Details, details...

We attended our first CMSA competition this weekend, and while it could have gone better in some ways, there were also some wonderful highlights and it was, overall, a tremendous learning experience.

First, I have to brag. This was the first time that my son has ridden our young stallion, GWAIHIR, in any kind of competition and I was extraordinarily pleased at how well they worked together. Especially since he didn't work so well for me earlier in the morning!

As with anything, this sport takes some work and practice and some getting your feet wet. I can listen and watch and learn, but I'm still the kind of person that has to go through the fire before I can figure out the right questions to ask.

And this weekend reminded me of how much fun the real little picky and flavorful details can be.

There are often times, in our writing, that it's ok to gloss over something or to use a common description to fill in background, but it seems to be the little things that really hook the readers and draw them in. To me, it isn't so much the easily-findable facts about the way things work, but when an author drops in a troublesome tidbit about something that didn't work - that seems to really give the story life and depth.

I drive a lot of miles going to our events, the majority of them are off the beaten path so it's a rare trip that doesn't have some element of adventure:
- like driving around a small town traffic circle looking for (according to your directions) Hwy64 North when the signs only offer 64 East or West;
- or finding a narrow unmarked road at the exact mileage the directions say you should find a well-traveled county road;
- what about those little towns that mount street lights directly in front of their state highway signs so you can't be sure if you're on 171 or 174 until you pass the next sign.
- and the funny thing about driving an older truck is that you learn to watch the temperature gauge instead of the speedometer. If you don't have quite enough truck for the trailer, you learn to go very fast down the long hills so you can make it to the crest going back up the other side. ... I've also learned, the hard way, not to be nice and pull over and drive on the shoulder to let people pass. Too many times I've done that and ended up with flat tires before the end of the trip.

Horses have to learn to travel. They typically need a few trips to learn to relax in the trailer. Some horses don't eat well during a trip (which can start a cascade of health issues), and most horses won't drink when you offer them water at a stop. A nervous traveler will sweat from the stress of the trip and can potentially worry themselves sick. Some will paw or dig with their hoofs on the side or floor of the trailer, some will kick. Horses are nothing if not creatures of habit and most, if not all of these behaviors tend to disappear after a few long trips. Most horses seem to prefer to ride in the trailer facing backwards and will turn around if you have the kind of trailer that you can leave them untied.

This also applies to going new places. Until a horse has traveled a certain extent, they will likely be overly alert. It takes a few trips for a young horse, or any untraveled horse, to learn what sorts of things are prone to jump out and try to eat them and which are not.

Compare GWAIHIR's sideways ears in the photo above to WITNESS's 'alert' photo in the post below. GWAIHIR is listening. He is fairly well-traveled and is alert and cautious but not overly concerned. Off-screen to his right the SASS competition is going on, multiple shooters (30? ...or more at a time with handguns and rifles) and there are strangers and unknown horses behind those trees and mounted shooting going on forward and to his right.

When you ride alone, you'll often see a horse hold one ear forward and one ear back, or if they hold them both forward, or back, they'll flick one to the side and back every few strides, more often the more concerned they are about the location.

Sue L


*ahem* ... such an ugly face on a usually pretty girl, I hate to post it, but here it is - for your writing-details pleasure.

WITNESS is a wonderful little mare, gentle with people and very maternal, but she doesn't put up with nonsense. She'll ask nicely, and then insist. In spite of her (lack of) size, 13.3hh, she's pretty highly ranked in the herd and this is why.

She'll pull her first punch, but not the second and in this photo, she's telling MARAH, "You just got on my last nerve!"

MARAH is a pocket-pony and jealous of the attention the babies are getting so she's been trying to sneak in close to the visitors who have come to see little YODA.

Contrast the mare_ears shot with the on-alert photo, where the ears are tightly forward and the eyes are alert, but the nostrils are not flared as if she were smelling or blowing(warning). She's very interested, but not overly concerned.

In the mare_ears photo, you see the ears are back, although not flattened. She's serious, but not out for blood, yet. Her eyes are narrowed, if you can see it through the mane, her nostrils and lips are tight. Compare the photos and see how the anger actually changes her profile when she tightens up her nose like that.

The next stage, an instant before a charge would be to completely flatten the ears against the neck so tight you can't even really see them and to bare her teeth. If she's after another horse, she'll likely bite them on the barrel or rump if they are too slow. Anything smaller, like a wolf, and she'd likely strike with her forefeet and then bite as they dodged.

Hello World!

We had an exciting arrival early Friday morning, a brand new little stallion, barn name - YODA, who already carries the weight of the ages on his tender young shoulders.

He is one of my BLUE STARs, but more than that, he's a very welcome addition to a rare sub-subgroup of BLUE STAR. He makes #8 in his group, only three of which are mature and in production. (three are unavailable to us and one is his 2yo 1/2 sister, MIREE.) He is only the second one born into this group in over ten years and, barring unforeseen tragedy, ensures the group's survival for another generation.

What makes this little guy, and his group, so special? Their bloodlines - yes. It's based on the blood, defined by the blood and continued through and with the blood, but the blood is only a part of it. What makes these ('so-called' special the critics sneer) special lines worth trying to save are that they still exhibit the qualities that were bred into them starting 2,000 years ago in the interior of the Nejd. The fierce and loving war-mares, raised and trained by children, that would charge eagerly into battle, shift their balance to keep an unsteady (wounded) rider on board and consent to wait quietly, hidden in the women's quarters, inside the black tents until guests (potential thieves) took their leave.

They have a combination of physical, mental and emotional strength that make them what I call the "Family Style Performance Horse." Maybe not 'nuff said, but I won't /rant-on/ about it today except to say that one of the things that really draws me to this bloodgroup of horses is their intelligence, obvious thought process and a deeply rooted desire to be with and please their people.

Look at YODA's attitude here. He is not only accepting of being held and cuddled, but comfortable in my son's arms. See the relaxed expression, soft eyes and ears. Both of these guys are enjoying the contact and the 'getting to know you' conversation.

All under the watchful ears of the dam, ASF WITNESS. This little mare is facing an exhausting few months trying to keep her curious and friendly colt out of trouble and away from potential danger. She knows my son and is accepting of his time and contact with YODA, but see how wary she is of a visitor when it looks like YODA might want to get snuggly with someone that she doesn't know well.

That sideways ear is tightly focused on the stranger and is a warning for him to stay back. In this case, we eased the tension by giving her a few minutes and when she relaxed, the visitor came forward to pet the colt. If her ears had gone back instead of forward, we would have taken whatever time was needed to ease her fears.

Keeping their foals safe is the primary job of a broodmare and many mares will viciously attack if you approach their foals, especially if you get between them and the foal. While I don't tolerate aggressive behavior toward people, I also take great pains to respect my mares and ask visitors to approach the mare first and get the snuffle of approval before getting too close to the foal. We've found that if we ask nicely we avoid any potential defensive aggression and the associated problems.

Sue L.

- couldn't resist!

I couldn't resist posting a couple more pictures of the boy and his mare. I can only hope that generous readers will indulge this proud mom. These were taken on a private ranch outside of Beorne, Texas that graciously allows a couple of AERC endurance competitions each year.

but this last photo - taken during our rest stop at the half-way point - brought up a question that gets the occasional *head scratch* and/or *snicker* from me during a movie or an otherwise good book. "Isn't CIMMI a *black* mare?" they asked, pointing to the odd colored shoulder that shows in this photo.

The answer is: yes. She's black, but what a lot of people don't realize is that black horses fade. Some don't, but most do. They bleach in the sun and turn different odd shades of not-black. Most will develop large orange patches on their shoulders, hips and barrel. CIMMI fades to a sort of tanish, goldish shade of bay. To keep a black horse black, they have to be blanketed or kept indoors during the day. Movie horses are dyed if they need it. Sad but true.

So when a hero rides up on a shiny black, I figure he's been holed up somewhere and might be out of practice. I'd love to see the occasional wandering hero mounted on a scruffy orange, weathered and road-worn horse.

Heart of the Hills - 25 miles

Can you think of a better way to spend your 11th birthday than deep in the Texas Hill Country on a good mare who is begging to run? This photo was taken by John Adame just a couple of miles from camp, early in the morning of the AERC Heart of the Hills Endurance Ride.

I've always loved riding through the other-worldly feel of a foggy morning. If you use the little (<<) button above the photo to go back one (#49), you'll see me on 'The Princess' - still winding down from his start-of-the-ride tantrum. I'm going to write a really really long post about riding stallions one of these days and I'm sure I'll make some people mad - but enough of that for now.

We had a fantastic ride and I'll (hopefully) have some on-trail photos to share in a couple of days. I was especially pleased with my son, not only for taking good care of his mare through the toughest ride he's done to date, but also for doing it in his fastest time yet. I don't have the official times, but I believe we completed in about 4 hours.

One of my best friends didn't have such a good day. Her mare 'tied-up' at 12.5 miles. ( Equine Exertional Rhabdomyolysis ). There is a lot of study and understanding about this, but we still see occasional, inexplicable, cases such as this of well-conditioned horses on appropriate feeding and exercise programs tie-up at far below their usual workload.

We rode together that first loop and her mare looked really good the entire time, she passed the vet check but started locking up within minutes of getting back to the trailer. We caught the signs in time and got her back to the vet and started treatment. She's doing well and will be back on the trail after a recovery period.

With the relief of hearing that she made it home and was tucked cosy in her stall - my mind starting working on how to use this incident in my writing. I think it would be easy enough, if a villain had access to a hero's horse, to set it up for this sort of issue. You wouldn't even need a villain, just an inexperienced stable boy to keep the horse stalled and grain-fed for a few days and if the hero charged out for the rescue early on a cold morning - he likely wouldn't get far.

This could happen to anyone who grabs an unknown horse out of a stall and starts off down the road.

A worthy hero would know to warm his horse up slowly, or to tie a rug over it's rump - but he also probably left instructions for the horse to be exercised daily.

Typically a horse will slow down, slightly, from their regular pace, but often won't show any real signs of distress until you stop for some reason. Many times, the first noticeable indication of tying-up is coffee colored urine. The dark color comes from blood in the urine. You don't want to try to walk them once this starts and as it progresses they aren't able to move. The large muscles that run down the horses back and over his rump will start to tighten up and harden. They'll be as hard as marble to the touch and sometimes will even cramp so tight that they'll raise up in a long lump down the horse's back. The article linked above seems fairly accurate so I won't repeat the lists and information here, but I'll be happy to answer any questions, if someone wants to use this as a bit of tragedy or conflict and needs specifics for their hero's situation. can't just shoot 'em

I had a lovely ride, Tuesday morning, with my oldest son who has a wonderful balanced seat and soft hands but just doesn't care to ride - he has to be bullied into it actually. I don't usually, anymore, but the younger was gone flying with my dad and I 1) wanted someone else along since I planned to be riding a young mare and 2) needed two horses rode and only had time for one.

We ended up having a nice, long, relaxing walk - he even talked to me in actual sentences rather than monotones and grunts. Those of you with teenage boys know what I'm talking about. We were back to the barn and untacking when THE PROBLEM arose.

with this horse: : yes, this sweet boy, GLAMDRING TOS.
He has a habit that in nearly 30 years of horses, I've never had to deal with before. He can get his bridle off. Yes - the durn straps are tight :) He persistently, obsessively and habitually rubs his head on his leg, the rider, any innocent bystanders, any type of tree or fence - After years of regularly scheduled beatings and harsh language, he has learned to be pretty sneaky about it and so he managed to hook his bit on the little tag of a thingy that fastens the round pen panels together. He shook his head a couple of times then set back, popped forward, set back again .... and can you believe the durn bridle slipped right off without breaking... I'm still scratching my head over that one. Unfortunately, the panels were next to a pipe rail and at some point of the escapade he managed to smash the tip off his canine tooth so just a nasty little jagged edge is sticking out of the gumline.

He gets no sympathy, but he does get a trip to the vet in the morning. and maybe a story in his honor.

- I'm thinking about writing a story about a horse who slips his bridle and runs away and gets eaten by a dragon before the hero can come to his rescue, because of course, the hero has no horse because the horse slipped his bridle and .. ummm... you get the idea.

Starting out with a *Bang*

I've always been one to jump at trying new things and one long Texas summer's morning last year, a wayward conversation put me in touch with the VP of the local cowboy mounted shooting association club, The Lonestar Regulators. A few phone calls later and we ('we' being me and anyone I could coerce into coming along, in this case, my gun-crazy 10yo son) were hyped for our first practice session.

I leaned on my dad, a long-time gun fanatic, to let me bring a series of mares up the hill to his place and see which ones would tolerate the guns. We tried several mares and one of the young stallions and picked out the couple that we thought would least likely embarrass us in front of strangers. The practice went well and we're looking forward to our first competitions in a few months.

That's me in the photo, on DB RAFIAMA, a 22yo BLUE STAR 'Straight Desert' Abayyah.

A couple of things have surprised me as we've started in the sport. The first was the shocking realization that, as a competent shooter and rider, my thumb was the limiting factor in the game. It simply wouldn't work well enough (quick enough) to draw back the hammer on the single action .45 for me to shoot the balloons as the mare took me past them.

The other thing that had me scratching my head a little is our young stallion GWAIHIR. He was initially tolerant of the guns, then decided he wasn't going to put up with my silliness and we had to work through some stuff. He has come around and is accepting of me shooting from the saddle, but he's still getting upset - I think over the smoke when it blows back on us from the right front. He has a severe corneal scar over most of his right eye and has limited vision to the front on that side. I'm not sure if it's the heat of it or the smell but I think it's surprising him on the few occasions that it blows over us from his blind spot. I'm confident it's something that time and experience will overcome, but for now it's something that we're still working with.