Thursday, April 30, 2015

Writing, riding and brainwaves

By Carolyn Henderson

As the newbie on Horse Crossings, I must start by saying – thanks for inviting me. As a reader, I’m fascinated that although many of the writers here live in different time zones from me, we walk to the same beat.

The reason is, of course, that we love horses and we love writing about them. I’m lucky: as a journalist as well as an author of non-fiction and fiction books, I write and edit full-time. It isn’t all as wonderful as many people imagine; for example, I’ve just been editing an article about the importance of hygiene in dairies. That’s the flipside of the enjoyable part, where I get to  interview and write about inspiring riders, horse owners and trainers.

Like many writers, I have to fit in time for writing fiction around work that I know will pay a certain number of bills. When I wrote my teen/YA novel, Beside Me, I got up at 5am every morning to finish the first draft.  My husband deserves a special trophy for encouraging me rather than complaining, but that’s another story.

I’d get up and wonder what my characters were going to do and say. I’m sure every writer will recognise that, because even when you think you know where your story is going, it surprises you. Whether the words flowed or trickled, I “allowed” myself an hour and a half a day and extra time at weekends.

Looking after and riding our two horses helped, too. When your brain’s buzzing, whether because you’re solving a plotting glitch or because you’re preoccupied with a work or family issue, you have to switch it to different pathways to ride. Horses demand and deserve our full attention.

And guess what? By the time I’d finished riding, writing problems had often resolved themselves. It was as if one part of my brain was freed up to reorganise itself whilst the other went to work. 

When I finished that first draft, I felt like my lovely cob must do when he lets off steam in the field.  There was a lot of work still to come, of course, and some of it hurt – like the day I cut a whole chapter because I realised that although I’d had a lot of fun writing it, it didn’t add anything.

Then there were my editor’s corrections. Editing other people’s work doesn’t mean you’re impervious to sloppiness and howlers, because you read your work so many times, you see what you expect to see rather than what’s there. That’s my excuse for changing a character’s last name halfway through and for a  shoe-related ‘Whoops!’ moment.

When I pressed the ‘send’ key on the final version, it was tempting to have a break for a couple of months. But after a couple of weeks, I knew I had to start again - to find out what happened next. It was a bit like those cold, wet, windy winter days when you’re tempted to give a horse a few days off because the weather is foul, then realise once you’ve got going that the work is exactly what you both needed.

 It’s the same with books, both fiction and non-fiction. Writing is a muscle and you have to keep it flexed – even if that means you sometimes have to push yourself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cats and Horses

by Linda Benson

Ah - the ubiquitous barn cat. Everyone has one, right?

Here is Lucy, our Barn Cat Extraordinaire, who single-pawedly kept our barn mouse-and-rat free for many years. (Now, arthritic and slow in her elderly years, she has moved into the house where she merely keeps the rowdy boy cats in line.)

Horses think cats are cool, right? They like to nuzzle them because they are soft. And cats often like horses, too for the same reasons.

Then there's this very naughty cat (whose video has been going around the internet the last couple of weeks) who thinks a horse's tail is made to swing from. (No seriously, you have to watch this.)

Actually, while this cat is quite bratty (and needs to be put somewhere safe and told to leave the horses alone) I think the owners are worse. Laughing and taking this video when this cat could have had its head kicked open. This dear horse, however, is a saint!

Cats have recently become a huge part of my writing career, though, believe it or not.

I have written five novels in all: two featuring horses (The Girl Who Remembered Horses and The Horse Jar) and three with dogs (Six Degrees of Lost, Walking the Dog, and Finding Chance.)

But most recently I have been writing short fiction called Cat Tales. I've been having a blast doing this and they are selling well. At only $0.99 each as ebooks on Amazon, they are quick, enjoyable reads. And after a lifetime with felines - barn cats, house cats, rescue cats, mama cats, spoiled cats, and feral cats - I find that I have no problem coming up with story lines.

Of course, horses often work their way into these stories, too, as in The Summer Cat. It's a bit of a mystery involving a cat named Spuds, who disappears from the barn, and all signs point to the horseshoer. If you like both horses and cats, I'd suggest you try this one!

and if you'd like to see them all, you can find them here:

So tell us about your cats - Do you have barn cats to keep the mouse population in check? Or spoiled house cats? Or both . . .

Sunday, April 26, 2015

When Characters Speak

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photo
by Milton C. Toby

Congratulations to Andy Plattner, winner of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for the best book about Thoroughbred racing published in 2014. Winning an award always feels better than losing—I won with Dancer’s Image in 2011; Cañonero II was a semi-finalist this year—but the disappointment fades quickly when the winner is a friend and a talented writer. Andy teaches creative writing at the University of Tampa and his writing skills effectively shoot down the oft-repeated line lifted from George Barnard Shaw’s Man and Superman that “those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.” Andy does both, well.

He won the Flannery O’Connor Award for a collection of short stories titled Winter Money a few years ago and was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction with a second short story collection, A Marriage of Convenience. Andy's writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Fiction, Epoch, and The Sewanee Review.

Andy was a two-time finalist for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award before winning this year with Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey. Originally called the Castleton Lyons-Thoroughbred Times Book Award, the literary competition was renamed in 2008 to honor the memory of Dr. Ryan, the Castleton Lyons Farm founder who died in 2007. Dr. Ryan drew upon his passions for horse racing and fine writing when he launched the award in 2006 and his family has continued the tradition.

The Ryan Award honors the best book about Thoroughbred racing published the previous year and carries a first prize of $10,000, a princely sum that places the Ryan Award on equal footing with the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Andy picked up his check and a custom Waterford crystal trophy during a reception held at Castleton Lyons Farm near Lexington in mid-April. His comments about the award and his writing process should resonate with writers everywhere.

It’s wonderful to be recognized for doing work that you enjoy doing, he said. Writers all know that sentiment is true, whether the recognition is a national award or a kind word from an appreciative reader. The writing process was relatively straightforward, he added. Paraphrasing here, Andy said that you get out of bed, make some coffee, pull up a chair in front of the computer, and ask the characters what’s going to happen today. Writing is not that simple, of course. If it were, just about anyone could do it. Andy is much more than a mere scribe channeling his characters.

 Head judge Kay Coyte had this to say about Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey:

"Plattner has taken a short-story kernel and nurtured it into a novel that’s an unflinching look at real lives that revolve around racing’s low-rent district. It is a backstretch noir that captures the hope and desperation of a struggling, middle-age jockey who tasted major-league success. In Rust Belt, he is dead-on in his descriptions of a rider’s far-from-glamorous day-to-day, season-to-season hustle. It’s not easy to write racing fiction free from cliché, but Plattner does that here. He’s a master of dialogue.”

Having characters who take on lives of their own and who drive the writing should sound familiar to fiction authors. The process is different if, like me, you write non-fiction. I often wish for the luxury of creating characters and situations, but I’m stuck with the facts.

For fiction authors out there: do characters hijack your writing?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The pony book in war time and beyond

My first post on this blog was on the beginnings of the pony story in the UK. In this post, I take a look at what happened next.

After Joanna Cannan introduced her heroine Jean to the world in A Pony for Jean (1936), she opened the gate to a fresh wave of stories. Ann Stafford wrote a fine holiday adventure in Five Proud Riders (1937), with young authors Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock contributing decent examples of ponies and holidays in their Oxus series in the late 1930s (The Far-Distant Oxus, 1937, Escape to Persia, 1938, Oxus in Summer, 1939).

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, children's books were hit in several ways. Authors were otherwise occupied, doing war work. There was a paper shortage, leading to fewer books being published, and the introduction of the War Economy printing standard, with poorer quality paper and short print runs. (Ironically, these books are still surviving quite happily over 70 years later; many in considerably better shape than books produced a decade ago.) Books were lost when London was bombed. Moyra Charlton's Echoing Horn (1939) had most of its print run destroyed: the manuscript and illustrations of Michael Lyne's Hunting Here and There was lost altogether.

Some authors tackled the war head on. Primrose Cumming's Owls Castle Farm (1940) reflected her own war work on a farm. Her Silver Eagle Carries On (1942) saw the Chantrys struggling to keep their riding school going in war conditions. They fight even to keep their horses (horses were still requisitioned at the beginning of the war) and tackle petrol restrictions by teaching ponies to pull carts.

Mary Treadgold contributed Carnegie medal winning We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941)written when she was sheltering from bombs in London. Caroline and Mick live on the fictional Channel Island of Clerinel. It is invaded by the Nazis, but in the confusion and desperate scramble of escape, the children are left behind. At a stroke, their comfortable, pony-filled life is destroyed and they are cast into a horribly uncertain existence. They no longer know who to trust, and have much to learn about how humanity tackles war. Mary Treadgold has important things to say about preconceptions and prejudice, as well as about the position ponies play in our lives. In wartime, ponies do what they had done for centuries before: ensure survival. But they also represent the land beyond war. Mary Treadgold looked at that in  No Ponies (1946),which takes place in post-war France.

Not all authors wanted to tackle the war head on: an entirely understandable reaction to the long drawn out agonies of wartime. Josephine Pullein-Thompson's first solo novel, Six Ponies, appeared in 1946, but was written when she was away on war work. It does not mention the war:
“I decided to leave the War out of the book. I was fifteen when it started, and after four years it began to look as though we would win and everything would change. No bombs, no blackouts, no rationing of food and clothes. Men would come home and organise things again. Pony Clubs would restart. There would be petrol for cars. So I tried to place Six Ponies in the future, but really it was set in the England of the 1930s.”
The Pullein-Thompsons started their domination of the pony book world. As well as Josephine's Six Ponies, Diana's I Wanted a Pony appeared in 1946, with Christine's first solo book, We Rode to the Sea,being published in 1948. The Pullein-Thompsons took the instructional story on from the thinly-disguised instructional manual it had been under authors like B L Kearley, and made it part of a world that was instantly attractive and recognisable to the pony lover.

New pony book authors entered the scene, amongst them two major figures. Monica Edwards started off her publishing career conventionally enough with two pony books: Wish for a Pony and No Mistaking Corker, in 1947. Monica did not long remain in the safe pony book field. She soon took her Romney Marsh and Punchbowl series off in other directions, in which ponies were important, but secondary to her extraordinarily vivid characters. K M Peyton, under her maiden name Kathleen Herald, wrote three books whose at times extraordinary passion set her on the path she was to fulfil in the 1960s.

Pony book series kicked off with the first Jill book. Ruby Ferguson wrote Jill's Gymkhana in 1949, ushering in a heroine whose charm has lasted until today. Jill, Black Boy and Rapide's early adventures have been republished this century. Jill's world, although in many ways a "beautiful, golden dream," reflected its post-war times. Although edited out of later editions, Jill mentions rationing; cigarettes are still in short supply, and her teacher Martin we assume was injured in the war.

The old style of pony book still limped on. The equine autobiography did not die overnight: Allen Seaby was still producing his native pony tales, and other, new authors appeared, prepared to carry on the tale the pony told itself. In the hands of young authors like Daphne Winstone, who wrote Flame in 1945 at the age of 12, it was not particularly inspired. Equestrian journalist Pamela MacGregor Morris contributed a couple of decent examples with Topper (1947) and High Honours, but she soon looked elsewhere for inspiration.

The post-war period saw the pony book really take off. In the 1950s, there was an explosion of titles. More on that soon.

~  0  ~

This piece originally appeared a few years ago on my own blog. Family circumstances mean I've been unable to write a new piece for this blog, so I hope readers will forgive me for my recycling.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Writer-Friendly Lifestyle

by Natalie Keller Reinert

When time grows scarce, ideas grow like weeds.

I'll admit it, I haven't been writing much lately. Life just feels a little insane. Starting to work a day job, instead of puttering from one freelance assignment to the next, was supposed to make things easier. Thing was, I still had too many freelance assignments, and I was putting those off at night because I had "worked" all day.

(I have to put work in quotation marks because fiddling with papers at a desk, although technically work, was hardly using the parts of my brain that I used for writing. I was worn out with boredom, not with the actual job.)

Horses on the brain. That's me.
So while I was glaring at my work computer screen, or coming home at night and crashing on the couch to do some serious vegging out with The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, of course I was having all kinds of ideas. Since I wasn't writing anything, my creative side was going haywire.

I was thinking about the next eventing novel (the follow-up to Ambition), the next Alex novel, this middle grade and/or young adult book Kissimmee Katie that I've been playing with, even DREAMING a plot loosely based on a book I started writing two years ago and put to one side. In the dream, the book was published, a beautiful blue paperback with silver lettering, and it had a new title that I liked much better than the working title. I made a note of it in my phone - A Door Opens - and went on vegging on the couch.

I know! My inner muse is calling and I'm not picking up!

It became really obvious that this 8-5 office jazz was not good for my creative side. The boredom was draining all my interest in writing, even while my brain was screaming ALL THE IDEAS! I needed a writer-friendly lifestyle, pronto.

So, I'm making a change. I decided to change jobs for one that's more fun, involves more interaction with people (something I desperately need as a writer!) and has less routine hours. I'm wrapping up most of my freelance work, including my travel business, which has been a huge part of my life for the past two years but has also taken a tremendous amount of time. 

The thing is, ideas are just one thing. They're the easy part. The writing, the fleshing out of characters, the quirks of personality, the inflections of speech, those are the hard bits. For that, you need stimulating atmospheres, people to talk with, conversations to listen to, individuals to observe. I find that people are hard. Horses? I can create a shedrow full of unique and recognizable horses in ten minutes. For people I have to get out there and mingle.

(Or at least watch from a safe distance.)

So here goes nothing. New job, new lifestyle, new schedule -- and hopefully a load of new books! I'm already writing more just out of anticipation of the change -- pages and pages of Pride, the sequel to Ambition, have materialized this week!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Write What you Know

I’m going to make an assumption here and feel that I’m most probably right.  (Don’t we always do that when we assume something?).  Here it is:
You’ve never heard of the place Rodrigues.

Was I right?

Rodrigues is a small island found off to the far left of Western Australia, somewhere in line with the top end of Queensland.  Or to be more succinct, it is an island found 650 kilometres to the east of Mauritius.

My husband is a Rodriguan.  He often says to people that if they were to look at a map of the world and grab a pen, then they could put the tip of the pen below Mauritius to the right, somewhere below Madagascar and make a dot.  Then Rodrigues would be on the map.

How on earth does this relate to horses, writing and publishing?  Well, I think the best stories are those that are written by people in the know.  In other words, write what you know.  This can make it more convincing and interesting.  My next novel aimed at the mature reader is to be set on this tiny island.

On my first visit to Rodrigues I was intrigued – and maybe a little devastated – to find that this gorgeous tropical island had no horses.  No horses!

And yet, there were people who liked the animals, even had a love of them.  When I started to ask questions, it became apparent that people got to see horses if they travelled to Mauritius, and that it was from here that any horses would get to the island of Rodrigues – via ferry.

As I explored this mountainous and rocky island, I realised that horse owners would struggle for food, or at least for grazing for their equine friends.  The livestock I could see – goats and cattle, were a bit on the gaunt side and had to be travelled far to fill their bellies.  At first out of curiosity, I started to question how horses would come to the island, how they could be fed and housed and who would tend to them if they got sick, had foals or needed castrating.  The curiosity then became a challenge and a desire to write.

What if I could write the story of the horse crazy woman who follows the love of her life back to his home island, settles there and in a mad scheme, plans to import horses from Mauritius to Rodrigues and set up a trail riding business on a tropical island?  And here you have the basis for the current novel I’m working on.  I hope you’ll join me to see how it turns out!

In the meantime, stay tuned here at Horse Crossing as my next post will be provided to you while I’m enjoying a holiday in Rodrigues as my husband and I introduce our first daughter to her Rodriguan grandparents.  You can also follow along with the progress of the story over at my website, Horse Country.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On finding a way to the finish

by Kate Lattey

Today has been a big day. I have finally finished, and published, my fourth full-length novel. It wasn't supposed to be my fourth novel - it was intended to be my second. But my best laid plans didn't quite turn out the way that I'd expected...

After I wrote and self-published my first novel Flying Changes in 2011, I started work on the sequel right away. Partly because I wanted to, and partly because I was told to. Don’t stop! everyone said. Keep the momentum going. Don’t be a one hit wonder.

Small chance of that. Everything I write is part of a series. I can’t seem to do it any other way, even when I want to.

My first book was optimistically labelled Clearwater Bay #1. It was always going to be part of a four-book series. I had titles for four books, and I had commissioned four cover photos. I knew what happened in book 3. I knew what happened in book 4. (I’ve had the final chapter and epilogue of the last book written for at least two years now.)

There was just one problem. I didn’t know what happened in book 2. Other than the fact that it was called Against the Clock, it was a blank slate, a page without any words.

Looking back, no wonder it was hard to write.

Just skip it, suggested my mother. Move on to the story of book 3. Make it a trilogy instead.

Not terrible advice, except that there was no way I could do that. For the events of book 3 to have emotional resonance, there needed to be time and character development from book 1. I needed Jay, my protagonist, to grow up a little bit more before I could throw her into the dramatic events of book 3. But I was struggling. I looked over the first draft and knew that it wasn’t great. The story leapt all over the place, characters turned up for a few chapters then vanished without any resolution to their part of the story, and the whole plot just meandered along vaguely.

Eventually, I was so disparaged that I couldn’t even look at it, so I decided to write something that would just flow. Something that I had no stakes in or expectations of, just pick a scene in my head and start writing, and see where the storyline would go. I clearly recall sitting in my bedroom in Ireland, visualising that house’s cluttered front hallway, and starting to write.

She ran down the hall, bare feet slapping against the dusty floorboards.

I kept writing, intrigued, as my new heroine ran into the kitchen to find her big sister sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by overdue accounts.

“Nimble’s caught in the fence! Van cut him out but he’s gushing blood all down his leg, and you have to call the vet.”

It was supposed to be one scene, a writing exercise full of action that would break me free of the net that I was trapped in. It wasn’t supposed to turn into a book, but those characters moved into my head and took over. A year and a half later, I had completed a novel called Dare to Dream.

I released it into the world, and went back to working on Against the Clock. Armed with more skills and experience and the newfound realisation that even pony books can’t be all about ponies all of the time, I started hacking storylines and characters out of the first draft. But then the story just lay there, apathetic and dull and uninspiring. I fumbled around for ideas, and found a few. I added them to the story, watched them settle in and become part of the fabric of that world. They worked, but they were small character moments, not big plot moments. And the plot itself was still feeble. It still didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Dare to Dream was gaining traction. It sold well, and consistently. It got five-star reviews. Readers loved these characters, loved this storyline, and wanted more. And the characters themselves wouldn’t go away either. They wanted their story to be continued. I knew what happened after the events of Dare to Dream, but nobody else did. I wrote the epilogue to the sequel, and it made me cry. So I decided that everyone else should get to read it too. I put Against the Clock aside once more, and started writing Dream On.

Just under a year later, Dream On was released to rave reviews, and I went back once more to Against the Clock. This time I was going to make it work. Armed with yet more knowledge and writing ability, I stripped the story right back to its bare bones, then slowly pasted the character moments back in around the plot. Slowly, slowly, it started to form into a proper novel. It fell into place, just needing me to write some additional scenes and trim back or rewrite a few existing ones. It was almost ready.

There was only one problem - I was really struggling to let go of Dream On. I don’t usually like reading my own work, but I kept going back and re-reading that book, just so that I could live in that world a little longer. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go back to Clearwater Bay and deal with Jay’s smaller, more trivial problems. I didn’t want to go back into first person and not be able to explore different viewpoints, or jump to another character to keep the pace going. And I love the girls in Dare to Dream and its sequel. They’re the kind of people I’d be friends with (are in fact loosely-based on actual friends of mine) and I was still missing them. They're sisters, with a strong sisterly bond, and I felt as though they were part of my family. It was really hard to walk away, but I made myself do it.

I made myself step back into Jay’s life and take her hand and guide her along the path towards book 3. And eventually she stopped snatching her hand away from me and telling me that her story was stupid and boring and I shouldn’t really bother, and we started working together. And when it got hard and stagnant and I wondered why I was bothering, the voice of one of Jay’s good friends in the book came into my head, as it does hers when things get tough in the narrative.

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

We both took his advice.

Against the Clock is done now. It got auto-delivered to the lovely people who have pre-ordered it on April 19th, and I can sit back and cross my fingers and hope that people enjoy it as much as my beta-readers (fortunately) did. So far, so good.

And so, on to book 3 in the series. I’m looking forward to this one, although it’s going to require a lot of research and a hefty dose of imagination. There are some dark moments in this book, and while I can’t wait to explore them, it’s going to take some work to get myself into the heads of these characters. Because the thing with writing a series in first person is that there are only so many things that can happen to and directly affect one character. For Jay, her journey is as much about learning from other people as it is about herself. It’s about learning to recognise other people’s problems, and understand their opinions, and expand her own view of the world through the framework of how others also perceive it, and how she perceives other people. I’m excited to explore that, and I can’t wait to get to the end. I'm on a roll now, and Jay has decided that yes, she does want her story told. It also helps that the next two books will involve more outside characters, and less internal monologuing. And in those moments that still creep in, when I’m feeling particularly dispirited and wondering if I can be bothered writing these books, I re-read the last chapter of book 4, and I know that it will all be worth it when I get there.

In the meantime, to stop myself from stalling when Jay has a tantrum and refuses to be written (it happens), I’ve started a new series. (Yes, I’m crazy.) I didn’t mean to do it, but I wanted to know how fast I could write a novel. Dream On took the shortest length of time, and it was still almost a year. So I set myself a challenge over Easter to write a novel in four days. Astonishingly enough (even to me!) I achieved it in three days. It’s short – only 30,000 words – but I’m intrigued to see if I can keep it up. To write short, complete novels in very short periods of time is a good exercise for me, and I already have characters and storylines for the next three novels. And these girls all desperately want their viewpoints shared. (Characters can be so bossy!)

You can read First Fence, the first book in the Pony Jumpers series, for free on Wattpad ( and it will soon be available on Kindle as well, with a sneak preview of the upcoming sequel at the back. I hope to have the sequel out by the end of this month (the first two chapters are up on Wattpad, but the whole book will only be available on Kindle), and the third book in the series out by late May.

As for book 3 in Jay’s story, I’ve already got some scenes written. In fact, I wrote one last night, and it’s included at the end of Against the Clock to whet readers’ appetites for what’s to come. I’m excited to get going on it, because I’ve been wanting to write about these characters and tell this story for years. And now I feel as though I’m ready. It’s their time.

Trouble is, there are a few others out there who want their books written too, and they still won’t shut up…

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why Write About Horses?

by Toni Leland

My name is Toni Leland and I’m a horse addict. 

Seriously...I could have been the poster child for the classic horse-crazy girl.

I discovered horses when I was about 8 years old. Unfortunately, about that same time, I discovered my father was terrified of them and that there wouldn’t be a horse in my future any time soon. So to fuel my passion, I hooked up with another horse-crazy girl. We spent hours talking about horses, dreaming about horses, pretending we were horses. . .the boys on the playground were terrified of us!
I took it one step further and wrote stories about horses. Girl rescues horse. Horse rescues girl. Horse and girl have an adventure. . . I wish I had some of those stories now. Anyway, when my BFF got her very own horse, I was both thrilled and devastated. She no longer had much time for me and our imaginary steeds, and I began trying to convince my father that a horse would be a good thing for me to have. He relented the year I turned 15 and, from then on, my life revolved around horses—sometimes more, sometimes less.

But one thing remained constant. To this day, even though I no longer have horses of my own, I still get that quickening in the pit of my stomach any time I’m near one.

Write what you know and love. The writing experts have it nailed.


When I set off on this journey of writing fiction, I naturally settled into the comfort zone of my addiction.

My first book was a romantic mystery, built around the Arabian horses I raised in the 80s. Though they were long gone, I held them near to me as we worked our way through the story and revisited characters from those years in the “horse business.” The process was sometimes painful and poignant, but it was also energizing. I’d found my niche.

As Winning Ways finished, I was already well into my next novel. Being fairly adventurous, I’d decided to see if I could write a straight romance—follow the formula, but write one with a horsey setting.

I was a little skeptical about the endeavor. After all, when does a busy horse owner have time to date, let alone nurture a strong, loving relationship? And into what niche would an equestrian romance fit? When Hearts Over Fences hit the streets, I quickly learned that I had no clue as to “what works.” The book exploded in popularity and, today—many years later—it is still a top-selling title in both print and ebook.
So you’d think I’d jump on this gravy train, right? Nooooo. I was already off on another tangent. I wanted to write a thriller about the possibility of terrorism in one’s own backyard, er. . . barn. After Gambling With the Enemy was published in 2006, I headed back toward romantic suspense.

Deadly Heritage embraced that age-old theme of love lost and found. But my characters were constantly challenged by danger and family treachery.

As the nation’s economy nose-dived in 2009, so did business. Horse farms and breeders were deeply affected as the cost of keeping animals skyrocketed. If you can’t feed ’em, what do you do with them? Horse rescue operations were overwhelmed and the horror stories began to hit the news.

Addressing two similar subjects, I began work on Rescue Me, the story of a horsewoman trapped in a brutally abusive marriage. The research alone on this book made me ever thankful that I didn’t have source material from first-hand experience.

Always a fan of Dick Francis, I began thinking seriously about a mystery series. What I needed was a couple of independent, horse-loving individuals who would save the horse world, case by case. Never did I imagine what hard work this would be! But the team of Kovak & Quaid was born in 2012 with Double Exposure, and they've been chasing bad guys ever since!

My lifelong love affair with horses has served me well...given me joy and inspiration, and a ton of memories. Now if I can just get them all down on paper....

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mark Rashid

It was research for a book that first led me to investigate horse whispering. As you might expect, I started with the books by Monty Roberts. Then Amazon’s recommendation system told me that people who read Monty Roberts also enjoyed books by Mark Rashid. So I bought Horses Never Lie - the Heart of Passive Leadership and after a few pages, I was completely hooked. For Mark Rashid is not just a brilliant horse trainer – he's also an excellent writer.

His books aren’t guides on how to train your horse. He doesn't try to get you to use a specific Mark Rashid method or to buy special Mark Rashid equipment. Instead, he tells stories about his experiences with horses and shares the way he learned to work with them, including many of the mistakes he made. In the process, he teaches you how horses think and how important it is to be adaptable to what an individual horse needs.

Horses Never Lie turned me into a fan so I swiftly read every other book  by him I could find. Then, just as I wondering what to do next,  I made a discovery so perfectly timed that it made me wonder if I was actually treading a path already laid out for me. This Colorado cowboy who normally works half a world away from me was about to give a weekend clinic at a yard not far from where I live.

I’ve never booked anything quite as quickly, and I’m so glad I did. Watching Mark Rashid in action was even better than reading his books. He’s quiet spoken, modest and absolutely focused on doing what’s right for each individual horse. He taught us the importance of softness, both in the horse and in ourselves. He demonstrated how tenseness in the rider can change the way a horse moves and he showed us how to ask a horse to canter just by changing the rhythm in our heads and breathing out.

I came home with a different approach my favourite animal. I even brought a not-quite-perfect horse to practise on. (see my previous post.) And I still reread Mark Rashid's books from time to time just for fun. They’re well worth a try if you enjoy anecdotal horse stories with a touch of humour and you want to learn more about the way horses think.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Trying Too Hard

by Lisa Trovillion

I’ve recently had a few hands-on lessons in the old adage: Tell a gelding, but ask a mare. My mare, Dorrie, because of past physical problems, has been a study in patience and correctness. What do I mean by this? She is physically unable to go forward without being straight and needs a lot of help from the rider to find this straightness and maintain it. Here comes the patience part. It has been so hard for me to understand that I was a large part of her problem–why she would curl in a ball, flatten ears and not go forward? Why would she bow out in the opposite direction of our turn? Why does she drag and break to walk? What was happening? I’m not THAT bad a rider, am I? After all, my other horse goes along just fine. Learning the hard way—my personal specialty—I discovered that I was in fact shoving at her with my seat and nagging with my legs to go. Doesn’t work. I would creep forward, pinching with my thighs instead of sitting back with legs open. Makes her slow or stop. And I was not centered, but was instead dominating one side, which caused her to shift her weight and bow out. And all of this was so subtle that it took an instructor with a keen eye to detect it. That being said and acknowledging my riding faults, Dorrie is not a horse to meet you half way --or at all. You have to ask and you have to do it right. She’s like a giant, red “correctness” meter that clearly tells you when you're screwing up. And most of the time when I wasn't getting it right, it was because I was trying too hard.  Shoving, clamping, forcing, willing something to happen doesn't necessarily make it so. Same with writing. I'm in the slumping hammock depths of a novel right now that I'm afraid is not living up to its great beginning and planning surprise ending. Every word I write, I'm evaluating as junk. So now I'm shoving at the page, nagging at the sentences, and endlessly fidgeting with the wording so that the story is fed up, shut down, and pinning its ears at me. It's time to let go. Take a breath. Open and relax and just write as if no one will ever read it and I am free to tear up the pages as soon as they are written. That's the only way I'll go forward into that sought after zone of "self-carriage" where the words come, the characters speak, the creativity flows and the rhythm of the story moves with perfect cadence so that I'm just along for the ride! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

She's Got Personality

by Meghan Namaste

In my book Training Harry, the main characters bond through the trials and tribulations of reforming a so-called "problem horse". Harry is a young polo prospect with good breeding, who's never known anything but the best of care. His athletic ability and potential to succeed is mind-boggling, but his brain is not on board with the proceedings. He's firmly stuck, fighting with all his keen intelligence and athleticism to avoid conceding to a human agenda. It takes quite a bit of persistence, creativity, and a stroke of luck to uncover Harry's demons. Behind the storybook upbringing, he's harboring a deep-seated fear.

When writing the "horse behaving badly" scenes, I stayed far away from the tired trope of a rearing, snorting, nostrils-flaring animal. Not that Harry didn't rear (he did just about everything a horse might resort to when resisting), but I felt it was important to get down into the nuances of equine behavior. Sometimes, resistance isn't all that dramatic. It could mean simply that Harry gave a dirty look, or set his head a certain way, or went along in a lovely, cadenced rhythm while carrying enough tension to detonate a nuclear bomb.

The acknowledgment in Training Harry is dedicated to my horse, Sofie, "who appears all over this book in equine characters both brilliant and devious". It's a true statement. I stole it all, and I used it at will: her moods, her ups and downs, our path to bonding as horse and rider.

In one pivotal scene, Lawrence & Erica's quest to unlock Harry's resistance comes to a turning point when Erica sees Lawrence is feeding into Harry's fear and compounding it.

I pressed Harry’s sides. He trotted off rigidly. I knew what had to be done. I looked left, and tightened my hand against the rein.
Harry seized up. He came to a quivering halt, sinking down on his hocks. I pushed him forward. He scrambled sideways, terrified. I stopped thinking, just like him. My hands crept back toward my body, closing Harry in.
"Drop the reins!" Came Erica's frantic yell.
Harry's heart pounded through my boots. His eye rolled in his head. White foam covered his lips and fell onto his chest. He couldn't swallow. My hold was too strong.
"Give him the reins!"
I couldn't look at Erica. I couldn't look anywhere but Harry's neck. We were both locked in our fear patterns, and I was the only one who could end it.
Harry was thrashing desperately in my grasp. I realized, sickeningly, that he was trying to be good. He wasn't running us into the fence. He wasn't flipping over on me. He was trying. I felt a warm bubble of emotion in my throat. I was proud of him. And I absolutely hated myself for being incapable of the same, simple thing.
Erica's voice cut into my toxic mix of emotions. "Drop the - " she paused suddenly. I listened hard. She started again, decisively. "Reach down and pat his neck! Right now!"
That did it. That got through to me. I couldn't drop the reins in the heat of the moment. It seemed drastic, insurmountable somehow. But I could pat Harry. That was doable. I put my hand on his neck, rubbing the glossy, sweaty hair, feeling the concrete muscle under my fingers. The reins went slack. Harry's feet sank into the ground again. His head flopped downward. He was relieved, exhausted. I knew how he felt.
I set the reins on his withers and just sat there, rubbing his neck with both hands. He melted under my caress, and I realized how I had condemned him. He was crazy, he was a jerk, he had no work ethic. I had done what everyone does. I had blamed him so I could be blameless. I had only thought about the behavior, not about the why.

When I started working with my horse, she had a light mouth but could be bullish, and she carried a lot of tension. She'd rush at the trot or canter and build up speed, and if I pulled back on her mouth to try and slow her down, she'd brace into the contact and simply keep going faster. Through trial and error, we learned that if I softened the contact (a completely counter-intuitive approach) she would relax, soften, and slow down. Therefore, a lot of our rides ended up a bit like the scene above, with my horse racing around in a field and my mom yelling "Drop the reins!" at me from afar.

Sometimes we're on the bit, sometimes we're not (same day, btw)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Those of us who blog here are passionate about two things: horses and writing about them. Most of us ride. We live all over the world and interact with horses in different ways, but we all love everything about the horse.

While we love all horses, some inevitably become more special to us than others. You have probably found that to be true as well. It may be that one horse has a funny personality quirk, or is kind, or is exceptionally beautiful. Those special horses get pulled into our hearts and stay there forever.

I am fortunate. My heart is filled with many special horses. I have written a lot about my first horse, the white Appaloosa mare Snoqualmie, and her son, Ben, in some of my books. Valentino, the little rescue horse who could not relate to either horses or people and who eventually became the 2011 PATH International Equine of the Year is another horse who fills my heart. I have written about him in several books, too.

There is another very special horse on the cover of my most recent book, Therapy Horse Selection. Baby is a black Tennessee Walking Horse/pony cross. At just 14.2 and twenty-plus years, she is the senior mare in her herd and plays the grandma role very well. No drama. Lots of patience. She is also polite. Each time a human comes into the paddock area for the first time on a given day, Baby whinnies in welcome. I always half expect her to pull out iced tea, lemonade, and cookies, as any Southern hostess would do.

Baby also makes her people do it right. Whether it is teaching therapeutic riding instructors how to ground drive, or a teenaged girl with disabilities to ride, or a young man with autism to longe, they have to ask correctly. Baby is the very best teacher and I love her dearly.

I use present tense, but that is not exactly correct. You see, we lost our beloved Baby last Saturday. A neighbor waved to her in the pasture while she was grazing peacefully with the rest of her herd at eight in the morning. By ten o’clock she was in the throes of a bad colic, so bad that her veterinarian could not save her. Hours later she was buried in a corner of the pasture, near a wooded area and stream where she liked to hang out on hot days.

All of Baby’s horse and human friends, myself included, grieve for her. Today when I went to the barn there was no welcoming whinny from a quiet, patient little horse and my heart did a number of sad somersaults inside my chest. Yes, Baby was, is, special, and she will always remain in my heart. My remembrances of her and all the lessons she taught me will live on through me, and in everyone else, horse and human, that she impacted so positively. RIP Baby. Good girl.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Boogie Man

by Patti Brooks

Life was scary for Tommy, a big-eyed Morgan gelding. He saw the boogie-man in everything. His official name was Trijas Tantara and his two older sisters had graduated from our Storybook Training Stable and went on to bring years of enjoyment to their owners. But Tommy.....

Our farm was located at the edge of a state forest and after serious lessons in the ring, we would take the horses out on the forest trail. That was not a plus for little Tommy. He was the only horse I ever trained that would shy at the shadow cast by a big bird  (hawk, Canada goose, buzzard) flying overhead.

Bicyclers enjoyed the state forest trail, too. Tommy was certain they were panthers. Bicyclers, hunched over their bikes, sliding quietly toward him. His equine instincts said PANTHER! And those same instincts told him exactly what to do...flee.
Tommy: "Out of Here!"

The sight of a car was enough to make Tommy break out in a sweat.  He simply lost his mind and would run blindly in the other direction.  Something had to be done. He wasn't safe to ride.

So, one day when it was everyone's day off, I turned Tommy out in our indoor ring. Then I drove our small Datsun truck in. Tommy raced to the far corner. I drove willy-nilly around, honking the horn. Then I stopped and slammed the truck door. Next I revved the engine and took off, weaving about the indoor, honking the horn.

Tommy was visibly shaking. I parked the truck in the middle of the ring, got out and let the tail gate down.  I went to the feed room and got a pail of grain which I brought to the quivering Tommy.  The grain took his mind off the truck and he gobbled a handful. Turning away from him, I walked slowly to the truck.  Tommy followed a few steps before he glanced at the monster truck and quickly turned tail.  I continued toward the truck and placed the bucket of grain on the tailgate, then walked out of the indoor.

I kept busy in the office for a good hour before coming back to check on Tommy. There he was, cowering in a corner of the indoor.  But...the pail of grain was now sitting empty on the ground.  The little guy got up the nerve to snatch the pail off the truck and carefully place it on the ground.  He obviously stayed long enough to eat the grain before retreating to his corner.
Tommy & Pam
Note all 4 feet off the ground!

Tommy took more hours of training than any horses we trained into world champions. But eventually he found a soul mate. From the moment this girl laid a hand on Tommy's neck, he immediately felt comfortable and willing to put his life in her hands. She would make his life's decisions from now on and keep the boogie man away.

Don't you think those big eyes we all think are so attractive on a horse let him see more than he needed to?