Saturday, May 30, 2015

Who knows what the future holds?

By Gayle Carline
Author and Owner of a Bionic Horse

We tease about Snoopy being "bionic" due to his left hind leg. For those of you who aren't regular readers, he broke the sesamoid bone seven years ago and it now looks like this:

As you can imagine, having one leg with a fused joint and accompanying hardware alters his movements. Specifically, incorporating more of his left hip affects the landing on his right front. Each month, he sees the chiropractor. Each month is the same: he requires adjustments on the left hip and right shoulder.

This year, we've been experiencing problems on the right front foot. He wasn't truly lame, as in three-legged, he was just off. I'm sure you've all experienced a horse that was happy to tote you around, didn't complain, but looked ouchy when they turned one way or the other. The vet did a flexion test, prescribed an anti-inflammatory and we crossed our fingers.

It helped, along with a monthly dose of Adequan, but I had concerns. We knew he was sore, but we didn't know why. It's natural to assume he won't get better, but how would I know when it's on the trajectory to unrecoverable?

I had an old horse who was sound at the walk and limped at the trot. We took a series of x-rays over a series of weeks that showed his heel sinking further and further toward the ground. He was foundering and we couldn't stop it. Had I not had those pictures, I would not have known how bad it was, or when it was time to let him go.

So I ordered x-rays on Snoopy's front leg. We'd never taken them on that leg before. I wasn't sure whether the vet would find nothing unusual, or whether he'd point and say "aha"! 

It was an AHA moment, thank God. What did we see? Let me show you a diagram of how a horse's leg is supposed to look:

Snoopy's legs don't look anything like this. His cannon bones (the beige one) tilt slightly one way. The two pastern bones (the green and purple) are straight, then the hooves tilt the other way. 

As his farrier said, "He gets his legs from his mom. They grow in three different directions."

The x-ray on his right leg told the story of what was wrong. Along the outside of the hoof, next to the little point (see the red arrow, but on the opposite side) there was a weird arcing structure pointing up toward the purple bone. The vet said that was calcification, which wouldn't account for his soreness UNLESS it was combined with what he showed me on the outside of the top of the green bone - a tiny bone spur pointing toward the brown bone. 

The bone spur was miniscule, but the way his leg winds this-way-and-that, it's like having a teeny pebble in your shoe. It's not going to result in amputation, but it bugs the heck out of you.

He now has different front shoes, and a lower dose of anti-inflammatory. He's looking more comfortable and moving a lot easier. Now we know where to look when anything changes.

And there will be changes, because that's life. I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to ride him, but I promised to keep him sound and comfortable for as long as possible. When it's time to let go, I hope to feel confident that I've made the right decisions. It's the least I can do.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Piper in the Graveyard

                                                by Laura Crum

            Every Memorial Day my husband would play his bagpipes in the old cemetery in Soquel to honor the veterans. We would show up there, Andy wearing his kilt and “clobber” as he called it, and he would play for an hour or so, taking breaks to rest his lungs. There were always a few people there, tending the graves of their loved ones—often they would come over and thank him. My son and I wandered around, listening to the piping and looking at the old graves.

            It was and is a peaceful, wild place, pleasantly overgrown, on the banks of Soquel Creek, and it felt good to be there. One year the man who owned the cemetery was there and thanked Andy. Later that day I told Andy, “I think I’d like to be buried there. Next year, if the owner is there, I’d like to buy our gravesites. Is that OK with you?”
            Andy agreed this was OK with him, and the next year the owner was there and I bought three gravesites—one for each of us.
            In the intervening years, Andy played his pipes there on Memorial Day and sometimes Veteran’s Day—and I learned that my great grandmother had once tended the graves in that cemetery. Every time I was there I had a peaceful feeling. My son and I would talk about the fact that some day we would be buried there. It all seemed very gentle and distant.
            But last year my husband grew very ill with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. No treatment was effective, and it became clear that he did not have long to live. In the way of a brave soul, Andy kept on with his life, going to work up until a month before he died—and his death was quick and at a moment of his choosing. And no, I don’t mean suicide—assisted or not. I mean that he had the will to let go of his life, just as he had the will to keep going, undiminished, until he knew it was time to move on. He chose to die in my arms when we were alone together—as a thunderstorm poured down overhead. Just took one deep breath and did not take another.
            When the man who was helping me take care of Andy arrived later, and I told him what had happened, he just nodded. “The great souls always pass in a storm,” he said.
            The next day I made arrangements for Andy to be buried in front of the biggest oak tree in the old Soquel Cemetery—a place where he had often stood to play his pipes. As we had agreed beforehand, it was a green burial. No chemicals, no metal—just a simple coffin of woven bamboo. The hole was dug by hand, and his friends lowered his coffin into it by hand. Andy’s friend and piping teacher, Jay, played the pipes. We told stories of Andy’s life, toasted him with some of his favorite single malt whisky, and decorated his grave with beautiful begonias that he had grown.
            Since then I go to the graveyard several times a week to put flowers from our garden on Andy’s grave. His sister and brother came to visit, and we bought a bench and placed it next to the gravesite. So I sit on the bench and talk to Andy. I see lots of things. A hawk alighted in the top of the big oak tree one day. A bobcat walked across the cemetery carrying something for her kits. Squirrels chase each other through the gravestones and ducks fly up and down the creek. As it always was, it is a peaceful place.
            This Memorial Day Jay met my son and me at the cemetery. It was a gentle, sunny afternoon and we sat on the bench and Jay played his pipes. I had brought flowers for Andy’s grave, including begonias—and some unknown person had placed an angel there. Various people were there tending graves and thanked Jay for playing. Some recognized me and asked about Andy. It seemed hard to take in that last year he had been here playing and this year he was buried in the ground. But so it is. The human condition...
            I cried a lot. But we smiled a lot, too. And told stories. I brought a bottle of Lagavulin and we toasted Andy. We poured a little whisky on the grave (my son said, “Papa would say that was a waste of good whisky,” and Jay and I both laughed). I gave Jay the bottle as a present, and my son and I drove Andy’s little red Porsche home.
            As days go now, it was a good day. I think Andy was happy to see us all there and hear the pipes played in his honor. I was very sad—but I am always sad. And I could feel some sweet thing underlying the sadness. Love.
My love is still steady and strong, as I believe Andy’s love for both me and our son remains steady and strong. I will go and place flowers on his grave as long as I can walk. I will love him as long as I exist. Some day, not long from now, there will be a gravestone with a piper on it underneath the big oak tree. The words at the top, chosen by our son, will say “He played his pipes for the good of all here.”

Some day I will be buried next to him.

And so it is for the piper in the graveyard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Counts

                                                            by Laura Crum

            Disclaimer--I want to apologize for the repetitive nature of my recent posts. I know that I talk almost exclusively of my current path of trying to understand what may transcend death. Trying to understand what counts. I am guessing some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, there she goes again. This is getting a bit morbid. And I’m afraid that you may just have to write me off when it comes to being entertaining.
            Because no, I am not planning to post many fun, light-hearted thoughts about trail riding or writing novels in the near future. This may happen eventually—who knows? But I know where my interest lies now. And it is directed towards what counts.
            I will immediately add that I am no expert on spiritual experiences. Nor, for that matter, am I an expert on horses or writing. It is quite safe to say that I am not an expert on anything.
            Also, I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything. Partly because I don’t think that ever works, and partly because I’m just not concerned with that. However it has come to me that I do need to share these insights—in the possibility that someone, somewhere, may find them helpful. So I’m trying to share.
            In the light of my husband’s death (and I mean that phrase literally) many things have gotten a lot clearer for me. Yes, I am sad, but I don’t resent the sadness. And more and more I find I’m being led to some understanding that I didn’t have before. I get many messages from Andy and he comes to me in dreams. At this point I have a lot of trust that we are going on together.
            I don’t need to prove this to anybody; I don’t even need to prove it to myself. I just follow where I’m led, and it is helping me. I find that I see the world very differently. The only things that seem to me worth doing are those things that are motivated by love.
            Of course, almost any action can be motivated by love. I work in my garden out of love, I go grocery shopping out of love, I do the dishes out of love, I feed the horses out of love…you get the point. I am aware of the love behind the smallest tasks that I do to take care of my son and our animals and the little life we have here. Taking my kid to his lessons, sending him texts on his phone-- all sorts of things that look very mundane are, in fact, motivated by love. And this is true not just of me, obviously, but of others.
  At the same time, I am mystified by the way so many people appear to lead their lives. Reading the paper, watching TV, dinking around on the computer playing games, concerned about who won the latest sporting event, ranting about politics…etc. It is very hard for me to perceive how these actions could be motivated by love, though it is impossible to judge others, and I am not trying to do so. I’m just puzzled. To me, it looks like killing time, striving to be entertained, seeking that frothy phenomena we call “fun,” or just plain operating by rote, doing the things one has always done for no other reason than habit.
Of course, I am not always able to act loving. I may intend to act out of love, but when I feel distressed or anxious or as if someone is stepping on my toes, my default reaction is to get openly upset. And I don’t mean weepy. I do not necessarily feel angry, but I often seem angry—even if I am scared. I am confrontational and blunt. I flip off the driver who has aggressively cut in front of me, I directly confront the “friend” who aims snarky little put-downs at me, I tell my son in a no-nonsense way that I won’t put up with him being rude to me or to others. I am no patient saint. I truly am not sure how my blunt manner and tendency to be forthright about my feelings can assort with my desire to act out of love. I do not necessarily think that love is an always patient doormat-like quality. I think love can be as clear and direct as a bright sword. Love has to be truthful—it cannot be false or it is not love. I do not know if love can be expressed in anger—but I think this could sometimes be true. Jesus driving the moneylenders out of the temple with a whip comes to mind as an image. The truth is that I just don’t know. I do know that I too often act angry and it makes me sad that I do this. But I also know that I intend to act out of love and I’m trying to be aware of my habits.
            One simple thing has become clear to me—for my own life, anyway. If I am not motivated by love, the thing is not worth doing. This would include things I do out of a desire to be loving to myself—buying a mocha at the coffee shop, the occasional embroidered blouse, having some blond streaks put in my hair—all little unimportant nothings. If I do them out of love for myself, its very different than doing them because I want to fit in, or I want to impress others.
            Anything can be motivated by love. I learned this lesson very deeply when my husband got sick and I began doing many things for him that he would normally have done for himself. Andy has always been a strong and independent being, and he would take care of his own business—and wanted to do this. But as he felt more ill, I scheduled his appointments and picked up his prescriptions and did anything I could to make his life easier. Now those who know me know I hate this sort of thing—doctor’s waiting rooms, traffic, lines…etc. And I well remember one particular day. I had been trying to get a pain med prescription renewed for Andy and he needed it that day. First the pharmacy refused to fill it saying it had recently become “controlled.” I went back and got a handwritten script from the doctor (took an hour to get this done). Then the pharmacy said that they didn’t have it—they would have to order it. I called around until I found a pharmacy that did have it, and I drove through traffic (took another half an hour) and found a parking place for my large pickup in their very crowded parking lot, and waited in line at the counter, and then sat for half an hour in the parking lot while they filled that prescription. Normally this would have made me gnash my teeth with rage and frustration and feel that I was wasting a perfectly good day on a hideous errand. But this day was different.
            I knew, every moment of the time, every step of the way, that I WANTED to be here. I had no resistance to this tedious experience. I wanted to help Andy—anything I could do to help him I wanted to do—out of love. It showed me that someone sitting in traffic, or waiting in line, or just going about the business of life, can be in one of two very different places—though you might never tell by observing him/her. Such a person can be simply killing time, acting out of habit and rote, perhaps resentful, perhaps just bored. Or that person may be doing whatever it is that they are doing out of love. And though they may be sad or frustrated by what they have to go through, the love is always there, underlying the actions, making them all worthwhile. It makes all the difference.
            My husband once told me (he was kind of a laconic guy) that love wasn’t about whispering sweet nothings in the beloved’s ear. It was about what you did. “I make your tea in the morning, and your cocktail in the evening, and cook you dinner. That’s love,” he said. And I did finally realize that he was right—and told him so.
            Now the importance of acting out of love becomes clearer and clearer to me. I think each of us is perhaps meant to do different things and express different truths to the world—so acting out of love may appear quite dissimilar from one person to another. Again, there is no point in judging others. But there is, in my view, a great deal of point in looking at ourselves and evaluating what we do. Are we just killing time in various ways, or are we acting out of love? Every step of the way, every moment of the day.
            Thoreau (one of my heroes) said (in Walden) that one cannot kill time without injuring eternity. I have always taken that statement very seriously. And now I believe I understand those words just a little bit better. Thank you, Andy.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Horse Statistics by Alison Hart

I am grabbing at topics to write about these days -- my time is consumed with antiques and gardening plus working at two shops, none of which has anything to do with horses. My writing is between approval of an outline for Sea Dog and waiting for the final, final draft of Finder Coal Mine Dog to so I can review it for the last time. I am giving myself a break before I plunge headlong into writing a first draft for Sea Dog and resuming my copious research on Magellan's journey (which included sodomy, orgies, be-headings . . . you get the picture).

So I am writing about statistics, horse statistics, that, of course, are not carved in stone, but are still interesting.  A study in 2005 by the American Horse Council  reveals that there are 9.2 million horses in the United States. Texas has by far the greatest population beating Kentucky and Virginia, two horsey states.  The interesting fact is that 2 million people own horses. That means a hell of a lot of us own more than two, three even four horses.

Not surprising since horses are herd animals and at least need one companion, a buddy to bond with.  My two, Belle and Relish, have settled into middle age happiness. There is little fretting or biting though Belle still rules the pasture despite her matronly age and physique, and even though I am not riding these days, I still want horses around.  The other reason so many of use have more than one horse -- we are slightly obsessed and simply love them.

Which brings me to the other statistics: 3,906,923 horses (over a third) are used for recreation. This doesn't include showing, rodeo, farm, racing and ranch work.  It means that we are just having fun with our horses or staring at them in their pastures.  The United States has the land and the luxury for back yard horses, another reason there are so many hanging around doing little at home.  And this is great unless they are hanging around doing little and no one is caring for them. Too often I pass pastures that are over-grazed by horses with chipped feet and tangled manes.  I've called animal control on one neighbor. For awhile the threat of a fine got him feeding 'his daughter's' horse, but this week I noticed the horse looks poorly again.

So the United States does love its horses, but that doesn't always mean they are all well-cared for.  I could not find a good source of abuse statistics, probably due to many factors, and the horse rescue websites have such horrible photos, I confess I can not look at them.  But abuse is  there, we see it all the time, and that is a sad fact indeed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Outlines: A Writer's Training Calendar

Setting up a training calendar is easy, right? You pick a horse show date and you move backwards, working out a nice hypothesis of where you'll be in training each week running up to the show. Nothing to it, because predicting how quickly and how competently your horse will pick up your training (to say nothing of staying sound and keeping on his shoes) is just easy-peasy. Right?

Of course we know that's nonsense. Horses look at calendars and laugh. They observe our ambitious plans and then they go out and look for a nice, innocent stick that they can use to injure themselves in astonishing and previously unbelievable ways.

Getting to a horse show takes planning. Writing a book is much the same!
Photo: flickr/dj-dwayne
In the game of planning for horse shows, the beginning is easy to see, and the end is fun to predict. It's the middle part that's hard.

Writing a book can be an awful lot like setting up that oh-so-charming training calendar. I like to outline, because I know my book's beginning, and I know my book's intended ending, but the middle part always bogs me down. You know, all that stuff that makes up the story? Moves the plot along? Gets the horse from green-broke to jumping courses? Yeah. That can be challenging.

Every book I've written since Other People's Horses has had an outline, and every subsequent time I write an outline, I find myself a little more dependent on it. That's because my desire to wander from the set course never, ever wanes. Like a horse bound and determined to lose his shoe before the schooling show on Saturday, I am absolutely hell-bent on diverting from my intended story with wandering trail rides, unplanned-for barn drama, and completely unpredictable bucking incidents.

And while this sort of convoluted wandering story process seems to work for some writers (George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame comes to mind), I really don't want to write 500 page door-stops that are meant to be set during one fateful summer in Saratoga, or wherever. That's why I have to force myself back to the outline. Because every wandering trail ride has to expose a new question in the plot, every unplanned-for barn drama has to be resolved, and every unpredictable bucking incident has to involve sorting out what set off the horse, and how to fix the horse's problem.

That's a lot of extra writing for me, and a lot of meandering "what happened to the plot?" for you, the readers.

So funny story, haha, you guys are going to love this, I wrote a masterful outline for Pride, which is the sequel to Ambition.

Sidebar: Originally Ambition was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I've gotten so many requests for a series that I had to cave to pressure. Readers have power! When you like something, say something! 

Anyway, I wrote this wonderful outline for a book which can stand up as the second novel in a trilogy about Jules, Pete, Lacey, Becky, and of course Dynamo and Mickey, plus a host of new riders and horses. It was here to make my life easier, this outline. To keep me on track and stop me from taking three years and half-a-dozen drafts to write, the way that Ambition did.

And I got midway through Pride, to about 45,000 words, which when you consider Ambition is about 111,000 words, you can see is that all-troublesome Middle Part that confounds both trainers and writers when we are making our plots and plans... and I started to wander. I quickly realized I was inventing some barn drama which was good, but which would need to be resolved or things were going to get way off track. I decided it was time to consult my written outline, since at this point I'd just been writing off memory of what I'd planned.

This was when I realized that I had lost the outline.

Oh jeez. 

Well, I stumbled about for a little bit, figuring I could find my way through without the outline, but the thing just started keeping me awake at night. What if I had lost my way? How was I going to fix this? What was the best use of my time? I'm on a tight deadline to get Pride finished and my work schedule outside of house is about to ramp up considerably. If I let this plot wander too much, I was going to be months behind.

Something had to be done.

I knew the ending still (that horse show date that I had selected months before, right?) and although my middle part had changed a little bit, that's just what horses do. It was time to be agile. I sat down, opened my writing program, and started creating chapters.

In Scrivener, which is the program I use, each folder becomes a chapter. And there's a little box where you can type out a synopsis. I'd never used it before, but there's a first time for everything. I typed a synopsis for each chapter I had yet to write, creating a little guide-map to every single folder, so that no matter when I opened up the manuscript to write, there would be no excuse -- the next step in the story was right there, ready to be fleshed out.

I created fourteen chapters in all, assuming that each one would balance out at about 2,000 words, and then on the edit/rewrite I would elaborate on them until they had more substance. Then, I started work on the first one.

That chapter stretched out to 5,000 words.

Outlines. The more detailed they are, it would seem, the easier my job gets.

It reminds me again of that training calendar -- on a good day, I can look at the calendar, assess where my horse is vs where I thought my horse could be, and then reassess. Once that's done, I can see what I want to do for the day, then get out there and make it happen... much more successfully than if I'd just mounted up without a plan, wandered out to the arena, and started trotting around waiting to see what would happen next.

That's good news for me as a writer. It's good news for everyone waiting for the sequel to Ambition, too. Hold on kids, Jules and Company are coming back for more!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Ear Ring...and Other Stuff About Life and Death

                                    by Laura Crum

            Sometimes my life seems filled with magic. Sometimes, however, it seems endlessly sad. I am not sure that these two aspects will ever be reconciled. A paradox. And if there is one thing I know, it’s that truth resides in paradox. Every truth I ever came face to face with was/is essentially a contradiction.
            A good god allows innocents to suffer in this world. Free choice exists, but outside of time everything is happening now—in an eternal present-- so your choice is already made. Our spirits may transcend death and go on to a better existence, but we all struggle to avoid this ending of our earthly lives and consider it a tragedy when we lose a loved other to death. (No matter what we profess to believe about God and heaven and the afterlife…etc.) So yeah, it doesn’t surprise me that magic and sorrow seem to go hand in hand.
            I still struggle with this. Our human minds don’t deal with paradox very well. We want a logical solution—a truth we can understand. I’m afraid that I think that it doesn’t work that way. But whatever insights I have don’t help me very much at times. When I am faced with what seems like pointless suffering, I more or less despair.
            As in the fact that last week my little dog, Star, had some sort of aberrant reaction that caused her to go into shock. I came home to find her like this—I have no idea what happened. She was safely in the dog run with her companion, Cleo, she had no marks of injury, no signs of stings or signs that she had fought with the other dog. She was just dazed and staggering and out of it, with pale gums. I thought she was dying. My heart just about broke.
            I rushed her to the vet, and after an eight hour ordeal of treating her for shock and doing diagnostic blood work, she seemed OK. But there was no consensus on what caused the problem and if it would happen again. I am grateful for her apparent recovery and taking the best care of her that I can, but my heart is still very heavy. On top of everything else I have to bear, it seems like a gratuitous insult. Why?
            There is no answer to this. “Why” is something others are asking with far greater cause. I think of Nepal and I am aware that this “why” is universal. Why must we suffer because of these unexpected, unexplained events? Why? What possible good does our suffering do? I do not know, I do not know.

            A quote from Rumi:
            I said: What about my heart?
            God said: Tell me what you hold inside it.
            I said: Pain and sorrow.
            God said: …Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

            This sounds very pretty written down, but I am here to tell you that it is a hard truth to live. Pain and sorrow…

            But hand in hand with this sadness is the magic. Yes, magic—or magik, as Andy might say. All the signs I have been given that he is still with me past death. I will tell one story here—one of many that I have experienced.
            I have a pair of ear rings that belonged to my grandmother. Ever since she died and left them to me they are the only ear rings I have worn. They are small, plain gold hoops, they look like a pair of wedding rings.
            Shortly after Andy died I lost one of these ear rings. I searched and searched for it but could not find it. Eventually I gave up. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and said to Andy (I talk to Andy all the time). “Its OK. It doesn’t matter. I will wear one ear ring for the rest of my life as a sign that I’m half of a pair.”
            And in that instant I looked down and there, on the floor, under the counter, was the ear ring. This seemed pretty magical to me. I felt that Andy was returning it to me and telling me that we are still together, that I am whole, part of a pair. We are still a couple. That what appears to be lost is not lost.

            OK—a couple of weeks ago I went to the acupuncturist. She manipulated my ears as part of the treatment, and I remember thinking that I ought to check and make sure my ear rings are there before I leave. But I didn’t.
            I ran a couple of errands afterward, went home and got my son, got in a different vehicle and took my boy to the golf course. We went in the snack shack and the pro shop. And finally, getting ready to go home, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw I was missing an ear ring.
            I called the acupuncturist’s office—they couldn’t find it. I searched both my vehicles, looked all through my clothes, looked everywhere at home—under the bed, on all the floors. No ear ring. I had to think it had fallen off in one of several parking lots…etc. I felt sure it was lost for good this time.
            Once again I stood in the bathroom, where Andy had returned it to me before. I said, “If you want to give it back again that’s great. But if not it’s OK—I’ll wear just one.”
            The second after I said that, I heard a “tink.” I KNEW what that tink was. It was the ear ring hitting the tile floor of the bathroom. And I have to admit a sort of thrill went through me.
            I said, “I heard that.”
            I got down on my hands and knees and looked (again) around the floor. And there was the ear ring, under the counter, where it had not been a minute ago.
            Now the obvious explanation is that it was caught on my clothing and fell off in that particular moment. But still…I had searched my clothes several times, not to mention I had walked all over many different places for a couple of hours, gotten in and out of vehicles, and had just been on my hands and knees searching under the bed and on the floors. And it falls off while I’m standing perfectly still? In the second after I said those words?
            Once again I felt I was being told that I was still part of a pair. That what appeared to be lost was not lost. And that Andy could both hear and respond to me.
            So yeah. That’s what I choose to believe. Doesn’t matter to me if it’s all in my mind. We all choose our beliefs. I think I’ve got better evidence for mine than many do for much more conventional beliefs.
            And thus I live my life in sadness and also in a magical world. Truth in paradox.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Every time you think things will be the same.

By Gayle Carline
Still Horse Crazy After All These Years

Snoopy and I went to a horse show last weekend. It's a show I've been going to for a long time. I rode my old trainer's horse, Copper Kist there 15 years ago. The Hollywood Charity Horse Show is held at the L.A. Equestrian Center in Burbank. It's a fun show, tied to a fundraiser for different therapeutic riding groups.

I went to this horse show believing it would be much like every other time I've been to this horse show - with Snoopy, that is. My trainer Niki would ride him in a class ahead of mine, to school him, and shake out the bugs, so to speak. Then I'd ride him in the Novice Amateur class and we'd try to make it around the trail course without looking like idiots.

Easier said than done, I might add. I have an entire list of things to remember when I'm showing that big goofy horse of mine. Don't let Snoopy close to the silk flowers. Don't let Snoopy look at the gate. Don't get complacent and stop actively riding him. In addition, there are "Niki tapes" that run through my head as I'm riding. "Sit back. Put your hand down. Keep your leg on him, Use all your dirt."

I went into our first day thinking it would probably go the way it usually goes. Niki would make it look easy, then we'd do some obstacles well and some clunky and we'd get at least one 4th place from one of the judges.

We seem to be popular at 4th place.

The course looked extra decorated and colorful. There were potted bushes and grasses at the ends of the poles. Flower boxes were decorated with orange silk flowers. I knew Snoopy would want a mouthful of all of them. What I never imagined was that he'd try to grab them all when Niki was riding him.

Let me be clear: Snoopy has NEVER acted up for Niki in the show arena. She is The Exalted Trainer, never to be messed with. As soon as they took the course, he tried to grab at each plant he came near, ignoring her cues so he could get one more chance at the ficus on the corner. By the time they reached the gate and he opened his mouth for a silk flower, she'd had enough. She schooled him right there, in front of the judges. It was a Disqualification, but it had to be done. He could not get away with being a brat.

I got on him with the idea that I'd have to "handle" him on the course. If there was ever a time to ride him assertively, this was it. I couldn't let my guard down.

He was an angel for me. There was no plant grabbing, no loss of attention. We got our 4th place from one of the judges... and a 2nd place from the other.

By our second and last day of competing, I thought Snoopy had learned his lesson, and we'd go back to normal. I thought wrong. The photographer was in a new location, standing in front of a truck and a lot of trees. She was not making wild gestures. She was pointing and clicking, like she's done a bazillion times before.

Today, it spooked the Snoop. As Niki opened the gate, he looked at the photographer, tossed his head in the air, and tried to run. Niki shut him down, schooled him again (for another DQ), then made him complete the course. He tried to spook once more and she had to spank him one last time before they finished.

Then it was my turn. This was going to be more problematic. We could not get close enough to the photographer to get Snoopy acclimated to seeing her. I could warm up on him forever but there was no way to know how he'd react the second time through the course.

"Do you want to keep warming up, or go do the course?" Niki asked me after loping him in circles as close to the photographer as we could get.

"Might as well show," I said with a shrug. As I walked Snoopy toward the gate, I whispered, "Be good. It's just the photographer."

Again, he was quiet and responsive for me on the course. I kept my focus and rode decisively, but I felt myself smiling and relaxed by the time I walked over the last three poles. I survived.

We got another 2nd and 4th places, which wasn't as important as getting through the course. Our scores even earned us the Circuit Championship. Still not as important to me as achieving my personal goals, to do well riding my horse and have fun. 

Niki may get mad at his antics, but she still takes his mane out of its bands.

Now I'll wonder what the next show will hold. With Snoopy, I guess anything can happen.

What's been happening on your end of the world?