Monday, July 27, 2015

Gratitude

Lately, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the concept of gratitude. I feel like optimistic, humble society members preach gratitude in all things in an attempt to stave off feelings of loss and inadequacy. But the more I think about it, the more I believe they might be on to something.

I could continue to look at my farm as I had been during the long winter months: dollar signs constantly turning in my mind. Fences that need fixing, blankets that need washing.  It’s currently hay season in Upstate New York. Will we be able to get all the hay in in time?  How much will it set us back? Will we be able to recruit enough help to put it in the loft or will our backs feel like overworked pipe cleaners on the brink of snapping? Will I find enough hay worth storing to feed my band of 11 senior horses through this coming winter?
This is what 34 year old EB Top Cat, or TC, thinks about winter.


And that’s just this season. What about the weekly lawn care – mowing, cleaning, weed eating – that make it look so crisp and well cared for? The pastures need to be brush hogged, the gardens need to be redone.  My 50 year old pole barn could use some TLC (and a new roof if we’re being honest).
And that’s all without walking into the house. Let’s face it, I’m a horse girl. If I’m going to spend my money and time on something, the barn trumps the house every time. Unfortunately, the house comes with its own array of ulcer-causing issues.

Did I mention that I work a full-time job away from farm?

In the midst of my war against time and responsibility, my aunt and uncle visited the farm for dinner recently. My uncle brought his lap top and started a slide show from their recent trip to Italy. I felt insanely jealous. They have the freedom and resources to fly across the world and live in another country for a week or so. How liberating to have so much time on your hands that you can attempt to absorb an entirely different culture! The houses built precariously on cliffs. The history of towns and bridges built before years were four digits long. The interesting people they met!

The slide show left me with a sense of longing. Eleven horses is not a responsibility that everyone can handle. Toss in four dogs and two cats and you’ve got Tantius Farm. Sometimes I doubt my judgement in choosing this life. I could be travelling. I could be holed up in a studio apartment somewhere, spending my evenings cuddled up next to a keyboard as my characters chattered away about their lives. I could be driving a VW Convertible with the top down all summer. I could move every 3-5 years. I could visit my friends who live all across the country. I could live in Scotland for a few years.

NLF Tia, rescued 10 years ago, went from being an emotionally unavailable mare to my A-rated show ring diva. She's semi-retired now at 22.

Just when I was seriously starting to doubt my life choices (it was time for chores and horses have no idea about dinner parties unless they involve open gates and a ransacked grain bin), my aunt asked if she could help with the horses.

I’ve been “riding” horses since before I could walk. In kindergarten, I couldn’t understand why the other kids were so amazed by my equine friends. Not everyone had horses? Nonsense! My best friend was a horse!  In my world, everyone had: a mom, a dad, a dog and at least one horse! I’ve come to understand that they’re a sort of novelty to non-equestrians. I told my aunt that I would love the help.

My aunt was in heaven. Just crossing the lawn and passing two of my Morgans in a paddock, Shadow and Rip, caused my aunt’s excitement started to bubble to the surface. When my cousin and I haltered the horses and started to walk them toward the barn, my aunt couldn’t hold her excitement in any more. The happy dances started after I halted Shadow so she could pet her for a moment. So much simple joy from laying a hand against the graying neck of our resident old Morgan mare. Something that I do every day was like Christmas for my aunt and her giddiness only multiplied. She bravely helped toss hay into the stalls and dump grain in buckets. She clapped as my Galahad horse bowed for cookies and fed him one herself. When she emerged from the barn, I caught a glimpse of my aunt as a child. Her eyes sparkled and her smile wouldn’t stop. The horses, the smells, the routine – everything that I do every day, twice a day – made her clap in delight.  “What a beautiful life you have, Kim. How amazing!”
My Aunt Jean sharing a moment with Showy Lady's Slipper, one of our current fosters from ForeverMorgans.

The woman who had taken cooking classes in Italy, touched bridges that were thousands of years old and ridden in a gondola through Venice thought my life was beautiful. When I thought about it – a barn full of older horses that are healthy and happy, a house full of dogs that are sensitive and loving, friends who give up their Sundays to help me load my loft with hay – she’s right. I chose to create a farm where older horses could land safely and never have to worry about falling through the cracks, suffering abuse or traveling the auction circuit. I chose to be the one beside them as they take that first step toward the rainbow bridge. I chose to have a farm where everyone is welcome and, regardless of the height of the lawn or the state of the gardens, people respond to the blissful serenity that rides the gentle breezes as they sing across my property.   


My life is beautiful, and I am grateful for it. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Still here, after all these years...

By Carolyn Henderson

“Are you still riding?”

The question was so unexpected that  I wondered if I’d heard it correctly. The look on my former boss’s face confirmed that I wasn’t losing my marbles – she really did wonder if I’d hung up my boots.

Indignantly, I rattled off the things I’d been doing, from backing a young pony to jump training.  Afterwards, I realised she didn’t mean it as an insult - we hadn’t met since she resigned as editor from a magazine I write for.  And OK, most of my contemporaries are concentrating on their grandchildren and  ponies rather than on their own riding.

I had a big birthday this year and a horse dealer friend  told me I’d officially reached Game Old Bird status. I’ve decided to take it as a compliment.

Without thinking about it, I’ve adapted my riding regime from that I followed as a 20-something, when I was jumping what now look like huge fences and would happily get on anything. Now, I get my kicks from improving horses’ flatwork and jumping smaller courses than the ones I tackled in my twenties.

By the way, the horse in the picture below was called Mad Max. He once took me over a five foot three kissing gate because he preferred not to wait and go through it. I loved him, but thank heavens I had him when I was young enough and brave enough to enjoy him.





I'm not as supple or as quick to react as I was 20 years ago, but in some ways I’m a better rider. I’ve built up a library of exercises and techniques and I’ve become more patient and tolerant. I’ve written more than 30 books on horses – I always say I was a child author when I wrote my first – but I know that whilst hopefully, they help people, every horse is different. Training principles are important, but it’s the way you apply them that counts.

So far, no one’s asked me when I’m going to give up writing. I reckon I’ve got another 20 books left in me, so as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep hitting the keyboard.

When I’m not riding, of course!



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Never Say Never

by Linda Benson

Horse people are an opinionated bunch, aren't we? Many of us have a preferred breed, preferred sport, certain type of go-to equipment, and we all have training methods that we are sure always (well, mostly) work. I include myself in this bunch. Especially when I was younger, I had pretty strong ideas, not only about horses, but about myself, and my likes and dislikes.

But as I'm becoming a little "long in the tooth," (yes, that's horse-speak for "been around the barn a time or two") I'm realizing how Change is the only Constant in life. And if we're lucky, we will live long enough to see many changes in our lives.

When I was much younger, I believe I spouted off something to the effect that I would "never" try endurance riding. I fancied myself of the cowgirl genre (although I didn't grow up on a ranch, and never owned a cow until I was about 40.) But at that time of my life, I thought people trotting up and down the trails, bouncing up and down on those little spindly-legged Arabs looked ridiculous. Ha! Was the joke ever on me!

The year was 1985. (Notice the permed hair?) To find out why I'm not actually riding Daniel up this famous rock, go here.

I acquired a dark palomino, half-quarter horse, half-mustang gelding that I named Daniel. He was eight years old, had only been sat on a couple of times, but had very hard feet and appeared tough as nails. I started riding him in my favorite Western saddle (which I expounded about right here) and found that one of the greatest joys in my life was watching Daniel get fit underneath me, as we long-trotted up and down mountains, through streams, and across miles and miles of wilderness.

Eventually, I rode Daniel in some 50 miles races, as well as the Tevis Cup, a 100 miles endurance ride. And what a blast we had! (And as the little spindly-legged Arabs passed us handily mile after mile, I learned to never berate another breed of horse, as well as never underestimate what type of riding I might actually enjoy!) For more about Daniel and riding the Tevis Cup, go here.

Do you have something you've said you would Never do? A breed of horse, a sport, or a piece of tack to which you've said "Never!"

Ha! Just remember these important words, kids. "Never Say Never!"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"She Wasn't a Horse . . . She Was a Marine!"

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photograph
by Milton C. Toby

Sgt. Reckless?

The name conjures up fond memories of the comic books I read as a kid, of a larger-than-life superhero battling villains shoulder-to-shoulder with characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and the other Avengers. But when it comes to Sgt. Reckless, truth actually is stranger than comic book fiction.

The conflict in Korea had raged for more than two years when Marine Lt. Eric Pedersen traveled to Seoul looking for a horse.  He served with the Anti-Tank and Recoilless Rifle Platoon and he hoped to find a sturdy animal to transport the weapon's bulky and heavy 75-millimeter artillery shells. Lt. Pedersen eventually paid $250 to a family in Seoul for "Flame." Saying that Flame exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement!

Renamed "Reckless" after the platoon's nickname for the recoilless rifle, the little mare quickly became a valued member of the unit, hauling load after load of shells, rolls of communication wire, supplies, and, when necessary, a wounded Marine. Her finest hour came in March 1953, during the battle for Outpost Vegas. Reckless made trip after perilous trip to the front during the firefight, carrying nearly 200 pounds of artillery shells each time up and down steep and treacherous terrain.

Wounded twice by shrapnel during the battle--she earned two Purple Hearts--Reckless soldiered on. The battle "broke the back of the enemy," one of the Marines from Outpost Vegas later recalled. He added that Reckless was the hero of the day. In addition to the Purple Hearts, her military awards included the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with Star, the Navy Unit Citation, the National Defense Service Medal, and a batch of other commendations. She wore them all, along with her Staff Sergeant chevrons, on her blanket.

Remembering Sgt. Reckless at the
National Museum of the Marine Corps
If you haven't heard of Sgt. Reckless, no worries. The little mare was a media superstar for a time after the Korean War, achieving popularity equal to that accorded other animal stars like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Eventually, though, her story, like those of many deserving war heroes, faded into obscurity. If you have heard of Sgt. Reckless, on the other hand, it is almost certainly a result of the efforts of her biggest fan and supporter, Robin Hutton.

For the last decade, Robin has pushed relentlessly for recognition of Sgt. Reckless as a war hero. She was the driving force behind a spectacular memorial to Sgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, within shouting distance of the Marine base at Quantico. A fund-raising effort now is underway to erect a similar statute at Camp Pendleton, the Southern California Marine base where Reckless spent her post-war years and produced three foals. For more information, click here for more information.

Robin also is the author of  Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse, published in 2014 by Regnery History. The book won a well-deserved American Horse Publications editorial award as the best equine book of the year and is a great read about a remarkable horse. Commenting on the award winner, the judge called Sgt. Reckless "an amazingly detailed, fascinating, and documented saga of a war horse who served the Marines during the Korean War--a spunky, intelligent little horse that ate bread, uncooked oatmeal, Hershey bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrots and apples, loved beer, disliked dogs, slept in a Marine's tent on cold nights, and was devoted to the soldiers she served."

It's a story well worth telling, and a book well worth reading. A paperback edition of Sgt. Reckless is due in August.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Don't Ignore Ideas

by Christine

As you would have read in an earlier post, I have an idea for a new adult novel about a young woman who moves to a tropical island to be with her husband, and imports horses to the island to start a business.  I am excited about this idea for a story, and yet have found myself starting a new adult novel, regarding horses.

As a writer, I believe it is important to follow through with ideas and writing momentum as it happens.  It is however, also important to set yourself a writing goal.  This could be, for example, a goal to write a chapter a week, or a certain number of pages a day.

I keep in line with this, making sure I write what I have decided to do, but if I have an idea and find that I am writing more (or a different story), then this is important to go with, too.  Any time you find that you have an idea that flows, it is in your interest to get it written!

So whilst I am working on my tropical island story, I have also found that a new novel I didn't intend to write, has already started to write itself.  This is in the form of 50 pages over two weeks.  I am excited about this new story, even though I didn't plan on writing it!

As a writer, what project are you excitedly writing that you didn't plan?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A late post and a new release

by Kate Lattey

This post is a little behind schedule - sorry about that! I've been away all weekend at a New Zealand Pony Club Assn Coaching Conference, which was alternately freezing cold (in the indoor) and stiflingly warm (in the classroom).

In amongst the practical coaching sessions and some very informative talks on equine nutrition and physical wellbeing, we had a session with Andrew Scott, a former international eventing rider turned coach and motivational speaker.

(Note: It's currently quarter past 1 in the morning and I am in the process of releasing my latest book, so this is going to be brief.)

Here are a few of the gems of wisdom that Andrew passed along during his talk:

Everyone's brain can be divided into three essential parts - the "Chimp Factor" (our ape brain, which controls our survival mechanism - like a virus that overrides our computer system), the Human Side (which is what life has taught us and allows us to override the chimp brain - like apps installed to combat the virus), and the Computer (which stores all the accumulated data). The Chimp will always react 20x faster than the Human side!

Riding nerves can generally be divided into three categories:
1. Fear of injury.
2. Fear of failure.
3. Fear of embarrassment.
(And sometimes all of them at once!)

Horses generally can't sense the difference between nerves and anger from their rider (I thought that was fascinating!)


So here are some apps to install, if you have a tendency towards nervousness:

Smile when you're nervous - it releases endorphins.

Hyperventilate - it will settle your brain (!)

You attract that which you concentrate on most. Focus on good feelings.

NEVER GIVE UP.


And remember:

Success has very little to do with talent. - Andrew Nicholson.

Courage and bravery is not the absence of fear, but the acquired ability to move beyond fear.
- Sam Scott

And on that note...it's time to release FOUR FAULTS, which is all about a young rider struggling to overcome her fears. Seems like a timely release...but I'm heading to bed. Hopefully I'll have a new book online by the morning!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Post-it Notes on My Wall

About a year ago, I started to work on what will be my second novel. Of course, at the time I did not know it would be my second novel. Last summer was a weird place for me, in writing terms. I was deep in the editorial pit that is polishing a novel, had started and stopped two new novels when I discovered I had no idea where I wanted them to go, and generally felt like a crazy person surrounded by swirling plotlines that refused to make sense.

Then my best friend Erin stepped in. Erin lets me dump my rough drafts on her, wading through it like a champ while still getting her own writing done. She deserves several medals by now, just for sticking with me through all these horse stories when horses are not Erin’s thing even by a long shot.

Last summer I was deep in planning mode, trying to find plotline strands and tie them together. Because Erin is also a planner, she pulled out her Post-it Poster and waved it at me like she does every other time I see her. The Post-it Poster is a W-Storyboard told in—you guessed it—Post-its. As a writer, I’ve always been dedicated to the uncomfortably detailed outline. I’ve discovered I am shockingly good at invariably taking some turn right off the outline somewhere in the middle, forcing me to re-outline the outline. This is expected. As I outlined the new novel, I wasn’t sure how to stop what I was fast accepting as a fact of life. The sudden turn was a force of nature, always showing up, sometimes repeatedly. This was how I dropped two novels back to back. It couldn’t happen again.

Cue Erin and her Post-its. The W-Storyboard is pretty simple in theory. You start off with a sparking point—the beginning of the novel—and then you plot down to a turning point, which takes off to a counter turning point, and so on until your plotlines all arrange nicely onto a W. It’s basic, and yet I was somehow missing this in all of my outlines. I liked the structure, since plot points building on each other meant there was less time for me to make random changes.

So I bought a plethora of Post-its. Neon colors, pastels, with lines, without. I assigned a color to each character. I stared at my outline, and then I looked at the mostly blank wall in my old apartment. Then I really did go crazy.

Remarkably enough, my cats left it alone.

Yes, I put my book’s plot on my living room wall. Yes, people came over, would inspect my Post-it art, and always said, “Is this a book?” I would nod sagely. Yes, it will be a book.

But most importantly I wrote. I stuck to the Post-its. It wasn’t perfect, because no first draft is perfect, but I didn’t go careening off the writing cliff mid-sentence. This was a major victory, and it goes entirely to Erin and the Post-it Wall.

I’m in the middle of the second draft now, and the plot has shifted, the characters developing, the theme becoming more pronounced. I tore the Post-its off the wall, but I’ll put them back up after the second draft is finished to see where I am, and to see where I need to go next. I can see more clearly now, and the book is better off for it.

So thank you, Erin. Thank you, Post-its. I don’t know what would have happened without you.


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, July 5, 2015

Thinking About Having to Say Good-bye

After a night of loud, explosive fireworks shot off just beyond the tree line of my horses' field, I breathed a sigh of relief after counting noses this morning to find that they were all present and unharmed. I'm sure all pet owners know that feeling--holding one's breath while the vet conducts his examination or opening the medical test results with a whispered prayer... Sometimes the news is a relief and you exhale that breath you didn't know you were holding. But other times, it's not.

I'm facing a battle with one of the best horses I've ever owned. The battle is to keep him alive and it's being waged on two fronts. My beloved Clyde/TB, Paddy, has been diagnosed with Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD/RAO) and at times during the hot, humid summers here in Maryland, his respiration has zoomed up to seventy respirations per minute. The oral steroid treatment caused a bout of laminitis, but the inhalant therapy gives him a large measure of comfort. That comfort comes with a huge price tag. (One inhalant can cost over $300 and only lasts a week during a severe flare up.) The second battle front opened recently when he was also diagnosed with Insulin Resistance (IR).  His diet was immediately modified to eliminate sugar and starches as much as possible and his time out on grass was cut down. He also can no longer be fed his beloved apples, carrots, sugar cubes and peppermint treats (although I did find some sugar-free mints). I feel guilty that I may have contributed to this by "killing him with kindness" and over feeding. Unfortunately, the recommended treatment for IR is to get him fit and to lose weight, but that is a challenging task when he can't breathe! Thus, the war on two fronts.


I have fought a good fight.  I've purchased a Haygain hay steamer, his stall is dust free, his food is weighed and I've done my best to get the weight off and improve fitness. Time will tell, but I'm not deluding myself---he could have to be put down if we can't get a handle on his problems. No pet owner wants to contemplate, let alone carry out, that task but it is our ultimate responsibility for each pet we take on.  It never gets easier. Moreover, if you do have to take that step, as an owner, friend, and partner, you don't want it to be for financial reasons.  Where horses are concerned, however, it sometimes is the case. I just don't want to look in Paddy's eye on that day and know that I could keep him alive if only I had a money tree. Believe me, I have taken the high road and done whatever was necessary in the past to prolong his life and keep hope afloat. I've nursed him through Potomac Fever, Equine Protozoal Myloencephalitis (EPM), and orthoscopic surgery before this latest affliction. Still. I wish I could wash my hands of this responsibility for life or death, but I can't. No owner can because they are depending on you to do what's right, no matter how hard it is.

Meanwhile, hope is still alive and I look for small signs of improvement. I take joy in every day I have him, whether he is rideable or not. I am eternally grateful for the past we shared,  I do what has to be done one day at a time, and try not to worry too much by peering into the uncertain future.

The passing of a beloved animal is a powerful transition for those who are left to mourn. It is no wonder that some fragments of these experiences have found their way into my stories and therefore have provided some measure of eternity for those departed friends.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Getting Back To Her Roots

by Meghan Namaste

My horse and I are homebodies, and we're dressage curmudgeons, so we don't really get out much. We trail ride a lot (we're blessed with many on-site trails) and fritter our time away on "the dress-age", but we take opportunities to try new things when we can. It's a much needed mental break, as well as a reminder of how game my horse is to take on new challenges.

I'd been wanting to try team penning for over a year, and I just recently achieved that goal. A local farm hosts regular practices where everyone is welcome. They provide the cows, the arena, a very welcoming and educational atmosphere, and they even feed you once practice is over. I'd been to one of their practices as a tag-along, with some friends of mine, but this was my first chance to take my horse along for the ride. Thanks to a lovely, accommodating friend of mine, we were able to experience team penning for the first time.

We unloaded, and she settled in pretty quickly. Aside from being filthy (she likes to break out in a full anxiety sweat in the trailer, and she always pees and splashes it all over herself for some reason) she looked right at home, at least until I saddled her up with her English tack (oh, the dress-age). She is a small Paint mare, slightly over 14 hands, and she has a big horse body, massive front end, and short little sickle-hocked legs. She is built like a cutting horse, but the dress-age is more therapeutic for her weak hind end than tearing around after cattle would be. Still, I was eager to see how she would take to cows. Would she be nervous? Would she be indifferent? Or would she be crazy into it, so much so that I would go flying right out of my English saddle? I took her over to meet the cows through the fence, and she took a good look but then ate grass and even sniffed noses with one cow.

Being newbies, we were allowed some time to acclimate to the cattle. Sofie was quite happy to follow them around, and I showed her that she could push them and move them around. She seemed to think that was fun, so we waited until our turn came to try it for real.

Sofie, it turned out, loved getting back to her roots. While she was slow as molasses (a by-product of my slowing her down for the dress-age and working on her tendency to rush, and also, she has some old hind end injuries that could flare up if I rode her too hard) she was interested, willing and able to work the cows. She quickly got the idea down, and I could tell she enjoyed being with the other horses and coming into the arena to work. I hogged the lead position, as I like getting physical with the cattle and working to separate the right one from the herd. We had a few minor snafus caused by me trying to be in too many places at once (my horse and I share this tendency to try way too hard and make a big mess in the process), and a few difficulties with a stubborn cow (again, our dress-age was a liability when we needed more gas and didn't have it), but we were learning and having fun. Her maturity, willingness and enthusiasm showed me how much she has grown in the six years I've had her. I know I am a much more confident rider too (case in point: hogging the lead position).

At any rate, we had a blast and can't wait to go back for more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Safe? Or Boring?

I recently witnessed a young woman taking a morning ride in a field. She was riding western and ponying two horses, one on each side. Also in the field were four to five other horses who were grazing. The young woman was not wearing a helmet, and was busy texting on her phone.

“Yikes!” I thought. “That is an accident waiting to happen.”

Not every scenario has to be so filled with safety hazards, but when it comes to horses, most of the people I know who have been on the injured list (myself included), were there because he or she failed to follow a basic safety principle. Stretch your arm away from your torso when longeing a horse, you might get a dislocated shoulder. Wear tennis shoes or (gasp) flip-flops in the barn, you might end up with mashed toes.

As a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) instructor, I am all about safety. Overly so, it must seem, to my non-therapeutic riding friends. But I am proud of being safety conscious, even if some people call me boring, and claim I am no fun to ride with.


However, when it comes to writing, and specifically writing about horses, it is a different story. As writers, we often need to throw safety to the wind and get on with the amazing stories we are compelled to tell. Every reader deserves that. Readers choose to spend their precious time reading what we write, so we had better deliver.

Last week I read a highly anticipated short story. Technically, it was brilliantly written. The dialogue flowed and the plot moved forward at a good pace. But when I was done reading, I felt empty. The writer had played it too safe and the result was that the story was predictable and boring.

Not every book, article, or story has to have a grandmother riding down Main Street on a hippopotamus to grab a reader’s attention. But, the dialogue does have to shine. The plot has to be intriguing, and in nonfiction, the facts have to be presented in a narrative that sparkles.

So when it comes to safe versus boring, I choose to stay very safe around my horses. I drive my truck within the speed limit, and with alertness and caution. But, I really, really hope my writing is never boring. That determination, though, is up to the reader.