I often get emails asking if a horse would do this or that specific thing and most of the time my answer is "it depends". Horses are as individual as people. They can be bold or shy or have unusual likes, dislikes or habits.

I would buy a horse doing almost anything in a book if the author had developed it's character to foreshadow the possibility. One nosey young mare I raised had a long list 'did you see?'s, including changing the station on the radio and pulling the spark plug wires out of my truck. Another one loved to 'help out' with the welding by dragging the cables around and changing the settings. I heard last weekend that one of my grown up fillies has been rearranging the tool shed - the people had been blaming the grandkids, but the truth is out!

Right now, in my herd, I have a high percent of young horses. One thing I have noticed is that from about the age of about 1-2 years up through their 3 and 4 year old years, they are very anxious to have people-interaction and to please. These are the ages when they'll push their way between you and the riding-horse you're trying to halter and crowd the gate or when they'll do things like bite the saddle or pull the bridles off the hangers.

This age tends to be an in-between age as far as training because they already know the basics of how to lead and tie, let people handle their ears and hoofs and accept a light saddle pad and girth, but their baby bones and muscles aren't ready for a rider yet. They can feel neglected with the lack of training and that's where you can get into trouble with an intelligent horse because they start looking for ways, by their baby horsey logic, not only to help you out but ways get your attention. It can be good or bad, depending on how dedicated they are and what they come up with.

A couple of weeks ago, I was swapping horses between pastures and my trio of young fillies all got in the act.

One of the other young ladies got away from me before I unbuckled her halter and so we were doing the dosey-dance around the cedars in the front pasture. After watching for a few minutes, LUINIL apparently decided that ASILA couldn't figure out which way to go, so she trots out alongside her and starts leading her out to the pasture. (grrrrrr!) I cut loose with a bit of harsh language - shocking poor LUINIL - and when she turned and looked at me, I called her to come. She had the funniest look on her face, and looked at ASILA like "what the heck", and came right to me. ASILA kept running around, being silly and after a few minutes, here comes TELPE, nosing up and standing quiet with me and LUINIL.

What they were doing is showing ASILA that 'by me' is where she should be. Horses have an interesting concept, it's a little hard to explain. They don't really understand "come to me". They can learn the human version easily enough, but as a directive, it's not a natural phrase to them because "close-together'=safe is so deeply instinctively ingrained that it's never needed. "Go away" is, basically, a punishment with the reward being the removal of the "go away" allows them to return. Consider that a horse herd like a little pack of magnets. It takes an effort to pull one away, but for it to return you simply release it.

I'm not ASILA's 'mom', so it isn't natural for her to come to me. She doesn't like wearing the halter and rope and she had no way to know that I was trying to take it off of her. By LUINIL and TELPE coming to stand beside me, they created a .... go back to our magnet example .... 'pull' to bring her in to me. And it worked. After a couple of minutes, she slipped right up between the other two and I was able to take her halter off.

The other 'escapee' was our young gelding LANDROVAL. He had found a good patch of grass outside the gate and would dance around and circle without letting me catch his halter. TELPE came up, as close to us as she could, but it wasn't a strong enough pull for him. He would go to her then dart away again and snatch another mouthful of grass.

The third helpful young lady in this little saga is Miree (MIREYENION) who is practicing to one day be Boss Mare and so she's very much clued in to who is being good and who is being bad. She gets pretty upset when someone is bad - she'll be extra good, I guess to try to offset the badness(?). And she needs a lot of reassurance as to her goodness and the rightness of the universe.

So she was pacing at the gate, getting increasingly agitated with LANDROVAL's badness and when I finally caught his rope and walked him through the gate, as soon as I slipped his halter off and stepped away she lunged and took a huge bite out of his shoulder!!

I usually don't tolerate aggression like that, but I also have a policy not to interfere in 'horse business' as long as they don't kick or bite when a person is close. But in this case - she was right, he had been bad - and she was soooooo proud of herself, I just couldn't help but give her just a tiny bit of praise. She's not normally a biter or an aggressive mare - and I can't help but think there may come a day when I need her to watch my back.

The Sense of Honor

Any of you who like a little more plot with your romance should pick up _The Sense of Honor_ by Ashley Kath-Bilsky.

I can't recommend it highly enough and I have to say, this is the kind of romance I like to read. It is romance enough in that the story is about how they meet and overcome their differences, but rather than the soft focus we see in so many books, it's wrapped in an honest-to-god story with plot twists and conflict oh!my. Ashley writes with a delicate balance of elements, both emotional and technical, that, as a reader, I find wonderfully fulfilling

If you saw my long post earlier this month, you see I have varied tastes, from erotica to high fantasy to pulp to hard science fiction. (just got back my Hammer's Slammers book that I loaned out and it's due for a re-read.) I love them all for various combinations of reasons, but it's a rare gem that combines so many of the elements that I like in one story as well as Ashley does in The Sense of Honor. No exploding spaceships, of course, but a little of just about everything else.

Silly Wabbit

Silly things horses are afraid of or have strange reactions to :

1. Most things unnatural: metal, plastic, square things

Here we have a horse that's very well started over jumps trying to figure out how to navigate around a milk crate. *sigh* I was riding this young horse today through some pretty amazing (mostly natural) stuff. They've buried a pipeline along our back fence and it's a nice track for a little back-n-forth kind of work. They initially had to bulldoze their way through some massive cedarbreaks and this week the company has come back to shred the mess. So we have these house sized piles of cedar shavings about every couple hundred feet. He never batted an eye. *good boy!*

2. Windows, mirrors, shiny things that reflect bright lights or very strange horses that shimmer and stretch in odd ways. .... would a shield wall be a problem for a fantasy horse?

3. anything that has changed: you can ride by a trash can a thousand time with but if, one day, the lid is off (or on, if the lid has typically been off) it's a whole new monster.

4. Anything flappy:

5. Anything, even non-flappy things, on a windy day: And I have to say a word in their defense on this one. Their hearing is a major element of their prey-instinct flight response. You can't hear or smell very well on a windy day, so it makes good sense to be more alert.

6. Things that move in the shadows: Like if you've had a dog running along side you for 12 miles or so and it darts into the woods after a rabbit and at some point later, emerges from the woods. The horse is likely to have a meltdown when the dog leaps out from under the trees.
Or worse.
When the dog is following, dodging along the side of the trail, in and out of the shadows, bushes and trees. It makes the horse move funny .. trot trot trot FREAK trot FREAK trot trot FREAK. It's a little hard to ride if you've eaten recently.

7. Nothing. This is the one that truly amazes me on occasion. I keep telling myself that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that nothing is out to get you and that I should be more appreciative of being saved from nothing on the occasions that it is out to get me. ... but I'm a hard sell on that one.

hmm. and I'm sure I'll think of more, but I'll go ahead and post this. What are your horses favorite spooks?

More kids, photos and horses for sale ~

I have to sell this horse. He's a fantastic guy, just gelded last year and coming along wonderfully in his training. He's been under saddle and trail ridden casually since he was three, he'll be seven in January, but he spent several months this spring in formal training and is started with dressage and jumping and has a solid base to start endurance riding, hopefully next month.

But this is the one that was bitten by a brown recluse spider in July, so he's been out of work for four months.

Today was his first ride in a long time and I wanted to snap some practice photos. I didn't get what I wanted, but I couldn't help but to share this one. Look at the matching expressions on their faces. Could it be any more clear that they are both bored to tears.

Not just their faces, but their entire bodies. Both of them. "Are we done yet?" Slouched and strung out, sloppy hands, no length of stride. *ARGH* What a terrible photo of such a talented horse and rider, but I know every teenager mom and horse mom will be wiping away the little tears of laughter in recognizing the attitude.

We frequently hear jokes about how pets and owners resemble each other, but I think that while most people think of physical traits, it more fun, and more author-worthy, to consider how pets, and especially horses who your characters might be working alongside, to use the emotional or attitudinal resemblance and contrast.

Does your hero's steed reflect his flawed traits and contrast with his noble ones or provide balance to his temperament? Is she a typical mare that pushes his buttons when she tries to boss him, or does he dote on her quirks? Or is he a typical gelding that just doesn't really give a darn as long as he's not having to work too hard?

Kids and fun photo stuff

Everyone, even the dog, is having a great time with our half-built house. The first floor is framed and they got a good start on the second floor before the rains came.

The kids decided that the planking that's laid down on the second story makes a better than average stage and so we've had regular concerts, mostly 'metal', but I can still pull the mom-card once in a while and get a little Johnny Cash or Queen.

added note: This is what I get for letting him read over my shoulder. I have to add that he likes to play Iron Man. I'm not sure if that's a genre, a band or a song, but there ya' go. He likes to play Iron Man.

They found two old bottle rockets left over from somewhere and set those off last night. It was a little interesting to see them set off from so high, but more worrisome to wonder what, other than the rockets' themselves, was going to catch on fire. Fortunately, we had a wonderfully uneventful evening and got the concert and light show settled down in time for the neighbors to hit the sack.

My Bookshelf ~ Grok!

Little cabin nestled back in the woods... My local group camped here a couple of weeks ago and we had a great time. It was incredibly refreshing to be able to sit and work in such a cozy natural environment. We cycles through writing and visiting phases all day and we all got an incredible amount of work done.

and I've been on a reading jag: jag2 /dʒæg/ –noun
1. a period of unrestrained indulgence in an activity; spree; binge: a crying jag; a talking jag. 2. a state of intoxication from liquor.
3. Northern, North Midland, and Western U.S. a load, as of hay or wood.

But now that I look it up, it strikes me that it's a noun and I would have said, without thinking, that it's a verb, because it's something that you *do*, but I guess if you're 'on' it - is that what makes it a noun. Enough digression. I'll start a side panel for my reading because I find it interesting to see what others are reading and hope that others might find some gems in amongst my favorites or current reads.

So here are a few old favs and what's been on my desk in the last few months:

Patricia Briggs - all of them. I started with Dragon Bones and she's been my most recent obsession, (and not to mention that she writes delightful horse-characters, most especially Duck and the Lass in Hob's Bargain.) but I've caught up with her and we had to order "Mercy's Garage" t-shirts in order to take some of the edge off the wait for Iron Kissed.

RED GARNIER ...not much I can say about Red on a family-rated blog, but if you like a little plot with your sex, this is one author you don't want to miss!

Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler It's a series bound in a single book. It's uncommon and well worth reading.

John Ringo, most especially his Council War series, but I haven't read anything of his I didn't like. You might beware what I like. His characters are larger than life and hard-hitting. They don't pull punches and there's never any soft-lenses or misty focus in his tangled high-stakes games of wars and love.

Sails and Sorcery. An anthology of Tales of Nautical Fantasy published by Fantasist

Children of Hurin I loved every word of it and, yes, I'm a die-hard Tolkien fan. I love The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I've read most of the Histories, but when I want the familiar comfort of slipping far away it's my old dog-eared copy of the Silmarillion that I reach for.

CJ Cherryh - I currently have well-worn copies of the Faded Sun Trilogy and Arafel's Saga, but I haven't read anything of hers that wasn't worth reading at least twice.

Holly Lisle - too many good ones to mention, all the way back from Fire in the Mist and The Rose Sea up through Last Girl Dancing and Talyn. Regardless of if she's writing mystery, suspense, romance or fantasy (and it's usually a wonderful mix), I haven't seen anything of hers that doesn't make me want more. Also check out her series of writing clinics.

Stranger in a Strange Land and too many others to list by Heinlein. Also Asimov. ER Burroughs, both Tarzan and John Carter ... and yes, I read most of the Gor series at an impressionable age, but I'm not going to list it here... Conan: Howard, Carter and DeLisle are my favs, but I'll read all of the series. ... I love Arnold as Conan in his fur loincloth. I had to post the picture ... just because. :) I don't think any real reason is needed to post a pic of a hunky guy with a big sword.

...and I'm realizing what a foolish project it was to think I could browse and list all the books I've recent read, re-read, or intend to read shortly, so I'm just going to mention three I picked up this weekend The Sense of Honor by Ashley Kath-Bilsky, High Seas Cthulhu (an anthology of swashbuckling adventure meets Mythos), and Every Inch a King, a delightful rollicking fantasy by Harry Turtledove.

Who's on First?

In response to a comment about horse training in a previous post, Trish said >>>"I was literally laughing out loud! My daughter has been trying to train her Chocolate Lab with both hand and voice cues. He has learned several commands so she started to try for lie down while signaling with the palm of her hand moving down. He gave her a funny look and raised his paw and copied her hand movement -- looking supremely confident."

I laughed until I cried when I read that. I have been there so many times, and there is nothing you can do except hug them and tell say "good dog".


More than just the daily living with the horses, I think the time I've spent specifically as a trainer has opened my eyes in new ways. Once you get past the usual sit/stay and start asking for more, you need deeper, more specific, more subtle communication.

One thing that I put in my bag of tricks and pulled out to use as an author is the lesson that you have to really get in their skins and think like they do, you have to understand them in order to write realistically, even if you are using an outside point of view.

Trish's example of the dog learning to wave illustrates perfectly how well a miscommunication can work. You *think* you're talking about the same thing, and you can sometimes get a long way before you have that "Who's on First" epiphany.

I'll never forget the moment this came clear to me. I take a great deal of pride in the fact that my young stallion GWAIHIR does some wonderfully fun liberty tricks. One of the first things I taught him, as a very young foal, was to come and stand with his left shoulder at my right shoulder. Getting him to walk with me, stop and turn was simply a matter of him staying in place when I moved. Once he learned that he should keep our shoulders about 18 inches apart, even a turn to the right was simple because when I moved too close, he moved away.

All that we did, we did mostly with visual cues, some hand cues, but mostly body language which is the horses natural way of speaking. I thought that once he had learned something 'in his language' he could then learn it in mine so as time and lessons went on, I added voice cues to a lot of what we did.

One of the fun things he learned to do was to weave a pattern through a line of cones or poles as I jogged straight down the line. We started this with hand signals, I'd wave him away and then draw him back and I eventually taught him the words "left" and "right".

With all of my human arrogance, I thought I had really done something special. ... until the day I asked him to go "left" while I was standing on his right side instead of on his left. I expected him to curve away from me but instead he moved closer and started becoming agitated when I didn't move away to keep the proper amount of distance between us. I repeated the cue and he tensed, raising his head and backing his ears to let me know he was getting upset with me. Moreso when he was younger, but he gets tense when he thinks he isn't doing something right (and might not get a treat). He's very communicative, both vocally and with his body.

The thing to remember about my confusion in this situation with the left and right is that horses brains are very divided. You have to teach them most things once from their left side and once from their right. So I naturally assumed he didn't understand the cues since I was on the wrong side. So I went around to his left side and we did a few "left"s and "right"s - all nicely done.
So I go back to his right side and slowly, carefully and clearly, ask him to go "left". Again, he moves closer to me. He's getting agitated again, so I ask him to go "right"... thinking I'm giving him the correct cue for what he's doing so we can have a success and go from there. But he moves away - to my left!

My brain dropped into that slow molasses Jell-O 'huh?' mode where time slows down just a little and everything seems a somewhat foggy because you know you're missing something important.

What I figured out is that when I thought I was teaching him "left" and "right", he was learning "toward" and "away". He was getting upset with me for asking him to do something that he couldn't do - in his understanding, I asked him to move into my space, but then I didn't move away and give him that space, and he knew not to get too close or push on me with his body.
And when it comes down to it, "toward" and "away" or "in" and "out" are the more correct interpretations of the body language that we used for this 'trick'.

I had taught him the wrong words for the concept of what we were doing.

It's humbling to realize when they - the animal - is right and you - the human - is wrong, but when you live with them and listen to them and really have open lines of communication, the relationship develops into more of a partnership than anything else. This was a huge mental and emotional step for me as a horse trainer, but also an eye-opening (mind-expanding) lesson that can be used by any author who writes animals, aliens or even cultures that are foreign to their characters.

It boils down to knowing your characters, being firmly in the characters point of view, and even when you're writing from another characters POV, you still have to remember where each character is 'coming from' because we don't all see things in the same light. Even the most common day-to-day elements such as housing, clothing, eating can show extreme differences in culture or even just attitude, and showing that comes down to using details rather than vague adjectives. Remember that when a Texan talks about a "dry summer" it isn't necessarily the same as a "hot" or "dry summer" in Michigan. You could use details of temperature and average rainfall or you could let it be a delightful conflict of misunderstanding. As long as your reader is clued in, it's something you can have use to add depth to your story and have a lot of fun with at the same time.