lovely beach (my son catching a wave on his boogie board).

            Both are good.

            And hanging out in the barnyard with Gunner is good, too.

            Right now I’m planning to build a garden pool. I’ve got a few writing projects on tap. I’m enjoying my bareback “pony rides” on Sunny. My son is engaging in new activities and I think that’s good. I’m accepting that my riding life is in an “ebb” period. And so, for me, this is not sad or frustrating or guilt creating. It just is.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Day in the Life of a So "Not" Famous Author

When I began writing some 800 years ago, I yearned passionately for getting published, selling tons of books, earning rave reviews (and lots of money), winning awards and becoming famous--not J.K. Rowling famous, but famous for writing quality books for kids that flew off the shelf, created lines at author signings and got me invited to speak at big deal conferences.  Well, 800 years later, I can heartily say that a little bit of that dream came true. I have written and published over 60 quality books for kids that have gotten good reviews. The rest of the dream? Never realized -- but the great thing is at this point, I don't even yearn for it--even a teeny bit.

I am still writing and publishing.  Darling Mercy Dog of World War I just came out. I am super-proud of this book and hope it does get in the hands of readers and that it does earn some great reviews.
But no longer do I yearn for it. I love the book and poured time, energy and passion  into it. It is a great story about the mercy dogs that helped rescue the wounded during the hellish battle of Messines in Belgium. As always, Peachtree Publishers did a quality job creating it, and the illustrator, Michael G. Montgomery, did a fabulous job on the cover and interior art. But tons of sales and rave reviews? Nope. Blog tour? One reviewer so far. Conferences? Not going. Author tour? Too old.  School visits? Ditto on the too old. Lots of money? Still keeping the part time day job. I DO hope to have a drawing for a free copy in time for Christmas, and yup, if any of you want to review the book on his/her blog, please see below about emailing me and I will send you one.

Anyway, in lieu of telling you what a famous, hard working, still-yearning author does, I'll bore you with the day of a not-so-famous but still hanging in there author.

7:00 am. Get up after being awake for an hour because when you  get older it's harder to sleep through the night even though you do not have little kids.

7:01 walk dogs

7:15 Feed dogs and me and read paper.

8:00 Walk dogs again (longer), feed horses, put on fly masks etc.

8:45  Check email and Ebay -- did anything sell? do I need to ship? Why isn't anyone bidding on that great oyster tin?

9:15 Clear desk--again. Put in load of wash. Water plants on steps. Get ready for real job (not writing, antiquing, ebaying or procrastinating--those are not REAL jobs).

10:00 -- 11:45 teach students who are disinterested in writing and reading

12:00  -- walk dogs again. Lunch. Check ebay and email. No bids yet????

1:00 -- answer questions for a blog interview.

1:30 -- Answer email to editor about next book and topic. Possible pub date 2015. Seems like a long way            off, but I need a concept by Jan. 2014.

2:00 -- kill stinkbugs on the porch. There are thousands.

2:20  -- take new stuff into Verona Antique Mall  booth--check sales. Get depressed.

3:30 -- stop by Goodwill because, well, it's THERE and right on the way.
Me thinking about dinner, not writing.

4:30 -- take dogs for a walk. Take masks off horses. Brush horses, clean water trough and think about what to cook for dinner.  Feed dogs.

5:00 - work on the end of chapter six of Murphy Gold Rush Dog.

6:30 -- husband and daughter want to know what's for dinner. What? It's dinnertime? Why is there no time to write???

8:00 write blog post for Equestrian Ink.

10:00 Walk dogs. Bedtime. Toss and turn because book deadline is coming up and I am only on  CHAPTER SEVEN.

So there it is--the real life of an author. Next post I will be giving away a copy of Darling. And let me know below if you would like a review copy. If so, you can email me at alisonatalisonhartbooksdotcom. I'd love to  get someone besides my editor to read it!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Hardest Choice

                                                by Laura Crum

            We all face it if we love our animals. When to let them go? I am facing this now with my beloved 33 year old horse, Gunner. I wrote in my last post that he was getting steadily lamer and the Previcox wasn’t controlling the pain any more. But he was still eating well, playful, alert…etc.
            The day after I put up that post (Monday) I went down to the barn in the morning to feed and Gunner was in a state. Agitated, sweaty, pacing, not interested in his equine senior food (which he has been scarfing every day). I spent a lot of time with him and came to the conclusion that he wasn’t colicked (turned out this was right) and that I thought that he had somehow aggravated his painful knee. Maybe he fell, maybe had trouble getting up, who knows?
            Gunner couldn’t get comfortable. And Gunner’s response to pain is agitation. So he paced, or rather hobbled around. I grazed him and he ate a little, I called the vet, who said to watch him. I watched him all day (and petted him and grazed him). He paced. He never ate his equine senior food. He nibbled hay. He shifted from foot to foot, unable to be comfortable in any position. This was all completely different from the day before, when he had been lame but cheerful, with an unimpaired appetite. Something had changed in a big way. At the end of the day I decided he was just too uncomfortable. He could not live like this. Rather than call the vet that night, I gave Gunner two grams of bute, on the off chance that he might seem much better in the morning.
            I checked him before I went to bed and at midnight. He was much less lame, but still agitated and pacing. The next morning (yesterday) I had the vet out first thing. I meant to put Gunner down. I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want him to be in pain. At 33 years old I didn’t think I ought to put him through any pointless suffering. It wasn’t as if I could cure his bad knee.
            But Gunner looked a lot better than he had the day before. Still lame, still uncomfortable, but not agitated. Nickered at me to come get him, ears up. Still not interested in his senior food, but going after his hay with some enthusiasm. The vet and I watched him and checked him out and basically agonized, but neither of us felt right about putting down such a bright-eyed old horse. So we didn’t.
            We both agreed it would be soon. Maybe even days, not weeks. But the vet thought I should try him on a regular dose of bute and see how he did. Both the vet and I share the belief that euthanasia goes more smoothly if the animal is really ready to let go of life—and Gunner wasn’t sending that message.
            So now its one day at a time…and I worry endlessly. I graze Gunner and pet Gunner and watch him and bute him and I know it won’t be long now. I don’t want him to suffer. But I don’t want to end his life before he’s ready to let go of it. As long as his eye is bright and he shows enthusiasm for hay and grazing it seems to me he’s still enjoying life at least a little. The weather is currently lovely. The bute has made Gunner more comfortable. I know he probably will have to be put down before winter. Any day may be the day that I decide he’s in too much pain now. I’m just trying to find the line between too soon and too late. And trying to find that line is the hardest choice of all.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sifting through memories

by Natalie Keller Reinert

As a writer, I think I've made it pretty clear: I follow that old saying write what you know with great faith! I try to portray every place I write about as realistically as possible; I think about training techniques, tack, and even which side of the stall the hay-net is hung from while I'm typing away.

Every now and then I use a term someone doesn't like (famously, the reader who took me to task for the common racetrack usage of the word ankle instead of fetlock, claiming that I clearly didn't know a thing about horses if I thought they had ankles) and more than once I've used language some people don't like - but I can't help it if racetrackers swear! And let's face it, the backside isn't the only equestrian spot with some salty language!

But I stand behind everything I write, because I've lived it. And as I'm working on new projects, specifically Turning for Home, the third Alex & Alexander racetrack novel, and Ambition, a novel about an event rider, I'm always sifting through my memories from more than twenty years of a horse-crazy life, looking for some mad thing I've done or seen or heard. Sometimes I even go through old entries from Retired Racehorse, looking for reminders of my exercise rider days or training my last OTTB, Final Call.

Today I found a favorite: The Break From the Gate. It would eventually, trimmed and prettied up, become a piece in Practical Horseman, but this original blog post was written just a few hours after my first time in a starting gate.

So I thought I'd share it here, as teaching a horse starting gate manners is the number one item on my writer's brain this morning.

The Break From the Gate - Retired Racehorse

I have to confess, a month ago, going into the starting gate was the farthest thing from my mind.
One of those things best left to professionals. You know, the hardened types with the gnarled fingers from clutching reins four hours a day, seven days a week, for untold decades. I was having a nice time and all, and surprising myself every day, but… a starting gate?

Have you seen those things?

I’ve been in them before, actually, but just to walk babies through. With the doors open front and back. And I didn’t like it then. I’m claustrophobic, horses are claustrophobic – it’s just a bad combination, I’m thinking.

Somewhere in the past month, though, I developed a very strong desire to get into one of those terrible metal contraptions with a young, hot-tempered racehorse, and wait for the door to open so that we could burst out.

I’ve gotten crazy. That’s the only explanation.
...ME! There - in the middle! Okay not really...

I had the same anticipation to take a horse to the gate that I imagine a child has who is standing on line for their first roller coaster. It looks awful, it looks like a terrible decision, but I just had to do it.
All the cool kids go to the starting gate, right?

So this morning I took out a horse for a jog around the track and, when we came back to the chute, turned down the chute instead of heading back to the barn. She immediately knew what was up. Most horses were walking decorously around behind the gate, just as they would before a race. My horse? Oh no. Sideways. She’s – um – excitable. It would annoy me more than it does if she wasn’t so thrillingly competitive. She isn’t meaning to misbehave – she just has so much heart that she truly can’t contain herself. There’s a lot to be said for that, and it has to overcome a multitude of sins. Even the jigging frantic misbehavior she was throwing at me.

There’s a whole crowd of trainers and miscellaneous observers by the rail of the chute, and I hated being on display like this, mainly because I had no idea what to expect. All I could do was follow the example of the other riders. And wish I wasn’t on the only horse that was behaving like a complete fool. Finally, someone called that we were next. I rode up to the gate with serious misgivings, just like that kid must feel when he finally gets to the head of the line, and sees the attendant ready to drop the safety bar over his head.

“You want to lift up your feet up really high, to avoid the padding,” the crewman told me, taking the horse’s bridle. He knew I’d never been there before – either someone had told him, or he just knew he’d never seen me before. I experimented with lifting my stirrups near the withers, as I saw jockeys do every afternoon at the races. Only – it’s really high. Try it sometime. You have to lift your heels all the way to the withers. While being led into a metal box. On a racehorse. There’s letting someone lead your horse, and then there’s ceding all control and all possibility of handling a situation yourself.

That’s going into a starting gate.

Thus terrified, we got into the gate, and the doors were closed behind me. My horse stood still, ears pricked. She wasn’t terribly experienced at the gate, but she’d been in it before. And, presumably, she’d seen other horses do it. And I assumed she’d follow the lead of the horse next to her – that is, if he had any idea what to do.

The crewman stood in front of the door – another one had clambered up next to me, and was holding the bridle. “Okay,” he said. “Whatever she does, just go with it, okay?”

“Okay,” I breathed.

He opened the gate.

There was no bell, no bursting open with a cessation of magnetic charge. It was just some guys opening a gate. But it’s like magic to a horse, when you open the gate. They leave – they don’t always leave straight off the mark, galloping like hell, sometimes they leave and turn right, sometimes they leave and stop dead – but generally, they leave.

The filly jumped out. I lurched up onto her neck, gave her rein, and she jumped again. Somewhere to my left I saw the neighboring horse come out easily and then take off. I asked the filly to give chase. I shook the reins at her. I should have used my stick to straighten her out, but I was flustered. She went on jumping, hopping, but we were galloping, finally, going forward, and as she went plunging down the track, I started laughing.

“Go with it, go with it, go with it!” I sang out, letting her leap as she pleased. “Go catch him!”

I’ve always been a noisy rider, I confess, a person who was dumped not once but twice in a row by a green pony because every time I got him to canter, I let out a triumphant whoop that sent him into a bucking fest. There’s something about the glee of a horse in their foolishness, when they’re clearly having fun, when they’re obviously living with me on their back as they would in an endless field, as if I’ve been invited into their own private world of sun and grass and limitless strength and four fleet legs to devour the distance with. It is the feeling that others describe as wings, as the sensation of flight. Of leaving the human experience for something altogether more earthy and exciting.

And we were suddenly eating up the ground, flying across the clay and sand, and the distance between us and the front-running horse melted away, until we had caught up, and sailed on by, whirling into the turn, all hot hot heat and rushing heart.

The starting gate seems to somehow compound the horse’s notorious need for freedom. That thirty seconds of claustrophobia creates an explosion of emotion and power that can’t be replicated.

Do give it a try.