Musing on horse training–“bitting up”

Over the past week I’ve had a few moments of horse training awareness where I gained a new perspective on my past experiences and the training tools in my toolbox. One of those is a semi-controversial technique known as “bitting up.” Years ago, “bitting up” was often used to introduce the young horse to a bit. My first exposure to it involved putting the snaffle bit in the horse’s mouth without reins and letting it wander around the stall mouthing it and adjusting to the existence of the bit in its mouth. The three horses who got their first bits at my hands started that way. I also used this technique to introduce my first Quarter Horse, Sparkle, to her curb bit.

Then I started out with G, and learned a bit more about how to use bitting up in part as a means to introduce the horse to carrying the bit and develop a headset. In this mode, still using a snaffle, you tied the reins to the saddle, leaving enough play in the reins so that the horse’s nose was two or three inches in front of the vertical. Then you turned the horse in a pen and let it wander around, playing with the bit and getting comfortable with picking up contact without the interference of a rider. At this point, the horse was learning about giving to the pressure of a bit on its own. The key was that a.) the horse was unrestrained except for that bit contact and b.) the horse was under supervision. This didn’t go on for very long, perhaps 5-10 minutes max. Then, depending on where the horse was in training, you climbed on and did a short ride.

As the horse’s training advanced, then you tightened the reins slightly, still allowing for the nose to be ahead of the vertical. At this point, the horse was worked on a lunge line or in a round pen, working on balance and contact. The key was that the horse learned on its own about yielding to bit pressure without the vagaries of human hands. The idea was that the horse taught itself about bit pressure.

Hold that thought. It becomes important later on here.

One of the things that G said about this type of bitting up was that it not only helped the horse learn on its own, but that it created a habit of discipline. We did this sort of work not only with green horses but horses going through retraining. Horses who lacked respect for the bit. Horses whose mouths were desensitized by heavy-handed riders.

The technique, of course, is one that gets misused. One of the worst versions of it was revealed a few years ago when a trainer in Southern California used it with a curb bit, and tied the reins so tight that the horse threw herself and broke her neck. Unsupervised, to boot. A curb bit is a leverage device, operating not just on the bars of the horse’s mouth (a toothless gum section between incisors and molars) but on the jaw, possibly the roof of the mouth (depending on how high the curved section of the bit is), and on the horse’s poll (a very sensitive area behind the ears). Too much pressure in these places can cause a horse to rear and flip…which is apparently what happened in that case.

But there are other versions of misuse. Using it with the nose cranked to the chest. Doing it for hours on end. Doing it with a thin twisted wire bit. Probably many other variations I don’t really want to think about.

Over the years, I discovered that this tool had other uses. When young Mocha was sparky, I’d bit her up and put her on a lunge line or the round pen. A short period–5-10 minutes, max–and she would switch over from being Ms I Know Everything to Ms Okay I’ll Listen. I started pulling this tool out in the springtime even as she matured and became more steady.

This past week it all came together. She’s out in Big Pasture now, hilly on the end of a long ridge flat, running with the herd. The first day I rode her, she was total Miss Butthead. Nickering at the herd, her attention on the herd, wanting to run and not pay attention to the rider on her back, even with the curb bit in her mouth and some schooling.

(an example of the herd and Big Pasture)

Well, that wasn’t gonna work. So the next time, I brought out the snaffle and the lunge line, and bitted her up. Then we reviewed the concept of listening to the human instead of wondering what the herd was doing, including screaming for them. And whoa. Especially whoa, because she hadn’t been particularly listening to that.

5 minutes later, we had brains reinstalled.

A revisit on the next ride also ensured that Brains Were Installed. Both times we had a pleasant ride, including a stretch of gallop along a flat section of jeep track. Little mare started dancing as we swung around to the starting place, took off as fast as she could once I kissed to her and leaned forward, and–best of all–she eased off and stopped when asked. And our canters away from that stretch of flat, safe place for hard gallop were controlled and quiet. Oh, a couple of times she asked to run, and I said no. But the key was–she listened.

When I go back and look at previous year’s entries (I was looking for a picture that isn’t on this computer), I see many notes about having to do just that at G’s place, at around this time of year. So it’s a normal thing, just a phase of late spring or early summer.

And damn, I’m sure glad I’ve got this tool in my bag of training tricks.

 

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Ski year summary–2017

For the first time I only skied a few times, over about three weeks, similar to what a lot of people do with their ski vacations. I’m–not thrilled with that amount of limitation. That said, I could have gotten more ski time in, including in NE Oregon, if I had been able to get my feet into my boots sooner in the season. But I couldn’t, so there’s no crying now over spilt milk.

We had five ski days in total in late April and early May. That more than brought the cost of our spring ski passes ($118) down to about half of what a regular pass would cost for me and less for the husband at age 65.

Besides being away from the slopes for two years, the big challenge was that the snow is just plain different in April and May than it is in November/December starting out skiing. Even when there were heavy snowfalls, they were different from the heavy snowfalls earlier in the season…not as dry and cold, for one. And even though we had plenty of cold exposure in NE Oregon over the winter, it wasn’t ski exposure.

I don’t know. There was only one session where I found my flow and rhythm, and skied well. The rest of the time? I struggled more than I like to do. It seemed harder to get back into it than it does at the beginning of the ski season. Maybe it was just the awareness that I only had these few short days or something like that…but whatever it was, it wasn’t working that well. I may have just not been trusting my cranky ankles.

Oh well. Maybe next year.

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Ski day four

A couple of days late, but there was a Day Four on the ski slope!

Since it was the first day of the changeover from warm weather back to cool and wet, we were slow-moving in the morning and debating whether it was worth it. Then hubby looked at the web cams and pointed out that despite the temperatures, it wasn’t raining at Timberline–yet. So we saddled up and went skiing.

I’m glad we did. I hooked into the flow this time, despite a knee locking up on me in the parking lot. Once we started skiing, though, the knee was quiet. I glided from side to side, smoothly curving and transferring weight, just like I wanted to do. No problems with thigh burn or the aches that go along with overcontrolling the skis. Everything was balanced and in control.

One factor was a fresh wax job. The snow was wet and could have been sticky, but with fresh wax on the skis, it wasn’t. I did comment at one point that “I can just feel the wax stripping off of these skis!”

I was right. We got home and I saw that the skis needed another hot waxing.

In any case, we got in two runs on the Mile before it got socked in and we retreated to Norman. Four runs on Norman, two on the mile, for a total of five miles skied. Getting the legs back, getting the flow back…but I’m still not entirely feeling the passion that I did before. Maybe it’s because of the lateness and missing the big seasons. We’re looking at two more sessions at most, for a total of six ski days this season. Not bad, but…at the end of six I’m just getting tuned up.

Oh well. Maybe next year.

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Ski Day Three: Up to the Mile

So Day Three of getting back on the skis was a more typical spring ski day at Timberline–foggy down below, and then breaking through above the clouds once we got to the lodge. The snow was typical Cascade concrete, not even corn snow. I had some problems getting my left binding to catch when first locking in (this will become important later) but finally got it going and we headed back out to Norman.

But something wasn’t right. I kept muttering about having control issues going on. I was having problems with turning and had a couple of bobbles that didn’t go all the way to falls. Still. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t catch the flow, couldn’t find my rhythm, and meanwhile the snow was warming up and turning to slush. After the third run on Norman I suggested we go up to the Mile.

As we got off of the lift to the top of Norman and headed for the cat track that goes to the Mile, I skied out of my left ski. Didn’t fall because we were on the flat, but it just popped off. So I popped it back on, started up again…and off it came. Hubby noticed I had ice on the bottom of my boots, so he helped me scrape it off. I took off and this time everything worked.

Still, coming off the top of the Mile, hips didn’t want to cooperate. It took a few turns, but I was starting to get the feel again–a good long run with no complications. We did a second run and I started feeling the flow again. At that point we called it a day–three runs on Norman, two on the Mile for about 4 and a quarter miles, maybe closer to 5 when you figure the ski out to Norman and then back to the Mile.

The Dalbello boots are much easier to work with than the equally stiff Lange boots were. I start out stiff in the Dalbellos but they start loosening up and getting comfortable after a couple of runs. I’m getting to really like them.

That said, I’m glad I didn’t ski last year. The right ankle I injured in the fall with Mocha in 2015 was aching when we got back to the house, and I can just imagine what it would have been like then. I am feeling better, and stronger, though. It’s easier to get up off the chair than it was the last year I skied. I’ve noticed it’s easier for me to swing a leg over an impatient Mocha when we get ready to ride off as well. Not sure what is bringing that about, unless it’s the hours I’m spending in the saddle…or something. And then tonight, I waxed and scraped the skis without feeling as achy and tired after as I was in the past. Yay?

But something still is missing. I haven’t gotten the joy of skiing back. I don’t know why. It’s improving, but…something’s still missing.

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Falls Creek hike and Zumwalt drive and writing oh yeah

The day started out kind of gloomy and moody and slow. I needed to work on edits for a short story so that’s how I spent my morning. By the time I was finished, though, the sun had come out. Husband and I were ready for an Adventure, so we decided to go hiking up Hurricane Creek. As we started up the trail, though, we decided to give Falls Creek a try. I’d read that it was both easy and difficult…well, we opted for the difficult hike up the slope, not bouldering along the creek bottom.

Hmm. All the photos loaded at once. Well the first and sixth shots are of Falls Creek Falls. The last three are on Zumwalt Prairie.

Anyway, we hiked uphill a bit over a mile with at least a 1000 foot and probably a 1500 foot elevation gain. Then we decided to go for a cruise out to the Nature Conservancy preserve on Zumwalt and see what we could see.

We ended up taking the old road from Midway to Imnaha, and saw nearly two dozen deer, at least one eagle, northern harriers, a rough-legged hawk, a number of kestrels, several meadowlarks, two chukar, and three turkeys. The road was such that I was glad we were in the truck and not the Subaru, as we had to ford water running over the road in several places (clear, seasonal creeks with rocky bottoms, no problems).

A glorious day.

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Ski Day Two: Aprilary

Our second ski day was more like the depths of winter than the end of April…unless you’re on Mt. Hood. The weather system that Cliff Mass calls “Darth Vapor” is dumping snow on the Mountain, fine, wet powdery stuff…and I got a reminder that Timberline Road in some ways is a tougher drive than crossing the Blue Mountains via Tollgate.

The official snow count this morning was 199 inches at the lodge. I’m willing to bet it had gone over 200 by the time we got our skis on and got out there. It continued to snow, a wet powder that formed rime ice on our ski pants and parkas along with a mild wind. We went back up to Stormin Norman simply because given our level of conditioning, it’s the easiest run to do with blowing and drifting snow. My knees were fussing at me first thing this morning so I didn’t want to push it.

Not sleeping well last night didn’t help, either. I started with fatigue and it didn’t help things. My first run down, I bobbled a couple of times but didn’t tweak anything and stayed upright. The second run was better, and the third run was when I started to feel the flow coming. But then the fourth run was just not quite right, so I didn’t find the flow. The wind was also such that above the trees it was occasionally hard to see where the snow ended and the air began. When we headed back to the lodge, I encountered a few surprise drops, and had to stop in one place to figure out where to go.

On the other hand, my feet didn’t cramp up in the boots today. That’s a big plus. I’m getting them back into shape.

There was a big living quarters horse trailer in the parking lot. Obviously there weren’t any horses in it–I had to wonder if it was hauling equipment while the owners were staying overnight in the living quarters, or maybe that was the only trailer they had.

We saw some very happy snow doggies in the parking lot, romping in the snow. On Tuesday we saw one dog who was ecstatically rolling in the snow–nothing like that today, but nonetheless there were happy snow doggies around.

No spectral whooshes from the ravens today, though they were scouting the parking lot for any food scraps.

By the time we left, a little six-inch drift was forming by the rear driver’s side wheel. Driving down Timberline Road had some interesting moments with slush and ice.

But we’ve survived another ski day, and I’m beginning to trust my legs and feet again. One thing I am noticing is that my hips are stronger than they were before. It’s easier for me to stand up and get out of the chair. I can thank those long rides on Mocha for that, I think.

Now I just have to be in better shape….

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The slow process of craft

I think I complained in an earlier post that I’ve been slow with writing a new book because of life plus working on short stories. One of the things that I am discovering at this point in time is that I just can’t be as much of a plotter with my short stories as I can be with my novels. That slowed me down considerably in drafting the short pieces, because I found myself worrying at the characters, at the plot, at every blessed thing without getting the words down on paper–and then freezing up because I couldn’t just sit down and write it out like I can in a novel.

I’m not sure why it is that way. I tried to outline the short stories. It just didn’t work. Oh, a rough outline was fine, but I found myself adding in complexity that really wasn’t helpful. Unlike writing a novel, too, I couldn’t depend on a rough framework to help me roll 2ooo words a day through the computer. I was lucky to get 1000 words in, if that.

I finally concluded that short stories are just different, and I need to be less controlling of the story in some ways. But I also needed to sit and think a lot more while crafting the short stories. As it were, I have four short stories–well, three shorts and a novelette that I wrote in the first four months of the year. I guess that counts for something. Just not enough in self-publishing world.

The other thing is that I am now in the process of laying out the foundation for the sequel to Pledges of Honor, Challenges to Honor. Right now that consists of opening up Scrivener and making notes to myself about the interrelationships between the main characters as well as their interactions with minor characters. I’ve also started making general plot notes as well as notes about individual book arcs. I’m starting to get a grasp of what the plot is going to be, and I have a rough initial blurb written.

But!

I have NO. FREAKING. IDEA. about point of view yet. From all the backstory I’m building, this needs to be a multiple-viewpoint book. And yet–I somewhat want it to reflect Pledges with Katerin as the viewpoint character. And yet–there are things happening out of her POV which could be important. I might add one more POV, but…I’m not yet convinced it needs to happen. Katerin’s arc is going to be serious enough. She’s had a quiet eleven years since the events of Pledges. But the Gods are stirring, the Emperor-over-Sea is remembering the distant exiles who could yet challenge his legitimacy, and her role as Banisher of Shadows is going to come into play. The Red Goddess has the reddest of blood-red motives, and she does not look very kindly on the daughter of the woman who banished her from the Witch City of Waykemin.

Or the Miteal family, which means two strikes against Katerin and her daughter Witmara.

So yeah. Once I start writing on this one, it’s gonna be a ride.

But first I have to figure out if it’s just Katerin’s POV or not.

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Back on the planks again

Skis, that is. It’s been two years since we went skiing. The first year, we had our Fusion passes ready to go, but no snow. Last year, because of my fall with Mocha in the summer, I couldn’t get my injured foot in my ski boot and I lacked confidence in the strength of my ankle. I missed skiing not just at Timberline but at Ferguson Ridge, the little ski area in Wallowa County.

This winter was and still is epic snow. Nearly 200 inches at Timberline right now. But I still couldn’t get my feet into those damn boots. So I finally broke down and went to the chiropractor for two sessions of footwork that my massage therapist recommended. After the second session, I shared with the chiropractor that I still couldn’t get my feet into the boots.

He frowned, and had me sit down so he could examine my feet further. “It shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “Your feet are flexing properly. Go talk to a boot fitter.”

So I called down to Portland to a boot fitter, and the boot fitter recommended exposing the boots to heat. Given that it was still winter, and the wood stove was burning, I parked the boots by the wood stove. A few hours later–et voila! I could jam my feet into the boots. I followed a further recommendation and yanked the tongues out as far as I could to see if that would also loosen things up.

Next, it became a question of when in a busy Portland schedule we could fit skiing in. By this point it was mid-March and the Timberline spring passes were on sale. But I knew from bitter experience that Spring Break at Timberline is total chaos, so…we didn’t go.

The stars finally aligned. I had started questioning if I wanted to ski again, but figured well, give it a try. I have a lot of things I’m wanting to do these days and not many of them are in Portland. Still, it seemed to be a good idea to give it a try, especially how epic this winter has been. Plus with the latest cold and wet spell, there’d been a fresh dump of snow in the Cascades.

We didn’t race up the hill like we had when cramming skiing in during time off on weekends, or like I did when skiing before work. All the same I had a brief sinking sensation in my stomach as I came down Cherryville, and had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to work, I was just going skiing and having fun.

The lot was almost full, which surprised us. It was as slick and icy as ever. Fortunately, several months of life in the snow and ice meant we were a bit more skilled at navigating the parking lot ice rink. Despite the full lot, we were able to get our passes quickly, then go back to boot up and unbag the skis. As I wrenched my snug boots on, I heard the whoosh from the wings of a parking lot raven flying low. I decided that was a good omen because I’ve always enjoyed watching the ravens play at Timberline. It was easier to walk back to the lodge in ski boots instead of my other shoes. I had some trepidation as I stepped into my bindings–woman, are you crazy?!!–but told my inner chicken to shut up and pushed off. It couldn’t be any worse than taking Mocha back out on the roads this spring after a layoff.

Lordy, I’d forgotten just how tight those Dalbello Electra boots are. And I gave myself a serious case of thigh burn overcontrolling every turn down the first slope to West Leg Road, and the relief of an easy glide to Stormin’ Norman. The second slope down to Norman was shorter and easier, and I found the whisper of a flow to my movement.

We hopped on the chair and rode to the top of Norman. It had changed since the last time we skied there, with a lot of big, big jumps. But the snow was powdery even though there were snowboard divots we had to work through to get to the really good part of the run.

I had to stop twice on the first run because my feet were still screaming about those tight boots. But I told myself to ignore it because tight is better than loose. I had a bad fall from packed out liners in soft boots so I’m paranoid about that now. My thighs were also unhappy because–again–I was overcontrolling and not skiing relaxed.

Everything clicked on that second run. The boots loosened up and I found myself able to use my feet more effectively. My arms and shoulders rotated from turn to turn as they should. After that first run, my thighs stopped aching so bad and I was able to pick up a little speed.

We decided after four runs that this was good for a first day. We both had more in us, but I knew that if something funky happened I was just tired enough to cause me problems. And after all, it was on par for what we’ve done in the past for our first days skiing. So we glided back to the lodge, and I had a wonderful glide down the bottom of the Magic Mile to the lodge.

And oh yeah, we did a selfie in front of the lodge. Because we could, and because this really was the first ski of retirement. Two years late, but we finally made it.

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Coming up on two years

Two years ago we were on the final stages of beginning our new retirement life split between two houses, and contemplating the Big Scary Move hauling the horse on the longest trailer ride she’d had in her life. While we still had things to do with both houses to reflect our changed lifestyle, including moving the son around in the Portland house, and setting things up there, we were taking the big leap and going back part-time to the place we had fallen in love with thirty-four years ago–the place where we started our post-college life, the place where we committed to each other and began our walk together through life. We knew that the transition would take time. In small places like Enterprise, you can’t force your way into the local scene. While we still had friends here, we knew that it would take time to settle in and get to know people and make connections.

What we didn’t know was if we would miss the urban life, or what shape our lives in Enterprise would take. I knew that I needed to do some sort of work, but what, I wasn’t sure. I had hopes of substituting in the local schools, but soon found that there was a lot of competition. I’d considered trying to tutor and offer classes, but early overtures didn’t quite mesh. So I settled back, focused on my writing, and adopted a “let it flow” mentality.

So far there’s been no regrets. I’ve been working online for my old school district for a year and a half now, an endeavor that started when I was called back to do special education assessment to fill in a big hole that circumstances popped up in February of 2016. Sub jobs are starting to drift my way. I may have some other things coming but haven’t signed any paperwork as yet…so….possibilities abound.

And there are more things. Today was the first day this spring where I took the laptop onto the front porch to write, finishing off the Exile’s Honor novelette that I hope to release by late May. I wrote and watched birds at the feeders we’ve finally gotten set up, and kept an eye on a storm moving across the mountains. Yesterday I took Mocha on one of the long road rides we are starting to do again this spring. We saw bald eagles, redtailed hawks, magpies, red-winged blackbirds, a blue heron, California quail, a ringnecked China pheasant rooster, and lots of deer. We went down a road new to us so she was on her toes, full of energy and lining out in a big, bold, forward walk with her head and neck level, ears pricked forward on a loose rein.

Is it the life I’d visualized and anticipated during all those years in Portland dreaming about returning? Yes…and no. It was a different place between then and now. In many ways it is much sweeter–our little house on the hill has a gorgeous view and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed studying the mountains in all their moods. There are more artists and writers here than there were before. We’re not involved in one of the small town businesses as employees. If we want to hole up and be antisocial for a few days, we can. Or if we want to get out and do things (mostly me), there are things to do. I’m starting to take up quilting, and have discovered that I can be somewhat decent at it. I’ve joined the Soroptimists, and am getting caught up in their activities locally to improve things for women and girls. I’m getting to be known as one of the local writers, and have had a couple of occasions where someone has asked me how my writing is going when out and about in the local shops. The past two Christmases I’ve participated in local craft shows, and hope to do more of it.

My asthma is happier here. I’ve adapted and enjoy the slower pace of life, which includes the possibility of running into people we know at the grocery store and stopping for a chat.

Not all is sunny and perfect, though. The son has had health problems. We fret about making it down to Clatskanie to cultivate the garden with our friend, especially in a damp and cold spring like we are having here. Sometimes the six hours between here and Portland seem like forever.

But then the sun comes out between the clouds, and we get a different glow.

We go down to Portland and get our taste of urban life, and then retreat. Right now we seem to have a decent balance, and I hope that continues. There are times when I think I should be more driven, more ambitious, and fill my days with more activity…and then I look at what I’ve actually been doing, and decide that perhaps I’m all right after all.

Summer will soon be here, with the frenetic activity that comes with it being the main money-making/food cultivation/food harvest/woodcutting season.

I think it’ll be all right.

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Rant: Why aren’t there more good horse novels for adults?

This particular rant got set off by my reading of Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon. It’s won some literary prizes, is highly acclaimed and…it pissed me off so much when I read it that I’ve spent some time this afternoon composing this particular little rant in my head.

The problem with Lord of Misrule for anyone who has grown up reading any standard juvenile and later on adult horse fiction is that it hits damn near every. single. solitary. cliche in the hardbitten adult horse novel subcategory. Broken-down racehorses at a bush league track, so of course you have corrupt trainers and grooms, fun and games with claiming races, doping, Magical Negro grooms, at least one gruesome horse death, a girl determined to save a broken-down horse, and, and….yeah. Except, of course, it’s all done in a particularly artsy literary style where there are no marks to delineate dialogue (no dashes, no colons, no quotation marks), no character whether human or horse is redeemable, and it attempts to replicate the writer’s perception of racetracker dialogue. And, dear God, the particularly gloomy portrayal it has of horses and humans involved with horses would send a sane person screaming away from any sort of involvement with the equestrian world. There’s damn little joy in the relationship between human and horse, much less love between human and horse or the ongoing nonverbal communication that exists in a good horse/human relationship.

Not that this book is a singular offender. With few exceptions, primarily in genre, when horses show up in adult novels, they’re either poorly written, part of a Spiritual Experience, are unrealistic adult versions of juvenile horse novels or are gritty hardbitten looks at the dark side of commercial equestrian industry. The horses don’t get to show up as horses, complete with equine humor and varying temperaments. Good grief, dogs and cats get better representation than horses in adult fiction. You’ve got to pick up Rita Mae Brown, Natalie Keller Reinert, or perhaps even Jane Smiley to get a more balanced look at the horse world in non-genre fiction, and Brown is more crime fiction, ergo, genre, than mainstream when it comes to her horse lit. And don’t get me started on The Horse Whisperer. That was another book I wanted to throw across the room (but was saved by it being a library book). Yes, you can find good horse fiction in genre–fantasy and romance in particular (though I’m not much of a romance reader).

So why aren’t there more good horse novels for adults? I’ve tried. I picked up one Western-themed romantic suspense novel that was part of a series and ended up wanting to chuck the book across the room because of the inaccuracies in it. Currently my top favorite adult horse book is actually two books, Rider at the Gate and Cloud’s Rider, a short science fiction series by C. J. Cherryh. The nighthorses in these books are carnivorous (and have a love for bacon that any horseperson who’s seen an equine reaction to peppermints will recognize). They’re a telepathic protection for humans in a world where telepathic wildlife would drive humans insane–and the nighthorses associated with humans due to their own curiosity about human minds. The nighthorses are fascinated by human minds–and Cherryh’s nighthorses are a heckva lot closer to horses I’ve known than many non-genre horses I’ve read. Judith Tarr also writes some dang good horses, especially in A Wind in Cairo.

Is it because there are only so many plots that can be told about horses and humans? Somehow, I don’t think so.

What I find myself missing are the stories where the horses are there as companions for their people. Not Companions as in supernatural beings in horse form, but horses as the opinionated, quirky, humorous beings they are. Horses that are well-treated, that have jobs they enjoy doing (yes, there are horses who like to work and be ridden), and empower their humans to succeed in everyday, regular ways. Stories that show the ordinary part of horse world where you spend more of your time mucking, grooming, and schooling than in cutthroat competition. Where the drama of human life that drives fiction is not dependent upon something awful happening to the horse.

I mean…today on Facebook I watched a video clip of a horse kicking butt on an alligator in Florida. Horse saw gator lurking near its herd in a park, and…aggressive horse stomping ensued, with gator slinking away. How likely are you to see this scene happen in a story about horses? Or a story with horses in it?

So, you may ask, why aren’t you writing these stories, Joyce?

Answer: I am, just mostly in genre. And I break my own rules because I’ve done horrible things to my horses in fiction–but the horses are performing heroically before the Awful Thing happens, rather than being forced to perform and getting hurt because of human frailties. They are in partnership with their humans. They’re joined with their humans in battle. Missy in Alien Savvy is not taking any guff off of those aliens, by golly, because she can herd them like she can cows. Mira in Pledges of Honor is fighting right alongside her bonded human Katerin. Narasin in Beyond Honor provides emotional and magical support for her human. Sox in my as yet unpublished ghost story “Lost Loves” confirms for Joni B that what she is seeing is real. Drinker of Wind and Sleipnir in “Tricksters, Horses, and Beer” have an agenda of their own, and who’s to say is manipulating whom…the horses or their Trickster owners?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m sick to death of depressing and poorly researched adult horse books, and there ain’t enough of the other stuff around unless I dip into my stash of horse juveniles. Or racing stories from the 1930s. Somehow along the way, the horse stopped becoming what it is–a quirky, opinionated being with an interesting sense of humor–and became an item to exploit in literature. Instead of being a generous companion, it became a shadowy icon representing the baser nature of humanity.

Somehow I think our literature is poorer for this lack.

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