The Heart of a Horse ~

There is a quote about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of a man. Churchill. And Reagan said something similar - they're right.

But what about the inside of a horse?

We all talk a lot about bone size (strength), conformation (structural angles and proportions/balance), there are thousands of books, videos, websites and forums, clinics and workshops - all on this subject.

But what about the horse's mind and personality? What about his heart? The physical heart is important, the size and strength, the 'metabolic structure' of the horse is at least as important to a performance horse as the (outside/visual) physical structure, but this post is about 'having heart'.

When horseman say a horse 'has heart' what they're talking about is that otherwise indefinable essence of spirit that makes a horse go above and beyond anyone's expectations.

Marty Robbins sings about the Strawberry Roan, a pony that couldn't be rode. The mustang he sings about is about as poorly built as any horse can be, but he has indomitable spirit and that's something that horsemen admire.

It had be hard to deal with, as in the case of the Roan, because he had decided he didn't like people and wasn't going to cooperate with them. And what about Old Red? He killed himself to kill the cowboy he couldn't throw.

There are others like the real-world filly Ruffian and Zane Grey's fictional Wildfire, who ran to the death for glory, for good, for the saving of another life, rather than obstinance and willfulness.

Some horses you can dominate and push around, some are timid or fearful, most seem more comfortable and happy with a Boss, some seem simply to not care - and sometimes those horses are the easier choice.

But if your hero is going into a situation, or if you want to make sure his success doesn't come too easy *evil grin*, you may want to give him a kind of horse like Strawberry or Red. A horse that draws lines he won't cross, a horse that won't quit and won't go down without getting back up. Or one like Ruffian or Wildfire who give their all to win the day.

Dragon's Wild by Robert Asprin

I picked this up a couple of weeks ago in a fit of sadness over Bob Asprin's passing. I've had it on my desk and finally picked it up yesterday evening -- and read the whole thing through. It's simply delightful, a fun, easy read, with 'just enough' of all the right elements.

Griffen “Grifter” McCandles is fresh out of college, with no prospects... or so he thinks!

The Good 'Ole Summer Tyme

Summer is upon us.

Yesterday was 101 and humid, but that's pretty much the norm for this time of year.

The pond is drying up, grass is browning and the thistles are in bloom.

That spot where the dog is wading is about the same place in the pond the mare is in the photos a couple of posts ago. It goes fast once it starts going down.

The kid has been away to summer camp and is back. He attended the first ever Wolf Ridge Summer Resident camp hosted by Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and we can't say enough good things about the staff, the facility or the program. He had a fantastic time and is already signed up for the next session.

Our horses are soaking up the heat. We've already had one close call with a dehydration colic, a silly young horse who didn't take good 'nuff care of himself on the first really hot day. We've had such a cool, wet spring, the sudden hard heat didn't give the horses much of a chance to adjust and some fell behind on their drinking. I usually start supplementing a dash of salt in their daily grain when temps reach 100. The vet said to start it at about 95 and I'll do that from now on. At the other end of the scale, I add the salt when we drop below freezing, I may bump that up a few degrees as well.

If you're writing horses, the weather and temps are one thing that people can get wrong if they haven't done a little research. Horses are typically more comfortable in a lower range than people are. They can (and do) acclimate to the heat, but it takes a little bit of time for them to adjust. If they're going to be worked in the heat, they have to be built up gradually in order to work safely in extreme heat.

What does this mean for your hero? If he's riding a hot weather horse into the cold, he'll likely do fine, except the hero does need to be sure the horse is drinking enough since they can refuse water that's too cold if the general clime is cold. If he's riding a cold weather horse into the heat - he's likely have trouble along the lines of muchly reduced endurance. That initial burst of speed might be only slightly less, but I wouldn't expect him to be able to maintain it. Dehydration and heat stress is a very serious issue in horses because the beginning stages are subtle and erratic. Even the most experienced horseman can have trouble recognizing the danger signs and by the time the horse starts showing clinic signs, it's often too late.

In spite of the heat, I'm riding more since I have more time each day with the schoolwork done for the year. I'm not sure I'll get to make any summer rides, but I'll have some horses ready for some of the fall AERC Endurance schedule.

As much as we rode through the spring, we've missed several events in May and into June due to a combination of things, but mostly the fuel prices. ... I say that, and then I had to pull out my calendar. I've stay home and missed 7 events in the last 9 weeks. That's well over 1500 miles of driving with diesel in the $4.70/gal range. *ouch* The calendar is full for the rest of the year, but I'm already chewing the end of my pencil. I'm not sure how many of those we can do. It's disheartening to have been patient for so many years and now when I finally have a nice new truck and trailer and half-grown kids, it's still so hard to get down the road. ... Ack! Enough whining for me. - back to writing!

I am not alone...

One of the reading forums I frequent has a well-posted thread about 'guilty pleasures'.

I have a few ... don't we all? Check the reading list (bottom left) I just added. I know there are books that will make some readers blush and others roll their eyes.

But one of my guilty pleasures is John Ringo's Ghost series. I didn't intend to get hooked on it. (isn't that what they all say?) I don't read much (if any) contemporary military fiction, I don't read much (if any) modern day guy-stuff books. I like fantasy, hard science fiction, history and romance, and I especially like elves and barbarians with big .. um.. swords (and stuff).

The first book of his I read was a loaned-to-me copy of Emerald Seas, and I enjoyed it enough to buy the rest of the Council Wars series and read them over a weekend.

And I have to admit that he endeared himself to me when he mounted his hero on a (are you sitting down?) a *gelding*! I read the page three times with a silly grin on my face ... the man obviously knew horses. Not just because of the gelding, but he got all the little stuff right, and that puts him on my 'short list', in a good way :), for a lot of reasons.

So once I finished those four books, I checked out his website and it looked like the next book in the series was long-time-pending.... So I checked Baen's bar and didn't find anything about it, so I emailed.

John kindly replied - and after a brief if somewhat interesting discussion about Red Sonja, he suggested, since I liked a grittier style of fantasy, that I try his Mike Harmon series.

allllllrightythen.... I don't blush easily, erotica is a big market these days and I'd brought home a stack from the RWA convention that I couldn't leave on my desk for the kids to question.... but this Mike-guy was anything but a typical hero. In fact, it seems Mike's most redeeming quality is that he acknowledges his demons and at least tries to keep a handle on them. And the book actually had a plot that tied it all together ... and late one night I found myself downloading the e-version of the next book ... and so forth and so on.

...and so I was delighted to find this review of the series (yes, it's long, but read on! and you'll get more of what the books are about) and John's reply here, and the wonderful news that 'OH JOHN RINGO NO!' shirts can be purchased from cafepress for a good cause.

Reading reading reading

I kept promising myself I'd put a "what I'm reading" list on the sidebar and I kept putting it off, but the longer I put it off, the longer the list got and the behinder I got.

One silly thing that had me puzzled is that I couldn't figure out where to start the list since of course I wanted to include the good books I read last week, and last month and the end of last year .... and all my old favorites ... *head desk*

So then I decided I would just list them all and that's a job that seemed overwhelming...

But I finally got it started just by listing the ones I can see on the tops of stacks and some of the ones I can see on the bookshelf from where I'm sitting. I'm thinking I need to go back and add author names and links on some of them. .....

Texas Summer Fun

I recently had an author friend ask about swimming horses. She needed to get her riders across a river and questioned me about the depth and how well and easily horses swim.

Well, of course everyone knows Misty of Chincoteague and the annual pony penning where the ponies are swam across the channel. And The Black swam through the storm and pulled Alex to the Island. Swimming is also a popular rehabilitation therapy for performance horses and specialized facilities are available across the country.

But - in all my life with horses, it's not something I've done. And in talking to a few of my horseman friends, it's simply not that simple. Many of the anecdotal tales were like mine ...

"I tried it once...",

"...finally made it to shore...",

"...sank like a rock...",

"Swim? Sure, three times.... Well, never on purpose..."

If you're writing horses crossing the river, there are a couple of things to think about. First - think about all you've read about how many miles out of their way travelers would go to find a crossing. There is a reason for that, I think - that horses have to be taught that they can swim.

Sure, they can learn, and some love it. But it's very intense exercise, as much as a full-out gallop, and dangerous to the rider for that reason, because the legs (hoofs) are really churning.

I went to u-tube and spent much too much time browsing the selection of swimming horses videos. I found very few of horses actually *swimming*. The vast majority were of horses *wading*. In this photo of me and BERI, she isn't swimming, she's walking (jogging) on the bottom of the pond. Look at the top photo - see the surge and wake ahead and streaming back from her? She's doing something like an extended trot, which is extremely hard to sit for all but really top riders (not me!! LOL! Look at how tightly I'm gripped on to her mane!) So you have a LOT of 'action' *and* an incredible amount of force of water blowing your legs back, not just the force on the front of your shins and thighs, but the water forces itself under your legs and conspires to lift you off the horse.

I had started out with a saddle, but the pressure under water was trying to flip the stirrups up over my ankles!!!!!!!!!!! Very scary stuff.

Check u-tube again, I didn't save the link, but there is a horrific video of a horse that panics and flips in the water. This is, unfortunately, more common then the fun, splashy, trot-across. In my unofficial poll, in combination with going back over past memories. I think I know as many people who have, or known someone who has, drowned a horse as have actually been on one swimming. There is a wonderful video of a 17.2 warmblood stallion swimming in the ocean. Look at the riders feet as the horse swims, they are streaming out behind, over the horse's rump.

Another contrast of the ocean swim is the gentle bank and shore. In a pond, or more likely a river crossing, if the bank is steep, there is a chance the horse will slip and scramble (and maybe go down) in the mud. And that can be (very) bad news for the rider if they get caught underneath.

So, whatever you're writing, if you have to cross the river, spend a couple minutes of research on it, and give us at least a hint of tension and conflict. Remember that unless the water's more than six or eight feet deep, the horses probably aren't going to swim - and if you do swim them, remember that they may not all make it, and that they'll likely be heaving and gasping for breath once they get to the far side.

And no. BERI and I didn't actually swim. We may, over the next few weeks... or we may not. We'll be back down to the pond, but it will be more for fun and less for research.