Thursday, April 16, 2015

HOW IRISH GRAND PRIX RIDER ROLAND TONG GAINED A SWISS FAN CLUB



By Francesca Prescott


Roland Tong and Pompidou, at Windsor
The idea of organising a dressage clinic at my stables began to form sometime last year, after I attended a two-day course with Rafael Soto, the famous Spanish silver medallist on Invasor at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and now trainer of the Spanish team. Rafael Soto was great to work with, and Qrac and I came away with some great suppling exercises to use in our daily warm-up. Rafael was charming and friendly and down-to-earth, and I would happily attend another clinic with him.

That said, I'm not sure I'd want to go back to the place where it was held. Okay, so everyone was very nice, and once we were safely inside the indoor arena, all was well. The problem was that Qrac had to walk down a wonky, slippery, twisty-turny cement and stone staircase to get to the indoor arena. Seriously. I almost turned the trailer around and drove back home when I saw what we were expected to do. In fact, looking back, the sensible thing to do would have been to turn the trailer around and go home. But nobody else seemed to be making a fuss about it. Peer pressure got the best of me, and luckily Qrac didn’t freak out and fall over and hurt himself. As I said, I'm not sure I'd go back there. Not even for Carl Hester.

But to have Carl Hester come and give a clinic at my yard? How amazing would that be? I put the idea to the owner of my stables. Yes, having Carl over here would be amazing. Let’s do it!

So I wrote Carl an email. In my humble opinion, it was a good email, one that would attract his attention, make him want to fly over to this pretty part of Switzerland and spend two days teaching a bunch of friendly, motivated people in fabulous, state-of-the-art facilities. If it had been technologically possible, I’d probably have scented the email with, well, not Eau de Qrac as that just sounds wrong, but with, say, Eau de Swarovski, my friend Josephine’s horse! Naturally, I expected an answer within minutes, so was rather bummed when after ten days or so Carl hadn’t enthusiastically accepted my proposal, given Charlotte and Valegro some tips on how to further improve their tempi changes, and hopped on the first orange plane headed for Geneva. Yep, I’m naïve and optimistic like that.


Impatient for news, I contacted a friend who is well connected in the British equestrian world, wondering whether she might do a little investigating for me. Pretty soon the answer came back: Carl Hester was terribly sorry, but he was simply far too busy. Which is fair enough. I mean, the man is an equestrian rock star, so it figures he’d have more interesting things to do than come over here and sort out my flying changes. And my half-passes, and my bouncy trot, and my extended trot, and my rein-back, and my… well, you get the picture. And that’s just me! There were going to be eleven of us, not all of us dressage riders, all at different levels, all with different personalities.  And the more I watch clinics and trainers, the more I realize that to be a good trainer, you also need to be a decent psychologist too.

Anyway, so Carl Hester was a no-go. However, my friend with the UK contacts suggested we organize a clinic with a Grand Prix rider she represents, Roland Tong. To be honest, I’d never heard of Roland Tong, who rides for Ireland and and had represented his country at the World Equestrian Games in Caen, France in 2014 on Pompidou. I did a little research, found all sorts of super interesting information and videos of him, and then spoke to the owner of my stables who was favourably impressed and told me to go ahead and organize the event.

Roland Tong and Ambience, aka Alf
Roland flew over in early March and the Ecuries de la Ruche in Founex enjoyed a fabulous, incredibly motivating weekend clinic with this friendly, down-to earth, super talented rider and trainer who also happens to have a great sense of humour.

Roland Tong exceeded all our expectations with his individually tailored lessons. His energy and enthusiasm never flagged during those two crazy-long days. Everyone rode out of his lessons with a big smile and the feeling of having achieved something they’d never achieved before. He pushed us all, yet had the utmost respect for our horses and for what they were capable of doing. He even got on a couple of horses, including mine, and got them moving in ways we could only dream of getting them to move. Why oh why can’t I get Qrac to trot like that? Why can’t I achieve that rhythm and reaching and suspension while keeping him relaxed? Sure, I can achieve it for a little while during a session, but getting it consistently? Riding a full test with that impulsion, that lift in the shoulders and that swing? We’re working towards it, but if it came so easily I guess I’d be a Grand Prix rider, too.
Qrac and I working with Roland Tong, March 2015

So there was some monkey business, too!
That said, I must admit that when I watch my videos of the two lessons I had with Roland, I’m extremely pleased with what I see, despite wishing (of course) that it looked a whole lot better! Physically speaking, Qrac looks nothing like the gangly, extremely green 7 year-old Lusitano I bought four years ago. His shoulders are massive, his bum is rounded and muscly, and while his neck was always impressive (he was a stud stallion back then), it’s nothing like it is now, so I must be doing something right. Going through your video records works wonders in reminding you how far you’ve come when you’re feeling frustrated and discouraged and pathologically pathetic and wondering whether taking up macramé might be a more fulfilling occupation.
Qrac, March 2015

Qrac and me, four years ago


What struck everyone who took part in the clinic was how personally involved, how encouraging and motivating Roland Tong was. He’s one of those trainers who makes you feel like he’s riding with you every step of the way. Over those two days, Roland walked miles, striding up and down the arena, his body language in sync with his verbal instructions on how to achieve whatever it is we were working on. Everyone made progress, everyone felt things that had previously eluded them, everyone wanted more.

My friend Caroline Rieder on the fabulous Kayal with Roland Tong
Lucky for us, Roland Tong enjoyed his weekend with us too, and is happy to come back and train us for two days once a month until the end of the year! Our next clinic is scheduled for mid-May, and we’re all super excited about working with him again. Yes, Roland Tong has a little Swiss Fan Club! La Ruche is rooting for him as he works towards the European Championships later this year, not to mention towards qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 with his new horse, Ambience, aka Alf. Go Roland! But come back to Switzerland soon!

Have you come across trainers you have found particularly motivating and inspiring, no matter what discipline you ride? What was it about them that made the difference?


  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gratitude


                                                           by Laura Crum

            It’s hard for me to talk about gratitude right now. There are many days when I feel very, very sad. I miss my husband so much. When a friend said to me the other day that I was lucky, I almost choked.
            “Lucky?” I demanded. “How can you say that?”
            Now this is a good friend who knows me well. He knows the details of my life. He knows my home, he knows I don’t need to work, he knows my son, and he sees what our day to day life is like. He knew my husband very well. He said, “Most people would give a lot to have what you have.”
            I stopped and thought about this. “Most people would not want this at the price of the grief I must bear,” I said.
            “Most people would not see it that way,” he said. “They would say that you’ll get over the loss of your husband and move on with your life, and you still have a beautiful life. A lovely home that you own free and clear, a good son, some nice animals including three fine horses, a wonderful garden, financial freedom. Most people would assume that you could find another husband if you wanted.”
            “But I don’t want,” I said. “I cannot imagine wanting that. Andy was and is the only man I ever truly wanted. And I was happy with him. Even now, I feel his presence and that is more important to me than any other man’s company.”
            My friend shrugged. “I still say you’re lucky. Most people never feel that way about a husband or wife. They never have that experience of being with someone who truly makes them happy. Even though Andy died sooner than you might have hoped for, you had seventeen years together and you loved each other and enjoyed your life together. Andy was a happy man. And he left you the means to go on with your life without financial stress—because he cared about his family. You say you still feel him with you in dreams and signs. I don’t know anything about that, but if it’s true, it’s surely a sign of his continuing love—a love that has lasted past death. How many people have any experience of that? I still say you’re lucky.”
            I thought about that a long time. Long after my friend finished his whiskey and soda and left. The roses are blooming and I picked a bunch of them to put on Andy’s grave the next morning. I wandered around, looking at the horses and the pond and the many flowers. I knew my cozy little house waited to receive me, and my son was inside. Dinner, made by a friend, was warm in the oven. Last night I dreamed of Andy, wearing his kilt and getting ready to play his bagpipes for a group of people. He came to me and kissed me and he was happy. In that moment I was happy, too. He comes to me in dreams many nights—he sends me messages that seem very clear.


            We all die. It’s just a matter of when. If there is anything that counts, it’s whatever transcends death. This is true, was always true, whether Andy died when he did or he lived to be ninety. When I walk around the graveyard and look at all the gravestones I understand how brief our mortal life is—even if we do live to be 90. My grandmother lived to be 97 and she is just as dead as my mother, who lived to be 65. At this point it doesn’t seem to make much difference how long each of them spent in their body. What is present past death is the only reality. And so it is for both Andy and me. What counts is our love for each other, and whatever part of us can/may transcend our deaths.
 We all have grief to bear in our lives. There is not one person that I know who doesn’t struggle in some way. A lovely single woman that I know holds down a decent job—forty hours a week plus-- and takes all the part-time work she can find. She can barely afford rent on a studio apartment in someone’s backyard here in pricey Santa Cruz County, California. That and her car payment (for a nice reliable little Toyota) leave her without any extra money at all. She cannot imagine that a life such as I have could ever come to her. To own her own place, not to have to work, not to worry about money…this is unimaginable. She once admitted that she would take my grief and have my life. And she pointed out, as my other friend did, that at least I have had a true partner. She never has had this experience and now, at forty years old, she worries that she never will. It makes me think.
Everyone must struggle eventually. I know another beautiful woman who must bear being estranged from her young adult daughter—not by her choice, not for anything she did wrong, but simply because her daughter needs to do this right now. It is a constant grief. I know a man whose wife stepped off a curb on her way out of a restaurant the other day, and fell and hit her head and died of this injury. I knew a woman of thirty who died of a rare form of cancer—she had a two year old child. I know another woman whose only son died on his 11th birthday in a freak accident. Yet another woman that I knew (ten years younger than me and in apparent good health) had a completely unexpected heart attack; over a year later and she cannot walk, speak clearly, eat, or sit up unassisted, and her family, including two young daughters, must both care for her and deal with the enormous financial burden her tragedy has placed on their family. Just a few weeks ago four teenagers died in a car wreck not a city block away from my driveway—I pass their roadside shrine every day. I have a friend who struggles with constant poor health and has no money to seek the treatments she feels might help her. I know so many people whose lives are so hectic in the endless need to make money to pay their bills that they never have a calm moment. In short, we all struggle. My life, taken all in all, has been a very good one.




            It is so easy to feel sorry for myself right now. But maybe I should feel grateful. I am working on this.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Horses Then and Now


                                                by Laura Crum


            For me, horses now are not about riding. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the most typical one—fear/anxiety—isn’t the cause. I have had fear/anxiety before and I know its face. What is happening for me now is that my interest lies elsewhere. And this has happened to me before and I recognize it also.
            I spent my thirties obsessively competing on horseback. First at cutting, then at team roping. I trained young horses to do these events, I practiced several times a week, and I competed every weekend. This was my life for over ten straight years. For awhile I loved it. And then I burned out on it.


            There were a lot of reasons. The abuse that I saw in the name of competition was one. The lack of any real meaning in “winning” an event was another. Getting tired of hauling all those miles was yet another. I saw a lot of horses get hurt; I saw a lot of horses have stress related injuries and illness that were completely avoidable—I got really sick of seeing that. Maybe a lot of it was “been there, done that.” I also began to see that sort of camaraderie I had enjoyed at these events really didn’t translate into meaningful friendship. For all these reasons and others, at forty years of age I just didn’t care about competing at horse events any more. And I found myself drawn to something else. Tending the garden—with horses as part of my garden.


            I still loved my horses. I enjoyed their company. I liked to see them grazing along the driveway, I liked to feed them and interact with them. I liked to see them watching me as I worked in my garden. And I particularly liked being peaceful and solitary on my own small property, planting and tending and caring for plants and critters, including the horses, and watching the wild things. The last thing I wanted was to go out into the busy world and do something stressful with my horses in order to prove something to myself or others. This did not seem “fun” to me in the slightest.
            During this period of my life I got together with my husband, Andy, and we shared many happy hours doing things together here on the property, and also doing things that were not horse related (biking, hiking, camping, traveling). We had a child and we both put raising him first. I thought that growing up with horses would be a good thing for my son (see my post “Growing Up With Horses”) and eventually I took up riding regularly again (trail riding, not competing), so my boy and I could share this pastime. And Andy often hiked with us, along with our dogs. It was a good life.


            But as my boy grew older and became a teenager and lost interest in riding, and his horse grew older and lost the desire to climb steep hills, I found that my own interest in trail riding was also growing weaker. My husband got sick and all I wanted was to spend time with him. After Andy died I realized that I had once again come full circle to the place I had been in when we got together. I just wanted to stay home and tend my garden—with horses as part of the garden.
            In real life, of course, I can’t stay home. I haul my teenage son from one thing to another. Lessons, golf, music, computer design class…etc. I must buy the groceries and run the necessary errands. My life is plenty busy. But when I can choose, I choose to stay home. Planting veggie seedlings, turning the horses out to graze, just sitting in the barn watching the horses eat hay, watching the light change in the sky, watching the reflections on the pond, lying in the hammock that hangs from the big oak tree. These things make me happy. Or as happy as I can be right now.
            Last weekend my son and I planted romaine lettuce seedlings in Andy’s aquaponics project in the greenhouse. We have been eating Ceasar salad (my son’s favorite) from this project two or three times a week for the last few months. And we planted seeds to germinate in the greenhouse and become squash and bean plants that will grow in the veggie garden, carefully pressing the seeds that Andy bought last year into the soil. I know Andy is happy to see we are carrying on his work—and doing it together.



            My neighbor helped us with his backhoe the next day, and we placed a large stone on Gunner’s grave, which is in the barnyard. And my boy raked the ground and seeded new grass to grow. We sprinkled the grass seed to get it started. The horses watched us from their corrals and nickered occasionally, telling us it was lunchtime. When we were done we gave them some hay and sat down on Gunner’s rock to survey our work. And again, I felt Andy smiling. We are tending the garden that Andy and I created together. Our little life as a family goes on. And horses are a part of it.


            This is what horses are to me now. I know that many of you have gone through similar cycles with riding/not riding, and I would be interested to hear your insights on this subject.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Happy April!

By Gayle Carline
Horse Lover, Author, and Eternal Optimist

Welcome to spring! We have birds nesting in our patio, flowers blooming in our yard, and the horses are all shedding their winter coats. I began contributing to this blog on the fourth Saturday of the month, but over time, I've drifted to the first. Don't know how it happened, but this month, I can give you a post on April Fool's, Easter, or Passover.

Dealer's choice, as they say.

April is a significant month for me. Snoopy was born on the 28th, and two days after his fourth birthday, he broke his leg. Trust me, I remember it well.

Today seems like a good time to re-visit one of those days, either his birth or his injury. Since I am the eternal optimist, I choose the happier of those two. I could tell you the story of Snoopy's birth, but I think I'll let him tell you how it happened:

* * * (Excerpted from FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: ONE LUCKY MEMOIR)

I don’t remember much about my birth, but when I was little, Mom used to tell me the story of the night I was born. I love Mom. She’s so pretty. She is a bright, bright chestnut, but she has stripes of white hairs on her tummy, a blaze on her face and a big white spot on top of her tail.

Most of all, she has the most beautiful voice I ever heard. It’s soft and low and she would let me snuggle against her every night while she whispered in my ear. She usually told me stories at night. I think she was afraid of the dark, but she never told me that. Instead, she would tell me a story.

“On the night you were born, the sun had just started going down on the most perfect of days. My Gayle came to the ranch early and got me out of the stall. She curried and brushed me and cleaned my hooves. She talked as she groomed me. I love to listen to her. I have listened to all her stories. That day, however, she was talking about me, how big I was and how slow I had become.

“It was true, I felt bigger than any draft horse. My belly was so full of you, I thought I might burst. Gayle walked me around the arena a few times. It was nice in the sunshine, even though I grew tired. She took me back to the barn, where our groom Hilde wrapped my tail so it would not get in the way in case I gave birth that day.

“I’ll be honest with you, Son—I was frightened. You are my one and only baby and I knew you were large. I was afraid I would not be able to push you out. Horses usually have their babies alone, late at night. It is our tradition, from years of being wild. We leave the herd to quietly lie down and foal, then get the baby up and back to the herd as quickly as possible. If it’s not safe to have our baby, we can even hold back the birth until the time is right.

“By early evening, Gayle was still at the ranch. Our trainer, Miss Tina was there, too. I heard Gayle ask Miss Tina if a horse’s water breaks when they give birth. I realized this was my opportunity to have you while they were there to help. I relaxed and my water broke.

“Miss Tina laughed and said, ‘It looks just like that.’”

This is where Mom would stop talking and lick my neck. Sometimes I was asleep by then. If I wasn’t, I would ask, “What happened then?”

She would continue. “I could tell the first time I pushed, there was something wrong. You were stuck. I got up a couple of times and turned around, then lay down again, hoping you were rearranged. I love you, dear, but you were klutzy, even in the womb.

“Miss Tina saw my distress and stepped into the stall. She felt around inside me and found the problem. One of your hooves was folded back. You need both front feet pointed forward in order to slide out. She straightened your hoof, then helped me by pulling. I was already getting tired.

“At last, even Miss Tina was tired, so she told Gayle, ‘Get in here and help out.’ Gayle stepped in to the stall and took one of your legs. Miss Tina held the other. I pushed, they pulled and quick as a racehorse, you were out and cuddled up next to me, like you are now.”

“And Gayle is my MomToo, right?” I’d ask each time.

“Right.”

I loved hearing that story. Of course, I don’t remember any of it as it happened. All I remember is opening my eyes, like I’d been asleep but couldn’t remember the dream. I could feel Mom’s warm body beside me and I could see MomToo in the doorway of the stall. She looked pretty blurry, but I think she was happy.

* * * 

Happy Easter and/or Passover, everyone!

Baby Snoopy (1 month), Frostie, and me.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Forget


                                                            by Laura Crum


            In my current life, I forget I am an “author.” It just doesn’t seem very important. The fact that I spent twenty years writing mystery novels, had twelve books published by a legitimate publisher (meaning not self-published), and that I still get a check every month from sales of these books—well, I don’t think about these things much any more. I don’t bother doing publicity for the books on “social media”—as I used to do, other than writing these blog posts on Equestrian Ink, which are mostly not about my writing or even my horses. They are about things that matter to me now.
            I quit writing my mystery series several years ago when the twelfth book in the series, “Barnstorming” was published. My goal had always been to write a dozen books and I achieved that goal. I truly didn’t feel motivated to write more novels. The books cover twenty years in the life of one woman, and it took me twenty years to write them. Serendipity. “Barnstorming” is the last.




            But the other day something happened to remind me that yes, I am still an author. A new acquaintance asked me what I did “for a living.” I gave the short answer and said that for the last twenty years I had been an author. She was immediately interested, and asked about my books. I explained that they were horse-themed mysteries, with an equine vet as a protagonist and she said what people so often say. “I would love to read them. Can you bring me one? Your favorite.” This comment, though well meant, always makes me grit my teeth a little. People assume the author has an endless supply of her own books to give away (not true), and that I have a favorite (not true). But OK, it is well meant, and the person is interested in my books.
            I did what I always do if I like the individual. I explained that the books were a series and best to start with the first one, though it certainly isn’t the best book, in my opinion. I said I would give her the first one and if she liked it she could acquire the others herself. When I went home I couldn’t find any copies of Cutter (my first novel, written over twenty years ago) kicking around the house, so I ordered one from Amazon. Four dollars and change, including the shipping, for a hardcover. Not bad. And a few days later the book arrived at my front gate. Voila.


            I brought the book to the acquaintance next time I saw her, and to my amazement she was flatteringly effusive. “I didn’t know you were a famous author. I looked you up on Amazon and all your books have four and five star ratings and lots of reviews and I’m really impressed.”
            I must admit I stared at her in surprise. “I’m not a famous author, “ I said, “far from it. I’m a relatively unknown author. But it’s nice of you to say.”
            Now here I have to add that I really don’t pay much attention to my “career” any more. I have other things to think about. So I don’t look at my reviews on Amazon. But I went home and looked at Cutter and it did have plenty of reviews and was rated four stars. Then I looked up the second book in the series (Hoofprints) and it had 46 reviews and was rated four and a half stars.





            I didn’t feel motivated to look up the rest of the books, so have no idea if they have very many reviews or what they’re rated star-wise. But I did smile to see all the kind words that were said about Cutter and Hoofprints, my first two efforts. And I realized that though I’m not invested in my “success,” I am happy that so many people have read and enjoyed my stories. That means something to me.
I spent many years and much effort on my novels. I wove into them all the little insights on life that I had to offer. My husband and son make appearances as characters, as do my horses and dogs and home. Many of my personal experiences became part of the protagonist’s life. On top of which I tried to create a unique and credible mystery plot for each story, complete with plenty of excitement and horse action. Every single detail about horses comes from real things that have happened to me in a lifetime spent owning and training actual horses (not doing “research”), and each book takes on an aspect of the horse business that I have known well and deeply. Cutting, cowhorse, team roping, ranching, breaking and training a colt, horse packing in the mountains, trail riding here on the coast…even a TB layup farm thanks to my sister-in-law, who trains TB race horses (Moonblind), and an endurance ride, thanks to my friend who is a vet and worked on such rides (Roughstock). These equine events form the background of my stories. And though I have never been chased by a villain on horseback, I HAVE galloped flat out over the terrain that I use as the basis for these scenes (yes, including the beach).



Anyway, yesterday I picked up Cutter and read the first couple of chapters, just to see how it might strike my new friend. And you know, it read pretty good, considering this is maybe the 100th time I’ve seen those words (due to all the re-writing I had to do to get published, not my obsession with my own work). I was pleased. I realized that the books mean something to me. So maybe I am still an author after all.

(And to all those who have read my mystery novels, and especially anyone who took the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else, a big thank you!)
           

            

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Butterfly




                                                            by Laura Crum

            My life is up and down right now. Ever since my husband died I have struggled so much. But I wouldn’t expect it to be different. I have moments where I feel him guiding and protecting and just being a companion to me, and I am comforted. I have moments where I realize that I am getting everything done and I feel stronger. Our son, our animals, our garden, and our little life here on our property are being taken care of just as Andy would want.  But sometimes I miss his physical presence so much that I can hardly bear the pain. I imagine it is the same for all those who have lost much-loved others to death.
            The other day I had one of those very sad moments. I literally cried out to Andy for help. And then, as I tend to do, I went outside and began doing something “useful.” I pulled some old, aphid-covered kale out of the veggie garden and fed it to the chickens, in preparation for planting new seedlings. While I worked there, a butterfly came and landed right next to me. It was a beautiful black and orange butterfly (I think a Red Admiral, but I am no expert on butterflies), and it was a foot from my hand. I stared at it, unable to resist a smile, feeling sure it had been sent as a messenger by Andy (and yes, this is the sort of fanciful thinking that is automatic to me now—seeing magic in the most every day things). I moved to another part of the garden, and again the butterfly lit on the ground very close to me. I watched it for a minute and then it flew up the hill toward Andy’s greenhouse.
            When I was done in the garden I went to the greenhouse to water the plants. Only to find what seemed to be the same butterfly trapped inside, fluttering against the glass, trying to escape. I can only assume my friend from the garden had flown in the open greenhouse door. I did my best to shoo him back out the door, but the butterfly resisted my efforts, determined to fly out through what appeared to him to be openings, which were in fact unyielding glass. I had to be very gentle in my efforts to coax him toward the doorway for fear of damaging his fragile self. Every time I had almost got him to freedom, by waving my hands…etc, he would fly back towards a pane of glass—away from the open doorway.
            I was almost crying with frustration, saying out loud, “Please let me help you. Please let me save you. Please.”
            And finally I was able to encourage the butterfly out the open door and it flew away into the spring afternoon, free at last.
            I felt so relieved, and I had the momentary thought that I had “saved” Andy. And then suddenly a very powerful thought came rushing in and I stopped dead in my tracks. What if it was the other way around?
            What if I am the butterfly and Andy is “me?” What if I am spending my life, like most humans, moving toward what appear to me to be logical ways to find happiness and freedom, but which are in fact completely unworkable dead ends—unyielding panes of glass. They look like you can go that way—but you actually can’t. It will never work. I am like the butterfly—I can’t see where the way to true freedom lies. Like all of us who are still in our human bodies.
            And perhaps Andy is now “me,” someone who can see the big picture and is trying as hard as he can to guide the butterfly (the still-human me) toward the only doorway to freedom. He can’t push me too hard or he will damage my fragile self—remove my ability to choose. He can only encourage me as much as he can in subtle ways. But he is trying so hard to help me. He is begging me to let him help me. He wants me to find happiness and freedom, and he knows the way.
            As a butterfly, I can’t perceive him as anything other than a big force, like an especially animated tree in the wind. He doesn’t seem like a visible “being” to me. I would only recognize another butterfly (read human being) as a proper being. But in fact he is very much a being, one who sees the big picture much more clearly than I do, and is trying to help me—and CAN help me, much more than another butterfly could. I just have to respond to his guidance.
            This concept hit me so hard I had to stop what I was doing and go lie for awhile in the hammock that hangs in a big oak tree at the top of our property, and think it over. The hammock is a place that is special to Andy—not only did he lie there in life, but he came to me in a dream and invited me to lie in the hammock with him. So now when I really need to feel our connection, I often go lie in the hammock.
            Lying there, looking up at the oak tree branches against the sky, I thought about the notion that I was the butterfly, and that Andy’s presence as he tries to guide me toward freedom and happiness might appear to me as some arbitrary happenings that push me one way or another, or a random force, like wind moving a tree. And as I had this thought, a wind sprang up and began to blow. It blew like crazy for about five minutes, rocking the branch that held the hammock, scattering leaves on me, ruffling my hair. I lay in the swaying hammock, as leaves fluttered down like kisses, somewhat amazed. And as quickly as it sprang up, the wind died away completely.



            When I finally got up and walked back down the hill, I had one simple thought. “Let me be open to this guidance.”
           

            So, anyway, I’m telling this story not to convince anyone of anything. My tendency to find magical guidance in everyday events may be nothing more than my imagination desperately trying to find a “story” to comfort my sense of pain and loss. But I really don’t care if this is so. I’m hoping that perhaps a few others out there (especially those who have lost someone they very much loved) may find that these thoughts resonate for them and perhaps will draw some inspiration for their own lives.  And I would love to hear your own magical stories.
            

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Beginnings and Endings by Alison Hart

Since I have been a prolific writer -- over 60 published books since 1987 -- I have had to tackle MANY beginnings and endings of books and beginning and endings of chapters.  Let's face it, life does not have clean plot arcs like the ones in stories.  There are many beginnings -- new jobs, new babies, new horses, new homes -- but few clean endings. And let's doubly face it -- the middles of our lives are a hot, muddled mess, and rarely are there satisfying resolutions to all the loose ends and crazy moments.

I wrestle with all beginnings and endings.  For historical fiction, I want to plunge my readers right into the characters and time period. Take the opening paragraph of Gabriel's Horses.  

"The wrap goes like this, Gabriel," Pa tells me as he tugs the strip of rag around the horse's front leg. Stooped in the straw, I watch with hawk eyes. When Pa shows me something, I  take note. Pa's the best horseman in Kentucky, and I am to follow in his path. Besides, any fool knows that wrapping a racehorse's legs right is almost as important as riding him right. 

And the ending?  If your readers have happily gone with you on the journey of your story, it's important to leave them satisfied.

Happiness fills me. I'm free. Free to be whatever I want and go where ever I choose.  Someday soon I'll ride on a famous racetrack like Saratoga. And one day I'll join Pa and the colored soldiers to fight for freedom for all slaves. But right now, I belong in this barn. With my courageous horses.

Not that I always manage satisfaction.  After Whirlwind came out (the sequel to Shadow Horse) I had many unsatisfied readers email with demands for a third book because I had left too many unanswered questions. Kind of like those messy endings of real life.

Writers also have beginnings and endings to projects, and often they overlap. Currently I have two deadlines (both about the same time). I have to revise Finder Coal Mine Dog and also come up with a finished idea/summary for as yet to be titled book about a sea dog traveling with Magellan.

Both projects require completely different skills.  For Sea Dog I am reading lots of kids books on Magellan before diving into a weighty tome and bouncing my thoughts/ideas in emails with my editor. (Magellan's voyage was a complex, violent trip spanning two years and of course, he was murdered before he made it around the world.)  For Finder I am reading comments and changing/clarifying text, which often requires fact-checking and word wrangling.

Beginnings and endings -- two important skills that an author must master (as best as she/he can!) in order to create great stories.

What beginnings and endings are you tackling?