Tuesday, September 29, 2015

To show or not to show.

Diana Kimpton
I’ve never been very interested in horse shows. That probably comes from never winning anything at the ones I went to as a child - riding school ponies tend not to thrive in competitions they have never practised. That lack of interest shows in my writing: my horse books are all about enjoying ponies rather than competing on them.

But, ever since I bought my horse,  I’ve been told that I should show him. “He looks so good,” everyone said. “His paces are perfect.”  My granddaughter egged me on too. She was desperate to take him in for a class.  

This year I finally ran out of excuses. There was a show coming up that was near enough to walk to. (We haven’t got a trailer). It also had several suitable classes where I could show him in hand. (He has a bad back so can’t be ridden.) So in early September, I set out from the yard with Kubus, suitably scrubbed and polished, and ambled along country lanes for an hour to the showground.

Having behaved impeccably en route, Kubus nearly fell apart when we stepped into the field. There was so much happening: strange horses, strange people and strange lorries, not to mention the football tournament happening next door. I say “nearly” because, after a couple of alarming minutes, he realised he was standing on succulent grass and started tucking in. From then on, his behaviour went back to being perfect. He didn’t bat an eye at the other horses provided he could eat and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy being out with the family for the day.

My granddaughter fulfilled her ambition by taking him into the prettiest mare/handsomest gelding class where he did everything she told him and even trotted perfectly in step with her. But when he was standing in the middle of the ring, he kept looking over to us at the ringside with an expression on his face that definitely said, “So what’s all this about? Why exactly am I standing here like a lemon trying to look pretty?” 

He came third and, as the two placed above him were both mares, he really was the handsomest gelding. The beautiful yellow rosette was much appreciated by the humans, but it didn’t make much impression on Kubus. The high spot of his day was undoubtedly the picnic where every attempt to eat anything resulted in a large nose coming between us and the food. “Do horses eat hard-boiled eggs?” he asked. “How about mango? I’m sure we eat mango. And blueberries. And apples – definitely apples.”

I don’t know if we’ll ever go to another show, and I’m pretty sure I still won’t write about them. But we’ll definitely try another day out with the horse and, next time, we’ll take a packed lunch especially for him.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Winter Writing Wonderland

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm obsessed with weather. I have weather applications on all mobile devices, a state-of-the-art weather forecaster in my kitchen window and an amazing barometer/temperature reader in the barn. You see, it's not enough to know I feel cold, I want digital proof! Just this week I feel it in the air and see it in the changing leaves and slowly darkening days. Autumn is upon us with winter not far behind. Full disclosure--winter is not my favorite season, but this year I am going to try and take a different tact and embrace the season instead of fighting it.  I derived a lot of satisfaction in preparing for it yesterday as we mended the barn's front door so it will close properly come time and replaced broken fence boards. I'll get in a good store of hay and pick up my cleaned blankets. I'll be ready, but more than that. I'll stop trying to do what I can't in the winter (and feel bad about it) and instead use the time to do other things. And be OKAY with that. First and foremost on the list of those "other things" will be writing. When the siren call of the outdoors has lost it voice, yes, I'll be putting butt in chair, fingers on keyboard (or notebook) and finishing the first draft of what I believe is a very promising work in progress. And hopefully more.

Like preparing for the winter season, I'm now likewise preparing for a writing season. I've outlined (and I'm NOT a planner) key scenes in the work, drawn up character profiles, worked out timelines, and even attempted to learn a new word processor--Scrivener. I've researched historical background and even cut out inspiring pictures. I'm laying in the proverbial "firewood" to stoke up a blaze when I sit down and hammer out the ending. And edits, and more edits. The winter is almost here. How will you spend the season?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

No Time To Write

One thing is certain: writing is a time-consuming hobby.

Back before I had a full-time job, when I lived in a remote area, before I drove a car and could accept a last-minute invitation to go riding or kayaking or whatever, it was easy to get my writing done. Now, even working in an industry that allows me a three-day weekend, finding time to write is hard. Summers are just so busy, and even now the fall weather beckons. It's just so nice out. Too nice to sit inside. I'm the sort of person who has to get my writing done first thing in the morning, when my head is a blank slate and the words flow better. Unfortunately, when I'm fresh and well rested and could get some writing done, there are other things that take my attention away.

Overall, it's a good thing to be busy. Yes, it would be nice to be cranking out new material, to wrap up my adult equestrian series (at least for now) and move on to a new project. I have some ideas that would be fun to pursue, but no time to make that happen. My work-in-progress is three-quarters done, and I'm damned if I'll leave it there indefinitely, but that's how things have ended up. It sits, waiting. It's quiet and doesn't demand attention. I'll get to it eventually.

I know I am happier now than when I had all the time in the world to write. I do love creating things, and I'm good at it, but I struggled with the isolation that comes with the territory. More than that, I find it frustrating to write for an audience that can be fickle, to spend years of my life creating something that may not take off in the way I think it should.

And while I haven't been writing, I've been living, something I didn't get to do enough of when I was younger. I've worked with my horse, learning new things and taking our dressage to the next level. I've trail ridden, gone to shows, gone to the lake. There have been kayaking adventures and a late night at the rodeo, fireworks, and many early Saturday mornings spent at auctions and estate sales. A move up to a new job, a new shift, new possibilities.

In my younger years, when my mind would wander, I would see things through the eyes of my characters. I would be plotting and world-building all the time, my brain in non-stop motion. I can't do that anymore. For better or worse, now when I have too much time to think, I think about my life, my memories, my uncertain future.

I think that's a good thing.

And I know when winter comes and the snow piles up, slowing everything down, I will write again.

One of my best memories from this summer. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Equine Characters

Fictional horses, just like fictional people, are fun to write. In any form of fiction, the character must have purpose in the story. One might provide comic relief, another moves the story along, a third provides important background information. Of course, every author hopes the reader will not detect any of that kind of story structure, and will simply enjoy the read.

In stereotypical tradition, the protagonist must be good, but flawed. Cat Enright, the lead human character in my horse mysteries, is loyal and loves her four-legged friends, but she has no biological family to speak of and has a teeny problem with anger management. Her sidekicks, Jon, Darcy, and Agnes, provide a voice of reason, youthful sentiment, and wacky fun, not necessarily in that order. Each balances Cat in a different way.

The horses I, or any other author, writes are no different. Gigi, the young filly in my mysteries is the usual scatter-brained young mare who is full of energy, interested in everything, and finds life so much fun! Most of us have had an experience with a young horse like that. Bob is the older, steady-Eddie gelding who might be a little dull, but who never, ever makes a mistake. If he were human, he’d be an accountant. (No offense meant to accountants in general.) Then there is Petey, who likes to grab his lead rope and lead himself back to the barn. He is an adult, but one who likes to grab his fun wherever he can find it. Anyone who has been around horses for a while has known a “babysitter” like Bob and a quirky horse like Petey.

Sally Blue is the lead equine character, and is a young(er) lead mare who is so intuitive that many of the characters in my mysteries think she is psychic. So do a number of readers. Me? I’m not taking a stand either way, because I don’t know for sure. But, many lead mares have that something extra that allows them to keep their herd safe, even when that herd includes just the lead mare and her human partner. But, Sally seems to know about things before they happen. Or, maybe she is just having a good time crossing her legs and blowing all those bubbles in her water bucket.

I love the familiarity of writing cozy mysteries. I love watching my characters grow and develop from one book to the next and have especially enjoyed watching Cat develop her own little family unit of close friends. In my third mystery, The Fame Equation (November 3, 2015), Sally teaches a new horse his place and seems to become frustrated when her human friends do not understand her many odd behaviors. Petey is being taught to pull a cart, Bob finds a new friend, and Gigi is trying very hard not to grow up.
Sally Blue is on the cover of each Cat Enright mystery.
My equine characters have not yet told me what will happen in book four, but they have given me a few hints. And that is the big difference, for me, between writing fiction and nonfiction. These characters get into my brain and direct the story far more (and far better) than I do. Other authors have told me the same thing happens to them when they write fiction. But authors everywhere, myself included, hope their characters also get into the readers’ heads. We all hope readers will think about the characters, horse or human, long after the last word has been read. When that happens, author and character alike have done their jobs.

Happy reading!

Lisa Wysocky

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Yin & Yang of My Heart

From the time I can remember, I’ve always loved horses and stories. Like many young girls, I devoured books about horses like they were my grandmother’s Thanksgiving turkey.

I was luckier than most. I was born to a horse crazy mother who traded daily chores for partial board at a local hunter jumper stable. Too little to wield a pitchfork, I investigated every inch of the barn while she cleaned. I was not, however too little to ride.

I have a candid black and white photo of me aboard my aunt’s mare. It’s not the best picture – the frame stops before the horse does but what’s important is that I’m smiling and you can tell that I’m so young that I probably haven’t taken my own first steps yet.

By the time I was 2, I would ambush my parent’s friends as soon as they walked in the door, and drag them to a couch. They were made to sit while I “read” to them. Page by page, I read them the story of Cinderella. More than a few of them were shocked! Two years old and reading? That was until the day that I was reading away, pleased with myself, oblivious that the book was upside down.

When I started going to school and teachers would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it never occurred to me to be anything but a writer and a horse trainer.

The thing is, as I grew up, I never thought to put those two dreams together. Yet, it seemed obvious to everyone I met. “Why don’t you write a horse novel?” Truth be told, when someone pointed it out, the idea terrified me. And here’s why.

As a preteen, I read and reread every Walter Farley book I could beg, borrow or buy.  I loved them all – the freedom of the Black, the extraordinary bond between him and Alec, the wise words of their trainer, but my favorite was always The Black Stallion and the Girl. I was miserable for at least a week after I finished reading it. So heart-breaking and so healing and yet – every time I read it, I always wanted to rewrite the ending. I had horses growing up, great horses, but as a youngster I couldn’t truly imagine the bond between Black Sand, a traumatized colt and his bohemian rider. It fascinated me. To this day, that novel is on my Top Ten Novels to reread every few years.

But somehow in my own world, writing and horses were two separate things. The yin and yang of my heart that never blended. I started to wonder why I wasn't comfortable linking the two loves of my life.  

Fear.  If I fail at writing, at least I have horses. If I fail at horses, at least I have writing. If I combined them and failed – who would I be?

Fear held me captive until I lost my heart horse, Took. At the time, I’d been scribbling away at a fantasy story about a princess who was really a tom boy, a court jester who was really a magician and a young prince who had removed himself from court for so long, he’d become an urban legend. Let’s not forget the Princess's lazy dog-type companion and last but not least, her faithful and feisty war horse.

Of course her war horse was modeled after my heart horse. Through the story, I was able to describe him as I saw him and how I saw us in some alternate universe. It was a fabulous escape and it was safe as I never had to let anyone actually read it. No one would be able to see my vulnerability when it came to Took.

Then Took died. I found it too painful to craft amazing adventures in faraway lands for us. Remembering that no one ever had to see my story, I did something I never thought I could do. I killed off my protagonist’s war horse. I stole her best friend. I wrote about losing Took, each key stroke banging out the pain of his death. I wrote exactly how I felt.

And then, much like I challenged myself, I challenged her to learn how to live again.

That story hasn’t grown since then. I intend to finish it and now I know I will. After all of that, I’m no longer afraid to combine the two halves of my heart. Perhaps melding them is where true happiness lies. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bye Bye, Binky

By Carolyn Henderson

When I’m writing for non-equestrian markets, I have to try really, really hard to prevent horses creeping in. Sometimes, I have to be ruthless and persuade an equine character to trot out of a particular work and wait until a more appropriate one comes along. Occasionally, I bend the rules: I managed to get a centaur into one story.
As a reader, I enjoy it when a thread relating to horses weaves into a plot, as long as the writer gets things right. I’ve just stopped reading a novel because a series of tiny mistakes culminated in the account of a rider “putting the harness” on her horse. That’s lazy writing, because all you have to do is ask someone. Post a query online and people will rush to help, though you have to make sure they’re the right people...
 My husband introduced me to one of my favourite fictional horses – Binky, who is Death’s mount in Terry Pratchett's novels. He’s a white horse, not a grey. I'm sorry if that contradicts my previous paragraph, but there's a difference between bending rules for a purpose and getting things wrong because you haven't done your research. 
I’ve always had a passion for white greys (that’s a technical compromise to suit the purists) so here, just because he was so beautiful, is a picture of my lovely Face the Music. He went off with Binky many years ago, but I still miss him.

Binky – so-called because Death felt it was “a nice name” – is a living horse, though he doesn’t age while in Death’s care. He is number three: the first was a skeletal  horse, but he didn’t work out because Death kept having to stop and wire bits back on. The second was an impressively fiery steed, but couldn’t help setting light to his bedding.
It’s somehow comforting that Death is so proud of Binky. When Death’s adoptive granddaughter, Susan, celebrates her third birthday, he gives her a “My Little Binky” gift set. Unfortunately, her parents think it isn’t suitable.
Discovering Binky encouraged me to read TP’s novels, something I’d avoided mainly because my husband’s reaction to them was so irritating. We’d be sitting side by side, me quietly reading whilst he laughed out loud at regular intervals.
“Try them,” he urged. “You’ll love them.”
I did. Not all of them, though I could always appreciate TP’s  use of words and the way he could poke fun at institutions without being cruel (unless he wanted to be, of course). My favourites are  those in what is usually dubbed the witches subset, especially the ones featuring  Tiffany Aching.
TP’s final, much-hyped novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, belongs to this subset. 

Warning: keep the tissues handy. At the same time, it gives you a sense of loose ends being tied up in so many ways. despite the fact that he didn’t have chance to give it a final polish before Binky clip-clopped to his door.
Should we try and copy the style of writers we love? No. Should we learn from them? Yes. I don’t think I could write humour – unless sarcastic teenage characters count – but I can read TP and remind myself how important it is to remember the real meaning of words and how they can be true or twisted.
A Facebook friend posted that she’d bought a copy of The Shepherd’s Crown and intended to put it away without opening it, “because it will be worth a fortune one day.” Sorry – she’ll have to wait so long that Binky will probably have arrived at her door first.
Books are an investment, but they should be an investment in pleasure, for readers and writers.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Books We Read, Books We Use

                                                                     Milton C. Toby photograph
By Milton C. Toby

Writers write. It's what we do.

Writers also tend to read, a lot.

One of the secrets to writing well is recognizing good writing by others. I read mostly nonfiction these days because that's what I write. I finished David McCullough's The Wright Brothers a few days ago and was enthralled by his story of Wilbur and Orville and the early years of aviation. McCullough doesn't write about horses but he has won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award and his work is a good model for any nonfiction author.

I'm now working my way through Ed Moloney's A Secret History of the IRA, trying to sort out the politics of the the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland as part of my book proposal research into the theft of the Thoroughbred stallion Shergar. The "Shergar shelf" in my office keeps growing, occupied with the few books already written about the horse and hundreds of clippings from old newspapers and magazines.

I don't read much current fiction unless Daniel Silva or John Sandford has a new book. More often than not when I need a dose of fiction, though, I'll pick up an Arthur Conan Doyle volume and reread a Sherlock Holmes story or two.

Our house is littered with books--real books, not even counting the ebooks on my Kindle. They are arranged neatly on shelves or in precarious stacks in my office, in the bedroom, in the spare bedroom, in the living room, in the dining room, in the kitchen. And then there are the boxes of books gathering dust in the attic and in the garage. Most of them have been read once, and probably won't be picked up again except when dusting the shelves or rearranging the stacks.

A few books, on the other hand, have migrated through frequent use from the shelves and stacks to a place within easy arm's reach in my office. These are the reference books that I use over and over again, often on a daily basis. In no particular order, here are my top-10 go-to books when I have a question about definitions, word origins, or the mechanics of writing:

1. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in two massive volumes
2. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (three editions)
3. The Chicago Manual of Style
4. The Associated Press Stylebook
5. The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
6. Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words
7. The Writer's Legal Companion
8. The Oxford Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus
9. The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook
10. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

None of these are "writing books" as such. They don't deal with plot, or characters, or dialogue, or the other creative elements we usually associate with good writing. They are essential reading, though, if you need help putting together a query, or a proposal, or a manuscript that is both technically correct and likely to satisfy a publisher's guidelines.

An added--and somewhat unexpected--benefit: A few of the books go beyond dry reference and are fun to read. The Elements of Style, The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, for example, all manage to be both informative and entertaining.

Besides, where besides Phrase and Fable are you going to find the origins of the "trilby hat," the headgear of choice for James "Jazzer" Murphy, the detective in charge of the Shergar investigation?

What reference books do you use on a regular basis?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New Equestrian Fiction: Show Barn Blues

The newest novel in my equestrian line-up.
Ready for a new read? Just in time for... fall? Is that a thing to be just in time for? Anyway, just in time for you to read, I have new equestrian fiction for you!

Show Barn Blues is my latest horse book for grown-ups, a story about surviving in the horse business, the changing nature of our countryside, boarding stable drama, and our connections with our horses. It's a story full of characters anyone who has ever stepped foot inside a barn will recognize. It's a story about horse-people.

From the back cover, here's what Show Barn Blues is all about:

Grace has built her life on show horses. It's been a good life, too -- she mounts her wealthy students on European warmbloods, competes her horses on Florida's rigorous A-circuit, and runs the nicest barn in the neighborhood. Then, suddenly, it's the only barn in the neighborhood. 

As Grace's country town becomes a sun-drenched playground of pools and golf courses, she vows that no bulldozer will ever touch her farm. With her neighbors selling their farms and moving to more isolated corners of Florida, she finds herself fighting off land-hungry developers alone -- until Kennedy comes along. 

Kennedy is everything Grace doesn't want around her bustling show barn -- a pleasure rider who would rather wander in the woods than tackle a show-jumping course. Kennedy might make for an unlikely sidekick, but she's just the inspiration Grace needs to fight back against the developers who want to bulldoze her corner of Floridian wilderness -- and, eventually, against the wilderness itself.

I really think that you'll enjoy this novel, and the first reviewers back me up on this:

You are one of a very few authors who "get" what makes horse-people tick.
-Amazon review

If you like equestrian fiction -- or any fiction with a helluva good story -- this book will satisfy, and then some. 
-Amazon review 

Show Barn Blues also holds a place in the Ambition universe. If you're looking for more Jules, I'm working on the sequel to Ambition now -- but you'll find that Show Barn Blues is connected to her story as well.

You can find Show Barn Blues as an ebook at Amazon right now, with a paperback edition coming next week. If you're a member of Amazon Prime, you can borrow the ebook for free.

I hope you'll take a look and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Loving Horse Blogs

by Christine.

It has come to my attention that I don't spend enough time as an author, raising awareness of my books and websites.  I used to regularly read horse blogs and comment on posts of interest (there were a lot!).  For most blogs, when you comment you can provide a link to your website.  In this way, I raised the profile of my blog Equus Education.

I am now focusing on being able to do this with both Horse Country and the Free Rein series.  The first focus point has been creating blog hops and taking part in others.  A search online for horse related blog hops brought up some great results - and a lot of horse blogs worth following!

So here's the question - do you follow blogs online?  And if so, what horse blog would you say you couldn't do without keeping updated on?

As an author, how do you raise the profile of your books online?

I have recently discovered BlogLovin' as a source of staying updated on blogs as new posts are written.  Perhaps it is a platform that may work for you?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The wonderful world of Pony Club

by Kate Lattey

A brief insight into Pony Club in New Zealand

I've been a Pony Club coach for several years now, but this is my first season as the Head Coach of my local branch, Waikanae (that's essentially pronounced "why-can-I", if you're wondering). I was Rally Coordinator last season, which meant I took on most of the administration side of things - booking coaches, organising rally topics, taking down names, doing gear inspections, paying coaches afterwards, etc etc. Now I am doing all of the above, plus setting rally dates, managing certificate cards, and running enrolment evening and quiz night...all of which are now behind me. Phew!

Our Pony Club season started two weeks ago with Enrolment & Goal Setting. Most of our enrolments had already come through via email (I set up some nifty PDFs with a fill-in function that members filled out and emailed to our secretary), and been paid via internet banking. Gone are the days of gathering cheques and handwritten forms! So this was a chance for our new members to come and buy uniforms (we have long-sleeved shirts, hat covers and saddle blankets in Waikanae's chosen blue and yellow colours).

Enrolment Evening was a good opportunity for a Meet & Greet of our new members, and a chance for me to catch up with our returning and senior members to find out what they were wanting to achieve this season, whether it was to attain certain Pony Club certificates or to get their pony to canter on the correct lead leg.

We followed that evening up a week later with Quiz Night. I wrote a bunch of questions (the night before) and we had twenty of our members turn up for the quiz (and a fish and chip dinner). Questions ranged from "What would you do if you found your pony in the paddock with a hot, swollen leg?" to "Which is the best Harry Potter book?" (Yeah, so some of the questions were a little subjective. Interestingly enough, nobody got the "right" answer on that one - it's obviously Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban" but I gave everyone full marks anyway.)  Two teams finished on 77.5 points (with the third team not far behind on 71.5) and had to share the prizes (mini bars of chocolate) amongst themselves.

Two of our members modelling the WPC uniform
Today was our first ridden rally, and we had a HUGE turnout! I say huge - it's all relative - but last season eighteen was big for us, so to have 26 riders on their ponies was a few more than I'd expected! It went off well though - we have everything from fluffy lead-rein ponies with riders who have just started school, up to seniors who are working towards their B Certificates this season. I was very fortunate to have three former members of our branch volunteer to help out with coaching - it's so great when the kids who have gained so much from Pony Club are willing to give back to it. I split everyone into three teams (done completely unscientifically according to horse/pony height) and we ran through some mounted games - Walk, Trot and Lead, Spud & Spoon (like egg and spoon but with potatoes, I wasn't wasting any eggs if they got broken - I need them for my breakfast!), then an obstacle course where they had to ride to three stepping stones, hop across them, run up to a tyre and shimmy through it before running back over the start line. They all did well and we split them off into three sections - one did flatwork, one did Flag Race and the third did some jumping. Because they were still in groups that ranged from experienced riders to lead-reiners, we had very low fences set, but challenged the seniors by asking them to jump as pairs. Only two of our younger riders managed to do a credible job!

Our next rally will be in two weeks' time, and is the day before our Spring Show, which is our big fundraiser for the season. We are very fortunate to have amazing grounds and facilities to use, including a 100x100m arena (where we rode today) but unfortunately arenas cost money to maintain, and 100x100m is a huge space to fill when it needs resurfacing! So we are in fundraising and grant-requesting overdrive at the moment. It has been raining almost constantly for the past month so the grounds are a bit sodden and muddy right now, meaning we've had to cancel our Training Day which we had scheduled for tomorrow, so that's a shame as we usually make good money off that. We will have to hope for fine weather in two weeks for our Spring Show! In the past couple of years we've had awesome entries, with over 40 horses competing in the 90cm and 1m show jumping classes- which allows us to turn a good profit. But it's a long day with three jumping rings going, as well as the flat classes in the morning - and it gets expensive with prize money, paying judges and course designers, and it's all hands on deck with parent helpers! However once that is over then we can all relax and settle into the competition season...

One of our members at SH Champs last year

Speaking of which, as if I didn't have enough to do at Waikanae, I've also agreed to coach the Horowhenua Pony Club Show Hunter team at North Island Show Hunter Champs next month! We've had external coaches brought in for squad training, but I've been attending those sessions so that I am prepared with what to help each rider with on the day. The team is comprised of members from our local branches, and is made up of eight pony/horse and rider combinations - two in Category A (what the Americans would call "Small Ponies"), two in Category B (Mediums), two in Category C (Larges), and two in the Hack (horse, not pony) division. The event brings teams from all over the North Island, and after practice rounds and team introductions on Day 1, we kick off into competition on Day 2. Our riders have to compete in four rounds throughout the day, and individual ribbons are awarded for the top placings in each round, as well as the highest placing pair in the round (combined score for the team's riders in each Category). On Day 3 they ride their Equitation rounds, and then we have prizegiving. Last year our team placed 2nd overall, and the year before the team finished 4th overall, so there is a wee bit of pressure to do well! Still, as excited as I am about coaching and as much as I'm looking forward to a successful event, ultimately we just want all of our riders to do their best and come out of the ring smiling after every round.

Another Waikanae rider on XC at Teams Training
There are plenty more team events coming up within our Pony Club season. In the eventing discipline, we have Bruce Forbes Teams Event (aka Teams Training), Timberlands and NZPCA Eventing Champs (although Champs are being held in Canterbury - South Island - this year so we may not send a team). In show jumping, there is NZPCA Show Jumping Champs and the Pony Club Show Jumping Team of the Year at the Horse of the Year Show. In dressage we have Area Dressage and NZPCA Dressage Champs, and in Mounted Games there is Area Games and Zone Games to train for. We have had a pretty crack Games team for the past few years, winning Areas consistently and placing well at Zones, where our members are competing against riders who have represented New Zealand overseas in the discipline. Area and Zone Games are the only team competitions we have that are run at branch level, so it's the Waikanae Wonders (or Waikanae Wazzup, or whatever the kids decide to call themselves) that are repping our individual branch.

But one of the coolest things that we have this season is an influx of boys! Ranging in age from 15 to 5, we have five boys enrolled and two more who are about to enrol, with an eighth on the fence... As boys are typically underrepresented in equestrian sports, it's great to have them enjoying their riding and getting involved in the sport. As only two are in their teens with the others much younger, it bodes well for the future.

And now I have rallies to organise, coaches to book, and certificate cards to fill out...homework time!
My homework for tonight!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Waking Up Early: Saratoga in the Mornings

Lately, I've been attempting to wake up early. You have to find time to write at some point in the day, and it might as well be five in the morning. Who's with me? No one? Yeah, I'm right there with you. This experiment of mine has largely failed, but it just reminds me of last year around this time when I was at Saratoga Springs, soaking in the wonders of Saratoga Race Course and, more beautiful still, morning works. Since I wasn't able to go back this year, I've been chronicling them on my Instagram feed since the meet started.

July and Kali...is that you?

So let's talk morning works. At Saratoga, horses have a few options. The biggest are the main track that sits directly by the grandstand, and the Oklahoma Training Track across the street. It's important to note that horses at Saratoga are all over the place. They're crossing main roads and they're in your backyard. The town presses up against training barns. It's cozy. It's green. It's beautiful.

Like every other horse sport, days start early. Mist is everywhere, the sun is barely touching the horizon, and coffee is consumed in large quantities. Horses arrive on the track in fleets, all wearing saddle cloths that brand them for a trainer. A WL on a horse's side is a D. Wayne Lukas trainee. MM: Mike Maker. The blue 007 in the white circle: James Bond. (Yes, really.) Some are less obvious. Saratoga puts out a saddle cloth directory every year to help you figure it out, but few horses come onto the track with their name emblazoned on their side. One clocker I stood next to told me that he figures out the horses he times by the saddle cloth and the horse's markings. I didn't ask what he does in the event the horse has no markings. (Tear out your hair in frustration? It seems like the next logical step.)

A fast work along the inside rail.

Just like riding etiquette in an arena, there's racetrack etiquette. Jogging horses (aka trotting horses) and returning horses stay to the outside, and they travel clockwise. Galloping horses go counterclockwise, and breezing horses get dibs on the inside rail. Breezes are fast gallops, near to racing speed, and are timed. Any breeze where the rider is pushing the horse gets a little H marked by the horse's time for handily, or ridden under encouragement. There are all sorts of training programs for horses that dictate how fast and how far a horse will work any given day, but generally there's one fast work per week. The rest of the time is spent walking the shedrow, jogging the track, or galloping what's called a two-minute lick. Stonestreet has an informative blog that covers the subject in more detail here.

Racetracks usually encourage the public to watch workouts. Saratoga offers breakfast at the clubhouse, and if you're at the Oklahoma Training Track you can just walk in and plunk yourself down at the rail. Exercise riders are incredibly gracious people, most of whom are happy to exchange bits of conversation with spectators and pose for photos. They're also out there yelling at each other and talking to their horses, like so many horse people I know (me included). A rider goes whooshing by at a slow gallop, calling for her horse to please change leads. After a second, the horse decides to honor her request and is given a singing thank you in response.

D. Wayne Lukas trainees jogging in company.
Before the Travers Stakes at Saratoga this year, 15,000 people showed up to watch American Pharoah gallop around the main track during morning works. It was thrilling to watch the videos posted from that morning, but I loved my quiet moments at the rail with my camera, getting this insight few people wake up this early to see.

So, waking up early? I should probably keep trying to do it. You have to write and edit sometime, right?


 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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Foinavon's National

by Diana Kimpton
I was bought up watching horse racing. It was a family activity on a Saturday afternoon, especially when the weather was bad. We’d all pick a horse as they paraded around the paddock and my dad would give us half-a-crown (12.5p) if we won. That doesn’t sound like much now, but it was a welcome addition to my pocket money then and I loved the feel of the large silver coin in my hand.

The Grand National was a big event for us every year. It was a family joke that my mum always picked a horse that fell at the first fence, but I usually did better than that and, on one occasion, I even picked the winner. So when I was asked to write a book of true stories about horses, the Grand National sprang to mind.
It’s a controversial race that has produced many stories over the years. There was the Queen’s horse, Devon Loch falling over for no apparent lesson when he was in the lead and galloping towards the finishing post. Then there was Red Rum winning three times and becoming a national legend in the process. But my favourite has always been Foinavon – the most unexpected winner in the history of the race.
The 1967 Grand National started normally and, except for the usual litany of falls, the race was relatively uneventful until the leaders cleared Becher’s Brook for the second time and headed for the next fence. As they galloped towards it, two riderless horses at the front decided to run along the front of the fence instead of jumping it.

Their behaviour threw the leading horses into disarray. Some crashed into the fence while others skidded to a halt. A few stopped so suddenly that their riders flew over their heads and landed on the other side of the fence. Luckily none of the horses or riders were injured, but the resulting chaos caused the horses further back to panic. They refused to go any closer and, in some cases, tried to whirl around and run in the opposite direction.

 Foinavon was in 20th place when he landed after jumping Becher's Brook, but, unlike the others, he remained calm. He swung sideways to avoid the horse that stopped immediately in front of him and continued to canter on. His jockey, John Buckingham, spotted a place at the far end of the fence where there were no other horses and turned Foinavon towards it.

The fence was designed to be taken at a gallop and Foinavon was only cantering. But he jumped it beautifully and, urged on by the crowd, he completed the course, won the race and galloped into racing history. The fence that caused his victory is now called Foinavon’s Fence in his honour.

John Buckingham kindly let me interview him as part of my research for my book, and he filled in details I might not have found any other way.  He only asked one thing in return: that I should let everyone know that Foinavon wasn’t a useless horse who won because everyone else fell over. He was a brave horse who stayed calm when the others panicked and jumped magnificently to get over the fence that held the others back. He really, truly was a winner.