Saturday, May 31, 2014

Same stuff, different day

By Gayle Carline

Once again, you've caught me away from the computer, at the L.A. Equestrian Center. With any luck, I'll be showing Snoopy this morning at the Lights, Camera, Action Horse Show. I love the horse show environment, especially now that I just do it for fun. Will we win? Who knows. Will I have a good time? You bet!

While I'm out and about, I'm happy to announce the release of my newest book, MURDER ON THE HOOF. It's available on Kindle and in paperback. You can go here to buy it -

Or, go here to enter a contest to win a free copy -

OR, go HERE to enter a contest to win a free copy and something much bigger (hint: like, a Kindle Paperwhite) -

In the meantime, it's Saturday. Go ride your ponies!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Horse Won't Cuddle

                                                by Laura Crum

            I have an acquaintance (a friend of a friend) who bought a reliable older gelding. She paid a fair price for him. She’s owned him a year and he is sound and reliable, just as she’d been told. She’s gone on many pleasant trail rides with no problems. But she’s not happy with her horse. She says she’s thinking of selling him.
            Why? Well, she says the horse doesn’t like her and that they haven’t formed a “bond.” (Let us understand right now that this is a young woman who has only owned one previous horse—and that one for only a year when she was a teenager.) I asked why she felt this horse didn’t like her, and she said that the horse didn’t want her to pet him. The horse didn’t seem to enjoy grooming. The horse only engaged with her when she fed him. Otherwise he gave clear indications that he didn’t want her to fuss with him.
            I asked if he pinned his ears or mock nipped at her—and she said no, nothing like that. He was well-behaved both under saddle and on the leadrope. He just didn’t show any interest in being affectionate with her.
            I have to admit I stared at this gal in mild consternation. THIS was a problem?
            Uhmm, I told her—you are basically describing my son’s horse, Henry. He behaves exactly like this. And I think Henry is a wonderful horse. We all love him to bits. He’s cheerful, reliable, and honest as the day is long. It makes me smile just to see his bright-eyed face nickering at me at feeding time.
            But no, Henry does not like to be petted. Not by any of us, or anybody else that I have ever seen. He clearly does not enjoy being groomed. He obviously wishes that people would not fuss with him. He doesn’t pin his ears or act disagreeable. But he ignores all “fussing” with a disgruntled expression on his face, and moves away from it if he can. He tolerates being saddled and ridden with good grace, but the only thing he shows true enthusiasm for is food. Whether treats, or meals, or being turned out to graze—Henry LOVES to eat.
            My son has noticed that Henry doesn’t care for affection. My boy’s previous pony, Toby, did like being petted and enjoyed hanging out with people. Henry could give a damn about hanging out with people. He just wants people to feed him. But both my kid and I have come to understand and be amused by Henry. And to love him for what he does so well.
            As my son says, “I like hanging out with Gunner and Plumber (who both like attention and petting) but Henry is my good riding horse.”
            The thing is, I’ve been in the horse biz a LONG time and I’ve known many good horses very like Henry. My beloved Flanigan was this way. Yes, it’s gratifying to the ego to own a horse that wants to cuddle with you, but I had a hard time not saying to this gal, “Get your ego out of the way and recognize what a good horse you’ve got. Not all horses like to be petted and fussed with. Your horse is sound and reliably does the job that you bought him to do. Can’t you love him for that? Must he also want to cuddle with you?”
            So I thought about this for a while and decided to put it out there to the rest of you. Is a horse who doesn’t care for petting and fussing a deal breaker for you if he is a good horse otherwise? Trust me, there are many horses that honestly don’t like this sort of attention and you won’t train them to like it, though you may train them to tolerate it. But being “tolerated” is not what people like the gal who talked to me are looking for. They want the horse to “like” them. They want the horse to cuddle with them to show them that he likes them. I don’t think I can explain to her in a way she would understand that her horse may very well like her. He just doesn’t show it the way she wants him to. Sort of like a man who brings you tea in the morning and makes you a cocktail in the evening and cooks dinner—but never whispers sweet nothings in your ear or buys you flowery cards. It’s just a different way of showing affection, but none the less sincere.
            How do I know that Henry likes us? Well, when we came to see the old guy after colic surgery, he was in a stall and looked a bit shaky, but bright eyed. He saw us walk into the barn and went immediately to the door of his stall and nickered at us, just as he does every morning at feeding time. He stuck his head in the halter when I opened the stall door. He still didn’t want to be petted—but he wanted to go with us wherever we were going. We were his family and he knew it. He stepped out eagerly beside my son, a little wobbly, but game to stay with his boy. That’s good enough for me.
            So what did I actually tell this gal? I just said that lots of horses don’t care for being petted and fussed with and that I personally wouldn’t be at all bothered by this, if the horse was a good horse otherwise. She looked singularly unimpressed. I don’t doubt that she is going to sell her gelding and buy something that she thinks she can “bond” with. And I am sorry, but I have a niggling, not-very-nice impulse to wish that she will end up with a horse that just LOVES to be petted—but routinely dumps her and is resistant when she rides it. Because yes, indeed, they do come this way, too. And I’ve known quite a few of them. Loved to be petted, very affectionate on the ground, completely adversarial under saddle and willing to be violent.
            So tell me…which horse would you rather have? And yes, some horses are fond of petting and good riding horses, too. My son’s Toby, my Plumber, and Wally’s Twister all fall in this category. And then there are horses like my Sunny who like to test you, and are only affectionate after you’ve won the latest round in the dominance game. In other words, you beat them up a little and they just LOVE you. Sounds really dysfunctional, I know, but that’s just the way some of them work.
            And yes, I love Sunny, too. I don’t mind walloping him when he demands it, and I very much appreciate his many good points. So I guess I’m OK with different personality styles in horses. My bottom line tends to be whether they come through for me—and I’m willing to give them a lot of space to be who they are, if so.
            Anybody else have a thought on this subject?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Turning on a Dime

Speaking of new horse fiction, here's another awesome read, brand new from Maggie Dana, author of the popular Timber Ridge Riders series for girls. This one, called Turning on a Dime, involves time travel, two horse girls from different centuries, and a whole lot more.
Teenage equestrian Samantha DeVries wants to be the first African American to ride in the Olympics. Her father, a successful trainer, pushes Sam to excel, while Sam’s academic mother tries to instill a sense of heritage in her headstrong daughter who’d rather be riding horses than studying history. But Sam’s beliefs and her carefully constructed world shatter like a jelly jar when she travels through a time portal and lands in the canopy bed of an 1860s Southern belle.

Even more surprised by Sam’s unexpected arrival is Caroline Chandler. She’s a tomboy who wears breeches beneath her crinoline and rides horses bareback, much to the dismay of her critical mother.

But neither girl has time to fret over petticoats and prejudice. The Civil War is raging, and soldiers from both sides are stealing horses. At risk is Pandora, Caroline’s beloved mare. Without her, Sam’s future Olympic horse, Nugget, might not exist in the present.

Neither will Sam if the slave catchers grab her.

I was lucky enough to be one of the first readers of this book, and I adored it. A fast-moving adventure story, it's also filled with history and humor as these two girls discover the differences (some fun, some scary) in their two worlds. Perfectly suitable for youngsters, there are enough meatier issues in this book to grab the attention of adults. Whether you love horses, time travel, historical novels, or just great adventure stories, Turning on a Dime is a recommended read.

Available as an ebook and paper book from most online stores:
Amazon   Barnes & Noble  iTunes   Kobo

Turning on a Dime is a gripping narrative filled with delightfully original moments ... perfect for young adults who love horses, feisty female protagonists, and unique timeslip dilemmas. -- Midwest Book Review

Oh and hey! Just discovered a contest on Goodreads to win Turning on a Dime. It's right here:

For more on Maggie Dana's Timber Ridge Riders series:

Happy Summer Reading, Everyone! And Happy Summer Riding!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

An "Ambition" ebook giveaway!

Hurray! It's been a big week for me, as my newest novel Ambition, was finally released as an ebook. I wrote about Ambition here at Equestrian Ink last week, in "It All Comes Down To This."

Like my racing novels, Ambition is set in the rolling hills of Florida’s horse country, Ocala. But this time, I'm writing about the great sport of eventing.

Jules Thornton didn’t come to Ocala to make friends. She came to make a name for herself. Young, determined, and tough as nails, she’s been swapping stable-work for saddle-time since she was a little kid — and it hasn’t always been a fun ride. Forever the struggling rider in a sport for the wealthy, all Jules has on her side is talent and ambition. She’s certain all she needs to succeed are good horses, but will the eventing world agree?

Ambition is already getting great reviews: over at the popular website Horse Junkies United, a reviewer had this to say: "I couldn’t put it down! Her writing style is easy to read, and the pages flow effortlessly. Most of all though, I was thrilled with all of the horsey details that were not only abundant, but accurate! This is were you could tell that the author had experience in the sport that she was portraying, lending this to her storyline and characters, making them come realistically to life."

In celebration of Ambition's release, I'm going to give away three eBook copies here at Equestrian Ink. Just use the handy Rafflecopter doo-dad below and enter! I'll send the winners an eBook of Ambition in the format of their choice (PDF, .mobi for Kindle, or .ePub for Nook). The giveaway will be open through June 2nd at midnight.

Can't wait that long? You can always grab your own copy of Ambition at Amazon,, iTunes, or Kobo! And stay tuned for the paperback -- one thing I can assure you of, the paperback is gorgeous. 

Well, that's all from me. Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Ongoing Dilemma

                                                            by Laura Crum

            I have a dilemma. It’s been this way for over a year now. And I am not finding a solution. I don’t think there is a solution. But it bugs me every single day.
            You see, I have a 34 year old horse that I love very much. This is Gunner. I have owned him since he was three.

 I broke and trained this horse myself and competed on him at many events. He’s been with me for over thirty years.

Here he is last summer—not looking too bad for 33.

But every day now I go through a roller coaster ride of emotions concerning Gunner. There are two “sides” arguing in my head. It’s not good horse owner versus not-good horse owner—it’s more like two types of good horse owner. Let’s call them type A and type B. They never shut up in my mind.

A: “You should put that poor old horse down. He’s limps every step he takes. He’s old and frail and it’s just a matter of time till he goes down and can’t get up. You should put him down now.”

B: “How can you put him down? He’s bright-eyed, eager for his meals, has gained weight in the last few months. The painkillers keep him reasonably comfortable. Yeah, he’s lame, but he still breaks into a trot voluntarily and he moves around his corral very freely. He gets down and rolls and gets up again every day. He doesn’t look unhappy. Why would you put him down?”

A: “Sure he trots, but you can’t stand to watch him do it. Because half the time when he trots he stumbles on that arthritic knee and almost goes down. You’ve watched him go all the way down half a dozen times and it almost killed you. It didn’t help him, either. He always walked off lamer. Even when he stumbles and catches himself he walks off lamer. Put him down before he falls down once too often and breaks his leg and suffers.”

B: “But he doesn’t want to let go of his life yet. Every time I go down to the barnyard he spots me and goes to his gate and bumps it with his nose to let me know he wants me to let him out to graze. He loves his grazing time, he likes being groomed and getting attention, he’s cleaning up as much senior feed as he ever has. He’s not ready to quit.”

A: “But maybe it’s time you made that choice for him. He’s got a lot of heart and he keeps trying, but do you want him to try and try until he CAN’T do it any more? Why would you put him through that?”

B: “I guess if it were me I wouldn’t want my life taken until I was ready to let go of it. And maybe he would rather keep trying as long as he can. Gunner doesn’t limp any more than our 80 year old friend Wally, and Wally can look pretty frail and shaky, too, walking along—and you’ve seen Wally stumble and fall several times. But Wally still enjoys his life very much—why would you suppose that Gunner is different? The last time I had the vet out here, thinking maybe I would put Gunner down, that old horse trotted away from the vet at a pretty brisk clip. I swear he could read my mind. And the vet said, ‘I don’t think he’s ready.’ That’s just it. I don’t think he’s ready. And I have to wait until he tells me he’s ready.”

A: “Are you going to think you made the right choice when you come down to feed one morning and find Gunner lying on the ground…and you know he lay there for hours in pain?”

B: “I don’t know. I know I have not yet felt it was the right choice to pick up the phone and call the vet and end Gunner’s life. Not when the old horse looks as bright as he does.”

A: “But you are afraid every time you go down to the barnyard. Afraid that Gunner will be dead…or worse. For every time that you smile when you see him playing with his neighbor, there are three times you wince when you see him take a bad step.”

B: “But he does still play with his neighbor. He does still enjoy life.”

A: “He’s a huge management headache. You can’t turn his neighbor/friend horse out to graze because Gunner freaks out. If Gunner weren’t here, all your other horses could be turned loose to graze virtually every day and they would have a MUCH better quality of life.”

B: “That’s true. But I can’t put Gunner down because he’s a management problem. I owe him more than that, and I love him.”

A: “Maybe you should make the hard choice out of love for him.”

B: “Dammit, I would, if I thought it was the right choice. But how can I give up on him before he’s ready to give up?”

And so it goes, on and on. Type A is the pragmatic, logical side of me and type B is the more sentimental, intuitive side. So far type B is winning, but it’s a struggle. I know there are valid points on both sides.
The thing is that I have never put one of my loved horses down until it was a clear cut thing. Flanigan colicked at 21 and didn’t come out of it after being treated for over 24 hours. He wasn’t a candidate for surgery because he had a diaphragmatic hernia. And if we weren’t going to attempt surgery it seemed clear that it was time to end his suffering.
Burt had a stroke at 35 and was down on the ground twitching and I couldn’t get him up. When we still couldn’t get him up after an hour of trying and the vet’s help (and the vet was clear she thought he wasn’t coming out of it), I had no questions about what to do.
Toby was diagnosed with a tumor in his kidneys. He’d had two previous run-ins with cancer. When I decided against surgery, I kept him as comfortable as I could with painkillers, and when he quit eating, refused treats, and began grinding his teeth, I had the vet out that afternoon. Again, I knew it was time.
            I’ve always waited until it was clear. I’ve never arbitrarily drawn a line in the sand. I watched my friend Wally do this with his good horse, Pistol, and though I understood and did not feel it was a wrong choice, I’m not sure it is the choice I would have made.
            So yeah, I don’t know what to do. I muddle along, day by day, waiting for Gunner to tell me. So far it hasn’t happened. But I look away when he trots, afraid that he will fall again. I wince when he takes a bad step. I walk down to feed every morning looking anxiously for Gunner, hoping that he is OK.
            Yes, I smile when I see him playing with his neighbor horse, or dozing companionably alongside his old buddy, muzzle to muzzle. I try to get him out to graze as much as I can, and it’s clear that he is very keen to do this. I’m happy that his spirit is strong and he’s cleaning up his feed. I watch him roll and get back up and think, well, OK, then. I’m very grateful that he’s still with me and still bright-eyed and willing to engage with me and the other horses. But still…I wonder. I wonder if I am doing the right thing.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ten Signs of Spring (in Virginia)

We are all experiencing some kind of spring, but my ten signs have "Virginia" in the title since the country is experiencing such weird weather. California is in drought and fire mode, so spring in Laura's neck of the woods may be summer already. I know her photos showed off her flowers long ago.  Spring in Florida has come and gone, and hot weather is setting in.  Spring in the north has been slow to arrive, and I hope all you 'northerners' are not getting too impatient.

Spring in Virginia has also been late, and we've had enough cold snaps that figs and hydrangeas have died and the peach buds are in jeopardy. But in David Letterman form, here are my top ten signs of spring:

10)  Muck boots have replaced galoshes and ice grippers.  I love my
muck boots, but they are treacherous going down a wet, grassy hill. Plus, urbanites turn up their noses at their unstyle.

9) Flowers, flowers, flowers!!! My favorite part of spring. It's been cool and wet and the columbine especially is having a field day.

8) The flies are back. Winter means blissful bug-free rides and horse maintenance. The damp weather has spawned biting gnats (ears) and annoying face flies.  I still haven't found a product that works more than one day, except for face masks.

7) Horse hair is everywhere: my mouth, my arms and the bottom of the stalls. Worse, my horses appear to roll every day, and currying off the mud is ridiculously awful. I only do it when I know I have to shower and wash my hair.

6) Garden chores are a never-ending to do list.  The poison ivy needs spraying since we are all allergic. The thistles need digging up.  The beds need edging. The bushes need trimming. The grass needs mowing.  The
peaches need pruning. The onion grass . . . you get the idea.

5) Yard sales are rampant and totally addicting.  Stop going!  Ignore them! Don't stop!
 Be selective!  Yes, I tell myself all these things each time I see a sign or a yard spread with crap priced at 25 cents.  My van automatically veers into the driveway.  Smokers, I get it now.  I have never had an addictive personality until I discovered great, old treasures that can be found at flea markets, auctions, estate sales . . . It's the excitement of finding that cool duck decoy (signed) or carousel gum ball machine among the baby clothes and paperbacks.

4)  Re: yard sales. Spring also means my office (and storage unit) are spilling over with sh&*.  Wasn't I suppose to clean it up and clear it out this winter???

3) Spring veggies!  Lettuce, spinach and peas, OMG!  Our family loves salads. No more bagged lettuce from Chile!

2) Spring brings ticks. Lyme disease is always on my mind (since I don't want to lose my mind.)  We have a deer herd that spends time in our woods and pastures. I love them, but not the ticks they hang around with.  The dogs get vaccines and have powerful tick meds. Us humans??? Nothing.  I have a ready supply of antibiotics in case one latches on and I don't find it right away even though I am vigilant.

1) And the top  reason I know that spring is here?  Spending  lots of time outside with friends, family, nature and animals. I don't hibernate in the winter; in fact, I walk every day in the rain and snow. But some of those walks were tough. Spring is the most joyous time to be outside.  And I am taking full advantage of these gorgeous days!

What is your top sign of spring? Horse shows? Baby chicks?  Mud? Please share!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Minor Tragedy

                                                by Laura Crum

            So last week I got some bad news. Maybe it wouldn’t seem like such bad news to most people, but I think you other horse people will understand my dismay. My farrier, R, is retiring. Before you point out that there are lots of farriers in the world, consider this: R is the only person who has ever shod or trimmed my horse, Plumber. And Plumber is twenty-five years old. I’ve owned him since he was three. R and I have been together a long time.
            It’s not that I don’t understand. R will be seventy this year. As he says, he wants to retire while he is still (mostly) sound. His knees and back are giving him trouble. He’s right to give the job up. But…
            But he has been doing my horses for over twenty years, and my horses have virtually always stayed sound (knocking on wood—literally—as I type this). I credit R a LOT for the fact that we have not had the ubiquitous “soft tissue” injuries that have been so common in some of my friends’ horses. Nor have we had sore soles or arthritic problems, in general. A good farrier cannot fix everything, but boy it sure helps.
            The thing is, R doesn’t have the reputation of some sort of expert farrier. He’s known as more of a get-er-done cowboy shoer. I’m pretty sure my friends who are really into the barefoot trimming thing, AND my friends who are really into the fancy just-right shoeing thing would both look down on R’s work. R is really your classic ranch cowboy horseshoer.
            He’s also gruff, taciturn and sometimes downright surly. I know a good many boarding stables that refuse to have him on the premises. Lots of horse people react with, “What? You use him?” when I respond to the “Who’s your shoer?” question. In short, he doesn’t have a particularly good reputation overall.
            So why do I like him? Simple. I like things that work.
            I didn’t start out admiring R as a farrier. He was a team roper and I knew him, but I used  much more expensive highly-regarded horseshoers for my fancy horse, Gunner. The thing is, I wasn’t getting the results I hoped for. Gunner had shallow, thin soles and a tendency to get sore and I was having a hard time keeping him sound. I also was having a hard time scheduling farriers a month ahead and having them show up two hours late. In short, I wasn’t very happy with anyone I’d used as a shoer.
            I forget why I fired the farrier previous to R, but I did. And since R was right there at a practice roping and Gunner needed shoes, I asked him if he’d shoe my horse. It was an eye opener.
            At the time I was padding Gunner’s front feet, which was helping him. I asked R if he could do this and he said sure. I explained about Gunner’s thin, shallow soles and his tendency to be low in the heels. R listened, said nothing, and looked at the horse. Then he went to work.
            He shod my horse in literally half the time it had taken the previous “fancy” shoer to do him. He slapped those pads on and squirted silica gel under them, wrapped some duct tape around them and nailed the shoes on and Bob’s your uncle. He did not endlessly fuss and measure, as the previous shoer had done. As I said, it took literally half the time. He also charged me half the price. When he was done I thought the horse’s feet looked about right. And that was that.
            I wasn’t attached to keeping R as a shoer—like most people, I thought his attitude was a little grouchy. But Gunner went well and stayed sound and R was cheap—and hey—he arrived on time, every time. If I called for an appointment he was always available within a few days. And Gunner stayed sound and moved well. Let me repeat that—Gunner stayed sound and moved well.
            This folks, is the bottom line. My horse stayed sound. I kept using R and I put up with his somewhat surly ways.
            In the next year I bought a three-year-old unbroken colt. This was Plumber. When I bought Plumber, he’d been turned out in a pasture with a dozen other young horses. They all looked fine. Plumber could barely walk. His fragile, flare-y, brittle hooves were so broken up that he was sore on all four feet. I bought him for a variety of reasons—I’d known him since he was born—but good feet wasn’t one of them.
            As soon as I bought Plumber I had R shoe him—and hey, presto, the colt was sound. And now I have a confession to make. I kept shoes on Plumber (applied 100% of the time by R) for seventeen years straight—without one break.
            I know, it’s not the accepted way of doing things. Even those of us who don’t believe that shoes are evil and of the devil like to turn our horses out and let them go barefoot for part of the year, anyway. But I was literally afraid to do this with Plumber. When I bought him his feet were a terrible mess—due to being turned out barefoot. And his feet were still the same basic problem. He had a tendency to flare over the shoe and break off and he had to be shod every six weeks precisely. When he was first shod he was a little tender soled—even with shoes on he couldn’t walk comfortably on gravel roads. He just had lousy feet. To be frank, I never thought he would stay sound. I thought he’d end up with navicular or some other foot/hoof based lameness. Anyway, I kept shoes on him 100% of the time.
            And guess what? I broke and trained Plumber and by the time he was eight years old he was a competitive team roping horse. He remained a competition horse until he was twenty, when we retired him. He wore shoes every single day of his working life. He was still sound when we retired him, but he didn’t like to run any more—nor did he like downhill bits on trails.  He trotted perfectly sound on level ground. I had R pull his shoes, and in my hoof-friendly, sandy corrals Plumber has remained a sound, barefoot retired horse for the past five years. So that’s seventeen years of a riding horse life doing a fairly strenuous job, and five years of retirement—completely sound. I think that’s a pretty good success story for a horse with shitty feet. And I believe that I owe a lot of it to R.
            Over time, I learned to trust my instincts more in very many ways when it came to horses. I could look at my own horses’ feet and see that they looked “right” to me—shod or barefoot—and I would look at horses shod or trimmed by other farriers—frequently much more highly regarded farriers—and see that they looked wrong to me. Often I could not explain why they looked wrong, though sometimes I could. The angle would be wrong—too steep or too shallow—the horse would look low in the heels or the toes would look dubbed off or the horse would be too stood up, or the heels looked too pinched in. I am no expert on shoeing/trimming. But I became a bit like that obnoxious guy in the art gallery. I knew what I liked.
            And I also knew that my horses stayed sound. This was not at all true of some of our friends’ horses.
            One guy in particular, who roped at the same practice arena where we roped, had an endless string of inexplicable soft tissue injuries. I never liked the way his horses’ feet looked—pinched in, toe dubbed off—and over time I became convinced that the constant injuries were the result of his farrier’s work.
            There just was no other logical explanation. He was the only guy who roped with us that used that particular shoer, no one else was regularly plagued with these injuries, and the guy in question had literally ten different horses come up lame with soft issue injuries in the legs. The conditions were exactly the same for all of us; the horses that crippled up were not related to each other in any way. The guy didn’t overuse his horses. There simply was no other common denominator.
            Anyway, I became ever more grateful and loyal to R. As Gunner has gotten older his feet have not plagued him, but he began to be very arthritic in the hocks and knees and had trouble holding his hooves up for trimming. R is patient with him, as he was always patient and matter-of-fact with my young horses, when I had them. No horse of mine ever had any issues being trimmed or shod after the first few times. Ron was skillful and strong and worked fast. He didn’t tolerate any crap, but he wasn’t harsh, either. He was always calm and confident. It took the colts very little time to settle down and be trimmed/shod like broke horses.
            For the last few years I have run all my horses barefoot, and Ron trims them all and they stay sound. No, he’s not a “barefoot” trimmer, or whatever the buzz word is, but, again, they stay sound and move well. Henry is going great at 26, Sunny the same at 19 or so, and my two retirees have no foot problems despite the fact they both have lousy feet. How good is that?
            And now R is retiring. I asked him if he’d like to just trim my gentle old horses to keep his hand in. He said no, it was time for him to give it up. And that is that. Just allow me a few minutes to whine and snivel, OK? Because I am really not looking forward to finding/working with another farrier. I’m sure many of you will understand. It’s a sad day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It All Comes Down To This

I've read my new book about six times in the past two weeks. 

It's not because I am obsessed with my new book (maybe I am a little bit) but because I'm an obsessive editor, in general. So I've been reading and rereading, tweaking and changing and fixing word by word, line by line, trying to get the best possible execution of this story I'm trying to tell. And when I'm done reading it, my husband reads it, and does the same, and then I have to add in all of his changes -- which means reading it one more time.

I have to admit, there are times when I am a little tired of my new book.

But reading it can be a fascinating experience for me, as well. Because throughout Ambition, just as throughout Other People's Horses, The Head and Not The Heart, Claiming Christmas, and Horse-Famous, I'm reading new accounts of old experiences I've had. 

Most of my racing stories draw upon my time as an exercise rider, both at the training centers and at the racetrack, along with years spent working at breeding farms in Ocala. I started doing this when I was nineteen or twenty, so I was somewhat an adult by then. (This is debatable).

Amarillo and I, Ocala 2000-ish
But before I got into the racing business, I was a kid riding event horses. (Almost -- I started riding hunters, but soon learned that if I wanted to gallop, the cross-country course was where it was at.) Over the years I became somewhat obsessed with dressage, not because I loved discipline or being confined to an arena, but because the very occasional perfection of connection with my horse that dressage training allowed was the most amazing feeling on earth. And when the arena got too confining, I always had the option of jumping some very large jumps. 

Sure, once in a while, I took a very hard fall.

And I dealt with some serious crazy. 

Crazy horses, crazy people. Out-and-out broncs, out-and-out crooks, and more than a few horses and people who were behaving like criminals but maybe didn't mean to.

(It's easier to fix the horses. I learned that very, very young! It just didn't always look the prettiest.)

Ambition is the first book I've written about eventing, and the experiences I have drawn upon to write it began back in my elementary school days. Being the working student, riding the cheap horse, and trying to go it alone -- I know all about that. I might not be as ambitious or driven as Jules (I haven't been on a horse in a year, and I know Jules would never, ever stand for that) but I definitely know where she's coming from. And that makes Ambition so powerful to me, to read again and again, and find, amongst the fiction, all my little true stories woven into the tale. 

Every time I write a new story, I feel like it gives my life meaning. Not this very moment, which needs no validation -- but all the time I have spent in the saddle, mucking stalls, scrubbing buckets, washing horses, raking shed-rows... It all means something. It all comes down to this: to this story that I can share with the world.

Ambition is coming to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes at the end of the month. I can't wait to share this story with the all of you in the equestrian community!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

                                                            by Laura Crum

            Mother’s Day means different things to different people. For many it’s mostly about celebrating/remembering their own mother. For others it’s more about celebrating their relationship with their own children. And for some, it’s about celebrating their four footed kids and how much they love them. I have been all these people—and today I feel a bit of all these feelings.
            I will admit that I am hugely grateful to be my son’s mother. It’s been the single biggest experience of my entire life.

          For those who are interested in my thoughts on this topic--I wove them into my novels, Moonblind, Chasing Cans, and Going, Gone. Along with plenty of excitement and lots of horses, of course.

 I’m also very grateful today to the good horses who have given my son and me so many happy years of riding together.

            So I think I will leave you with something my boy said to me when we were riding the trail that you see in the above photo. This was a couple of years ago (2012). I recorded the moment in a journal because it meant a lot to me. I was leading on Sunny, my son following on Henry. And he said to me, “I love this trail. It’s so pretty.” He was quiet for a minute as we both watched a deer bound away through the brush. And then he said, “It’s good to have friends to trail ride with. And it’s best when that friend is your mom.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pool Saga--Part 2

by Laura Crum

I apologize in advance for boring most of you horse folks with this completely not-horse-related story. But here is the rest of my “pool saga” (with photos) for those who are interested.

            I planned and schemed endlessly during the winter before we built the pond. I drew little maps showing where each boulder should go. There was an “island rock” here, and a couple of big “blocker rocks” there, and a pointy rock by the mini “dock” we would build to hide the skimmer and submersible pump. The pointy rock would be matched by another pointy rock on the nearby hillside, and there would be a dozen boulders in a sort of rocky vein on the hillside—which would help the pool tie into the landscape. Just add a constant chain of ideas and thoughts (and sketches and lists of things to think about) along these lines and you get the idea of the way I spent my time.
            I left the technical aspects of the pool construction (choice of liner, pipes and other infrastructure) up to Tim of Pond Magic, figuring he would know how to do this stuff after building 300 ponds.
As the date of actual construction on my project approached, I began spending a lot of time at the local “rock yard.” My husband and son began to hate the sound of the words “rock yard,” and soon refused to accompany me. I went down there two or three times a week, choosing boulders, and “singlehead” stacking stone, and flagstone and so on. I spent hours at a time there, just looking at rocks. All the kinds of stone I thought I’d need for the project.
            I learned a whole lot about buying stone. I learned the process (you tag it and then the yard guys will assemble everything you tag in a place for reserved material and then you can look at it all together in one spot—very helpful), I learned that you buy stone by the pound-or ton- and I learned to estimate the weight pretty accurately (I used to buy cattle, so estimating weight came readily to me), I learned which kinds of stone were FAR more expensive than others. Over a two month period, I selected a lot of stone for my pool.
            There were boulders for the pool rim and the hillside next to it, there was stacking stone for the dry-stone walls, there was flagstone for the floor, steps and surround, there were cobbles and gravel for the planting bed and ledge-stone for the wall around the planting bed. It was a big and interesting process, learning about and selecting stone. It took a lot of time, but I very much enjoyed it. I was quite surprised when Tim told me that virtually every other client he had ever had had left this process up to him. To me, that’s like giving away the most fun and creative part, or like owning a horse and always having someone else ride it.
            Anyway, I did the work, selected the rock, and, eventually, wrote a check and had it delivered. Now we were truly embarked. And I must admit, I was pretty nervous.
            This was a big project for me, and it was also a rather illogical project. Not like building a house, which seems quite logical. We didn’t need a pool. As my husband pointed out, we were digging a big hole in a perfectly good driveway. But I was still pretty sure I wanted to do it. I’m the one who has always owned horses, after all. I understood the point behind making illogical dreams come true.
            So construction day arrived, the crew and backhoe showed up, and everything began to happen at once. Seriously.
            If you have never done a big construction project, or never done one where you were truly in charge of it, you probably can’t grasp the intensity of the process. You literally can’t look away for a second. It is tremendously creative and rewarding and also very stressful at times. Sort of like training horses.
            Anyway, I had previously designed and built two small houses, a big garden, and a horse set-up, and I knew more or less what to expect and how to deal with it. I had asked for and gotten from Tim a proposed timeline for the project. I had taken EVERYTHING out of my schedule for the projected two weeks of construction and I was prepared for the intensity. I had done what you need to do—thought hard and planned for everything I could, and also accepted that some (many) things would not go according to plan and many last minute changes would happen. I also knew that these last minute changes often created the most interesting aspects of a project. I knew that the contractor and I would be at odds from time to time and that tempers would fray, and I knew this was natural and OK. We all crossed our fingers things would go relatively smoothly, and bright and early in the morning the backhoe began placing boulders on the hillside, to my directions.
            By noon we were digging the hole for the pool and by the end of the day we had, as my husband said, dug a very big hole in our perfectly good driveway.

            And placed some lovely rocks on the hillside nearby.

            The next day the pond liner went in.

            The dry stone walls were built.

            The following day the backhoe began placing the large boulders around the pool.

            Now I’m going to skip forward in the interests of not boring you—below you see my son and a friend on the last day the crew was here, as we watched the pool fill with water. This gives you a good view of the stone steps leading in and the wall that divides the plant area from the “swimming” area. Bear in mind that every single stone that forms the steps and is placed around the edge was individually chosen for its position. A very creative, very intense process. All the stone is natural stone, some quarried, some not. There are no concrete pavers or man-made bricks involved.

            My husband adds a little water to our whisky for the celebratory drink as we finish filling the pool. This was a very happy moment.

            Here you look down into the “deep hole” (about five feet deep), with its sunken patio floor.

            Here’s the fountain (designed by my husband and carved from our chosen piece of stone by one of the crew) in the early morning light.

            Boy in the water—my son enjoying the pool on its first day of being—which just happened to be an eighty degree day. Serendipity.

            Last light and reflections of roses at the end of the day.

            If you look closely at these photos you will see that we haven’t finished trimming the liner and placing gravel all around the pool, nor have we put the plants in the plant area. We are slowly but surely accomplishing these tasks ourselves, as we are well able to do these things on our own…and construction crews are expensive. We let the crew go as soon as we could and I’m happy to say that the project came in on time and very close to our estimate. So far so good.
            We are really enjoying our little pool, and though I know the future will hold challenges—natural pools are living things, just like horses, and they have their ups and downs—I very much look forward to living with/by/in water.
            (Hope I didn’t bore you all too much. Those who are interested, feel free to ask questions. I sort of abbreviated much that went into the planning and building, because I felt the post would just become too tedious.)


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My New Project

                                                by Laura Crum

            As some of you know, I’ve been working pretty hard lately on a new project that isn’t horse or writing related, and today I’m going to tell the story, as a couple of you (I’m looking at you, Funder) have requested it. For the rest of you, this may be a pretty boring post.
            Long ago, when I was twenty-two, I spent a summer living by myself at a fairly remote Sierra lake, with only my young dog for company. That summer left a deep mark on me, and ever since then, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with sitting by/contemplating water. The first three houses I lived in after I graduated from college were all situated by the banks of creeks. But the property where I now live, which I call home, does not have any water within view. And it has always bugged me.
            About sixteen years ago, as I was going through a divorce and struggling with depression, I became determined to have SOME water to look at from my porch. So I dug a hole and bought a pond liner and some rocks, and voila I had a little fish pond. About seven feet long, four feet wide and four feet deep in the deepest part. I had water lilies and iris and goldfish, and for all these many years I have very much enjoyed my pond. But it wasn’t enough.

            Every year, as we took our annual road trip across the country to visit my in-laws in Michigan, we camped by and swam in natural bodies of water. Lakes, rivers, streams, reservoirs, canals. My husband’s parents live on a small lake and while we stay there, we swim every day.
            Grandma and Grandpa’s lake.

            Lake Michigan—our favorite time to swim there is sunset.

            Poudre River in Colorado—we camped there every summer for seven years in a row.

            The mighty Mississippi River—there is a house on an island that I am looking at in the photo.

            Walker River in Nevada—my husband swam in every body of water we found.

            Stanislaus River in the Sierras—very near the lake where I spent my long ago solitary summer.

            And every year, when we came home from the summer trip, I longed to have a natural body of water to sit by and get into. I had/have no interest in chlorinated traditional swimming pools or hot tubs, with their sterile, stinky water (no offense to those who like/own such things--we all have different taste). I wanted “real” living water—a waterhole in a creek would do. But though I searched all around our county, I never found anything suitable. Sure, there is Monterey Bay a couple of miles away, and we do go there, but I wanted water that was private, where I could be alone (I know, I’m a misanthrope), and I didn’t want to have to drive somewhere. I wanted to LIVE by water. Water I could contemplate and get into. But no matter how hard I thought and dreamed and schemed, I could not come up with a concept that seemed to work. For years…
            My husband and I talked of damming the seasonal creek that runs through our pasture in the Sierra foothills, but we never could figure out a plan to do this that seemed likely to succeed in creating the water hole we wanted. And in the end, we didn’t want to spend time and money building something that might not work out. Not to mention we got up to the pasture once a month at best, and sometimes it was once a year. The pasture is three hours away from our home, and we were getting burned out on the drive. So that idea eventually got discarded.
            I schemed and planned about various possible water features we could build here at home, but I couldn’t really figure out where such a thing should be or what it should look like. And then, one day, about a year ago, a whole lot of things came together in a moment of inspiration (these moments are SO MUCH fun). And finally I had a concept.
            Here I have to backtrack a moment and add that another aspect to this situation was our desire to have an emergency supply of fresh water here at home. I had been through the Loma Prieta earthquake, and, at the time, I was taking care of my uncle’s small ranch (with twenty horses in residence) while he was out of town on vacation. Since he was on a well, and the power (which ran the pump) was out for two weeks, it was incredibly helpful for me that he had a large water tank at the top of the property with the appropriate infrastructure to run it on gravity feed through the water lines when needed. Thus I was able to water the horses until the power came back on. It also wasn’t lost on me that even if the tank had not been there, Soquel Creek bordered the property on one side, and I could have led the horses there to drink once a day. It would have been a pain, but it would have worked. So it has always bugged me not to have some sort of emergency water supply here.
            Anyway, at my moment of inspiration, one of the factors in play was that my husband wanted to build a small greenhouse, and we had chosen the site. But the logical place for a water tank that could supply our property through gravity feed was above the greenhouse site, and the only way to install such a tank was to put it there before we began the greenhouse project. And so we were stalling on starting the greenhouse because neither of us could decide if we really wanted to spend the money on a water tank, and we couldn’t figure out how to effectively combine it with the existing water system. We were sort of stuck.
            And then it came to me. I could kill three (not two, THREE) birds with one stone. And suddenly I knew exactly how to do it.
            The inspiration began (get this) thanks to facebook. My friend Liann Finnerty, who is an old high school friend as well as a facebook friend, posted a photo of a natural swimming pool and a link to the site where she found it. Liann is an artist and when she mentioned that these were the swimming pools of her dreams, I took a look. And finally, finally, I got an image of the thing I wanted to make. Because two of the pools on the site (the second and third) really inspired me. Waterhouse Pools. This, I thought, just this, is what I want to do.
            But I still didn’t know where to put the thing. I walked out my backdoor, looking for an answer, and it came to me. Just outside my back door was something we referred to (rather optimistically) as “the courtyard.” The courtyard is the level area between our two small houses. It is covered in pea gravel and there are roses planted on the fences and buildings that surround it. We think it looks very pleasant and French (in a rustic haphazard American way).
            That is, it looks pleasant when it is empty. But it was almost never empty. Because it was one of the only flat places where we could park the camper and the big pickup that hauls the camper, and we used it more as part of the driveway. So my courtyard was occupied by a large, ugly white camper and a big truck. This absolutely ruined whatever beauty it had, and it bugged me every single day. It had been this way for years.
            The thing is, on the day I looked out at the courtyard searching for a place to put my pool, I was aware that we hadn’t actually USED the camper in over a year. We had used it pretty much non-stop for ten years, and we took a lot of road trips and camping trips in that time. But all three of us had gotten pretty burned out on covering highway miles and we just weren’t motivated to plan camper trips these days. For the past year and a half I had been walking around/looking at the camper/truck combo in the courtyard—to no real purpose. And I suddenly realized that if I could walk around that footprint every day of my life, I could walk around another equal footprint—the footprint of the pool. Not only would I gain a pool, but the annoying camper would be gone. AND I would have fresh water storage that was beautiful, instead of a big ugly water tank. At that moment I knew what I wanted to do, and somewhere in my heart I knew I would accomplish this.
            The very first thing I did (after I broke it to my husband what I planned to do) was put the camper in storage. Then I began parking the big pickup truck in the riding ring (a temporary measure). Now the courtyard was empty. I got some garden hose and laid it out in the footprint where the camper/truck had been. I fiddled with it until I had a rough shape for my pool. And then I spent a LOT of time looking at it and thinking about it.
            This was last summer. I contemplated my potential pool and I walked around its shape every time I crossed the courtyard. I also called Chris from the Waterhouse Pools site and asked for advice. Chris lives in New England and it wasn’t practical to have him build me a pool out here in California. He recommended a book by Michael Littlewood about natural swimming pools, which he said got him started building these pools. He told me that if I couldn’t find a natural pool builder in my area, I should look for an experienced koi pond/landscape pond builder. “It’s basically the same thing,” he said.
            I bought the book. My husband and I read it cover to cover. We learned a lot. And I began looking for natural pool builders in my area. Turns out there were no natural pool builders in my county/part of the world. Or none that I could find. The closest folks who billed themselves this way were three hours away. And they all turned out to build something very different from what I wanted. Essentially they built regular chlorinated, concrete swimming pools that were designed to “look” natural. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I wanted a pond that was meant for people to get in it, more or less. All the filtering and purifying of the water was to be done by plants and beneficial bacteria, as it is done in a balanced garden pond—or, for that matter, in any natural body of clear water.
            So I looked for a pond builder. I called quite a few. And only one was responsive and interested. And this was Tim from Pond Magic.
            Tim had never built a “natural swimming pool.” But he had built over three hundred ponds. He listened to my idea, looked at the photos on the Waterhouse website, and said that he liked the concept and didn’t see why he and his crew couldn’t build such a thing. I looked at his website and saw that he had done the sort of work building dry stone walls and placing large boulders that I was interested in doing. He borrowed our books on natural swimming pools to learn more. He reiterated that he made no claim to being a natural pool builder. I said that I would design the pool and take responsibility for it. He would just be building another pond—to my specifications. I wanted to be in charge of my own project and supervise it every step of the way. Unlike many contractors, Tim didn’t seem to have a problem with this. We agreed that we would work “time and materials” (in my view the only fair and workable way to do ANY construction project). And we set a date to build the project in the spring—six months away.
            During the six months before my planned construction date I pondered my “pool” every single day. I knew that I wanted to build it using a flexible pond liner (which was the sort of construction Tim the pond builder was most familiar with) and I wanted to line it entirely—walls, floor and rim—with natural stone. The Waterhouse Pools site had given me a visual image of a “sunken patio floor” that I wanted to do, and also a concept for a small pool that was lined by big slabs of flat rock, like something you might find in a quarry. One of my concerns was to fit this pool into our landscape in both practical and aesthetically pleasing ways. And one of the things I wanted to avoid was the “faux” natural look that I saw in most garden ponds. You know, here’s your suburban lawn and next to it is this irregular rocky little “natural” pond. Uhmm, huge clash there. My pool was to be set in a simple open, graveled site and there was no way in hell it made any kind of aesthetic sense for it to look like some kind of mini natural lake. What I thought it should look like was sort of as if people had developed a spring and made a reservoir. Or perhaps as if there had once been a quarry—I had seen many interesting pools in quarry sites.
            So this was the vision I kept in my head as I planned the pool. Something simple and clearly man-made, but very much about natural stone. As if some primitive village had developed a spring and built a reservoir… a compromise between “formal” and “natural” styles. And gradually I began to see the pool clearly in my mind.
            There were practical considerations also. The pool needed to fit into the footprint we had been walking around for years (where the camper/truck were parked). It could not impede the paths that we used every day. It would be essentially at the end of our driveway, so there needed to be some large boulders at the driveway end of the pool to prevent some idiot from driving into the water (“What, who me?” said my husband when I mentioned this). We had to come up with an effective way to hide the skimmer/pump. And we needed to decide between the various methods of filtering/pumping. We also had to figure out a design that allowed for a “wetland system” where the plants would be, and an area for people to go in the water. I wanted to have a  “deep” waterhole, where I could float. And we had to choose what sort of stone we wanted to use. There was a lot to think about.
            OK—this is too long and probably very boring to most people. Certainly not horse or writing related. I will finish the “pool saga” up next post—with lots of photos of the pool itself.