Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winter Horses

There's something magical about a new snow and my horses seem to love the winter chill as compared to summer with the heat, humidity and flies.  I know some of you will curse me -- slogging through foot deep mud, mending broken blankets, picking out packed snow from hooves and chipping out frozen water troughs are not fun and I have done my share. But for the last ten years, Relish and Bell have had the perfect winter 'digs' and they do thrive.

We move them to their home across the street when cold weather rears its head, our own pasture grass is depleted and the farmer switches his calves from the field to their winter barn.  At the neighbors, my two plump horses have fifteen acres to graze, so though I visit every day to grain and check on them, I only need to feed hay when snow is on the ground.  Even then, they pick at the hay.  The grass is still green under the white blanket, and they much prefer digging through snow to get to it.  (Unlike cattle that do not dig.) They have a stream that never freezes and a huge run-in shed big enough for ten horses so there is no biting and crowding each other. If I do want to ride, there's fifty acres to amble across.  All this only costs me $50 a month for two. (Yes, I know how expensive boarding has gotten and I am very appreciative.)

The only tough time is when there is deep snow. But then I strap on my snowshoes and head over, stopping to pick up the neighbor's mail and shovel their walk.  We've had blizzards where I've had to dig out the barn door, but except for that, it's super ideal in every way for human and horses. If I was a competitive rider who needed an indoor arena, this set up would not work. Alas, that was a long time ago. Now the dogs (in their coats) and I walk the fields each time I go over to grain the horses, which is an added bonus.  Except for brushing burrs and checking for injuries, the horses are almost care-free.  The only hitch is that the neighbors are getting older, and I worry that one day they will sell their farm to an 'outsider' who doesn't like our arrangement.

Until then I will be thankful for my winter horses and their great home.  How's winter for your horses?  Do you spend more time 'chipping' ice and slogging through mud and snow than riding?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

That Super Special Horse

by Francesca Prescott

Qrac de la Font
photo by Aurore Biron

You know that saying about there being one super special horse in a rider’s lifetime? I’m trying to work out whether I believe it's true. So far, I’ve had five horses in my life, and every single one of them has been super special to me in their own way.

First, there was Kali. Kali was an Arab Barb stallion. He was a rescue horse, was way too small for me, had no papers, nobody knew how old he was, but he needed a home and so I gave him one. He was super sturdy and I was a skinny little Minnie back then, so I suppose we didn’t look too silly together. Not that looking silly mattered; I didn’t ride dressage back then, nor did I jump, so funky little Kali was perfect for leisurely trail rides. He had a big personality for a little horse, had a couple of party tricks up his sleeve, and as my first “horse of my own”, I loved him to bits. Sadly, our partnership didn’t last long as the poor guy succumbed to a colic barely a year after I bought him.

Then came Amanda. Amanda was a Swiss Warmblood, bought for me by my father-in-law as a cheer-up wedding present after Kali passed away (yes, I had a wonderful father-in-law. And I have no hesitation in saying that his son is the best husband a girl could ever hope to have). Bred for show-jumping, Amanda had a lot of thoroughbred blood and, as an extremely green five-year-old, she probably wasn’t the best match for an amateur like me, but I was young and clueless, and I bought her partly because I was somewhat intimidated by a pushy seller, and partly because I liked her burnished gold shade of chestnut and her blonde mane and tail. Amanda did her fair share of running away with me over the years, not to mention chucking me off in front of jumps, yet we somehow muddled through without either of us (especially me!) enduring any serious bodily harm, all this under the bemused eye of our our horrendously sarcastic and terrifying teacher. Incidentally, why did riding teachers always have to yell at everyone back then? I can understand that teaching uncoordinated morons to ride must be frustrating at times, but come on! When I think about some of the insults that charming man hurled at us over the years, I don’t know how we put up with it. I guess that’s just the way it was back then. In all fairness, when the terrifying teacher wasn’t teaching he was actually a really nice guy. Go figure.

Amanda and I parted ways after about seven years, sometime after I’d left the split-personalitied, insult-hurling teacher and taken up with a rosy-cheeked, charmingly bossy, super high-energy dressage diva. She helped me take Amanda as far as possible in the dressage arena, and when the work became too demanding for the mare, found me with a massive young Dutch gelding called Monty. Amanda went to live in Holland where she had a baby, and then enjoyed a long and happy retirement.

My partnership with Monty didn’t last very long. The poor darling came into my life at a time when I seemed to be particularly accident prone (double fracture with a torsion in my right leg, followed by a shattered humeral head, both injuries sustained within twelve months of each other, the second - basically a shattered shoulder - caused by a particularly nasty fall from Monty), so we never really had the opportunity to bond. Also, my children were little, and I seemed to spend my days rushing around, trying to fit about twenty-four hours into twelve. Anyway, to cut a long and boring story short, I decided to quit riding altogether. My high-energy dressage diva trainer took Monty back, and I spent the next seven years horseless, which weirdly enough for someone as horse crazy as me, went down fine. I did lots of other things during those years, including write a couple of books, one of which was published, while the others are still floating around in my hard-drive, waiting to be finished or tweaked.

While I went about doing all those other things, my daughter gradually grew into a horse-freak just like me. A couple of tepee-housed, super cool pony camps in Ibiza during the summer holidays hotwired her passion, and it didn’t take much convincing to get me to sign her up for riding lessons once school resumed. Watching her lessons rekindled my horse addiction, and before we knew it we were horse shopping in Germany. Kwintus, a 15-year-old KWPN PSG schoolmaster arrived in Switzerland by lorry a few weeks later.

Kwintus and Olivia
We couldn’t have bought a better horse for my then 15-year-old daughter. Kwintus, now happily retired, was the perfect gentleman, an absolute teddy-bear, the type of horse you might consider bringing home to sit on the couch to eat chocolate biscuits and watch television with (he had a great sense of humour, so would probably have enjoyed shows like “Modern Family”!). He was also an old pro in the dressage arena, puffing himself up at the first sight of a braid elastic. (“Extend the trot down the diagonal? No probs, honey, I got this!”) Kwintus won Olivia first place in their first ever competition with close to 70%, a dizzying score for Switzerland where judges tend not to dish out 7s willy nilly.

Kwintus also got me back in the saddle, re-established my confidence, and gave me a pretty good idea about what riding a decent level of dressage should feel like. He wowed both my daughter and I with wonderfully straight, perfectly rhythmical tempi-changes (up to the two’s), nice pirouettes and half-passes, movements neither of us had ever experienced before. Kwintus was definitely a very special horse with an enormous heart who would just give, and give, and give. He’d probably given so much before we bought him that within a couple of years he started showing signs of arthritis in his neck, which made him trip over every so often. We treated the problem once or twice with infiltrations to keep him comfortable, but when he turned 18 and my daughter went off to University in England, I made the decision to retire him. He deserved it. If ever a horse was loved, Kwintus was, not only by my daughter and I, but also by one of his previous owners who still regularly asks after him.

Retiring Kwintus was tough on me. Not only had I lost my horse, but I’d also watched my daughter go off to University in a land faraway across the sea. Ok, so Cornwall isn’t all that far from Switzerland if you compare it to the distance between, say, New York and San Francisco, but, believe me, you can get from New York to San Francisco far more easily and quickly than you can get from Geneva to Falmouth. Last Christmas it took my daughter three days to get home! Ok, so there were wild storms and electric cuts and floods and flight cancellations involved, but still. Getting to the “wall of Corn” is by no means straightforward.

But I digress. Basically, with my daughter gone and no horse to ride I got very sad, and so after a while my husband got fed up with my moping and said, “for goodness sake, Cesca, go and buy yourself another horse before you drive me mental.” Or words to that effect.

There’s nothing like horse-shopping to cheer up a horse-crazy empty-nester-menopausal misery guts. A few months later my trainer and I took a trip to the South of France where I fell for a beautiful dark bay Lusitano stallion, Qrac de la Font.
Qrac and me, September 2014

I would never have been able to buy a horse like Qrac if I hadn’t had the experience of a horse like Kwintus beforehand. Even so, riding him was, initially, quite a challenge. There were moments when I really had to breathe deep, stay calm and dig deep for my courage. For a seven-year-old, Qrac had very little work and could be quite a handful. He’s an emotional horse, he’s super sensitive, and his spins to the left are legendary! I had him gelded a year and a half after buying him, and never regretted taking that decision (I wrote about it here on the blog at the time).

Qrac makes me smile every single day. He’s my sunshine, my daily treat. He’s a challenge, a work in constant progress, a silly billy, a very clever boy. As my daughter puts it, he’s my “best thing” and I have withdrawals if I don’t go and see him every day. I worry about him, think about him, play dress up with him (he has a vast collection of blingy saddle blankets), and fuss over him like a crazy person. The progress we’ve made in the three and a half years we’ve been together makes me very proud because what we’ve achieved, we’ve achieved without any outside help apart from really good trainers on the ground.

I’ve loved all my horses, but there’s definitely something special about my relationship with Qrac, just as there was something special about my daughter’s relationship with Kwintus.

It bothers me to say that Qrac is the super special horse of my lifetime because it somehow feels like I’m betraying the other horses I owned, downplaying all the great times I shared with them, belittling the amazing things each of them brought to me. So in a very zany conclusion, I’m tempted to say that thinking about my previous horses is a bit like thinking about old boyfriends; some suited me more than others, but I had strong feelings for them all.

And that I deeply love the one I’m with.

Or something like that!

Do you know what I mean? Do you or did you once have a super special horse?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Finding Equestrian Inspiration - When There Aren't Any Horses

by Natalie Keller Reinert

Write what you love, they said. Write what you know, they said. It will flow, it will be authentic, you will never want for inspiration.

And all those things are true, except that sometimes life takes you on a strange ride and the things that you know and love might not be in front of you all the time. Or at all. And you begin to forget things -- gossamer little threads that are essential to bridging the gap between what is imagined, and what is real -- and sometimes the sentences become harder to craft, the scenarios harder to picture, the reactions of the horses and the humans harder to judge.

For the past year and a half, maybe longer, I've been living horse-free. It wasn't by choice, just the way things turned out. I've tried to live it up, these days without the restriction of being back to feed or worrying about the weather. I've done a lot of traveling that wouldn't be possible if I had horses to think about, for one thing. And everywhere I've gone, I've looked for horses to inspire me.

Sometimes it's as simple as laying a hand on a hot neck, bursting with veins on a summer's day. Sometimes it's as subtle as watching dark eyes following the paths of tourists on a busy evening in Times Square. Sometimes it's as immersive as wrapping my arms around a horse's neck and just hugging, hugging, hugging.

Every little interaction is the fuel I need to keep writing about horses and horse-people. My next Alex and Alexander novel, Turning For Home, is almost there. I couldn't have done it without these horses.

To the horses that I met in my travels this year: thank you for the inspiration. I'll keep on remembering, and I'll keep on writing.

Unnamed beauty in the paddock at Del Mar, July 2014

I don't know this roan lovely's name. I was taking pictures of his glorious bare feet. July 2014.

That time I spent a half hour snuggling with a pony at Saratoga. August 2014.

Another mystery draft, this one at Walt Disney World in Florida. April 2014.

Sure, they're statues. But something about their pricked ears and bright expressions really spoke to me.
Terra-cotta horses at Epcot, Walt Disney World, October 2014.

Visiting with NYPD Mounted horses is always a highlight of any trip.
The Fountain of Planets, Flushing Meadows Park, July 2014.

Reminding me of what a racehorse in her glory should look like.
Belmont Park, June 2014.
Do I need more horse-time in my life? Absolutely -- and I have some in the planning stages. But in the meantime, these horses have been a big help to me.

Have you ever been separated from horses for a long period of time? How do you handle the time apart?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Pony called Lightning

by Linda Benson (a repost from the past - about ponies.)

Ponies in general get a bad rap, don't you think? Many of them, clever and mischievous by nature and too small for an adult to ride, never receive enough training to become solid citizens.

But years ago we had a wonderful pony who came to us by chance, when my daughter was young.

I was a single mother at the time, living on a rural property where I had a small saddle shop behind my house. I also sold a horse from time to time, to help with the rent and the groceries. We always had something to ride, but my daughter did not have a horse to call her own.

A neighbor phoned, asking if I knew anyone that was missing a little silver dappled pony that had just walked up her driveway. He was visiting with her two horses out back, and so she turned him in with them, so he wouldn't run loose all over the place.

Although a horse or pony getting loose (and other horse people catching them up) is not particularly strange, what was different about this pony is that no owner was ever found. After my friend went through the appropriate channels looking for an owner (animal control, feed stores, newspaper) she finally admitted she had no use for the pony, and did my daughter want it?

So the pony was walked down the road to our house, where my daughter tied it to a tree in the backyard and began to brush the little gelding. He stood probably only 11 hands, and after passing all the tests for gentleness, we progressed to saddling him, bridling him, leading her around, and eventually, turning over the reins to her. I expected him to be a typical little balking pony, who'd amount to nothing more than a lead-line mount. Surprise, surprise. This pony was broke to death!

This little gelding walked, trotted, and even cantered at my daughter's first cue. He stopped immediately for her, neck-reined like a pro, and the huge grin on my daughter's face as she put him through these paces was priceless. Here was a very well-trained little horse, her own size, that did exactly what she asked! She was so proud!

I can't imagine who ever took the time to train a pony like this, and why no one was missing him. A person could search and search for just such an animal, and have a desperate time finding one. To a single mother, struggling to make ends meet, this was a gift from the heavens.

To make the deal legal, I think we paid my friend $50 for this pony, which my daughter promptly named Lightning. As you can see from the pictures, we eventually trusted the little guy to ride double, bareback (no, we never had helmets back then) and my daughter gained more confidence from that priceless little pony than you can ever imagine.

Now, my daughter has grown into a beautiful woman who will soon be getting married. But neither of us will forget the little pony who simply walked up the driveway one day. LIGHTNING!

Have you had a good pony in your life? Or a bad one? One that you learned a lot from?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The busy life of a writer

By Gayle Carline
Writer and Crazy Horse Lady

As usual, I am not here. This weekend I am driving back and forth to Long Beach, to attend Bouchercon, a mystery lover's convention. It's named after Anthony Boucher and is a huge event. Once that event is over, I will stop by a hotel in Anaheim and register for a leadership conference that I must attend for my position as a library trustee.

The following week, we're hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

At some point, possibly early January, I plan to sleep.

Everyone seems to think that a writer's life is one of leisurely writing. We do our chores, run errands, go to meetings and conferences, promote our books, and write. Every day. I'm not sure when they think we write.

There are memes on the internet about writing. This one is pretty accurate:

And then there's this one about horse riders:

Have a great weekend, doing whatever you think you do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cover Reveal

by Linda Benson

Very excited to show you the awesome new cover for the re-release of my most popular novel - now available!

This post-apocalyptic horse novel was inspired by an actual college research project I did, as well as the state of the horse industry today. Can you imagine a time in the future when the bond between horses and humans has been largely forgotten? Except for one girl, named Sahara, who still dreams of horses.

Here's the link on Amazon and it's available as an ebook for only $2.99.

Hope you like it! And feel free to share. Thanks!

Monday, November 3, 2014


Laura wrote in her last post that she has been overwhelmed with responsibilities. Gayle and Linda are great about posting, but Natalie couldn't post on her day because she has been too busy. Terri we haven't heard from since her last great trekking adventure (it seems like that was the last time) and 'Cesca, well, where have you gone???

Life has gotten complex, harried and busy for everyone I know.  My girlfriends and I finally got together for lunch after trying to coordinate schedules.  The days I work were their days off and vice versa.  When we do get together we promise it needs to be more often. But now the holidays are rolling around and there will be no time once again.

There is a billboard on my way to one of my jobs (register gal at an antique shop) that basically says "No time for a mammogram?  Then how will you fit cancer into your life?"  It makes me pause every time I pass by (effective advertising) because I avoid fitting a mammogram into my day.  I forget to smell the roses, I don't sit down long enough to read a good book, I leave the wash in the machine, I misplace my to-do lists, I forget the tick meds until I find a tick on the dogs, I don't brush manes until there's a burr, and I wait until the last minute for deadlines.  These are just a few.

So after this rant, I am simply adding some photos (many off Google, of course, since I don't have time to take my own) that perhaps will make you pause and smile and even smell the roses.

Love the curious expressions --and what fun these guys must be having! 
Fang sharing a good book, This photo always makes me laugh. 

We actually did get an afternoon drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway
My gorgeous daughter and her equally adorable friend. 
So to all of you who are as harried and harassed as I am, good luck finding time to enjoy life and savor the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday!