Monday, December 28, 2015

Getting Ready for 2016



by Christine.

A short post from me to say that Free Rein books 4 and 5, Learning to Fall and A Dollar Goes a Long Way have been on Kindle over 2015 and it has taken me a lot longer than I hoped to get them sorted as paperbacks.  That said, they are now available in paperback form!

In Free Rein news, I am currently working on book 6 of the series and for those interested, updates are posted first over at http://www.freereinseries.com/ - you can also sign up for my author news!

For the adult reader, I am also working on a new novel set in Australia on a trail riding property.  For details on this, stay tuned to http://www.horsecountrybook.com/ - 2016 is planned for the release of two new books from author Christine Meunier.

I am also setting myself the goal of reading 150 books in 2016 and anticipate a lot of these books to be horse related - I can't wait to discover some new horse authors, read from some favourites and learn more about horses along the way!

What are your horse reading / writing plans for 2016?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Resolutions: Short Stories and Sequels

The past couple of weeks I've been thinking about short stories...as I feverishly wrote one of my own.

On Tuesday, I released a story that clocks in around 12,000 words. A novelette, really. I wrote it in about three days, which is about right for every short story I've ever written. They tend to completely override my system until all I can do is write, leaving me wondering where time went and fifty pages of words filling Scrivener. They also leave me wondering why I can't do the same exact thing for novels, but I suppose those are more of a slow burn. One takes time with a novel. At least, I do.

I named the story Saratoga Summers and shipped it off to my editors. Then started working on the sequel novel to Stay the Distance (which has a name now!). Only the short story bug still hadn't been worked out of my system yet.

Before I could stop myself, I gravitated to an old file in my Dropbox. A five-year-old story that, when finished, will reach novella status. It currently sits at 24,000 words, but it lacks an ending because five years ago I wasn't sure what that ending would be. Now? I knew immediately. Five years ago I stalled out on it because I wasn't ready to write the ending it needed (big, brash, probably violent because it's a short story unlike anything I've ever written). All of a sudden I felt ready to write that ending. But could I let it hijack my forward momentum on the newly-named sequel? Especially when this novella-length short story is so incredibly weird?

In short, I think so. Because if I sit down and do it, history says it will take less than three days. The problem is I might just keep writing short stories, because I love them. I'm already envisioning a book of them, all nicely arranged together. Who wouldn't want a big book of horse stories (including that really weird one that I will talk about in the event that I finish it because it's so, so weird)?

I do. I want that book.

So, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, with its resolutions and all of that, I know I want to write more short stories. I also want to write, finish, and publish the sequel to Stay the Distance. 2016 is going to be a big year, so if anyone needs me I'll be over here furiously writing.

Oh...and Saratoga Summers is available on Amazon! Here's the synopsis:

July Carter is the daughter of a racehorse trainer and a jockey, always surrounded by other people’s horses. Beck Delaney is an owner’s son, his name connected to a growing horse farm in need of a trainer. July’s dad fits the bill perfectly. Now summers for July will be spent at beautiful Blackbridge Farm, training Thoroughbreds for the races at Saratoga, a horse racing paradise.

With Beck.

What could possibly go wrong?

Saratoga Summers is a fifty-page short story prequel—and immediate sequel—to Stay the Distance.
 

You can get your copy (or read it on Kindle Unlimited) here.  

***
Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit www.maradabrishus.com 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Horses, Books, and Sanity

by L. R. Trovillion

I'm only sane because I write and I ride. I see that now.

All last year during a particularly difficult period wherein my horses became unrideable, I swore to anyone who would listen that I had bought my last horse. Friends and family smiled, nodded, and disbelieved me. I was speaking the truth. I'd had my heart broken for the last time. I was done.

A week or so ago I accepted the invitation of a friend to ride a horse at his barn. When I arrived and was shown a very tall, red Thoroughbred ex-racer waiting in the cross ties, I asked myself "What woman of a certain age gets on an OTTB when she hasn't slung a leg over a horse in more than a year?" Well, I'll tell you. A woman who has lost a sense of self preservation or one who is sad over having lost a part of herself. After a short ride (the limit for my out-of-shape muscles) I got off, but wasn't ready to leave. The identity of being a Rider came back to me both barrels and ripped open that plugged up place in my heart which had convinced me that riding was a thing of the past, time to move on, close the book. No. I am a rider--maybe not a great one or even a good one, but that's who I am.

Something inside woke up and took notice. That something got plucked once again this week as I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert's work on creative living, Big Magic. In a passage about persistence I read words that leapt off the page and slapped me in the face. She was talking to me. Gilbert likens the creative mind to a border collie dog. You must give it a job--something to do--or it will find  a job you won't much like, such as tearing up the couch. I laughed, how true! But then she hit home, writing about herself: "...if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind)."  I reflected on this. Think of the "creative temperament" here--the many artists and writers who self-destruct. The creative minds that don't create,  destroy. But Gilbert gives those in pursuit of the creative life hope instead of hopelessness. She goes on to explain how creating something gives us an escape. Creating lets us forget for a while our duties, failures, age, backgrounds, enemies and insecurities. Certainly other things in life can do this as well, but by completely absorbing our attention in the act of creating something, for a short and "magical spell" we temporarily relieve ourselves from the "burden" of everyday being.  (And as writers, with our stories, hopefully we can relieve others as well.)


So, back to the myth of the tortured artist. As Gilbert points out, it is not creativity that turns people crazy, but rather not expressing it that threatens one's sanity; in other words, repressing who and what you are. So despite the difficulty, the discomfort, the heartbreak and the fear, I am going to do what I must to safeguard my sanity by being both a Rider and a Writer.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nobody Said It Was Easy...

...to pick up a WIP that you set aside for 6+ months due to work and adulting and stuff.

The first step is to go in and read what you wrote prior to setting it down. Not necessarily the whole thing (ain't nobody got time for that) but at least the last section, or the last few chapters. This step is crucial in answering the question on everybody's my mind, which is "what is going on here?". The only way to answer that is to read through the most recent pages from 6 months ago and sort of gently, painfully flail your way back into the story. 

Okay, so when you left off, you were gearing up for a polo match in which your undefeated team was about to lose, crushingly, to their most bitter rivals. Okay, great. Let's do it!

Okay, problem. You have zero ambition to get in there and write the nitty gritty details of playing a complex game on horseback. Okay, no problem! You've done plenty of those scenes, it was getting repetitive anyway. Instead, you can build the scene around the team dynamics (which are all screwed up, which is why they're L-O-S-I-N-G), and the failed romance of two rival players. Plenty to work on there, right?

Okay, yeah, if you say so. I guess. Okay.

You are able to struggle through 2 pages worth of material and then you have obligations and you have to leave.

It takes you 2 weekends just to get through the chapters involving the losing game, something which you would have burned through in a single morning. Your Part 4 is still not quite done. You have 2 stupid chapters to get through before you can move on to Part 5, The Last Part, which is another 50 pages of material. You laugh at your previous estimation that you would get this thing done over the winter. It's already mid-December, ahahahaha crap.

You have another unrelated project you want to get to, but you refuse to leave this one hanging, so you persevere. A couple pages at a time over the course of a weekend. No wonder you can't quit your day job.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If Horses Could Thank Us

by Lisa Wysocky

Every day I am thankful for horses, but as this year comes to an end, I know our horses are thankful for us. If they could, they would thank us for the food and shelter that we provide, because the reality is that unless a horse is born in the wild, they cannot provide this for themselves.


Our horses would thank us for the companionship of other horses. Since horses are herd animals, the safety and friendship that other horses provide is of utmost importance. They would also thank us for the veterinarian and farrier care that we give through our trusted equine medical professionals, as this is another thing that a horse cannot do for him- or herself.



I am sure our horses would also thank us for the many groomings we give them throughout the year, the care we take to be sure their saddles and other tack fit correctly, and the trail rides we take them on.



If a horse could thank us. This is not a bizarre thought, as the realty is that they thank us every day. Equine body language is subtle and complex, and their vocal tones offer distinctions that most human ears cannot detect, but from the blink of an eye, to a low whicker, to the flick of a tail, yes, they thank us.



 This "laughing horse" is actually relieving stress and tension.

It our job as equine authors to relay these complexities of horse language, thought, and behavior to the reader in an educational, engaging, and entertaining way. It is our job to also do this in a manner that drives the story (whether fiction or nonfiction) forward in words that makes sense to the reader. All of the authors here at Horse Crossings write about horses because we love them. We want our readers to care, too.



I had an editor who once questioned my use of the term “round pen.” “What is that?” she asked. When I explained how a sixty-foot round pen was used to develop leadership in the human side of the horse/human partnership she asked, “Why is it sixty feet?” I then explained that thirty feet was the average outside boundary of a horse’s personal space, so a person standing in the center of the round pen would be roughly thirty feet away from the horse. “That,” she said. “Is fascinating. You need to let your readers know.”



So I did, and with my equestrian mysteries I get just as many positive comments about the details of the equine mind as I do about the story line, or my characters. Subtly, equine authors must educate readers about the horse. If our horses knew, I am sure they would thank us because all of us, horse or human, just want to be understood.

–––––––––––––––––––

Lisa Wysocky is the author of the award-winning Cat Enright equestrian mystery series, which has been optioned for film and television. Find Lisa online at Lisa Wysocky.com, Facebook.com/ThePowerofaWhisper, Twitter.com/LisaWysocky

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Dowager Queens

My barn is being overtaken by mares. But not just any mares – oh no. A very specific sort of mare is invading my stalls, eating my grain and frolicking in my pastures. Out of a field of ten, six of my current equine residents are mares. Although their ages range from 13 to 31, their stories read along the same lines. Their dowry comes in the form of training they’ve received from previous owners. Some of them have show records. Others spent long hours trotting on the road for a living. Perceived as past their working prime perhaps, they’ve gone on to raise multiple babies. And somehow, they’ve found their way to Tantius Farm where they are known as my “dowager queens.”

Tia
This trend started a decade ago when I, a devoted gelding person, purchased my first, down on her luck queen. I didn’t know it at the time, but that one mare would change my perspective on working with horses forever. Tia taught me to take things one step at a time, that baggage wasn’t a four letter word but rather something of a brain teaser – a crossword puzzle, if you will. She could not be trained like a young horse, as she was already 12 and had had some rough handling. There seems to be certain levels of trust with her and each new training step required a different level of trust. I learned to build on what we had until a beautiful web of trust enveloped us both. Most of all, she taught me patience. A concept I’m sure she’s quite familiar with – she was a proud mother of 5 by the time she was 9.


Breeze believes that being silly is very important!



 Next came Breeze. My sweet Anglo-Arab mare was a mother twice over before she was broke to saddle at the age of 11. From the moment I loaded her into our trailer, I was in love. She is my hippy chick. Breeze is 15.2 hands of peace, love and connection. She had a brisk 30 days of training when I got her and she handled everything like a pro. She, like Tia, had a show career with me, except Breeze did crossrails and she loved it. She is my go-to girl for a quick, unscheduled ride as she doesn’t forget anything. Breeze reminds me to relax and take a deep breath, usually because that’s exactly what she’s doing as she’s smelling my face, which she does as often as she can. Having Tia prepared me for Breeze and although they’re two sides of the coin – Tia is quick and purposeful, Breeze is laid back and prone to wandering, hence, tripping – they are a fabulous yin-yang in my heart.

This is the face Shadow makes when she wants more bananas!
Shadow came to the farm on a cold and snowy evening. She was strapped into a blanket too small for even her bony frame. Shadow was 27 when she moved in with her younger sister. They had been together for 26 years and when we lost her sister, we thought we’d lose Shadow too. But the old queen surprised us all. Instead of withering from the loss, she began to blossom. Her sister had always been dominant but without her, we started to see what Shadow was really like. In the past four years, Shadow has made a new friend – our 13 year old gelding, Rip – and gotten on with her life. Although she was never trained to do anything, she stands perfectly still for kids to brush and is polite about taking cookies from them. She has firm opinions on blankets – she hates them – but she hates the cold even more. She always knows what stall is hers and what paddock she should be in (and will lead you to both in case you don’t know). Every day we say to each other, “I wish she was younger” or “I wish we’d gotten her when she was younger” as we have to come to love her and her grumpy old lady attitude (unless you have bananas, then look out!). She would have been a rock solid trail horse as nothing scares her.

Showy
In 2013, my mother and I won the bid for Forever Morgans on a registered Morgan mare, the foal she was carrying and her 3 month old filly. That mare was called Showy and as fate would have it, she came to live with us. In part because she needed a safe place to foal and we felt at least a little responsible for her since we’d won the bid. Showy went through auction because she has suspensory damage in her right front leg. The foal she was carrying was number 3. It will also be her last. Showy will never be 100% sound. That doesn’t stop her from running with her new mate, Gryff, it just means she needs some extra attention on occasion. The thing is, I’ve never seen that mare in a bad mood. She has more heart than most people. She may walk slower sometimes or run a little less, but she’s always ready for attention, ears up, eyes bright. Her special talent is teaching people about horses. She cuddles with strangers if they stop by her gate, resting her head on their shoulder, eyes closing as they pet her. To add to her resume, she’ll start trick training in the spring. Her perky attitude reminds me on a daily basis that everyone is experiencing some sort of pain. You don’t need to see it or know what it is to be gentle with them.
Sarah in yellow, Dutch in pink
Rounding out my court of royal ladies are the two newest members – Sarah and Dutch. Sarah is 23 and Dutch is 19. Both had show careers as young mares before heading to the breeding shed. They spent the last 5 years raising babies, side by side. They are thick as thieves, relying on each other instead of me for comfort. But that’s changing. Each day that passes finds Dutch a bit more outgoing – nickering at me when I start feeding – and Sarah a bit more tempered – our barn is filled with rules and manners and Sarah enjoys testing them all. Each day I tell them that Tantius is a different kind of farm. We may not have state of the art fencing or perfect white washed stalls, but we do have love. Lots of it. We don’t care that Sarah has a tumor on her throatlatch. It’s benign and surgery is not an option because of its placement. It doesn’t bother her so it doesn’t bother us. And Dutch is as shy as Tia was a decade ago and yet each day, I see a little more of the confident Park horse she must have been in her youth. I tell them that baby time is over, it’s time to get back to work! They nuzzle each other through the stall bars when I say this and then look back at me, ears up, ready for the challenge.


These mares, some with training, some with baggage – all seem to have hope. Hope that they have found someone they can trust and someone who loves them as much as they want to love a person. They shuffle in with dull coats and hooves just a tad shorter than the stories they could tell. Their sprung bellies drag at their top lines, making them appear even thinner, and their teeth too worn to help in putting the weight back on them. But even in their pauper disguises I know who they are. Given enough time, I can help them recover their crowns so they may take their proper place as the dowager queens of Tantius Farm.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I hate my heroine...

By Carolyn Henderson

When I wrote Beside Me, I loved my heroine, Corinne. She might have been prickly at times, but I never opened up a chapter on my screen without wanting to find out how she was and what she was going to do next.
So how come I’ve just spent two weeks wishing I’d never met her? How come the feisty but vulnerable teenager I had so much empathy with turned into an annoying, argumentative 15-year-old?
The answer is, as all the authors on here will know, that characters take on lives of their own. Writers create them and, of course, control them – we can choose what they look like, how they talk, even whether they live or die.  But if you don’t give them their fair share of freedom, they don’t come to life on the page.
I know Corinne doesn’t really exist, except in my imagination. I also know that parts of her are as alive as I am, because when you “invent” someone you take characteristics from people you’ve met, seen or even just glimpsed and put them together to make someone new. One character in Beside Me was born after I saw a group of teenagers in a cafe; they were clustered round a girl whose body language and tone of voice showed that she was obviously the Queen Bee.
This week, Corinne and I have become friends again. I know why she’s seemed so uncharacteristically arrogant and I’m glad she’s had the courage to admit that she was wrong. What she doesn’t know, of course, is that she’s got some huge challenges ahead of her: I think I know how she’ll cope, but I could be wrong.
That sounds as if I don’t plan. I do, but plans only work if you build in flexibility. Writers work in different ways: I know some who write lengthy back stories for all their characters, some who write detailed chapter by chapter synopses and some who think about ideas for months then write with nothing but that mental framework.
But no matter how detailed your plan, you have to allow for “What if?” moments. What if you took a character down a different route? What if you introduce someone, or something, just to see where that takes you?

As a reader, I like books which keep me guessing. As a writer, I like to keep myself guessing – because if I don’t want to turn the page, neither will anyone else.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Moral Question?

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photo
By Milton C. Toby

My plan for this post, until yesterday, was a feel-good piece about the great stories waiting for a writer at Old Friends, a Thoroughbred retirement farm for Thoroughbreds established by Michael Blowen a couple of miles from my home in Georgetown, Kentucky. Inspiration for my award-winning book, Noor: A Champion Thoroughbred's Unlikely Journey from California to Kentucky,was the untiring effort of Charlotte Farmer to locate an unmarked grave in California where Noor was buried and then figure out a way to move the horse's remains across country to Old Friends.

I'd be happy with half the passion Charlotte has for racing, for horses, and for the history of the sport!

More recently, author Laura Hillenbrand agreed to sponsor Genuine Reward, one of only two live foals produced from Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk, at Old Friends. Genuine Reward was standing at stud in Wyoming when he was offered for sale on Craigslist for "$500 or best offer." The 22-year-old horse arrived safe and sound at Old Friends this summer. Here is a link to a Blood-Horse article about Blowen, Hillenbrand, and Genuine Reward.

There are many more great stories at Old Friends, enough to satisfy anyone who writes about horses. But that's not the focus of this post. A National Public Radio report on the relationship between football, concussions, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy ("CTE," traumatic brain injury) is.

The numbers about football and CTE are staggering:
  • 108 concussions reported this year in the National Football League (these are only the concussions included on NFL injury reports; there almost certainly have been more)
  • In one recent study, the brains from 87 of 91 deceased NFL players, including a number of players who died as a result of suicide, showed symptoms of CTE
  • In another similar study, 131 of 165 people who played football at any level--professional, college, high school--suffered from CTE
After years of sidestepping the issue, chronicled in the book League of Denial, the NFL finally acknowledged the connection between concussions and CTE. A feature film based on the book, Concussion, slams NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league for their obfuscation and inexcusable foot dragging. Despite extensive media coverage of the NFL's bad faith efforts to hide the effects of concussions, professional football remains amazingly popular. And that popularity raises a vexing question for fans of football, for fans of horse sports in general, and for those of us who write about horses.

Is it moral, or ethical, to support (or even watch) an activity such as football, where athletes put themselves at an acknowledged risk for our entertainment? Think gladiators in ancient Rome. It's not a new question. I first came across it in a New York Times ethics column several years ago, and I wrote about it in my equine law blog--Horses and the Law--at www.thehorse.com. The question is an important one in a sport where athletes make conscious, and maybe informed, choices about the balance between career, money, and injury.

The question is even more problematic when we consider racing and other horse sports where an essential part of the competitive team, the horse, has no choice about its participation in a dangerous and sometimes corrupt sport. Horse racing has a drug problem, more serious than many in the sport's leadership admit, but does that mean we should boycott the game, stay home from the tracks and switch channels to avoid the Kentucky Derby or Breeders Cup broadcasts?

                    Bill Straus photo
As writers, how do we portray racing, or eventing, or rodeo in our books and articles? Are we doing the equine athletes a disservice by not writing about the problems? Do we have an obligation to educate our audience? Do our readers even care?

There are no easy answers, but that doesn't mean we should avoid the questions.

Starting a discussion is the first step.










Monday, November 30, 2015

It's Ok to Take a Break

by Christine.

I have previously written about writing goals and sticking to a schedule.  I believe it's important to motivate yourself in this way and see your writing moving forward.  However, there are times when you may just need to take a break from writing - and this is ok!

Perhaps it's a lack of inspiration or other things that are tying up your time; whatever the reason, don't feel guilty about taking a pause from writing.



I was planning to write the sixth book in the Free Rein series this year, but wasn’t pressuring myself to get started when I didn’t know what I wanted the book to be about.  Continuing on with my usual routine, it was when I was studying a particular area of Equine Health in my degree that I came across a topic that seemed like it would work perfectly for the context of book 6.

I was rapt!  The idea for the story and some parts of different chapters easily came together.

Once the book was a quarter written, I hit a writing slump.  That has been the case for the past few weeks and although it is unusual, I decided to not let it bother me.  There is always plenty of other work to be done to take up my time!

Cadence relates to the 'increase in a moment of suspension' in a gait.
As I was reading through the book Dressage Terms Defined I came across a definition for cadence and suddenly had an idea for the next chapter in my novel.  Once again, writing came easily.

Although it is important to set yourself goals and deadlines, I believe that at times you just need to take a break, not pressure yourself and wait for the motivation and ideas to come – even from the most unlikely of sources.  If you love being creative and writing, sometimes it’s just a question of exposing yourself to other avenues (reading, study, conversation, etc) to gain that inspiration.

What do you do when you experience writer's block?
 



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving

Photo Credit: Cindi Albright.
For Americans, it's time to show how thankful we are by eating an army's worth of food over the course of a long weekend and spending billions of dollars on things we really don't need. It's going to be amazing. As an author, however, that got me thinking.

Writing, they say, is a solitary art. A person sits down with their thoughts and their word processor, repeatedly banging on a keyboard until a novel miraculously forms under their fingertips. There is a lot about this description that rings true. I cannot count the number of hours I've sat alone with my computer, starting at its screen with a look of intense focus on my face (or confusion, or frustration, or bone-deep exhaustion).

But this also doesn't reflect the whole truth, because if writers were always going it alone we'd be horrible at our jobs. We need people. We need writer friends to commiserate and write along with, editors to tell us just what needs to be fixed, and beta readers to give us their unflinching first impressions. If you're an indie author, you need artists to help make cover art, proofreaders and copywriters to make your work flawless. You need a whole support group, a family of cheerleaders that pat you on the back as you go.

I published my first book this year, and next year I'll publish one more...maybe two if I'm lucky. The amount of people who helped me launch that sucker off the ground feels limitless, and I feel awful because while I was putting Stay the Distance together I forgot to include an acknowledgements page. Of course, they know who they are. They edited and betaed and supported their little hearts out, and I'm incredibly thankful that they did, because I wouldn't be here otherwise.

Then there are the readers and the book bloggers, who pounced on my work and cheered for it without my having to ask. Their reaction was so important, so necessary, and without their reviews I can't say I'd be back, publishing a book next year.

Writing at its best is an art of cooperation, of being able to reach out and ask someone for their opinion, and being open-minded toward the thoughts of others. It's about dedicating yourself to making something better, and better, until it's done. And I can't say that I could have a better group of people helping me get there as I bang away at that keyboard.

So, what are you thankful for?

***
Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit www.maradabrishus.com

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Where Does Creativity Come From?

by Lisa Trovillion

A writer friend of mine powered out the whole second half of her novel in a matter of two months, tops. I think it took me several years to crank out the painful first draft of mine. Perhaps this novel writing business goes quicker with time and experience. Perhaps. Or maybe she is just more creative than I am. Yeah, that's got to be the answer, I decide. My writer paranoia kicks in.  I'm just not creative enough!

All kidding aside, it made me think about the nature of creativity, where ideas come from, and what spurs imagination. What part of the brain is responsible for creativity and why are some people just so much better at it than others? Wouldn't it be terrific if you could do something to fire off that part of the brain at will or drink something (I know what you're thinking) to access it easier? Well, I started looking into that very question.  Apparently, I'm not the only one interested because if you do an Amazon search for "creativity" and the "brain" it will give you a list of 2,902 titles. Lots of research has been done on this question. As a result of my amateur self-study course into neuroscience, I discovered two books which stand out in not only their description of the brain's function in imagination and creativity, but also how you can take steps to access and improve those areas. The titles are: How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb and Your Creative Brain by Shelley Carson.

And yet, there is still a missing component in this pursuit of creative excess...and that is discipline and persistence. I've found that creativity is like a pump; you have to prime it first before it starts to work. That priming includes putting things into your brain that are interesting, beautiful, challenging, even upsetting, in order to get it working and churning and pumping out something. You also have to be open to everything around you all the time--to notice things, even the every day things. Lastly, you have to use creativity like a muscle to strengthen it. When I force myself to sit down and come up with something, I am still surprised that the more I do it, the faster ideas come to mind. So, until we find a means of directly tapping into the creativity center of the brain at will, we writers will have to keep "butt in seat, fingers on keyboard" and brain open to the creative muse.

What's your muse and how do you access it best?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Being Real

by Lisa Wysocky

I was at the barn the other day scratching Tessie, our lead mare, in the pasture. She loves to be scratched. When one of the other horses approached, however, she pinned her ears, made an ugly face, and the other horse moved away. In that moment I wished that I could be as transparent in my life as Tessie was in hers.

That’s the thing about horses. They wear their emotions all over their bodies. Once you understand equine language, you know without a doubt which emotion your horse is feeing. From a swished tail to the tilt of an ear, horses tell us exactly what is going through their minds.

People . . . not so much. Most people hide their emotions and true feelings so deeply that we get caught up in what we think a friend, co-worker, or loved one felt or meant. Usually we are wrong. Then, after a long delicate dance of convoluted proportions where each person tiptoes around the other, one party’s true feelings might possibly come out. Or not. 

Tessie

The upshot is that our complicated human ritual of hiding our feelings is a writer’s dream. We can attach a series of facial expressions and body movements to a fictional character that is sure to confound the reader and keep him or her guessing. Our complex social rules dictate that we suck up anger, disappointment, fear and many other emotions when we are in public. I have sometimes wondered how different our lives might be if we just expressed our feelings in the moment. On one hand our close relationships might become much stronger, as we would have cut through all the red tape that keeps us from being real. On the other hand, our casual and workplace relationships would most likely deteriorate. Who wants to be around Debbie Downer after work, or eat lunch with a person who expresses all of her anger as you’re trying to enjoy a club sandwich?

For now, I will continue to be polite, even on the rare occasions I do not feel like it. I will keep making conversation and smiling, even during those few times when I’d rather be someplace else. One day, though, I’m going to do it. One day when I don’t want to talk to a person who annoys or intimidates me I am going to pin my ears and make an ugly face. I will turn around and walk away from them and if they follow, I will kick them. After that, if I manage not to get arrested for assault, I might even feel good enough to prick my ears and trot toward home. 

Lisa is the author of My Horse My Partner and Horse Country, among many other books, and the award-winning Cat Enright cozy equestrian mystery series, now optioned for film and television. When not writing, Lisa is a therapeutic riding instructor who consults with PATH and other centers about their horse herds.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A novel in a month



By Carolyn Henderson

This month, many writers will be stuck into NaNoWriMo and aiming to write a 50,000-word novel. Their deadline? A minute before midnight on 30th November.
NaNoWriMo is billed as being for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel. Look at any magazine, website or forum for writers and would-be writers and you’ll see that’s a universal dream.
So what’s the difference between a writer and a wannabe? Basically, if you get the words on the page and finish your project, you’re a writer. You won’t necessarily be a good writer and what you write won’t necessarily be ready for publication – but that’s another story.
NaNoWriMo is the answer for anyone who says “I can’t find the time to write” or “I’m great with beginnings but can’t do middles/endings.” By signing up for it, you set yourself a challenge and hopefully, you won’t let yourself down.
Writing isn’t a mysterious mix of inspiration and natural talent, though if you’ve got those, it’ll certainly help. It’s hard work; it can get your adrenaline running when it goes well and reduce you to tears when nothing seems to work and your words seem flat and jaded.
It’s also a skill, and like all skills, it can – and should be - be practised and improved.  Experiment with the way you write, because there’s no one way fits all guide. Some writer plan and plot every little detail before they start, some start with a vague idea and develop it as they go along; some think about characters before plot and others do the opposite.
I haven’t registered for NaNoWriMo, because I’ve got a work in progress running alongside my day job as a freelance journalist and magazine editor. But I have challenged myself to write 50,000 words of the said WIP by that minute before midnight, and it’s doing me good.
As a freelance editor, I spend a lot of time re-structuring articles from experts who don’t necessarily find writing easy. I also do the flat plan jigsaw – working out what has to go where in each issue. I have to polish sections of the magazine as they’re ready, so that the writing and design timetables can work together.
That makes me a picky fiction writer, tempted to perfect Chapter 1 before I’ve got far enough in to the story to know whether it works or will need re-writing. Writing the NaNoWriMo way is pushing me to get most of a first draft finished – 50,000 words isn’t enough for this project – then go back to it.
Have you signed up for NaNoWriMo? If so, I hope you’re enjoying it – even if there are times when it scares you!



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Measures of Greatness

                                                                           Milton C. Toby photo

By Milton C. Toby

Millions of words were written about American Pharoah during his sweep of Thoroughbred racing's so-called "Grand Slam"--victories in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup Classic. Much more remains to be written, and a recurring theme likely will be assessing where the horse ranks among the sport's best runners.

For someone who writes about racing's history, the question is a tantalizing one: American Pharoah came along at a time when racing desperately needed a hero, no doubt about that. But how good, really, is American Pharoah?

For me, it comes down to these things:

1. Race record--Although I'm not a fan of the contrived "Grand Slam idea," it's difficult to fault a Triple Crown and a Breeders' Cup Classic as collective indicators of a very good horse. But a great horse? Not necessarily. Nor does a loss here and there always disqualify a horse from wearing the mantle of greatness. Secretariat was the best horse I've seen in my lifetime, and despite inexplicable losses he remains the gold standard for greatness in my book.

Race record, standing alone, is not enough. There are other things to consider.

2. The competition--Who finished behind American Pharoah? No one is claiming that the 2012 foal crop was a great one. American Pharoah has no control over his competition, of course, and he defeated every horse that showed up for the Triple Crown races and the Classic. I'm not sure it makes sense to ask anything else of him.

I would, however, be more inclined to judge him a great horse if the others he defeated and his races themselves were more memorable. I was working for The Blood-Horse magazine during the 1970s, and was fortunate enough to see Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed sweep their Triple Crowns. Secretariat's Belmont Stakes, a 31-length victory in 2:24, was the greatest performance I've ever seen; the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry in 1978 was the best Triple Crown series; and Affirmed's driving win over Ayldar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes was the greatest race. In my estimation, American Pharoah falls short in comparison. His races were good, but not great, the victories notwithstanding.

3. The clock--Secretariat established record times in each of his Triple Crown races. American Pharoah set a track record at Keeneland in the Classic, but the colt's clockings generally were more pedestrian. Ironically, Secretariat's Preakness mark was not recognized for almost 40 years.

Canonero II (#9) set a Preakness record that stood for 13 years, until Gate Dancer
lowered the stakes record by two-fifths of a second in 1984.
Winants Brothers/Blood-Horse photo
It happened like this: Concerned about the relatively slow pace in the early going, jockey Ron Turcotte made a bold move on the first turn at Pimlico. He took Secretariat three horses wide and rushed from last to first. Secretariat drew away and finished Sham by 2 1/5 lengths in 1:55, time that was a full second slower than Canonero II's two years earlier. There were immediate questions about the time, which did not seem to match Secretariat's dominant performance.

The electronic timer recorded Secretariat's time for the race as 1:55, but two veteran Daily Racing Form clockers independently caught the colt crossing the finish line in 1:53 2/5, which would have been a new stakes record. A third clocker, working for Pimlico, recorded the winning time as 1:54 2/5. The stewards acknowledged that the timer had malfunctioned and declared 1:54 2/5 as the "official" time. Penny Chenery, who raced Secretariat, lobbied the Maryland Racing Commission for years, asking for a review of the race time. Finally, in 2012, 39 years after the fact, the commission voted unanimously to declare Secretariat's time for the race as 1:53, a Preakness record.

So what can we make of American Pharoah? Is he one of the greats? For me, he is a really good horse.

 



Monday, November 2, 2015

You can Never Stop Learning




This post is a part of the Equus Education Blog Hop: Equine Learning.  I love horses and I love learning about them.  In particular, I love that you can never stop learning about them!

One way I get to learn so much is through reading.  Textbooks, sure – I have studied at TAFE, overseas in Ireland and just finished my Equine Science Degree through Charles Sturt University and all of these courses had textbooks that helped me to learn more about horses and caring for them.

I’ve done a lot of my learning through horse fiction, too.  I first learned about the American term ‘posting’ to the trot in the Saddle Club books – and was corrected at an Australian Pony Club – here it’s known as ‘rising’!

I Learned a lot from my First Horse, Pride

I have written my six novels in the hope that they too will teach others about horses – whether it be what things are like in Australia, how to ride and care for horses or what the horse breeding industry is like in Australia and the United Kingdom.  I think for the most part, horse books allow you to learn something new, or to refresh your memory on certain facts and that’s one of the things I love about horses and reading.

What do you love about horses and learning?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The weight of expectation

by Kate Lattey

Firstly - an apology. I'm not only late with this post, but I completely skipped out on last month's post. I could offer a range of excuses - I got a new phone and this one isn't connected to my Gmail account, so I missed the email reminder; I was at a horse show all weekend anyway and it's a bit tricky to write a blog post on a depleted cell phone; I've been so insanely busy this last month I can't even begin to start complaining about it... but really, those are just excuses.

So here I am, sitting on my bed at half past ten in the evening, having got up at quarter past four this morning and spending most of the day outside, standing on the top of a hill talking into a microphone (commentating a cross-country event, one of my favourite horse show volunteer jobs)...and although I'm tired, I'm writing this blog. Because I said I would, and you, dear readers, are expecting me to.

Expectation. It seems like an appropriate word for today, a day on which, unless you live in New Zealand, certain parts of Australia, or England, you probably didn't know was auspicious. But it has been, because today was the day of the Rugby World Cup Final 2015, and the New Zealand All Blacks were playing the Australian Wallabies at Twickenham stadium. Hence the four a.m. wake up (New Zealand time).

Part of living in New Zealand is the willingness to eat, sleep and breathe rugby, to support our team to the death, to bleed Black. #allblackeverything is the hashtag of choice from the players right now, and it pretty well sums it up. The All Blacks are a mighty team, having won 77% of their international games since 1903, and when the first Rugby World Cup (RWC) was played in 1987, we hosted, and we won. Four years later, the cup went to Australia. Then to South Africa in 1995, and England in 1999, and then back to Australia, and back to South Africa. Every four years, we fell early. In 2007, we were defeated in the quarter-final - it was a bleak day for New Zealand. We felt it as deeply as the players did, and derogatory words were thrown around. Losers. Chokers. We didn't seem to be able to make it count when it really mattered, and it chafed. We won the Tri-Nations tournaments, Bledisloe Cup tournaments, had undefeated international tours of the UK, and still we couldn't bring home the Rugby World Cup. It became a thorn in our sides, and the desire to win became more fervent every time the RWC rolled around.

This time... And yet we fell, again and again, when it came to the Rugby World Cup. We could be ranked #1 in the world for year upon year upon year, never ceding that title, but we couldn't call ourselves the World Champions.

Until 2011, when we hosted the RWC in New Zealand. We are not a big country, but our promise of "A stadium of four million" came to fruition as the entire country got behind the tournament. Schools painted their front fences black, All Blacks flags hung outside houses and flew from cars, and you couldn't drive anywhere in the country, even down the most rural back road, without seeing some message of support, whether it was a scarecrow in All Blacks clothing, or a message of support spraypainted on the side of wrapped baylage. The team had the support of a nation, they were playing at home, and they marched into the final with complete determination and belief. We were playing France, once again. On paper, we were by far the better team. On the pitch, it came down to the narrowest of margins - 8 points to 7 - but we did it. We finally earned the right to call ourselves World Champions.

This morning, four years later, the All Blacks kicked off against Australia. Ninety minutes later, we could once again call ourselves World Champions. The first team to win the cup three times. The first team to win
twice in a row. And the weight of expectation that had sat on the team's shoulders for so long, slowly rolled off. They did it. They proved a point, and we are so, so proud.

That's all very nice, I hear you say, but what does it have to do with horses? Nothing, directly - but it does have to do with writing. Because expectation is something that we all have to live up to. The weight of expectation on me to produce another book, and another, is nothing when compared to the expectations placed on All Black captain (and all round legend) Richie McCaw, but it is expectation, nonetheless.

I want to write more. That's why I recently cut back my working week from five days to four, so that I would have more time. But I was simultaneously offered a job sub-editing a leading equestrian magazine, and it didn't seem like a job I could turn down. So I cut my working week back by eight hours...and am now working an extra 18 hours...how did that happen?

Oh well. That's life, and I am still trying to find time to write in amongst both of those jobs, and riding and showing my horse, and organising Pony Club rallies for my local branch, where I am Head Coach. Which reminds me, they're expecting me to write a rally plan before Tuesday...

But I am writing. I've got three-quarters of Six to Ride, book six in my Pony Jumpers series, written so far. I know what happens next, I just have to find time to write it down. Maybe I need to start getting up earlier in the mornings...but for now, I need to go to bed, because it's 11pm and I've been up since quarter past four... It was worth it though, and I will leave it to Richie McCaw to sum things up in his own charming, not-quite-grammatically-correct way:



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Downtime

Taking a journey on the SS This Novel Owns My Soul. (Photo by Derek Finch.)

This week, I finished writing a book that has been with me for a solid 16 months. My goal was to finish Finding Daylight by the end of October, and I beat my goal by several days. Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I compiled it all into a pretty Word document for my editor, wrote a happy note to her that the book was done (OMG!), and pressed send.

Then I sat there and didn’t know what to do with myself.

Does anyone else get that feeling? It’s like a quiet, persistent, unsettling lack. It’s only been two days, and I’m pretty sure there are non-writing things to do. Sure, I could finish the scarf I promised my husband back in January, or attempt to prepare myself for this two-week journey into the Middle East that I’m taking in approximately three days, but it doesn’t exactly feel right. The story isn’t there sitting next to me, pestering me to finish it. I’ve lived so long with it perched on my shoulder that I’m confused without the weight.

Of course, I could just start a new novel, but that’s like launching a cruise liner. You have to get all the characters on board, teach them how to save themselves in an emergency, prepare the ship, plot a course, turn on the engines, push off from the dock, and who knows what else goes into that. What I’m saying here is that starting a new novel is an ordeal. You either commit fully to the journey or you stay docked.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Finding Daylight isn’t totally finished yet? Just because it got shipped off to the editor doesn’t mean I don’t have work ahead. It will come back with red marks and questions, weaknesses pointed out that need to be strengthened. I can’t wait for that moment. I’ll feel at home again, clattering away at the keyboard with my story sitting next to me. But in the meantime?

In the meantime, I know that I have to do all of it. I’m going to go to the Middle East, and while I’m there I’ll finish that godforsaken scarf, will re-read Stay the Distance, and then I’ll write the first chapter of its sequel just to say hi to July again, see what’s up with her. When I get back, I’ll have Finding Daylight sitting in my inbox, ready for a good round of editing.

Then everything will be right with the world.

***
Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit www.maradabrishus.com

Sunday, October 25, 2015

What I learned about Author Branding from the Thoroughbred Makeover

by L. R. Trovillion

On this, the last day of the wildly successful program which takes Thoroughbred ex-racers from the track to various other riding disciplines known as The Thoroughbred Makeover ,  I'm put in mind of all sorts of career changes and opportunities for second chances. The makeover has grown exponentially over the years and I for one hope that it enjoys continued success in its effort to "redeem" the Thoroughbred's image as a versatile show and pleasure horse. Years ago, the American TB dominated the show world in at least hunter/jumper and eventing disciplines and there was sure to be several on every Olympic team. In recent years, however, the TB has been dismissed for the more popular European warmbloods, which are now enjoying their time in the sun in our sometimes fickle, "breed prejudice" world. I good horse is a good horse and if you find a good TB, you can't beat it.

So what does this have to do with writing and author branding? Just this: If an ex-racehorse can be re-trained and happy as a cowpony or a therapeutic riding mount or a competitive trail horse, why can't a writer change as well? What do you mean, you may ask. Authors these days are strongly encouraged to create a brand for themselves, something that is uniquely associated with their books, their genre, their style. This branding goes so far as to lock the writer into the same style book covers, endless serialization, and the same genre. What happens if a writer wants to "break out" into a new genre. Like the ex-racer, what if she starts out successfully as a historical romance writer but in her heart really feels the call of techno-science fiction? Can she take her established name and brand and move into that new territory? Does she need to write in a new genre under a new name? I know some who have done this and have a different pen name for all their different brands.

I would like to believe that a good writer, like a good Thoroughbred, is a winner no matter what he/she choses to pursue. I also believe in trying new things to see what you're good at, hopefully without the crippling fear that a "failure" would tarnish your author brand forever.  I don't want to be locked into one genre, one restrictive type, one career as a runner and then retired forever. Writers and readers, what do you think? Is it worth the risk to sign up for The Makeover?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Side Hobbies

As a side effect of growing up in a remote area, I always had a disproportionate number of hobbies. As a creative type, it took me years to lock down just one (or even a few) artistic mediums. I drew a lot in my younger years, making cards for friends and family and even going so far as to include a hand-drawn comic on the back of each letter my penpal and I exchanged. I also did a lot of singing and songwriting (a pleasant side effect of having all that peace and quiet), but that all fell by the wayside when I realized I really didn't love performing my songs in bars and other venues. I would have enjoyed song writing behind the scenes, but I didn't feel I was dedicated enough to break into the music industry. For better or worse, my creative drive was somewhat tempered by the fact that I didn't have an end goal. As an anxious person, I clearly function better when I feel I am moving forward and not spinning my wheels.

I happen to be a longtime collector of model horses, and I got into model horse painting around 10 years ago. I enjoy recreating different colors and patterns, especially when it comes to the fine detail work. I love taking a blank model and searching for the perfect color that will really do the sculpture justice. 

Work in progress: "Highland Heather" resin sculpture by Hilary Hurley in silver dapple

I recently made it a point to get back to model painting, finishing one model that had been a "work in progress" for far too long and starting on another. I'm happy I resurrected this particular hobby, and I even have plans to attend a model horse show in November. If all goes well, I'll qualify some of my horses for Nationals and start planning another road trip to Kentucky. 

In addition, I've been trying my hand at nature photography. I don't have a fancy camera, but I live in a beautiful area with lots of wilderness areas close at hand, and I like to think I have a decent eye. As a bonus, I like to scope out thrift stores and yard sales for nice wood frames, framing my favorite photos and adding a personal touch to my decor. 


A couple of my favorites

What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of writing?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing it Right, by Lisa Wysocky

As equine authors, we all want to get not only the story right, but also the horse part of it right, too. Everyone here is an experienced horse person, and has a broad base of knowledge that we incorporate into our books to share with our readers. However, it is amazing the number of little facts that creep into the story line that need to be researched, not once, but several times. We need to be thorough on our research because, if we get it wrong, at least one reader will step up to call us on it.

I think we’ve all read a book where the author gets a basic fact wrong and it takes us out of the story. That should never happen. Even in fiction, there are facts: a horse is measured in hands, a hand is four inches, there is no palomino color in the Thoroughbred breed. If we as authors get it wrong, we have done our readers a huge disservice.

I showed Appaloosa horses for many years, and the question of their point system came up in my newest Cat Enright cozy mystery, The Fame Equation. I knew how it worked. Or did I? After reviewing the current rulebook and a number of websites, I finally went to the source and called the person at the Appaloosa Horse Club who was in charge of their points system. Yes, I was right. But if I had not been, I would have alienated a lot of readers, and worse, my readers would have lost trust in me.

Quincy is a solid colored registered Appaloosa, but he looks so much like a
Thoroughbred that even his vet and farrier worked with him for
three years without realizing his actual breed.
Authors can never assume.

That is the real concern. If a reader cannot trust an author to get a basic fact correct, what about everything else the author writes? How many other mistakes, factual errors, or misconceptions are there in a given book? I write both equestrian fiction and nonfiction and am sure to find at least two credible sources for every fact I am not 1000 percent sure of. That is maybe a little over the top, but I have written a number of horse books and no reader has yet called me on a fact. I’m sure that day will someday come, and when it does, I will welcome it, for readers are truly the final authority.

• • •

Lisa Wysocky is an author, clinician, and registered PATH instructor who helps people learn about themselves through horses. Find her at LisaWysocky.com.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Freedom & Possibility

There is a certain beauty in that first cup of coffee. A sense of possibility in the silky brown liquid as it slides down my throat (heavily saturated with French vanilla creamer of course). A sense of freedom as the steam reaches my nose and washes over my face.

I need this in the morning. Before I step into the weather and march to the barn in my sparkly paddock mud boots, I need a little freedom and a little possibility. Before I become inundated by hungry, happy nickers that lead to soft and comforting munching – before my mind only moves in routines of feeding, turnout, cleaning – before my neurotic tendencies kick in and I worry about everything from fencing to footing to weather – I need those ten minutes of sipping a cup of caffeinated dreams.

In those ten minutes, I plan out my day. All of my horses go out to their designated pastures and are content with their buddy, instead of giving in to their strong sense of wanderlust and checking out the adjacent pastures and attempting to make new friends. Cleaning stalls goes smoothly and quickly when I have the radio tuned to the country station and can dance around to Jason Aldean. After stalls, I’ll check on the horses on my way in to grab some more coffee and maybe a little breakfast. In a perfect world, that’s when I pull out my laptop and start to pour those robust, half formed dreams into the confines of a page.


We could all benefit from a little freedom and possibility, couldn’t we?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The publicity trap


By Carolyn Henderson

I love writing books. I hate trying to publicise them.
When my first book was published – not the first I’d written, but the first to be picked up by a mainstream publisher – that wasn’t a problem. Ebooks didn’t exist, the only form of self-publishing was through vanity presses and legitimate publishers had publicity and marketing departments.
Fast forward and all publishers expect writers to work hard on generating publicity for their books, to the extent that some are said to only consider manuscripts from writers with a minimum number of Facebook or Twitter followers. Most established writers have always accepted that they have to get involved and those who self-publish have no option.
In fact, self-published writers, some of whom follow that path through choice rather than because they can’t find a “traditional” publisher for their work, are often brilliant at it. But where do you draw the line between making potential readers aware of your work and turning them right off it?
I love reading about new titles and about what other authors are working on, but can you blow your own trumpet too loudly?  


There are certainly times when, in my book, authors can be rude. Earlier this year, I ended the fastest Facebook ‘friendship’ in history.
An author I knew vaguely sent me a friend request and as soon as I’d accepted, posted an advert for her book on my page. No ‘Nice to link up, would you mind sharing this?’ – just wham, bam and not even a thank you, ma’am, let alone a request. Instant delete, instant de-friending.
I’d love to know what readers and other writers think about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. For interest, a friend who is a successful mainstream novelist is working on building a “street team”, often billed as a form of guerilla marketing.
I  hope I don’t bore you with too many plugs for what I’ve written and what I’m working on. If I do, feel free to tell me.
One thing I’m happy to share - and I know other writers on here will know how I feel - is that after a horrible few months where my family has been surrounded by death and disaster, I’ve got my fiction mojo back in action.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life Imitating Art . . . Or Not

                                                                     Milton C. Toby photograph
By Milton C. Toby

A few months after European Horse of the Year Shergar was taken from the Aga Khan's Ballymany Stud near the Curragh Race Course in Ireland, an enterprising reporter from the Irish Press asked author Dick Francis about the theft. Francis was in Dublin promoting his 22nd novel, The Danger, which featured a private business that specialized in rescuing the victims of kidnappings. The protagonist of The Danger once worked for Lloyd's of London, the insurance company that held much of the insurance on Shergar, so there was a connection between the real and the fictional--tenuous but sufficient--to pique the newspaper's interest.

The reporter wondered if Francis, whose horse racing novels were best sellers around the world, had any insights about the theft of Shergar, a real-life mystery that would become the sport's most famous cold case.

"This book [The Danger] is about people, rather than horses, being kidnapped," Francis explained. "One of my other books, Blood Sport written in the '60s, was about a classic winner from England who is taken to America and kidnapped over there. I have been accused more than once of giving crooks ideas. I certainly hope I didn't give them the idea for what they have done with Shergar."

It was a brief interview that morphed into a promotional exercise for Francis's then-current book, and also for an older one. No real news there; not a surprise.

I've been a fan of Dick Francis for years. The reminder of a long-forgotten book that might have some bearing on my own research into the theft of Shergar encouraged me to track down and reread Blood Sport. Written in 1967, 16 years before the theft of Shergar, Blood Sport still is a good read--and an interesting lesson in the problem of reliable horse identification in the pre-DNA era.

There is no real question about whether Gene Hawkins will find the stolen stallion, Chrysalis. Hawkins is a Dick Francis hero, after all, and they tend to be very good at what they do. The book turns on the mechanics of the search and how Hawkins will prove that the horse he recovers, a nondescript bay with no distinctive markings, actually is Chrysalis. Hawkins makes his preliminary identification based on the horse's odd appetite for sardines but in the end he must rely on an in-person examination by the stallion's groom ("lad" for Anglophiles), who is flown to the States from England and driven across country to verify the horse's identity.

The Cross of St. Bridget, a patron saint of Ireland, watches over horses and riders at the Curragh Race Course.
A few hundred yards to the north of the Curragh, Shergar was taken from Ballymany Stud.
Copyright 2015 Milton C. Toby
"Sure I'd know him," Sam Kitchens tells Hawkins. "Maybe I couldn't pick him out of a herd, now, but I'd know him close to. The way his hide grows, and little nicks in his skin. I wouldn't have forgotten those." Kitchens makes the identification after Hawkins spirits the stallion away from the ranch where the horse thieves were holding him. Francis doesn't deal with what must be a problem, though, convincing stud book officials in two countries that the horse really is Chrysalis.

Unlike Chrysalis, Shergar never was recovered. The best evidence suggests that the horse was killed shortly after he was taken from Ballymany and the question of a positive identification never became an issue. In any case, just about anyone in Ireland would have recognized Shergar on sight and there was DNA analysis if needed. Bits of bone purported to be the remains of the horse still turn up at the Irish Equine Centre from time to time. So far, though, researchers there have been able to dismiss the claims without utilizing a DNA reference sample kept under lock and key.

Conventional wisdom points to members of the Irish Republican Army as masterminds for the theft of Shergar. No individual or organization has claimed responsibility, however, and the Irish police have not charged anyone. The disappearance of Shergar is a mystery worthy of Dick Francis.





 

 






Monday, October 5, 2015

Around the World with Horses




One thing I love about horse novels – and indeed fictional works – is that you can travel around the world with horses and learn different cultures and hemispheres way of doing things.  There is so much to learn about horses!  Books can greatly increase your knowledge of them.

Me (far left) on a trail in South Africa
I thought I would focus this post on taking part in a blog hop titled Horse Travels over at Equus Education.  So I thought I’d focus on how we get to travel with horses in books.

In my debut novel Horse Country – A World of Horses, I explored four different women working in the horse industry or studying horses and their travels about the world.  Although the story was based in Australia (as I am), one character (Wes) travelled to Ireland to study horses and another (Maddison) travelled to England for awhile to work.

Because I have studied horses at the Irish National Stud in County Kildare, it was easier to write about the differences from Australia as I had experienced them.  Likewise, I had experienced working in a racing stable and was able to bring this into the novel.

In the Free Rein series I write for pre-teens, I explore running an agistment (boarding) property in Victoria as this is an area of interest and knowledge for me, too.  Currently I am also working on a new adult novel that explores running a trail riding business in the high country of Australia.  Updates on this novel are available through my Horse Country website.

The question of the blog hop is:
“If you could travel anywhere in the world for something horse related, where would it be and what would you do?”

I choose to travel to different parts of Australia that enable me to explore some of my favourite aspects of the horse world.  So in light of the question, perhaps you’d like to answer it?  Where would you travel and why?